Propaganda, “Rap On” or, Value Other Voices

My ears are old. I confess that when it comes to music I am often stuck in a time warp. My time spent listening to music in those adolescent and teenage years seem decades ago. Indeed they are. But, I still like music from the late 60’s and 70’s. I paid some attention in the early 80’s but I never could be construed as an aficionado.

So, when rap, hip-hop, and now spoken word emerged I confess to a bit of disorientation. I tried to listen. But, it never really caught on with me. I do brand myself an eclectic music lover but generally I do have a couple of glaring omissions that shrink its breadth.

In recent years I have kept an eye on Steve McCoy. Well, on his blog. I enjoy his wide interest in music and his suggestions have rarely disappointed me. I have even noticed him pointing to some of the music from my favorite era on occasion.

Recently Steve called on some to weigh in on a musical artist I had not heard of and whose genre is noticeably absent from my iPod. I don’t fit Steve McCoy’s appeal group. Not prominent. Not a dean. Not an entity head. But, I have enjoyed reading the Puritans. I read them in high school. I read them in college. I occasionally look back to some that I have on my shelf. My reading interests and flavors change, but it never hurts to pick up Baxter now and again.

After reading Joe Thorn’s posts on Propaganda’s newest release, Excellent, I popped over and caught up on what I missed at Steve’s place. I downloaded Prop’s project and listened for myself. I don’t get it.

It is not the music I don’t get. It is not the lyrics I don’t get. It is the response. I cannot even begin to get my mind around how someone would think the song, Precious Puritans, would lead some people to neglect those authors. Really?

I marvel at the way those who should be familiar with the prophetic seem to have no ear for it. And, after reading the lyrics, listening to the song, and reading Prop’s intention, I am even more flummoxed. People need to get out more. Read more.

A few things come to mind.

First, we should support the critique of ideologies. Too many idolize certain eras, and certain figures in Christian history. It is what we have done with the micro-narratives in the Scripture. It is what creates celebrity culture in what many now term former Christendom.

The current spate of tit for tat in the SBC over Calvinism and non-Calvinism in part is the result of idolizing the various component parts that emerged out of the Reformation as the pinnacle of Christian reform. We learn nothing from the Reformation if we stopped encouraging reform in the church in 16th Century. I prefer Darrel Guder’s vision that the outcome of the Reformation should be the ongoing conversion of the church. No instantiation of the Church gets it right, all the time, in every arena.

Second, we should admit that our first impulse should be to have a conversation with Propaganda and other Black Christians, artists, theologians. When white theologians, artists, pastors, and professors seize these moments to push back it clearly demonstrates the approach Nathan Finn pointed to in his response. We inhabit the Puritan blind spot.

Now, I do not agree with the way Finn frames the matter. I do believe it is more egregious than a blind spot. But, that is for another post. Or maybe not.

The result of our lack is that we repeatedly think we may speak for the other, their experience, their perception, their understanding. Most of all, in this instance, we ignore the long, sordid history of racism and Anglo privilege to great peril. We think we get it but we don’t.

My wife and I watch Parenthood. We got hooked from the get go. We were taken in by one of the threads in the Adam Braverman family story. Their son Max lives with Aspergers. In the event you may be unaware, Aspergers is a form of autism. We have a couple of families in our church who deal with this in their own lives. I asked one Dad how well they portray the experience. He said, “They nail it.” Rather than assume the writers’ understood what it was like, we asked a family living the reality.

The writers also get the matter of race. For instance, the Crosby Braverman family thread tells the story of an inter-racial couple. In the most recent episode the white father tried to explain to his young bi-racial son what the “n” word meant. He felt inadequate. His wife, Jasmine, said she would deal with it. She knew what the young boy might face in the future. After listening Jasmine talk with Jabaar, Crosby knew he did not understand what he thought he understood.

We often think we understand but we really cannot capture the extent, nuance, and experience of others. Why not ask them? Why not let them speak?

Steve hopes more prominent, high profile Southern Baptists will weigh in on this affair. I hope more Black Christians who learn of this kerfuffle will help us by speaking to the matter.

One last thought. Our current milieu contains an interesting feature. Negative publicity serves the market better than positive billing when it comes to theology whether in books or songs. That people would be discouraged from reading the Puritans as a result of the song does not take into account this phenomenon.

I am an illustration. I would likely have never downloaded Propaganda’s new release had it not been for the negative reaction. Think of how Piper helped sell Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins.

My point is that what some fear in negative publicity for their precious Puritans may result in some actually reading them rather than being turned off by them. Paying attention to our culture, even how this is expressed in the Christian sub-culture, might have muted the negative pushback. Or, maybe Strachan and others understand this cultural habit and wanted to help open Propaganda’s message to a wider audience.

I doubt it.

But, it is interesting to speculate.

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.