Walking to my seat for the opening night of the New Attitude conference, an unexpected sound boomed over the convention center speakers. Could it be? Nah. Hip hop? Here? With this crowd? At least the lyrics sounded about right for New Attitude, a yearly conference now calledNext that attracts thousands of young adults. “Grace—unmerited favor toward those who deserve wrath,” Curtis Allen rapped. “Grace—is salvation from predestination. Christ gave his life to change our destination.”
I approached Allen between sessions and asked him about a phenomenon I never anticipated writing about: Reformed rap. Allen, who raps under the name “Voice,” belongs to a small group of hip-hop artists who employ Calvinist theology in their lyrics. Shai Linne argues that hip-hop might be a superior musical form for conveying theology because of the sheer word count. “The power of hip-hop is because it’s primarily a lyrical medium,” said Linne, who attends Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, an Acts 29 church. “It has the ability to communicate large amounts of information at one time. When you’re able to do that, you’re able to transmit a worldview.”
The Reformed worldview isn’t always welcome in African American churches. Thabiti Anyabwile has documented the decline of African American theology from biblical faith to cultural captivity. Anyabwile, who once served on the Capitol Hill Baptist Church staff with Together for the Gospel founder Mark Dever, argues that the theological basis for African American activism has given way to secularism.
“Disentangled from its evangelical and Reformed theological upbringing, the church became motivated by a quest for justice for justice’s sake rather than by the call and mandate of God as expressed in more biblical understandings of Christianity,” Anyabwile writes. Perhaps Calvinists will be used by God to restore this theological richness that once sustained slaves enduring unspeakable evil.