Not only are the arts at the forefront of a Reformed Black movement, they are essential to it.
The Arts on Display
The critical value of the arts in a Reformed African American context was impressed upon me at the Legacy Conference. This past year was my second time attending and I noticed anew the plethora of “creative types” at the event. Urban and hip hop were the style. Attendees sported camouflage pants, bright sneakers, baseball caps, and other paraphernalia in combinations I never would have conceived.
What really struck me, though, were the performances. The conference featured several occasions for both spoken word artists and rappers to take the mic and showcase their skills. As I watched each young man or woman weave words with rhythm, content, and passion I realized that the arts would be indispensable to a Reformed Black movement.
The Arts in Broader Culture
What’s true of a gospel movement is also true of the broader culture. The Harlem Renaissance was the Black Arts movement par excellence. For a brief and brilliant period poets, writers, musicians, painters, dancers, and artists of all kinds descended on a little neighborhood in New York City. It became a place that redefined Black identity and culture through the impact of the arts.
In our circles, Christian Rap may be the single most important factor contributing to the rise of Reformed theology among African Americans and urban youth. Artists like Lecrae, Propaganda, and Shai Linne use the musical style of hip hop to break through cultural barriers and make way for the gospel. Their intricate lyrics are introducing ideas of God’s sovereignty, sanctification, and a Christian worldview to an urban (and suburban), Brown, Black, White, Asian, and youthful audience. In the span of a few years Christian rappers have made headway for the gospel that few churches have been able to match.
The Arts and the Gospel
We have to be careful, though. The arts are the front door to life in God’s household. But you don’t live at the front door of a house, you live in the rooms. We have to make sure that as unbelievers resonate with the art form we don’t leave them at the entrance. We need to disciple people into healthy churches so that they find a home in the faith. Nevertheless, I praise God when I see how He’s using the arts to draw people of all kinds to Himself.
I know the idea of using forms like rap, spoken word poetry, and graphic art make some of us antsy. We perceive that the cultures out of which those forms arise are incompatible with the Christian message. And while we should proceed with a keen theological lens on the arts, we need not abandon them altogether.
The Arts in the Bible
The Bible itself is bold about the arts in God’s world. God is the Master Artist of creation. The breathtaking landscapes He has created testify to His love of beauty. If you’ve ever seen the sunset in the Delta sky, or looked at the canopy of trees in the Amazon forest, or marveled at the balanced complexity of nature, you know this.
And just think of how much of the Bible is written in the form of poetry and song: the Psalms, the Song of Solomon, Job, Lamentations, and more. One commentator states, “Poems [and the arts] appeal to the whole person in a way that prose does not.” Hearing the gospel in a creative art form reminds us that we are whole beings made up of minds that think, bodies that move, and souls that feel. The arts tell us something of the wholeness of God Himself who feels and moves and wills as He sovereignly guides the universe.
The Arts and the Reformed African American Network
As the RAANetwork seeks to be the microphone for many in the Reformed African American movement, we must not neglect the arts. So don’t be surprised if you see the occasional poem or a lengthier narrative done in creative prose. We love artistic imagination that proclaims the gospel and glorifies God.
We have always welcomed contributions from our readers and would be glad to consider more artistic pieces. These could be YouTube videos of spoken word or musical performances, written or audio recorded poems, graphic art with brief a written description, album reviews, and more. As long as the content is Christ-centered and theologically rich, we’re open to looking it over.
The Reformed Black movement needs artists and their works. So, we invite anyone interested in the spread of the gospel in African American, multi-ethnic, or urban contexts join with the RAANetwork to encourage artists in their craft.