He Saw That It Was Good: An Interview with Sho Baraka

He Saw That It Was Good: An Interview with Sho Baraka

As our world becomes more divided and we seek to reconcile with ourselves and our neighbors we know we need God more than ever. But how can we hear and follow God in the midst of our fractured reality in ways that are faithful and life-giving? UrbanFaith sat down with the artist, activist, and creative Sho Baraka to talk about his new book He Saw That It Was Good, which helps us think through some of the most pressing questions of our world to see the beauty and purpose of God’s creation expressed in our lives. The full interview is above and the excerpts below have been edited for clarity and length.

 

 

 

Allen

Hello UrbanFaith. We have with us one of our very own gems of our generation, as I like to say, an artist and activist. He’s a historian. He’s an author now, and that is Mr. Sho Baraka. With his book, He Saw That It Was Good. And we’re going to be able to talk with him about this book, what it was that he’s thinking, and how he’s thinking through these things, because I just feel like he’s got wisdom to drop for us today. So Sho, good to have you. 

My first question for you is one of the ones that people ask all the time, I know you as an artist. A lot of people have encountered you in that space. What made you decide to write down your thoughts in this book and continue to integrate your art in this form?

 

Sho

I think ever since I recognized that I was a creative, I think I’ve always wanted to write. As a young child, I wanted to write novels, short stories. But like my own experience, as I got older, I got introduced to hip hop and poetry from the Harlem Renaissance. And my desire for art kind of moved towards poems and music. And so I pursued more hip hop than I did writing and poetry. But I got to a place where I felt like there were there were some things that music couldn’t really quite communicate. And when we got around 2016, the political landscape started to get real divisive. People were shouting at each other, friends became disintegrated. And I said, you know, music is great, music has this place of disarming people and communicating things in ways that are really helpful to society, getting us to reimagine our world. But I feel like, I need to communicate a very straightforward, more poignant message, and also exercise these muscles that I’ve always wanted to exercise. And so in 2016, is when I really [started] to process through. All right, I think I want to write a book. The question was, what type of book?

And a lot of people wanted me to write a book about race. Because I talked about race a lot. A lot of people wanted me to write a book about politics, because I wrote about politics sometimes. But the reality of it is I’m no expert in either one of those arenas. And so what I wanted to do was say: well, what is my personal, ethical, and theological approach to work? Creativity in telling stories, which is informed by race, which is informed by politics, which is informed by our personal experiences, and therefore I can talk about race, I can talk about politics, I can talk about creativity. But ultimately, I want to show how all of those things affect how we work, and how we and how we create and tell stories in this book.

 

Allen

I love it. You mentioned  how you’re bringing in so many different things. You talk about race here, you speak, you do poetry, you do short stories in here. You’re bringing in history, you’re talking about creativity and theology. And I would say that that makes this a true theological work because us understanding God and ourselves is multiplicity, right?  And so I wonder why do you think that’s important that you’re able to bring together all those different pieces of yourself? In order to share a message why is it important that we do that kind of work? 

Sho

Yeah, I think you hit on it. I think oftentimes in theological posture in America, we’ve separated. Really, we’ve created a bifurcation of the body and spirit. You know, like there’s there’s ways to fake it and there’s ways to be. And I think Jesus very much so, the Bible very much so teaches us how to be comprehensive in our beings.

[It’s okay] to weep. Jesus is very emotional with people, he has these wonderful physical relationships with people, but he also is very didactic and theoretical and philosophical. And oftentimes, we feel that we can only exist in one or two spaces. The gist, I believe, and I think this book is arguing as well, is historically, the black Christian posture has done a great job of doing both. Because you can’t separate the spiritual element, like the theory or the up in the air aspect of like, we know that Jesus is real, we know God is real. We know we believe [even when] we can’t quite feel him in that sense. But there’s also this physical aspect of: we need liberation. There’s a physical, there’s a physical desire we have, we’re on this plantation, you know, I mean, we’re asking the Lord to be rescued. But at the same time, we know that…there’s a here and now need, and then there’s a future glory that we’re going to see as well. 

