On Caricatures, Calvinism, Hip Hop, and Seminaries

Celucien Joseph links to a two-part article by T. C. Moore entitled “Calvinism and Holy Hip Hop” (Part 1 & Part 2).  Given my love for rap music (and I note well the distinction between rap and hip hop, i.e., rap is a subset of the so-called hip hop culture) I followed the link quickly, only to discover that I had a little bit in common with the author:

  1. We’re around the same age.  Mr. Moore is a mere year younger than myself. 
  2. Neither of us are Calvinists. 
  3. We both remember what it was like to buy cassette tapes and compact discs.
  4. We both gave up secular rap upon conversion to Christianity (I’ve since picked it back up but that’s another story).
  5. Neither of us were very impressed with the so-called Holy Hip Hop movement.

But in reading through the first part of his series I came across a few things to take issue with.  For example, I can only call his summary of Calvinism a caricature at this point, not knowing whether or not he cleans it up in part 2 of the series.  He describes Calvinism saying:

Make no mistake about it. And do not be fooled by Calvinist scholars who deny it. Calvinism teaches that God has already foreordained everything that will come to pass presently and in the future. There is no way around it. Many Calvinists will argue either that their particular brand of Calvinism is not as “extreme” as others, or they will argue that Calvinism is not “philosophical determinism.” It makes no difference. No matter how you slice it, Calvinism is determinism. (Pt. 1, p. 2)

But this description is far too vague and simplistic.  It doesn’t take into account the distinction made between hard determinism and soft determinism (i.e., compatibilism).  Just about every Calvinist I’ve ever dialogued with or read has denied the former while affirming the latter.  To say it “makes no difference” is ridiculous when it makes all the difference in the world.  When Mr. Moore continues saying:

Furthermore, in 10 years of debating (and arguing) with Calvinists, I have never heard a coherent explanation given for how God can be said in Calvinism to have ordained everything and yet is not culpable for sin and evil. Calvinists will tell you in the same breath: “God has pre-ordained everything” and “God is not the author of sin or evil.” I’m sorry, but my 6 year-old son can spot the logical contradiction in those two statements. (Pt. 1, p. 2)

I’m left wondering where he finds his Calvinists.  I’ve heard plenty of coherent explanations of the above, even if in the end I find them unconvincing.  Any Calvinist worth his salt has an explanation from primary and secondary causes.  Shoot, all one has to do is look to the Westminster Confession of Faith and see this stuff defended.  Now again, I disagree, but I can’t claim the explanations incoherent.  They make perfect sense in a Calvinistic paradigm.

I also had a problem with his description of hip hop.  He says:

Yes, it is even true that hip hop culture has transcended the New York boroughs where it was born and become descriptive of a global culture that is not bound by race or class or age.

But, hip hop culture was born out of a need for expression amidst an oppressed people group. Black Americans created hip hop culture in the slums of cities where they were denied equal rights and faced challenges the likes of which white Americans couldn’t dream. No matter how big and how powerful hip hop culture grows to become, it can never… never forget where it came from!  (Pt. 1, p. 3)

Hip hop was a culturally diverse movement from its inception, crossing the lines of race, age, and gender.  To make a statement that “Black Americans created hip hop culture” is precisely to “forget where it came from!”  All one needs to do is watch the 1984 classic Beat Street, which was an accurate depiction of New York’s hip hop scene in its early days, to see this multi-culturalism (you’ll notice Blacks, Whites, and Hispanics all taking part in the various aspects of hip hop).  All one has to do is pick up a copy of anything that Def Jam put out in the early 80s and they’ll be reminded of the White Jewish kid, Rick Rubin’s contribution to the formation of hip hop culture in general and rap music in particular (which included producing the the Beastie Boys [three White kids from NY]). 

The last thing that I found myself shaking my head at was his description of seminaries in the US:

If you want to be taken seriously as theologically astute in the US, you have to go to seminary. In the US, there are two kinds of seminaries: Liberal and Conservative. The liberal seminaries have little concern for faith. They are mostly concerned with religion. They also have very little respect for the Scriptures or the living Jesus they reveal. Conservative seminaries are often the only choice for Christians who have a sincere faith in the living Jesus and respect Scripture.  (Pt. 1, p. 3)

I find it somewhat insulting to say that so-called liberal seminaries have “little respect for the Scriptures or the living Jesus they reveal.”  This is just a way of saying that they don’t teach according to the author’s personal beliefs.  I also think it’s simply false that “conservative seminaries are often the only choice for Christians.”  I’m reminded of Michael L. Brown (a conservative scholar and Jewish believer in Jesus) who earned all of his degrees from NYU, a secular university.  I’ve heard him note in dialogue with former Christians turned atheists and agnotics the irony that they were educated in conservative seminaries and ended up abandoning the faith while he was educated in a secular institution and studied under unbelieving critical scholars and ended up more confident in the faith.  I’m sure that examples of this kind of experience can be multiplied many times over.

In the end I recommend reading the series.  I’m off to check out part 2 right now although I doubt I’ll offer any further commentary.



3 thoughts on “On Caricatures, Calvinism, Hip Hop, and Seminaries

  1. Nick,

    You are right. T.C. did not back up his claims; he is only speaking in generalities, and he agrees with you that you are right that he needs to back up his talk.

    As a fan of Christian music and hip hop and alternative among other kinds of music, I agree that there is a distinction between rap music/culture and hip hop music/culture. I plan to post on that on my blog later.

    But anyways, you make a good point about correcting T.C. on liberal seminaries not being a good choice for Christians, but as someone who attends a liberal seminary who has encountered other liberal seminarians, it would be suffice to say that T.C.’s characterization is almost accurate. I do not know how many times I have heard the divinity of Christ put into question or the doctrine of the Trinity denied or the thinking of the Fathers and Mothers of our church right out rejected out of the arrogance of those who do not like tradition.

    Keep up the good work, Nick, and I hope we can continue this conversation.

  2. Rod: I understand what you’re saying, and if you get to know me a little bit you’ll learn how passionate I am about the Trinity, and also how I believe that it is a non-negotiable essential of the faith, but at the same time I recognize that there are people in the world who generally do care about what Scripture says and who Jesus is who nevertheless miss the mark with regard to both. I think the consequences for missing the mark are dire, but I wouldn’t question the intentions of (all of) these people or charge them with having little respect simply because they’re wrong.

    I hope we can continue the conversation as well.

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