Christianity and hip-hop seem to be converging lately. There has been a flurry of discussion surrounding a number of artists, both Christian and otherwise. We’ve seen major mainstream attention focus in on Lecrae and his releases in the last year or so, and the discussion there has centered around the Christian’s role in mass media as an evangelism tool: when producing rap for a mainstream audience (as he is clearly doing on Church Clothes, and arguably on Gravity), what should be the priority? Some argue that a clear Gospel message, preferably with Jesus’ name sprinkled into every song, should be the entirety of the album. Others suggest that rappers and other artists need to establish themselves within their genre, even if that means writing songs that are less explicitly ‘Christian.’
But what if the roles are reversed? What if we are facing an individual who has never professed faith before, was recently baptized, and is now releasing an album called Jesus Piece?
Kanye West famously released his song “Jesus Walks” back in 2004, but the controversy this year comes from rapper The Game. As one of the most talented rappers out there, The Game has garnered lots of attention (both positive and negative) from his upcoming album. Many have been critical of his faith, but people calling themselves Christians have jumped on him rather strongly. He has defended himself, but his defenses don’t help much, in light of the criticisms. He recently told RapTv that
I don’t want to feel like I can’t love God or appreciate Jesus and have to put down that blunt. I want to smoke, maybe shower up, then go to church. Get the word, walk out of church, maybe smoke again, maybe hit up a strip club or two and do me, but I don’t want to be ridiculed.
The statement has outraged some Christians, commenting that it is clear that The Game isn’t saved, if he thinks that the Christian walk shouldn’t change his life. Others have argued that we should offer him grace: we are all sinners, after all, and we all desire things of this world. At least he’s being honest.
It is difficult to judge someone’s Christianity. We ran into this same issue when talking about Lecrae’s Church Clothes: a lot of people took issue with some of the things he said on the title track, with the producers he worked with, and with the DJ that was hosting the mixtape. I argued that we should listen to the project, grant grace where we can, condemn what doesn’t represent Christ well, and pray that Lecrae learns from what he’s done, either good or bad. I can’t expect anyone to be perfect, even if I can know a tree by its fruits. The tree still has to grow.
That’s where I think I have to come down on this issue with The Game. Look, it’s clear that he’s still acting in a way that I believe is incompatible with Christianity. But if he is saved, if he attends a good church, if he has fellowship with good believers, if he is convicted by the lives of those who also follow Christ, then there should be an evident progression in his life from rampant sinner to remorseful sinner to less of a sinner. Of course, we all sin. But the Christian should be no stranger to victory over sin.
So when Jesus Piece releases, I’ll give it a listen. I’m not expecting an album of sermons, nor am I expecting something that will be incredibly positive. The Game hasn’t given much reason to think that. But if he has come to Christ, there should be something good; there should be some fruit. Maybe not much, but certainly some. And if his actions in the coming months and years show no growth, it will be safer and safer to assume that his profession of faith was not genuine. Our job as Christians may not be to judge his salvation status, but we are certainly told how to identify those who walk with us.