Stop Singing About God’s ‘Favor’

Stop Singing About God’s ‘Favor’

If I hear one more contemporary gospel song talk about God’s favor, I’m gonna lose it.

“Favor,” wails Karen Clark Sheard. “You will never want for anything.” “Nothing can stop the favor of The Lord,” proclaims Israel and New Breed. “It’s my time for God’s favor,” shouts Kurt Carr. “I ain’t waitin’ no more!”

Since these aren’t exactly new songs, let me offer instead an example from the world of holy hip-hop, a song called “Favor” by William “Duce” Branch, a.k.a The Ambassador (formerly of The Cross Movement), from his latest album entitled Stop the Funeral:

It wasn’t a fancy car, it wasn’t a diamond ring / it wasn’t friends or lovers at the end of the day / ‘cause we know this life’s hard, and it can bring trouble / in the midst of this trouble, no one can take it away / you need His favor, His favor, His favor, His favor

I don’t want to sound like Debbie Downer here, because the truth is, I really like each of these songs. They’re good songs.  Musically and emotionally, they have been a blessing to me at various times.

But I’m concerned that by continually singing songs like these, gospel musicians might be unintentionally sending a bad message.

The truth about favor

The problem with songs like these is not that they’re not true at all, but that they contain enough truth to be dangerous. (After all, the worst lies are mixed with the truth.) So for example, I do believe that as Christians, each of us do have divine favor. We love and serve a God that is for us, and not against us. And this favor isn’t because of what we’ve done for Him, but because of what He’s done for us — specifically that He made us alive in Christ, even when we were dead in our transgressions.

But this news isn’t complete if we are not articulating more clearly and accurately the basis of God’s favor on our lives. After all, most Christians believe that God loves everyone, but I don’t think the folks who sing these songs believe such favor is universally accessible to everyone regardless of faith background or life experience. We sing these songs with the mindset that God’s favor rests exclusively on those who are … well … Christians.

In other words, God’s favor may not cost money, but it costs something. However one defines the Christian life, that’s what it supposedly costs.

The view from the outside

Unfortunately, what we on the inside see as a joyful celebration of God’s favor can appear from the outside to nonbelievers as either selfish gloating (“Favor? Why you and not me?”) or indulgent self-delusion (“Favor? Who are they kidding?”). This misunderstanding often comes because of moralistic therapeutic deism, which says, among other things, that good people go to heaven because they do good things (like going to church). So if you’re not socially accepted within your church circle, too bad. No church, no heaven, no favor.

This is clearly NOT the gospel message, but we shouldn’t be surprised when people get it twisted up. Gospel music has become so appreciated and appropriated by mainstream culture that the very term “gospel” means and connotes Black church style more than it does a message of salvation through faith in Christ.

I suppose it’s fair to say that different songs are aimed for, marketed toward, and enjoyed by different segments of people, so that a song written by and for Christians shouldn’t be evaluated by non-Christians, because that would be like an apples-to-oranges comparison.

Except that I compare apples and oranges all the time. (I like oranges better.)

And it’s also fair to say that one song should not have to serve as an overall theological representation of a particular artist, church, or organization.

But what if one song is all that gets heard?

In the marketplace of competing ideas and ideologies, we Christians can’t afford to ignore our public perception. We need to be aware of what it might look like to our nonbelieving friends on Facebook if or when the dominant themes reflected in the gospel songs we share are about a divine favor that looks and feels alien and inaccessible to those not steeped in Black church culture.

Theology from below

The truth is, God’s favor truly is open to everyone. Anyone can receive the good news and become a follower of Jesus. You don’t have to know the lyrics to “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” to get in on it. An authentic Christian life does not need to be stamped with cultural markers for divine approval.

So part of what we need is to be able to view our theology “from below” — that is, with the needs of the marginalized in mind so that we can make sure that what we’re saying actually sounds like good news to those who need it.

The bitter irony in seeing The Ambassador record a song about favor is that he operates within a cultural persona that is, in the Black church, particularly unfavorable. First, he is a hip-hop emcee, so by cultural association he is seen as loud, audacious, and overly confrontational (or borderline demonic if you ask G. Craige Lewis). Second, he has recently rebounded from an infidelity scandal that could have torpedoed his marriage and career, though thankfully both have survived.

Either way, his artistic and pastoral voice represents a growing segment of Black men who no longer feel at home in the church. So in the context of all the other songs about God’s favor that fail to address many of the social ills that afflict Black people, Amba’s song “Favor” seems like another example of a popular Black artist drinking the prosperity Kool-Aid in order to gain broader acceptance within the church.

Having listened to the rest of Stop the Funeral, I don’t really think that’s true.

But that’s how it looks.

My plea is for Christians who make music for a living to pay closer attention to the words and ideas they use, and do the best they can to be as accessible as possible to listeners of different cultural backgrounds.

Because Ambassador is right — God’s favor is a wonderful thing.

I just hope his listeners get the rest of the message.