And Christian faith in the black tradition has always been tethered to justice. So it’s always been tethered to this physical aspect of redeeming the world that has been broken, as well as this intellectual, inner introspective. Kind of how do I how do I wrestle with my own existential experiences, if you will. And to jump to the end of the book and kind of steal some of its glory, I talked about one of my favorite people, George Washington Carver. And that I think he had this wonderful mysticism, and I don’t want to say mysticism to scare people away from…the true and the actual, but there is a bit of mysticism about our faith. And we see that throughout the scriptures. But George Washington Carver had this physical felt God, let me relationship with God, that I think we often look at is weird to have, well, he knew nature. He knew the plants he knew. He knew that because he knew God years and his relationship with God and formed his work and his relationship. So much so that he spoke to plants. Yeah. And people who said, “It’s crazy.” And so for me, what I say is there’s this aspect of us, coming into this full, comprehensive understanding of what the gospel is. It’s not just this intellectual understanding, it’s the physical body, it’s how do we get connected with our bodies, and in the sense of that, how that impacts our communities and the things we make and create. 

 

Allen

So last question for you. And this is one of those easy takeaways, what is it that people can do?  What is it that we should do now in order to live into our vocation to make a difference? How can we approach finding our next is a better way to say it?

 

Sho

Yeah, that’s a good one of the things I this is, you know, this is not gospel, but this is just my own personal observation. I think when we think about the word calling, I think, oftentimes, we just think about what am I good at? What what’s my skills, and let me go pursue that. And I, you know, that can be very romantic and poetic, but often think that also has its problems. I think the way we should view calling is, where’s their need? And where has God led me to fulfill this particular need? Because we see that throughout Scripture, we see Moses being called to a problem. And Moses is like, well, I don’t know if you got the right guy. And God is like, No, I’ve got the right person, I just need you to go do it. And but the reality is, is Moses does have the skill sets he was born into, I mean, he was raised in the palace, you know, he knows the laws, he knows the culture. And so to send Moses back is the most wise actions you can do. And so Moses can say he’s like, but this is not what I want to do. Oftentimes, we got to get past what we want to do in order to really see great change in our society.

I hope that we start seeing vocation apart from something we just do, but it’s a part of actually creating and cultivating society. So oftentimes, you will think of artists and creatives of people who actually create culture. But the reality is, is every vocation participates in the building up of a culture of a society. And the more we wake up every day, seeing that we have this canvas, and we can paint this beautiful image of God without work, then the more intentional we’ll be about the work, we, we choose how we work every day, and how we, you know, view other people’s work. And so don’t just work at a place just to get a check.

But if that is you, if you are in a place in your life, where you only when you have to work just to provide Yeah, a lot of us are in that situation, then figure out how do you do that for the glory of God, you know, me? Because I know some people don’t have the luxury of picking a path and picking a career. Some people just have to pay bills. Yeah. But understand even in that, that’s, that’s important. That’s just that’s God glorifying, like your work doesn’t have to be tied to some sort of social good in order to be transformative. And if you’re working at the drive thru, well, the way that you come to work and the environment, you try to create the way you interact with the customers creates culture. It creates an environment. And so I look at chick fil a, the one thing you will know about chick fil a is when you go into chick fil a people don’t be foul. They don’t be smiling, they will say My pleasure, you’re going to get a wonderful experience. I don’t know if that person can have a moment. They can have the worst day ever. They can be mad, but they don’t least fake it. Yeah.

They’ve created a culture and an environment. And I think a lot of chick fil A’s business is because of that. Yeah. what you can expect from the environment. Imagine if we all had that posture where I work, I’m going to work even if I don’t like the job to create an environment of my pleasure. And that’s that’s kind of like the way we should view our vocation. So those are a few things I think that we can do.  

Flip The Script For An Invitation into Artistic Inclusion

Flip The Script For An Invitation into Artistic Inclusion


Video Courtesy of Black Excellence Excellist


So another Black History Month is here, and for artists, writers, musicians, and other creative types that hail from the Black community, it’s an opportunity that comes with a burden.

