Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Letter to Our Young Brothers and Sisters

UPDATE: (12/5/13) Several of the men on the above panel have issued apologies. Their comments can be found here, here and here.

UPDATE: (12/21/13) The NCFIC site administrators have removed the original video from the NCFIC web and blog sites.

To our dear brothers and sisters,

Our culture — within and outside of the Church — will always misunderstand your Kingdom work ... at this, you must not be dismayed.

You know better than anyone that we are in the midst of a devastating cultural crisis, a cancer that is destroying souls in our community.  This cultural cancer doesn't discriminate by socioeconomic class or by color, but merely takes different manifestations according to the hopelessness that festers in each of the despairing.  

We have seen the rise of ghetto nihilism, Wall Street nihilism, government nihilism, Hollywood nihilism, gender nihilism, and on and on.  Many of our self-appointed cultural gatekeepers are exploiting this crisis for personal gain, instituting programs and legislation that promise satisfaction, yet work against the liberating biblical principles we seek to teach.

For those who live and work in our most hopeless areas, be it in the city, the 'hood,' or in the 'burbs, it sometimes seems as if the deck is stacked against our Kingdom work.  And so, we carefully count each hard-won victory as precious Kingdom treasure — each life saved, each family mended, each young woman or man who comes to see themselves a bit more clearly through Christ’s eyes, know Him more intimately, and find their ultimate identity in Him.    

Thanks to your labor, God is not without human testimony.  Daily, for decades, you have been used to breathe new life into dry bones.  Yours has been a powerful and refreshing voice of redemption and cultural renewal.

Now, a new set of self-appointed gatekeepers has emerged who are out of touch with our most basic core concerns. 

Even more disheartening, these gatekeepers wear our family name ... the name of Christ.  They have decided that one of our many cultural facets — Reformed hip-hop — needs their permission to be valid and legitimate.  And while they, as brothers, certainly have as much right as we to speak of moral matters, they have impacted our community with an ill-timed and uninformed voice to assess our cultural and theological expression. 

Be assured; we do not need anyone's permission to teach or ‘do theology’ from our unique cultural position, nor are we required to justify ourselves to self-appointed Christian gatekeepers; they simply have no authority over us as our basis for cultural validation.   

We all have a tendency to confuse cultural norms with Biblical ones; yet this is especially harmful when done by the dominant culture of any society.  All too often the dominant culture is blind to the knowledge that they, too, have a culture that is in need of redemption at the cross.  

Ideally, as we grow, we learn to value cross-cultural interaction, and enter into fellowship that informs us of our blind spots.  However, this is radically different from one culture determining what is proper application of Scripture in the context in which another culture lives. To say it another way, one culture cannot use itself or its aesthetic as the standard to judge another; only the Word of God can make that assessment.   

Dr. John Frame’s broader interpretation of the regulative principle helps to widen our understanding of worship to include all spheres of life.  Frame gives us a helpful scriptural foundation for understanding Reformed hip-hop as a musical genre in the larger artistic milieu.
It is always preferable to bring our culturally dominant brothers and sisters along on our journey of theological expression and help them understand us, rather than just ignore them.  However, it is foolish to let dominant approval determine whether or not we continue to minister to the people in our own sub-dominant context.

And while we must constantly examine our own ministry motives and be open to legitimate correction, given the depth of our current cultural crisis we do not have the luxury of extended  preoccupation with illegitimate assertions.  We must be cautious stewards of the time we’ve been granted, wary not to spend it all educating Christians in the dominant culture while neglecting those among us who are still blind and searching for the Kingdom Door.  

Is it worth the trouble to press on from here?  Unequivocally, yes.  We need your unique voices to accompany the hands that labor; the didactic role of Reformed hip-hop is a powerful one.  When built on sound theology and done skillfully, it speaks to those to whom others cannot speak, and encourages those to whom they will not go. 

