Thursday, December 10, 2009

Truth and Culture

When it comes to truth and culture, I've found it helpful to use the analogy of the lyrics and melody of a song. Here's what I mean:

Truth= Lyrics
Cultural Expression = Melody

In this analogy, the content of the gospel is the "lyrics" of the song and cultural expression is the "melody" of the song. The "lyrics" (gospel content) should never change. Truth transcends language, ethnicity and cultural expression. The gospel is the same whether it's proclaimed in China, the Sudan or the Bronx.

"Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve."- 1 Corinthians 15:1-5

The objective facts concerning Jesus Christ's atoning death for sinners and glorious resurrection have always been a part of the gospel message and always will be. When these things are missing, the gospel is not being proclaimed. In addition to this, we would add the truth that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone. This content would be the "lyrics" of the song in our analogy. If we are to faithfully proclaim the gospel, the lyrics must not change, regardless of the context.

At the same time, cultural expression varies. Cultural expression is the "melody". The sound of the "song" will be as varied as the amount of languages that are spoken. I should not expect the melodies of a Japanese gospel song to necessarily sound the same as the melodies of a gospel song in Trinidad.

"After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!"-Revelation 7:9-10

The beauty of God's design is that He is drawing a people to Himself that represent a staggering amount of diversity (vs. 9). And yet, the "lyrics" to the song are the same-"Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and unto the Lamb!" (vs. 10)

Of course, we have a tendency to prefer our own "melodies"- the cultural expressions which are familiar to us. In turn, we look down on unfamiliar "melodies" and even attempt to make our "melodies" seem righteous compared to others. Some even try to make a case that certain "melodies" are inherently sinful- even without Scriptural support. But at the end of the day, the key question is if the "lyrics" match up with what the lyrics have always said. If so, Christians should at least be able to rejoice in that, even if the "melody" is strange or unfamiliar to us.

grace and peace,


Aquatiki said...

Fantastic metaphor. Melody can highlight or hide lyrics, and the gospel expressed in a given culture may emphasize or downplay various parts of it. Some cultures relish judgment and others grace. The gospel is like a multi-faceted jewel which has to be turned over and over. Thanks for the imagery.

Phillip said...

We've been waiting a minute to hear from you fam! Love you and praying for you and Epiphany.

shai said...

@Aquatiki- Glad it's helpful! And good point about different aspects of the gospel emphasized in different cultures.

@Phillip- Thanks for your prayers! It's been a tough year. One crisis after the next. The blog had become less and less a priority, especially as I tweeted regularly. But I would like to be more diligent in updating regularly!

grace and peace,

Joel Shaffer said...

I think those critics who believe certain musical styles or melodies are inherently sinful are viewing culture (and in this case, cultural expressions) primarily through the fall and the depravity of man. I do not deny that the fall and depravity of man has a major influence on culture, however, it is the wrong place for them to start and it is not the final word about culture. Instead, I believe a more Biblical way to view culture is through the lens of creation-fall-redemption-consummation. When we begin with God creating everything good and God creating humans as his image bearers who bear the responsibility of developing and harnessing culture (including music expressions), then we cannot conclude that a musical style is inherently evil. When we realize that the rebellion of Adam and Eve severely maimed God’s image in humankind and all creation, we understand that the depravity of man can and has distorted culture. Yet through the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, his people are redeemed and we see how God’s redemption generates a Kingdom rippled affect within their respective cultures and other cultures. In the future, when Jesus judges the earth and brings the New Jerusalem to a New Earth, his redeemed people from every tongue, tribe, and nation will worship Christ forever and will continue developing and harnessing culture (including Hip-Hop) for the glory of God, without any trace of sin, but rather with the righteousness of Christ. D.A. Carson explains in his book, “Christ and Culture Revisited” how if one of these redemptive turning points in history in relationship to culture is ignored or overly emphasized to the exclusion of others, then our views of culture become distorted. I am convinced that those who proclaim certain musical styles as inherently evil are ignoring the doctrine of creation and have misapplied the fall and depravity of man, and have unknowingly embraced a modern form of Gnosticism that is similar to what the apostle Paul was addressing in I Timothy 4:1-5. Paul even called it “doctrine of demons” when false teachers were forbidding people certain aspects of culture such as marriage and eating certain foods. Then Paul points Timothy to the fact that God created these aspects of culture as “good.” Anyway, I better stop before I get too carried away. Just know that there are many of us that embrace Holy Hip-Hop from a Biblical worldview and that we appreciate you as a theological spokesman for Holy Hip-Hop.

Becky said...

Eloquently said! I dig analogies and am always looking for fresh ones to use (so I can mix it up and not sound like a broken record). This is a great way to state it and extends to so many applications/situations because everyone gets music.