February is a time when your workplace, school, or church might be more open to forms of artistic expression that highlights the achievements of Black people, particularly for those of you who live and/or work in a predominantly White community. And while it’s obviously a great opportunity to highlight the best of our tradition as a community, it also means that from an exposure standpoint, it’s an opening to get your songs, poems, plays, or paintings seen and heard by people who might be able to support you financially.

But the burden is the challenge of successfully executing your art without being swallowed whole by the bitterness of the struggle. I mean, let’s just be honest: struggle might be the catalyst that serves to incubate powerful works of art, but it’s terrible as a sales technique. No one can alienate their audience through their art and simultaneously persuade them to become financial supporters.

The truth is, we’ve come a long way as African Americans. No longer are we restricted to the kinds of gigs and roles that kept us docile and subservient in the minds of the majority. In recent years, there has been a greater level of visibility to the everyday struggle that Black Americans endure, and it’s also helped place a premium on authentic Black art that helps to articulate that struggle.

Still, if we’re not careful, we’ll fall into a false dichotomy, where we feel like either we must keep it fully 100 at all times with our art, or we’re selling out for the money.

But there’s a middle ground.

Discerning the Difference

Ten years ago, I was in a hip-hop duo traveling to a Christian camp to do a concert for a bunch of youth from the inner city. When I arrived onto the campus, I headed to the most logical place for music performance—the chapel.

As I walked into the chapel, I walked up to the sound booth, and told the guy that I was with the hip-hop group that was supposed to perform. He gave me this blank stare, so I thought, “Hey, it’s loud in here, so maybe he can’t hear me that well. I tried again, a bit louder.

“I’m with the Iccsters… y’know, the hip-hop group.”

Again, he gives me this confused stare. And then he says, “This is Christian camp.”

Right then and there, I almost lost it. I could tell that he didn’t really mean to say anything offensive to me, but it was like all the years of being stereotyped as a young Black man, overlooked and misunderstood as a rap artist, all the times hip-hop had been blamed for all of society’s problems—by other Christians, no less!—almost overwhelmed me. I wanted to set him straight and tell him that there are Christians who perform hip-hop, and his assumption was shortsighted, racist, and insulting.

But I had somewhere to go, so I swallowed that rage, walked out of the room, called my contact, and located my actual destination (a different building with a smaller setup).

Often, when I’m invited to share hip-hop as a form of worship music and find myself in spaces that remind me of that day, I’m tempted to go back to that moment, tap into that rage, and give the audience a piece of my pain.

The wisdom and maturity of age helped me learn how to posture myself, not as someone with an axe to grind, but as someone with something of value to share. And when I share my pain, I do it with an eye toward giving others an opportunity to join me in my struggle, instead of guilting them for not already being onboard.

Sometimes God calls us to stand up and fight; other times, He simply gives as an opportunity to share who we are and how we got here. As an artist, my prayer is for us to flip the script and learn to discern the difference.

Is it time for the Church to respond to hip-hop’s dominance?

Is it time for the Church to respond to hip-hop’s dominance?

The Nielsen company is most widely known as the company that measures television ratings, but it also wields its considerable research apparatus in the realm of popular music. Recently, its annual mid-year report made headlines around the blogosphere after it revealed that for the first time, more people listened to the combined genres of R&B and hip-hop than any other musical form, dethroning rock’s position at the top.

This shouldn’t be a huge surprise to anyone who’s been paying much attention, because hip-hop music and culture has been steadily moving closer and closer toward the center of American culture for decades now. Nineties rap icons Dr. Dre and Jay-Z have become multimedia moguls with their own product lines and exclusive platforms, and the house band for NBC’s flagship late-night TV show is legendary Philly hip-hop band The Roots, whose leading men Amir “Questlove” Thompson and Tarik “Black Thought” Trotter helped produce the biggest smash hit Broadway recording in decades.

Reluctant to Adapt

Hip-hop has long been a mainstream form of musical expression.

And since evangelical churches are known for adopting trends and idolizing the notion of relevance, it seems telling that, outside of a few counter examples, very few churches are intentionally embracing hip-hop as a form of worship music.