Of course, we do not limit ourselves to Reformed hip-hop as our singular expression of sound theology, but we may embrace it for what it is: a valuable tool that has brought understanding to a community that desperately needs a theology robust enough to carry the freight and weight of life.  

So do not hesitate to use every sound theological tool at your disposal to wage war ... the lives  of men, women and children are at stake.  Do not let this distract you from your call to battle the nihilism of our day, redeeming the very vehicle that nihilism hijacked and now uses to demean and destroy us.  Through this medium, what once brought death now brings Life; it does so in a reality that the dominant culture is often unwilling to engage — either physically, or even in philosophy. 

Those who accuse you are as absent in our communities as the fathers and mothers you stretch yourselves thin to replace.  Yet Christ is present and we continue strong in Him. 

You are no one’s coward; you who stare down a full history of negation within and outside of the Church; you who hold a high view of Scripture and of the character of God, who strive to live above reproach to His glory; you who understand all too well the darkness from which you have been redeemed...

Indeed, He has brought us all 'from a mighty long way'.

We leave you with this: 

Laboring with you,

The Ellises, Carl and Karen


  1. Beautiful, clear and a needed response.

  2. Thank you, Mr. & Mrs. Ellis.

    "Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings." - 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (NIV)

  3. It seems like the NCFIC panelists were thinking that Reformed Rap is intended for worship in the church, which is of course, ridiculous. Either that, or they are going the fundy route of banning all music for the purposes of entertainment.

    And it was also painfully obvious that they are not acquainted with Rap as a musical genre. They didn't even seem to realize that it is a form of poetry whose emphasis is on the lyrics, and traditionally deals with serious topics, including suffering and pain. Rap is a much more suitable medium than, for example, country music, to express deep truths with precision. I say this as a conaisseur of both genres.

  4. Wisely spoken, Carl and Karen. I'm sure much more can be said about the extended ministry of Reformed hip-hop to the culture of largely white, middle-class, suburban nihilism, which has long resonated with the themes and musical forms of rap and hip-hop. I have witnessed this ministry firsthand, and I am thankful to God for it.

  5. What I have come to understand is that the dominant culture, of which I am a part, has no sense of understanding that their theology is as contextual as everyone else's. What we believe/do is "normal" and everyone else has a culture. The problematic attitude of perceived normalcy was highly evident in the hip hop discussion. Excellent response!

  6. Very well penned and God-centered response!

  7. This is a wonderful response to what was surely a narrow and short sighted response by the leaders on this NCFIC panel. I applaud your kindness and grace in the admonition of these leaders and whole heartedly agree with the ideas that you express above. Thank you for using your gifts of discernment and articulation to help me better understand this issue and have an answer prepared for those who will undoubtedly side with these painfully misinformed leaders. Your reference to Dr. Frame's material was also very interesting and informative.

  8. Awesome response and encouragement to those who labor.

  9. As I replied on your Twitter account and now here.... tearful and heartfelt thank you for your clarity of the apparent cultural diversity that birthed this form of theology in rap form, with a Christ centered and God Honoring approach...May our brothers who hold up the banner of Truth be encouraged further by your words. Soli Deo Gloria!

  10. This is an excellent post. I would add that when compromise has stilled the Church's prophetic voice, God sometimes uses prophets from what is regarded as the margins and even outside the Church to check who is listening to content and who is following a crowd. So sometimes there is a grain of the prophetic truth hidden in the most disdained art form so that we should not just listen to Reformed Hip Hop, but to that outside of our faith. And even if there is no prophetic truth there, by listening we will learn how to better share the Gospel with others.

  11. You wrote, "The didactic role of Reformed hip-hop is a powerful one."
    Exactly! To truly reform 21st Century schools that are in marginalized postures, the didactic role cultivated by skillful school leaders and families will greatly impact the lives of children. Sound theology is the first layer.
    Thank you for a wonderful post! It is a powerful tool!