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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Continuing the discussion with my students, I am taking a look at the book The Hip-Hop Church by Efrem Smith and Phil Jackson. Efrem Smith is senior pastor of The Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis, MN, and Phil Jackson is associate pastor of Lawndale Community Church and pastor of The House in Chicago, IL.
  1. Smith and Jackson say, "Hip-hop is not, of course, the first popular movement to use the arts to speak to political, social, and spiritual issues, but it has done so representing the underclass of urban America as well as the African American middle class as it fights assimilation (p. 64)." This claim seems to be central to the argument of the book. Along with it, Smith speaks of the potential to "spiritually hijack" hip-hop culture as a way to proclaim the gospel. What do you make of this perspective on hip-hop culture and the church?
  2. What is the most important theological or practical insight you gained from reading this book?


Marcus said...

What do you make of this perspective on hip-hop culture (as representing the underclass of urban America as well as the African American middle class as these fight assimilation) and the church ("spiritually hijacking" hip-hop culture as a way to proclaim the gospel)?

-I read these authors’ perspective as being generally on point. Hip-Hop is a bottom-up art form, culture and movement. The Civil Rights movement was for the bottom people too, but was an elite mode of movement. Dr. Boykin Sanders argues this point well in Blowing the Trumpet In Open Court. That said, I cannot think of an urban birthed, anti-assimilation art form that has functioned both as a voice to black and non-black people about urban American and black American life (middle class and down), and as a voice for the urban (whatever race), underclass (whatever race), and black. With astounding flexibility, Hip-Hop has covered, is covering and is expanding to cover even more bases as it functions in these same characteristic ways. This to-for functionality is ontologically inherent to Hip-Hop, but can be utilized by any that are on the bottom, any where in the world. (This not to say that those above can’t co-opt or extract and commercialize aspects of Hip-Hop and “pass” publicly, as a faux Hip-Hop. Indeed this does happen.) Just consider how German youth and other European, Asian, African and Latin people are adopting this culture and art form to “report” and self-empower in their own particular life circumstances. Certain things that are constants among these persons throughout the world are: a.) poverty and institutional oppression is present b.) “suburban” or more well off people pick Hip-Hop up too c.) the art forms (especially emceeing) are inseparable from the culture of Hip-Hop. One does not get picked up without the other. Not all places reflect the culture to the same extent, or even conceptualize it as completely as has been presented in the book, but where the art form is the culture is there too, worldwide.

-Concerning the church, I agree that Hip-Hop is flexible enough to authentically carry the gospel. By authentic I am referring to both an authentic “gospel” message (it could even be an orthodox “good news”) as well as to the fact that Hip-Hop carrying this authentic gospel (even an orthodox gospel) would not create a faux Hip-Hop. This is because a fundamental element of Hip-Hop is “real” which is used descriptively and prescriptively. But, because usually the church (Christians) is not about being “real”, it is about being right, the culture of Hip-Hop will reject the church unless the church chooses to come, “real”, into Hip-Hop. For example, the reason I am personally suspicious of the orthodox and the protestant line, as a Christian, is because the church and Christians lie too much. It’s like there is a sick, perverse reasoning that goes: Version over veracity. Who cares that there are some veracity problems with Nicene Christology, we like that version and we are sticking to it. Who cares that Constantine Christianity has some veracity problems, we like that version of Christianity and we are sticking with it. Hip-Hop doesn’t reason this way. What is the real? Are you being real? Is your version of “real” actually about hiding what is the real? Hip-Hop says: If what you are bringing is real and you are being real, then we’ll see it shown without propping up and “trying” at it. Understand clearly, in Hip-Hop right is essential, but real is too. A person that is about right and is real, even when everybody sees them blow it, gets accepted and respected in Hip-Hop. Why? Because good or bad, right or wrong they kept it real. You can trust people like that and you can be real with people like that. For me, that is the kind of community I want to be in. (Note: Everybody talkin’ bout Hip-Hop ain’t Hip-Hop. So keeping it real with common sense is crucial. But this is no different than the church. Also, this sense of “real” has roots and history in the black experience and comes through in black church songs like “…God is real, real in my soul…”, “…I want to be real, real, real in my heart…”, etc. The Blues is another example because in the blues, reality is declared- your man/woman did leave you, your heart is broken, your woman is dead, your man is a cheating abuser- but it doesn’t leave you there, it helps you get to the other side of what you are going through in the real moments of life; got this analogy from a Wynton Marsalis interview.)