There are a variety of reasons for this. Chief among them is a centering of whiteness and white cultural norms. Even for people who do not hold any active racial animus in their conscious thoughts (and who would therefore resist the term racist as a self-descriptor), there are still both conscious and subconscious ways that the tastes, priorities and experiences of people of color are marginalized or overlooked in favor of a “mainstream” aesthetic that is often white and middle class. Therefore, most white megachurches have worship bands that sound more like U2 than they do Lecrae, even though in 2017 people tend to listen more to the latter than the former.

But white privilege doesn’t explain the reluctance that many Black churches and church leaders demonstrate in their interactions with hip-hop culture. While gospel music has undoubtedly been heavily influenced by hip-hop music and culture (through trailblazing artists like Kirk Franklin and Tye Tribbett), there are still plenty of Black congregations where the attitude communicated by both leaders and laity is that it’s not holy if it doesn’t have a choir or a Hammond B-3 organ. Though the cultural signifiers are different, there’s still a sense of cultural superiority and a reluctance to get outside of it.

Missing the Point

In my conversations with White pastors and worship leaders, there’s also an expressed sense of apprehension about engaging with hip-hop for fear of doing it wrong; those who do it poorly are rightly accused of disrespecting the artform, and those who do it too well open themselves to accusations of cultural appropriation. Often I hear from pastors who feel like it’s fine for a church to embrace hip-hop, but only if hip-hop is an authentic cultural value of their congregation. When I hear that, I feel like what they’re telling me is, “Sure, you should do hip-hop, because you’re Black and you grew up with it. But my church doesn’t have many Black people.”

This also misses the point somewhat, because what that Nielsen report tells us is that hip-hop music (and the culture surrounding it) is no longer just the domain of a minority subculture. It is a huge part of mainstream popular culture, and as it relates to contemporary music, it is the dominant culture. When Beyonce drops an album, it’s news. After 2016’s Lemonade, even middle-aged white comedians were conversant enough to make jokes about “Becky with the good hair.”

At this point, it seems like most churches end up in one of four quadrants. When it comes to hip-hop, they either:

  • Ignore it
  • Denounce it
  • Tentatively embrace it
  • Go all out in support of it

It’s been my experience that most churches take option No. 1, while some more reactionary churches end up in option No. 2 (mostly out of fear and ignorance). And the few churches I know of that take option No. 4 do so because they’re in multicultural urban contexts (like colleges, military bases or athlete fellowships) where hip-hop is lingua franca.

I think the best move is No. 3—a tentative embrace.

Alternatives and Solutions

Let me be clear: I’m not suggesting that every church needs to start incorporating trap beats, turntables and air horns into their worship services. It’s still important to maintain a sense of reverence and holiness.

However, what I think is true is that any pastor or church leader who is concerned about reaching people under 40 needs to have at least a basic grasp of certain aspects of hip-hop culture, and—more importantly—recognize that these artifacts are a major part of just how things are today. It could involve allowing the worship leader to experiment with using hip-hop beats as part of the instrumentation.

It might involve inviting local or regional (or, if you have the budget, national) hip-hop artists. It might be learning to incorporate certain hip-hop terms, slogans or mannerisms. (In one overwhelmingly white church, as a guest worship leader I led a call-and-response portion of a song where, instead of saying “amen,” the crowd was encouraged to chant “yes, yes, y’all.”)

Is this risky? Sure. Will there be times when it looks like God’s people are trying too hard to be cool? Probably. Will you make mistakes and offend people along the way? Almost certainly.

But the alternatives are also risky.

A lot of time what I hear from people in their protests of hip-hop is criticism of the rampant misogyny and consumerism, so they feel like their only option is to denounce it. But we also have a ton of consumerism and misogyny in the White House; that doesn’t mean we have to oppose the concept of the Executive Branch. The truth is, pastors should be able to help their people understand and reject the sinful elements in any culture, but you can only really do that well if you can also highlight the honorable elements. If pastors and other church leaders consistently fail in that process, they inadvertently deliver the message that they are out of touch and their judgment is not to be trusted.

And whether they fail consistently, or they just never even try in the first place, the net effect is the same—young people are driven away from the church. Spoiler alert: Jesus had something to say about people who cause others to stumble, and it’s not good.

So this opportunity represents a clear way forward in engaging generations to come with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let’s hope that God raises up a generation of leaders who are up to the challenge.