We Interview The Ambassador, Da′ T.R.U.T.H., Mali Music and More!

We Interview The Ambassador, Da′ T.R.U.T.H., Mali Music and More!

Late last month, The Misfit Tour, featuring Christian Hip-Hop′s biggest artists stopped in
Chicago. We caught up with heavyweights like The Ambassador, Da′ T.R.U.T.H.,
Mali Music and more, backstage for exclusive interviews. The term “misfit” isn′t just for
show. Several artists have raw stories of scandal that have been made quite public recently,
but they are back with a battle cry of redemption and they are recruiting soldiers left on the
field. Watch the video below!


Music video featuring Ambassador, Sean Simmonds, Da′ Truth, Mali Music and more below!

Taking Hip-Hop Higher

Taking Hip-Hop Higher

Grammy nominated hip-hop artist Flame (whose given name is Marcus Gray) opened for Will Graham and Newsboys at the Jersey Shore Will Graham Celebration at the Great Auditorium on May 21. Urban Faith News & Religion Editor Christine A. Scheller spoke to him before his set. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

URBAN FAITH: People don’t necessarily connect hip-hop with graduate education, but you’re studying for a master’s degree in counseling.

FLAME: Hip-hop is an urban expression. It grew out of, I won’t say a rebellious spirit, but it was very outspoken and typically on a street level. It was expressive of social issues and things of that nature, but eventually I think guys realized a better way to impact people with their worldview is through education. Even from my perspective as a Christian artist wanting to forward a Christian message to the world, I thought it would be great to marry education with hip-hop ministry. That way it could be more potent.

 What does that look like in practical terms?

It’s so crazy because music, I believe, really under-girds the counseling. If you can do songs centered around the things you hear in a private sessions concerning identity in Christ, concerning deep-seated issues, the repetitive nature of music, hip hop in particular, is like sermonettes over music, so it reinforces what you hear and hopefully it becomes repetitious.

Do you incorporate what you’ve learned in school into your songs?

Absolutely. That’s my goal. There is a song titled “Tonight” and it’s like prayer requests, but it’s the heart of the believer to be closer to our God. It’s very specific in the things we should turn away from and things we should turn to, as a result of putting off sin and putting on righteousness. That’s one of the songs that stands out to me.

How do you study and travel?

The cool thing is [I take] week intensive classes, so we pack a semester into a short period of time. Those are very convenient for my lifestyle right now. It’s rotisserie style for me in the Master’s degree. I’m enjoying it though. I have two more years, then a Master’s thesis and all that fun stuff.

What are the challenges of being on the road and how do you deal with them?

It’s been a great thing to travel with my wife. The friendship. The accountability. She’s my best friend. We’re business partners as well. One of the challenges is knowing when to check out, in the sense of we’re so in front of people and always doing things concerning the music ministry, so it kind of gets intertwined. It’s like: where do we cut this thing off and just be a couple? That’s probably one of the biggest challenges, but we try to take a vacation every year and celebrate our anniversary and make sure we’re very intentional. We also have accountability from our church home. Brothers and sisters who are praying for us, asking us hard questions, and making sure we’re prioritizing the right things.

Holy Hip-Hop and Gospel Bargains

Holy Hip-Hop and Gospel Bargains

REAL DEAL: Rapper Tedashii is back with fresh beats and a sweet deal for fans.

Beginning today, GroupTune.com is offering an exclusive $11.99 download bundle of  hip-hop artist Tedashii‘s May 31 release Blacklight, plus his 2009 album Identity Crisis, three videos about the making of Blacklight, and six exclusive music videos from both albums.

Blacklight “is an attempt to uncover what we all often conceal, as Tedashii deeply exposes himself as an artist, Christian and human being, while infusing the common themes of hope and living with the end in mind,” wrote a reviewer at Rapzilla. “The singular message of a future hope to be realized in eternity is woven into the array of sounds, outputting songs that offer a social commentary on today’s culture and address the day-to-day struggles many face,” wrote the reviewer.

“After a brief hiatus and 2 teasingly-epic singles, Tedashii is following up his sophomore Identity Crisis with an even more diverse and mature album called Blacklight. While I worried that the Tron-like cover would make the album seem like a rip-off or even corny, rest assured the hype for this album is highly deserved,” wrote another at ChristianMusicZine.com.

Like all GroupTune offers, this one is available for one week only, said GroupTune founder Matt Shamus.

GroupTune works like GroupOn in that subscribers receive exclusive offers through email, Facebook, and Twitter, but GroupTune specializes in downloads of Christian music, books, and sermons, he said.

Some artists are not comfortable promoting themselves and their work through social media platforms, so Shamus created GroupTune (after 10 years at DiscRevolt) to help them connect with fans on their own terms and market directly to them, he said.

Summer deals will include music by Israel Houghton and Tadashii’s fellow Reach Records artists including Lecrae, said Shamus.

If you try this new service, let us know what you think.