2. What is the most important theological or practical insight you gained from reading this book?

I just may have found for my ministry (service to humanity) the equivalent of what the Roman Empire was to Paul’s ministry. I like Hip-Hop as it is. I do not want to Christianize it. Rather I may make my intellectual, philosophical and theological workspace within it. This book showed me the weak points, undeveloped areas, and some rotten spots in Hip-Hop. The book clearly articulated a comprehensive framework that I had never seen concerning Hip-Hop, even though I am a product of the Hip-Hop culture. Quite frankly I have never had the notion to “study” it, it has always been apart of my life. I plan to dig into the study of Hip-Hop even deeper to see how I can strengthen and develop the culture, particularly the theology, ethics and philosophy of Hip-Hop. I have said many times that I felt that Christianity was too narrow for the kind of work that I am doing and aspire to do, Hip-Hop may be just right for me and provide me with a stable, relatable point of departure.

Mike Broadway said...

I'm posting for Cathy, who wrote . . .

What do I make of Smith and Jackson’s perspective on hip-hop culture and the church? As some have commented, hip-hop is a culture that may be here to stay and the Body of Christ has to find a way to embrace it for the glory of God. I struggle with this idea because, although there are some imperfections with the biblical text, it is my belief that the Bible speaks {completely} to “Political, social, and spiritual issues.” Coming out of the Sixties as a preteen, my seven older siblings endured and embraced “Black Power, Woodstock, Vietnam, Flower Child, riots, the March on Washington, bus boycott, Kennedy’s assignation” and much more of that turbulent time of social change. They grew up and became responsible change agents in their communities; some were spiritually guided - Christ believers and charged residents in poor communities. My point is this, What may be “the soup of the day” (such as hip-hop) can easily be tomorrow’s leftovers.

The most important theological or practical insight that I have gained from reading this book is an awareness of the work that the saints of God need to do for our youth. If Smith and Jackson’s statistics are true, then too many young people are hurting, confused, trapped, weaker and wiser, and the Word of God is being altered to fit their agenda and purposes. In essence, our youth are being led astray by false gods. I do not endorse Smith and Jackson’s central argument or this hip-hop movement. When the unadulterated gospel is preached, it will speak to the heart. Hip-hop is just another form of entertainment; it has become idol worship.

Mike Broadway said...

I'm posting for Marcus, who wrote . . .

My preferred method of discussion or debate is to leave with something each can agree and hopefully build upon in later interaction. Therefore, I will try to focus this response to the item we both agree about. The "unadulterated gospel" is exactly what our times need. I'm just convinced that this "unadulterated gospel" can be carried by Hip-Hop, just like the roads of the Roman Empire carried Paul. Now, what the "unadulterated gospel" is in my mind is going to be different from what it is in Cathy's mind. I do maintain that Hip-Hop can inform and enhance Christianity and society in general IF the weak, undeveloped and rotten spots are addressed. I will give some serious thought to bringing this kind of contribution to Hip-Hop. I'm sure Cathy is still going to treat me nice if i do...:-)

Mike Broadway said...

I'm posting for Cathy, who wrote . . .
Marcus, you are so right to say that Smith and Jackson’s “Perspective {is} on point.” These authors make a very good presentation on what their hopes and aspirations are regarding hip-hop. They clearly articulate their perspectives and goals for this culture.

Jesus commissioned the Body of Christ to make disciples; Jesus does not say that clergy and laypersons may not “Use elements within it {the church } as means for bringing the message of Jesus Christ to those living in hip-hop.” (Page 19) I love Smith and Jackson’s desire to reach the hip-hop culture, but also realize that it is not the approach that I would take to win souls for Christ.

“The bottom” does not exist for those who are in-Christ; after all, isn’t it just a state-of-mind that cannot classify a people? Our goal is to lead all peoples and their problems, issues, illnesses, diseases, sins, needs, desires, etc. to Christ so that transformation can occur. This is why I agree with Smith and Jackson’s desire to reach the hip-hop community, but not necessarily their method.

I think that “old school” or traditional churches and Christians will most likely not accept or support hip-hop carrying the Gospel. As previously stated, how can the musical art form of hip-hop be a communicator of what is right, holy, just, and pure (the Gospel) when its lyrics are literally ebonic?

The book has also acquainted me with hip-hop’s fragility and corruptness, but mainly about a culture/movement that is so very far removed from Protestantism. I cannot compare this book with any other resource concerning hip-hop because I have never read literature on this topic before. I am happy that Marcus has found a work that he wishes to further pursue. I am mainly interested in the study of ethics and poverty; John Perkins and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove have inspired me.

A “Service to humanity” for me is to advocate for the: poor, down-trodden, abused, sick, children, elderly, homeless, motherless & fatherless, falsely accused, along the lines of the Gospel and the witness of the Holy Spirit. In my poorest state, I always knew that God had my best interests at heart. I also knew that I would one day be in a position to reach back to help someone’s else. Today is that day.


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