Thursday, March 24, 2011
Didactic Music by Nathan Pitchford of Monergism
When you think of different items that obviously go together as pairs, what comes to mind? Peanut butter and jelly? Socks and shoes? Reformed theology and hip-hop music? Uh...probably not those last two.
But actually, believe it or not, there are a few groups today who are intent on showing that those two items – rock solid reformed theology and hip-hop – can belong together. One such group is Christcentric, and they sent me their latest album, Didactic Music, volume one, to preview ahead of time. Below is my review of their lyrics – and after that, an enlightening interview I had with Christcentric, where they explain just what makes them tick.
Review: Didactic Music, vol. 1
As of today, Christcentric's new album, Didactic Music, vol. 1, is available on iTunes. I already had the privilege of listening, and I have to say, the name is definitely well chosen. “Didactic” means “intended for teaching,” “suitable for doctrinal instruction” -- and the album certainly is all of that. There's a treasure-house of Reformed Theology in its tracks. The hip-hop style may have come from urban America in the twenty-first century, but the doctrine came from Geneva in the sixteenth. This is classic and unashamed Reformation truth, applied with exegetical skill and emotional fervency.
The one thing about this album that stands out most poignantly is its historic rootedness with orthodox Christianity. Not only does it contain a heavy dose of the most important truths trumpeted in the Protestant Reformation, but there is also a deep-seated dependence upon the great doctrinal affirmations that the early Church fathers labored to establish. There are tracks dedicated to the Reformation slogans of “semper reformanda” (“always reforming”) and the five solas (the Latin phrases meaning that our foundation for faith and practice is “scripture alone,” and that salvation is by “grace alone,” through “faith alone,” “in Christ alone,” and “to the glory of God alone”). But there are also tracks unpacking the great Creed of Nicaea, and the orthodox formulations of the trinitarian nature of God, which were clearly stated in the doctrinal struggles of the early Church.
The album, then, is rooted in historic orthodoxy; but it is likewise applied to modern situations within the Church. For example, two tracks, in the style of a debate, lay out both sides of the doctrinal struggle between the Calvinistic and Arminian conceptions of God's grace in salvation; and the scriptural truth of monergistic regeneration is shown to provide a powerful defense of the former.
A few various tracks round out the doctrinally heavy assortment: there's a track providing a biblical theology of and introduction to the book of Acts; a re-telling of the parable of the Prodigal Son from the older brother's point of view; and a reflection on Christ's passion in the Garden of Gethsemane, among others.
Basically, this album will do much to clarify your doctrinal understanding, and ground you in the scriptural truths of the Reformation. It is truly a didactic project.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
Interview with Christcentric
There are several different reasons for writing and producing music: songs can be used to express worship to God, they can be more horizontally-focused, and attempt to say something worthwhile to other people, they can be artistic expressions of the different gifts that God has given us – what would you say your primary purpose is in producing music, and how does that affect the way that you go about your work?
Evangel: I think our music can sort of be a combination of all of the above. Our music tends to reflect the heartbeat of our convictions at the time of writing and recording. Each project we have released signifies where we were in our faith at that point in time, and shows our progression in our faith. The ultimate goal of each project is to edify the believer, offer material that they can share with non-
believers, as well as reflect on the truths of Scripture and inspire worship to the Lord. Often times in this particular genre, Christian Hip Hop or Holy Hip Hop, unrealistically proclaims to be making music "for the streets," or for the urban culture. I say it's unrealistic, because the majority of our listeners and supporters are believers. Therefore, we intentionally make music that can "stir up one another to good works," and encourage them in their faith (Hebrews 10:24).
The title of your album is “Didactic Music”. What does that mean about what you're doing? What kinds of things are you trying to teach your listeners, and why is it important that they know those things?
Evangel: The word "didactic" comes from the Greek word didaktikos, which means designed to teach or give instruction. Evidently, the nature of our music is to teach scripture to the listener. As mentioned earlier, our primary audience is believers. Our experience has been that the age of hip hop supporters tend to be young, and Christian Hip Hop is no exception. Unfortunately, with youth comes a lack of maturity, and sadly, a lack of studying God's word. We sincerely hope to challenge our listeners to be like the Bereans and search the scriptures and see whether what we say is derived from Scripture or not. Paul wrote that we should "speak to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs" (Ephesians 5:19), and that is our intent. When we look at the actual Psalms that were written in the Old Testament, they are rich with theology! By no means do we equate our music with inspired Scripture, but we see the beauty of including theology as a way of indoctrinating and inspiring reverent worship. We tend to cover topics that would be considered essential Christian doctrine, but we also like to present thought provoking songs covering topics that may be misunderstood or misrepresented. We have gotten some encouraging feedback from people who have heard some of our material and were challenged to look up verses in scripture and reconsider misunderstandings they held. We praise the Lord for reactions like that because that is our purpose! Another side of what we do is to pay tribute to our Christian heritage and the many servants of the Body throughout it's history. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears went forth so that we can have the privilege of doing music ministry centered around the Word of God. It has been said that if we don't learn from the mistakes of our past, we're doomed to repeat them. The reformers risked a lot to grant us the privilege of having bibles for the common man, so let's use them to the glory of God!
