Putting Grace on Display: Leading Others to the Cross
This is my first article for Holy Culture (but you’ll be seeing more of me, I promise), and I have been asked by my superiors to jump into the middle of a crazy little battle going on in Christian hip-hop today.
It centers around Lecrae’s latest song “Rebel vs. Gravity,” and Evangel’s response track, and all of the controversy that has come about because of it.
I want to begin by dissecting the actual question posed. In the midst of the controversy and all of the talk of “methodologies,” it can be a little bit challenging to pinpoint exactly what both Lecrae and Evangel are getting at.
At first glance, the question would seem to be “how do you reach the lost,” but I think that’s tangential to the real question posed by each of these artists: “what is the point of your art?”
To quote the great Johann Sebastian Bach, “The final aim and reason of all music is nothing other than the glorification of God and the refreshment of the spirit.” Now I like that answer, because it has the air of the Westminster Catechism answer for why we exist at all: “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
Sadly, Johann’s answer doesn’t quite extend into the practical realm of everyday life. Even he did not write purely church music, and we know that we’re supposed to “do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). “All” must inherently encompass those interactions that we have with the secular world — those things that we do that are not necessarily “Christian”. Those things include eating, drinking, watching baseball, and perhaps music. So how do you glorify God?
This problem that we’re facing isn’t a new one. A couple of decades ago, Lewis and Tolkien had little battles over The Chronicles of Narnia. Tolkien wasn’t a fan because he thought it was too obvious. Both loved God and wanted to display his glory, but they disagreed on how to do it.
As a rapper myself, I’ve recently been struggling with my own views and my own answer to this question. I used to think that rap music had the ability to teach: it has so many more lines, and so many more words, and you could put so much in each song. Simultaneously, I held that it was good for evangelism: reaching out to those who didn’t know Christ through a medium that they might be used to. I still believe both of those things, but I wonder whether or not there isn’t something to be said for merely being positive; for making people think; for making people long for grace.
Now I studied English, which means that I’ve read a lot of stories. One author in particular (who happens to share my last name) is phenomenal at providing realistic and incredibly moving images of the grace of God. His name is Graham Greene, and he was not a Christian. In fact, he was an incredible sinner. At one point, he visited so many prostitutes in one week, that he couldn’t remember how many he’d seen. In spite of this — and perhaps because of it — his images of grace are chilling: they fully recognize the depravity of man and thus the immensity of the grace needed to save him.
So why bring him up? First, to demonstrate that it is not impossible to put grace on display without dropping Jesus’ name and Bible verses left and right. You don’t need a theological tract to show grace.
More importantly, however, I mention Graham Greene because I think he teaches us something about humanity. He wasn’t a Christian, but he did want grace. He wanted it more than anything else, and he understood how powerful it would have to be to save him. Based on the way that he wrote and the constantly recurring theme of redemption, he wanted nothing more than forgiveness. It seems he never found it, but he dreamt of it constantly. Somewhere along the line, someone introduced this concept to him and he spent the rest of his life searching for it.
When God designed man, He know there would be sin. So wouldn’t it make sense for God to lodge in every human being’s heart a desire to find grace? There’s no more powerful concept on earth to broken sinners and no other gift that can save, so wouldn’t our souls naturally seek it out? I think the answer is yes. But I don’t think we always know what we’re looking for, or even that we are looking for anything.
Once someone’s had a taste of grace, however, they want it. So I believe that Lecrae is trying to use music to evangelize, but he doesn’t want to drag people kicking and screaming into a church where they don’t want to be. Instead, he’s trying to get them to look for grace, and to find the only true salvation in the church themselves. Instead of forcing people to what they don’t think they want, he’s trying to make them run towards what they do.
This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for rap music to teach and encourage and evangelize in a more traditional sense, it just means that there’s more than one way to go about it.
Honestly, I think that Lecrae could serve God incredibly well just by telling stories that point to God’s glory and grace without implicitly mentioning the Gospel in every song. I also think that few people would have ever noticed anything wrong. It’s the fact that there’s such a difference between Rebel and Gravity that’s causing him problems. You don’t like it when he changes. But thank him, because he’s challenging you too.
To wrap this all up, I want to say that I support both Lecrae and Evangel, but I don’t think this is a battle worth having. Lecrae is learning what it means to be an artist and treat his music as art. Evangel is a theologian, teacher, and evangelist. Neither is wrong, they’re just totally different things. Artists have rarely pointed so directly to the cross, but are often far more effective for it. So let Lecrae have the liberty to be an artist and to shape the culture, and let Evangel teach and shape you as a Christian.