 

Lil’ Wayne, Lecrae, and Redemption

Lil’ Wayne, Lecrae, and Redemption

Lecrae wins a 2013 Grammy for “Best Gospel Album” (Photo courtesy of Newscom).

Two men.  Both Black. Both Grammy award-winning hip-hop artists.  Two completely different messages.  Within one week both Lil’ Wayne and Lecrae made headlines for their music, but for very different reasons.

Last week, Christian hip-hop artist, Lecrae, won a Grammy for “Best Gospel Album” at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards.  The prestige of music’s highest honor is noteworthy enough, but Lecrae’s achievement as a vocally Christian rapper is rare.

Lil’ Wayne’s Lyrics

In contrast, Lil’ Wayne, one of music’s most popular secular rappers, made news for lyrics that proved too controversial even for him.  Lil’ Wayne makes a featured appearance on the song “Karate Chop” by fellow hip-hop artist, Future.  The offending lyrics show up in the “remix” edition which was leaked a short time ago.  In the song Lil’ Wayne lyric refers to “rough sex and used an obscenity. He indicated he wanted to do as much damage as had been done to Till.

The part of the line that has caused so much controversy is the reference to Emmett Till.  In 1955, Till, just 14 years old, was brutally murdered in Mississippi after allegedly whistling at a White woman.  The tragedy sent ripples across the nation as graphic images of the boy’s mutilated face (his mother had insisted on an open casket to display the brutality) were splashed across newspapers and magazines.  The two White men charged in the crime were both acquitted by an all-White jury.

Wayne’s lyric serves as painful reminder of the importance of Black History month.  Many will miss the offense of Wayne’s reference if they fail to understand the identity and significance of Emmet Till.  The maiming of Till’s memory, however, is just the start.

Wayne’s words speak of doing violence to a woman’s reproductive organs and reveal the misogyny that has become commonplace and even celebrated in much of hip-hop.  His line also reveals the distorted and grotesque picture of manhood – one that defines masculinity in terms of sexual exploits and violence – that he and other hip-hop artists often portray.

In contrast, Lecrae uses his lyrical talents to pen lines like, “Ain’t dope dealin’, ain’t Po pimpin’, talkin’ ‘bout my own folk killin’/ We on that Jesus soul healin” (from the song “Fakin‘”).  Lecrae talks openly about being a Christian and makes it clear his faith drives his art.  An urban evangelist, he hopes to use his talent to penetrate mainstream hip-hop with an alternative message for the listeners.

Lil’ Wayne is not the anti-Christ and Lecrae is not sinless.  Each of these men, like all of us, are sinners. We all have wicked hearts and no one has lived in perfect obedience to God as we were designed to do.  But there is a difference between these two artists.  Redemption.

The Redemption of Culture and All Creation

I can’t make any judgments about Lil’ Wayne’s or Lecrae’s salvation.  I simply see the fruits of each man’s life and art.  Lil’ Wayne’s lyrics seem to be essentially human-centered.  Instead of looking up, his lyrics encourage listeners to look within.  By focusing only on the self, life becomes defined by personal pleasure and material prosperity.  Lecrae’s music encourages people find their identity in God first, and then act in harmony with their status as God’s children.

Scripture teaches that God will make all things new. Heaven will be a complete restoration and not obliteration.  All evil will be dispatched and all that remains will be remade into the new Heaven and the new earth. And it will be recognizable.  Music will be part of the renewed creation. And hip-hop – like sculpture, technology, and language – is part of the human creativity God will redeem.

As believers we must begin working out redemption here and now. Christ calls His followers the light of the world, the salt of the earth, and a city on a hill (Mt. 5:13-15).  So, culture-shaping cannot be left to an elite few. Whether a hip-hop artist, a hair stylist, or a health inspector, all Christians must strive to be agents of redemptive change wherever God has placed us.  If we live this way then, in many respects, the contrast between the redeemed and unredeemed life should look as stark as the contrast between Lil’ Wayne’s and Lecrae’s lyrics.

Puritans and Propaganda

Puritans and Propaganda

HOLY HIP-HOP CONTROVERSY: Rapper Propaganda’s blistering critique of Puritanism’s racist history has some Reformed listeners crying foul.

