By all accounts, Lecrae is the most successful “Christian hip-hop artist” of all-time. Whether it’s the early days of extreme success on Rebel or After the Music Stops or his more wide-reaching stuff, including Church Clothes and Church Clothes 2, Gravity and Anomaly, Lecrae sells records and earns critical acclaim from those in the know.
In the early days, Lecrae was explicitly Christian. He willingly sacrificed some musical greatness for the sake of getting the Gospel out. But an interesting thing happened along the way. The man who considers Denton, Texas home despite living in a variety of other locales, noticed it was mostly white kids from places like Denton who were digging into the music.
It wasn’t reaching the intended audience, on the other side of tracks as it were. There was nothing wrong with the audience. The problem was that Lecrae didn’t feel called only to make music which would be approved by white, suburban youth pastors. He felt called instead to make disciples.
Thus began his transformation.
The point here is not to regurgitate the arguments about how Christians ought to approach the arts. Nor is it even to tell the story of Lecrae’s evolution as an artist. You can find adequate and thoughtful works on those two topics elsewhere.
The goal instead is to discuss Lecrae the artist as he fits into the Christian culture.
I happen to be a part of a Facebook group called The Reformed Pub. When the title “Reformed” is given, it is not a joke. Many members—I’d estimate about half—are of the “truly Reformed”, aka “totally Reformed”, camp.
Without painting dangerous stereotypes (but it’ll probably end up there) the “TR” types tend to be extremely dogmatic and rigid. Anyone who doesn’t fit in this nice little bubble, especially doctrinally, but even culturally, is dismissed as “not Reformed” and in some cases, not a Christian.
In many cases, this assertion is referred to as “The Cage Stage”. Every Calvinist goes through it, or at least every first generation Calvinist. I went through it about six years ago when I was still a student at San Diego State University.
Thankfully I believe I only hurt one person with it. But that’s one person too many.
A good definition, if there is one, for “The Cage Stage” would go something like this: To be so passionate about an ideology (doesn’t have to be Calvinism) you are literally willing to quarrel over it. You’re ready to brawl, you’re ready to go to war.
It’s debatable whether we should be going to war for the freedom of a nation. On the large scale these are big and hard questions. But it is undeniable that on the micro level, between individuals, this stage is extremely dangerous. And there is no debate.
Individuals should not be going to war against friends, neighbors and family members because they think they’ve finally discovered the right way to think.
To bring it full-circle, or at least an attempt at doing so, I’ve noticed many of these TR folks, and others who are in some kind of “Stage Cage” just not the TR type, have been highly critical of Lecrae recently.
It began all the way back when Lecrae first put out his mixtape Church Clothes, produced by Don Cannon, a questionable believer, and by most accounts certainly not Reformed. But something else happened, something I previously eluded to: the quality of the music improved dramatically.
“Don’t Waste Your Life” and “Rebel”, among countless other songs, were doctrinally sound and inspiring for Christians. But they lacked crossover ability. Most kids in the hood who weren’t already in the church would not have listened to him, in part because they would have never heard of him.
By partnering with Cannon—someone willing to partner with the gospel-centered rapper—Lecrae gained the other side of the tracks as a possible audience. No longer would it be only white kids from the suburbs listening to his music. Now kids in inner-city Denton or Chicago or Atlanta (where he now lives) can hear his music.
The music video by the same title drew some ire, especially from TR cage stage types. ‘Crae basically came out and said, “I reject the idea someone has to wear a suit and tie to church”. But he was doing more than that. He was making a bigger statement than even what someone wears to church.
He was saying it’s okay for black people from the hood to go to church.
And he was telling the white suburban church folks they need to be okay with black people coming into their churches, looking however, with “improper diction” or not the best theology.
What Lecrae has done with the past four productions is open the wavelengths of conversation. Would The Gospel Coalition or Together For the Gospel have ever considered having an all-black panel on for a race discussion?
Granted some of these developments are also precipitated by current events, specifically the riots in Ferguson, MO. But Lecrae has been a pioneer in race relations within the church in our generation, while at the same time reaching a wider audience, whereby more people of a non-white skin tone could hear the gospel and hear solid, biblical theology.
And yet the Cage Stage TR folks still find the time and room to critique the pioneering hip-hop artist.
The heat was never hotter than a few weeks ago when Reach Records’ website (Lecrae is the founder and CEO of Reach Records) dropped their longtime “Unashamed” moniker from the “About” section.
And this gets us to the last point. Everyone jumped to conclusions.
The next day Lecrae posted a photo on his Facebook page in the Persian Gulf. He and Adam Thomason, a black Reformed pastor, were in the region visiting churches in the region, encouraging them in the work of mission to their neighbors.
Think about some things for a second. One day before Lecrae, the CEO and owner of the most noted hip-hop label with a Christian label, arrives in the most hostile region in the world, the “About” section of the website takes down some utterly evangelistic phrasing.
It’s possible Reach was actually trying to protect Lecrae and Thomason.
It’s possible Reach was trying to further its reach in order to bring more sheep into the fold.
It’s possible Reach made a mistake (though admittedly this is the least plausible reason).
Whatever the case, one thing can be said definitively: The Cage Stagers were much too quick to pass judgment. They didn’t even give ‘Crae a chance to explain himself or a day to show there may be a reason for the change.
And perhaps worse, they instantly dismissed his work in the Gulf because of the move of his website (or some did anyway).
The problem with social media is just that. It’s a swarming pack of hyenas pouncing on unsuspecting prey the moment that prey makes a “mistake”.
It’s a mob mentality. People lose their individual judgment as the pack determines action. Thoughtful leaders become ignorant followers.
So Lecrae becomes a villain for all the cage stage TR people. But it’s not much different from the temporary Paris flag avatar phenomena.
It wasn’t long after 150-plus people were killed or taken hostage in Paris on Friday, November 13 that Facebook made a Paris flag available as an avatar backdrop. It wasn’t much different from the multi-colored backdrop which flooded Facebook a few months ago after the Supreme Court ruled homosexual marriage to be acceptable.
The problem is not “supporting Paris”. Supporting Paris is good. It’s what we should do. But support isn’t a backdrop on your Facebook avatar.
That’s easy, too easy in fact. It requires no sacrifice, and little thought.
Truly supporting Paris is getting on your knees and begging God to have mercy on the city, begging for him to rescue many in that lost and hurting city.
But there’s actually more. James Mulvaney reminds us of the triviality of adding a French flag to your Facebook profile.
And the reality is most people would not read the article I just linked. Some who may click on it will immediately dismiss it because it is from CNN. Others will read it, but not really read it.
The biggest thing of all, though, is the fact they will follow the masses. And they’ll do so passionately and triumphantly. They’ll never stop to consider. They’ll never pause.
One of my professors at Reformed Theological Seminary is Dr. Sean Michael Lucas. He doubles as the Church History Professor at RTS and the Lead Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. He has a book coming out on December 11, called For a Continuing Church: The Roots of the Presbyterian Church in America. And he is one of two men who led the charge this past summer at the PCA General Assembly to pass a resolution on Race Relations in the PCA.
Despite being a PCA boy, he embodies this tolerance angle better than most. He also recently shared a thought about social media, which seems a good place to end this discussion, for now.
“I think the most helpful keys on the keyboard for social media are the backspace and delete keys. #usethemalot”