Jason Ramsey said...


The falls impact shades on everything, that is how big it was. As we're all born totally depraved so we can make good things sinful, its our greatest talent right?

I have never heard a solid argument against rap as a genre. Biblically there isn't a leg to stand on, what we need is more people standing up and taking a high view of scripture and a low view of man. I need to remind myself of this all the time... whether I am writing a song or preaching from the pulpit.

Shai, thanks for that helpful blog man. Let us be men and women of the truth. For the truth truly has set us free. From dead men, to alive in Christ (EPH 2)


Anonymous said...


Thanks for being a vessel for the Lord. Keep rapping for Christ and fearlessly presenting the Good News without holding anything back. I'm blessed to see God working through your life.

-Anthony Karam, Lexington, KY (a recent discoverer of your music)

iOriginal said...

Hey shai, its me I've commented on one of your previous post. I loved this one. When scriptures, books about god, and songs make sense and appeal to me I tend to smile. I found myself smiling all throughout this post. nice job. come check out my blog sometime

tck said...

Great analogy!

Matt said...

shai- you go hard on the track! philly's got ill flow but the content is unfortunately not there. glad to see a brother combine that with biblical truth! i'm definitely feelin you from CA!

Mr. PSb said...

Well spoken, sometimes people are too blinded by their own biases to see the truth. Being arbitrary gets one nowhere.

sean said...

Shai, I love you brother. I have been blessed immensely by your albums and this is my first time visiting the site. I arrived here while slaving over my own "lyrics" so to speak. I am a stand-up comedian, once secular now regenerate by the grace of God. I have been thoroughly convicted about the very things you wrote about in this post. Much of Christian comedy is just clean and often goofy jokes without the content of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If anything a message or testimony is tagged onto the end usually not by the comic themselves. It seems an impossible task to have such rich content as is seen in Christian hip hop and maintain the melody of comedy. I feel I must find a way to submit my material to the gospel or be rid of it. I find it impossible to biblically reconcile the fact that I am granted the opportunity to stand before thousands, many of whom do not know Him, and spend it speaking of mostly trivial things. Your prayers and counsel would be greatly appreciated, and congratulations on the internship.

Soli Deo Gloria
Sean Cullum

Kwaselizabeth said...


beautiful thoughts on the form vs substance debate. two questions:

1. when the analogy is pressed to adapt to the missional context in terms of the lyrical presentation of Biblical concepts, what's the best way to make sure it's got the right balance of liberal expression and conservative doctrine? (eg, ad libs?)

2. as i wrestle through the missional implications of your post, it seems like some sort of ecclesial dialogue is needed to help address this balance issue.

i'm actually praying about utilizing a blog webpage for this purpose. what are some alternative formats that you would suggest? (or ideas with this one?)

grace and peace

Rob said...

Shai, I have been blessed by your lyrics, not just the truthful content, or the rhyiming, but the grouping of words with similar consonant sounds, and the breaks and pauses you add at certain parts of words and sentences really have impressed me. I do not listen to rap, so you had my ear through the truth, to listen to a different cultural expression. I was amazed at the talent and complexity of how you put words together and form a beat with them, and then the power of the words on top of that is amazing!
I am still thinking through your analogy and I don't know if I can totally agree. I do agree that the truth can be expressed through various cultural expressions, but I wouldn't necessarily believe that ALL forms of music are OK. Now I recognize that I am not the end all decider on what is or isnt pleasing to God...but I think we can easily think of some types of music that wouldn't be, because of its aim or intent. I guess its a gray line. I figure that if it draws my attention to the performer(s) or to just the music itself, then it is not pleasing to God...but if it draws my attention to God, then it most likely is pleasing to Him....
Thanks for openly sharing your thoughts and talent!! God bless you brother!

Anonymous said...

Hi Shai

I only just discovered your music, you have a real gift! Thanks for serving the body of Christ so faithfully.

In all selfishness, it's a shame that your internship is resulting in your local church benefiting at the expense of the global church - I excitedly await the next album!

Do you have any plans to visit the UK any time soon?

DoulouChristou said...

Well put Shai. This blog reminds me of Timothy Keller's thoughts on true freedom. He made a point that skeptics of Christianity robs cultures of there freedom. He explained that on the contrary Christianity does the exact opposite. He described how the message of the Gospel redeems their cultural values and routines. No longer do the tribes in Africa beat their drums to spirits in the forest in fear, instead they now can worship the true and living God who died for them. In Genesis we were give the responsibility to create cultures, the purpose of that was so God could be glorified diverse number of ways. Note that in the Scriptures when we are commanded to worship. There is no technical specification as to how we go about it. Check Col. 3:16-17