Rapper Propaganda created a tornado of criticism with the recent release of “Precious Puritans” on his new album Excellent (available here). In the song, Propaganda reminds his audience to increase their cultural intelligence by caring about the black experience in America and to recognize the fact that, like the Puritans, we all have blind spots and need to have our minds constantly renewed (Rom. 12:2) by God’s word. The song also challenges those who uncritically treat the Puritans as a protected class that stands outside of the Bible’s command to “test everything” (1 Thess. 5:21).

For those who may be unfamiliar, Puritanism was a Christian reform movement that arose within the Church of England in the late 16th century. The movement spilled over into New England well into the 17th century and had a significant influence on the mores of America’s founding. Theologically speaking, the Puritans were committed to the doctrines of grace that emerged from the Protestant Reformation, with their particular emphasis on the intersection of sound doctrine and personal piety. In recent years, many young white Baptists and non-denominational evangelicals have been looking for substantive, theologically driven, analytic approaches to personal piety rooted in a tradition they found lacking in their own backgrounds. Thirsting for depth and history, these “new-Calvinists,” with the help of well-known pastors like John Piper, have found spiritual enrichment by studying the Puritans.

“Precious Puritans” simply raises a caution about loving the Puritans too much because, although they had sound doctrine on issues like personal piety, that tradition was complicit in perpetrating injustice against Africans and African Americans during the slavery. The song opens with these words:

Pastor, you know it’s hard for me when you quote puritans.
Oh the precious Puritans.
Have you not noticed our facial expressions?
One of bewilderment and heartbreak.
Like, not you too pastor.
You know they were the chaplains on slave ships, right?
Would you quote Columbus to Cherokees?
Would you quote Cortez to Aztecs?
Even If they theology was good?
It just sings of your blind privilege wouldn’t you agree?
Your precious Puritans.

They looked my onyx and bronze skinned forefathers in they face,
Their polytheistic, god-hating face.
Shackled, diseased, imprisoned face.
And taught a gospel that says God had multiple images in mind when he created us in it.
Their fore-destined salvation contains a contentment in the stage for which they were given which is to be owned by your forefathers’ superior image-bearing face. Says your precious Puritans.

The song continues to highlight ways in which the black experience in the Puritan tradition is mishandled within white conservative evangelicalism. However, instead of leaving it simply at critique and dismissal, like we might find among some black liberation theologians, Propaganda ends the song by confessing that he is no less flawed than the Puritans, as his wife can attest, and offers praise to God because “God really does use crooked sticks to make straight lines.” That is, Propaganda is calling for humility in recognizing that, in the end the noetic effects of sin are present in the Puritans, in himself, and the rest of us. As such, what is to be praised is not any class of men but the providence and sovereignty of God that He fulfills his mission through messed up people. (Check out the video for “Precious Puritans” below.)

What’s been so odd to me is the tribalist attacks from those who fear that Propaganda is in some way throwing the Puritans under the bus to never be read again. A lamentable example of this is a blog post by Professor Owen Strachan, Assistant Professor of Christian Theology and Church History at Boyce College. In his post, Strachan suggests that the song might be dangerous because he wonders “if Propaganda isn’t inclining us to distrust the Puritans. He states his case against them so forcefully, and without any historical nuance, that I wonder if listeners will be inclined to dislike and even hate them.”

Is this a slippery slope? Does testing and critiquing leads to this? Did Martin Luther’s comments about Jews incline people to hate him and reject him? Or John Calvin’s execution of Michael Servetus? Or Abraham Kuyper’s racism? Or Jonathan Edwards slave owning? I could go on.

The answer, of course, is “yes” and “no.” Those who would reject the Puritans because of their white supremacy will themselves struggle to find much of anyone in Western Christianity to embrace. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God in some way (Rom. 3:23), including all of those we hold in high esteem. There is an obvious “no” because this is not how the Bible teaches Christians to engage in cultural and historical analysis. We are to eat the meat and spit out the bones. This includes those who are both inside and outside the tribe. There is much meat in the Puritans but there are also massive bones.