A lot of your material seems pretty far removed from an audience of contemporary Americans. Your music contains Latin phrases from the sixteenth century and spends time dealing with doctrinal conflicts more than fifteen hundred years old. Does that make it less relevant to your audience? Why do you see historic creeds and confessions so important that you would spend so much time on them?
The Apologist: Just like Evangel said, if we don’t learn from the mistakes of our past, we’re doomed to repeat them. The same doctrinal conflicts our forefathers dealt with such as the deity of Christ and how is mankind made right with God, we are dealing with now. You ask the average American Christian if it is important to believe in the trinity and you would get an answer that would make the apostle paul turn over in his grave. We as Christians need to know how holy GOD is and how sinful we are and how much it cost GOD to redeemed us from the mess we got ourselves in. This is why creeds and confessions are so important because they help us declare and understand what we believe and why we believe it. We like to use certain theological phrases like “semper reformanda” because this is our history and we need to know these things, we need to know about Augustine vs. Pelagius, Luther vs. Erasmus, Wycliffe vs. Rome, the Arian controversy, the great schism, this is our history.
Two of your tracks are formulated as a boxing match, and showcase a debate between two Christian brothers, one more Calvinistic and one more Arminian in doctrine. This difference of opinion must mean a lot to you, if you're willing to don the boxing gloves (so to speak) to defend your position. Why is it important? What do you say to people who find it unloving to speak strongly about debated doctrinal positions? Is it incompatible with Christian love to be firm on secondary matters? What do you say to the common slogan, “doctrine divides!”?
Evangel: The interesting thing is, it appears John Calvin has re-emerged as a very important theologian in our present day. Time magazine and Newsweek have recently done articles about the popularity of Calvinism in the church. Honestly, I was pretty amazed to see that! We see that the scriptures teach we should earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints, and that we have one Lord and one faith. We should vigorously try to make sure that what we believe is what the Bible teaches. Even secondary matters have only one correct interpretation. However, we don't have to divide over it. We think it is important to try to spark conversation and leave the listener with something to think about regarding the never ending debate between man's free will and God's sovereignty. Each of us began our Christian lives with our free will understanding, but through careful study of the Word, couldn't help but see God's sovereignty woven throughout the scriptures. From God's choosing of Israel, without basing it on anything significant about them, to Jesus' choosing Paul on the road to Damascus fresh off of persecuting believers. God is in the heavens and does as He pleases! The scriptures are clear when it comes to disagreements between the brethren. Paul confronted Peter to his face when he saw his hypocrisy with the circumcised believers versus how he acted with the Gentile believers. Furthermore, Peter thought it necessary for Gentiles to submit to some of the Jewish law. These were apostles that had a difference of opinion on this matter, but they were still brothers. Salvation is by grace and not the law, and Paul wanted no confusion. Similarly, this boxing series pits sides against each other to, hopefully, emphasize grace in our salvation.
Now, I'm sure you've talked to people who don't think hip-hop could be used as an appropriate vehicle of worship because it's so different from traditional hymns and music styles, and because hip-hop has typically been used to portray some very debased and godless sentiments. What do you say to that argument?
The Apologist: I think we have to be careful not to make hip-hop an idol like we do with everything else. We don’t see a problem with our hymns and any need to replace them with hip-hop music, it's funny to us because we grew up listening to hip-hop music 24/7 but we love singing hymns on Sunday mornings. We have attended churches where they use hip-hop music for worship and the people seem to like it but we just not there at the moment, I for one just love the hymns.
Israel Felix: We see hip-hop as a vehicle, not as a spiritual entity that has a tilt away or even towards God. We labor not only to "rap the bible", but to lift Christ so explicitly in our music that we are above the reproach common to this style of music. This was one of the founding ideas of our group mission statement and is shown in the diversity of our fan base. Some are die hard hip hoppers and some
actually hate rap music, but all are members of the same body with a mutual love of the Scriptures.
If you could tell your listeners one or two vital things you would like them to keep in mind before listening to your album, what would they be?
The Apologist: That God loves art that points to his glory, and as artists we should be creating art that speaks of his love, beauty, wisdom, and power.