Propaganda’s point is that if white evangelicals do not talk about the bones of their heroes they run the risk of doing great harm to people of color. Many of us are beginning to wonder why white evangelicals do not seem to care much about this and seem willing to trade off “honoring” their forefathers for their own comfort over doing what is necessary to build racial solidarity. Some of my liberation theology friends, in the end, would see Strachan’s critique as a dismissal of acknowledging the importance of caring about how the Puritans are presented to African Americans and would constitute a racial microaggression or a micro-invalidation.

The largest concern is the seemingly tribal nature of many of Propaganda’s Puritan-loving critics. Could this be an example of confirmation bias? As Jonathan Haidt explains in the book The Righteous Mind, confirmation bias is “the tendency to seek out and interpret new evidence in ways that confirm what you already think” (80). In general, according to Haidt, we are good at challenging statements made by other people but when it comes to one’s own presuppositions facing opposition the tendency is to protect it and keep it. Therefore, “if thinking is confirmatory rather than explanatory … what chances is there that people will think in an open-minded, explanatory way when self-interest, social identity, and strong emotions make them want or even need to reach a preordained conclusion?” (81). In this sense, Propaganda broke a tribal code: never critique anyone within the tribe.

Strachan considers the Puritans “forefathers” and in a tribalist way, some would argue, seeks to protect their legacy. Had Propaganda dropped a track critiquing Roman Catholics, Jeremiah Wright, Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, or preachers of the prosperity gospel, he’d be called a hero. During my seminary years I was rebuked once for mentioning Martin Luther King Jr. in a sermon because of his sins. Why? Because King, like the others, are outside the tribe and are fair game to be critiqued in any form. Since they are not “one of us” there is no expectation of extending grace. Grace is reserved for those with whom we agree.

RHYTHM AND POETRY: Propaganda’s latest album, ‘Excellent.’

I experienced this tribal protectionism when I challenged Doug Wilson’s poor historiography of the antebellum South. Theologians Carl Trueman and Scott Clark experienced this recently when stating that complementarianism is not a “gospel issue.” The bottom line is that the Bible provides a model for the importance of confessing the sins of our fathers (Neh. 9:2) and testing everything (1 Thess. 5:21). Why? Because if we do not hold those in the past accountable to God’s Word we will repeat their sins. “Precious Puritans” is the iron that sharpens us. It keeps us from making the Puritans a golden calf. Racism and white supremacy is the other Reformed tradition so we need regular reminders to hold God and his Word in high esteem over the works of mere men.

After reading Strachan’s post I was left wondering if he had ever read Joseph Washington’s books on Puritans and race (Puritan Race Virtue, Vice and Values, 1620-1820: Original Calvinist True Believers’ Enduring Faith and Ethics Race Claims, Anti-Blackness in English Religion 1500-1800, and Race and Religion in Early Nineteenth Century America, 1800-1850: Constitution, Conscience, and Calvinist Compromise). In light of Washington’s research, what Propaganda did in this song is minimal. Candidly, it is difficult for me to see why Propaganda’s song stands out in light of the thousands of pages of published writings of Puritan white supremacy that seems to have had no effect on people treating them as a protected class. In the new Calvinist world, there seems to be a growing trend that you can have “hard-hitting exhortation” as long as it is directed at those who are not beloved within the new-Calvinist tribe. The best critique of Strachan’s tribalism comes from Pastor Steve McCoy, so I will not repeat his excellent points here but McCoy concludes that Strachan completely misses the point of Propaganda’s song.

Lastly, it seems that as a rapper himself, Strachan would not expect much “nuance” in a genre that normally uses hyperbole as a rhetorical device. After all, it is a rap song. Since when does anyone expect “rhythm and poetry” (a.k.a. RAP) to have nuances and qualifications? I wonder why Strachan is not treating the song according to its genre.

Strachan’s defensiveness of his forefathers, who get it right, demonstrates exactly why Propaganda needed to produce this song. In fact, perhaps we need more rhythm and poetry to help us test and confess. If artists like Propaganda are not given freedom to call us to critique our theology and culture, we cannot achieve true racial solidarity in the kingdom. Songs like “Precious Puritans” keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.