Letter from the Editor: From Glory to Glory

Music has a way of delivering truths that might be rejected if presented other ways. Like a sneak attack, songs and lyrics ride into our hearts, souls, and minds like a Trojan Horse, packed full of truths ready to dismantle us, inside out.

Features in this issue of Christ and Pop Culture Magazine, “Songs of Deliverance,” point us to musicians who are tearing down old structures through artistic assault. First is a look at Kendrick Lamar, an artist whose work oozes with a faith that puts many on guard. In “Kendrick Lamar’s Real God,” R. S. Naifeh explores the ways this music is exactly what our hearts, in particular (and the Christian music industry, as a whole), desperately need to hear:

There are things in Kendrick’s music—especially his apparent embrace for Black Hebrew Israelite theology and his continual inability to repent of the depths of his sexism—that give me pause. I believe, as many readers of Christ and Pop Culture do, that these errors can be deeply problematic, can warp our ability to see reflections of the Real in people of color or women, and run counter to some of Lamar’s most frequently claimed artistic goals. And yet Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. remains one of the most powerful works of Christian art I have heard: a clear-eyed gaze at the implications of God’s reality for our broken, confusing, and dying world, an unapologetic statement of our wicked ways and our weak inability to even control our own destinies.

All the places where we’ve shored up this world as more real than the reality God need the dismantling that Kendrick Lamar offers us. Our discomfort with the rawness of his delivery may be settled a bit when we recognize no one artist has a corner on God; His greatness means each of us is merely responsible for speaking to the perspective we have. This is affirmed by Propaganda, who spoke with Daniel Melvill Jones for an interview. This exchange is especially pertinent here:

Do you get push back, from yourself or others, when you are creating something beautiful instead of converting someone through the gospel?

Uh, I just don’t see those as conflicting concepts. To put them against each other is to degenerate both. Beauty communicates God’s goodness, you know? In addition, I don’t feel the weight on my shoulders for the totality of revelation, of knowledge. I know that I’m just playing a part, you know? And I may not be the guy that carries the ball into the end zone, but I know I’m playing a part of it. And I’m okay with that.

Taking an artist’s work for what it is means that we let them off the hook for what it is not meant to be. No one artist or artifact can tell everything about the Great I Am. By allowing each offering to tell a part of the infinite whole, we place ourselves in the role of learner, as one who does not know everything—as people who are always learning and changing, willing to be God’s people who, “with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Such ongoing transformation means that our past will have seasons and phases where we are still figuring things out—even we see in the lifetime work of music icons U2. John Graeber, in “The Case for POP: U2’s Forgotten Dance Record,” explains:

The Joshua Tree is the culmination of activist U2, marching into culture with the chutzpah that comes with an unwavering belief in the purity of your ideology. Much like the West at the end of the 1980s, the band was at the height of its powers, convinced they were on the precipice of changing the world. …

[But] POP is U2’s most spiritually significant album. If The Joshua Tree is about marching confidently into a broken world with the boldness of one’s faith, POP is about that faith’s fragility amidst the noise, confusion, and chaos that come when you realize your ideology isn’t going to change the world. POP demands nuance in a world that provides none.

Just as U2 is in need of ongoing transformation and inner-dismantling, so too are we. This common ground is where we are free to face the darkness in us and around us. This is why we can—and desperately need to—give ear to voices of lament that demand looking at reality for what it is. Evie Fordham points us to the work of artist NF in her feature, “Rapper NF: The Face of Relevant Christian Rap“:

NF’s focus on the dark and dirty parts of life can make God feel distant, but his testimony and more God-centered songs show listeners a clear path to healing. His album sales shot past other Christian artists when his latest album Therapy Session secured number one on Billboard’s top Christian albums in its first week.

That’s why the phenomenon of his painful but real music can’t be ignored. His music is the opposite of the vapid, lustful pop often found on the radio, but despite the difference, NF is finding an audience.

Like the playwright John Patrick said, “Pain makes man think. Thought makes man wise. Wisdom makes life endurable.” Is dwelling on what’s unendurable the thing that helps NF and his listeners accept their sin and the sin of the world?

And think we must, if we are to be dismantled from the ways that sin has corrupted us, heart and soul. We need the piercing insight delivered by unlikely prophets whose messages are often hard to take in. But once we do, they bring in the light we need to grow.

In This Issue

Kendrick Lamar’s Real God

Kendrick’s darkest fear was not that there is no God, but that Kendrick would deny the Great I Am.

by R. S. Naifeh

An Interview with Propaganda

Learn more about the creativity, church life, and career of Propaganda.

by Daniel Melvill Jones

The Case for POP: U2’s Forgotten Dance Record

U2’s POP is about faith’s fragility amidst the noise, confusion, and chaos that come when you realize your ideology isn’t going to change the world.

by John Graeber

Rapper NF: The Face of Relevant Christian Rap

The phenomenon of NF’s painful but real music can’t be ignored.

by Evie Fordham

No Retreat: Lecrae’s Approach to “Culture-Making”

In telling his story through the song “Non-Fiction,” and especially in revealing the role that Crouch’s book on culture-making played in his transition as an artist, Lecrae can help other Christians learn a lesson.

by Jemar Tisby

Raw Grief and Real Hope in Ingrid Michaelson’s It Doesn’t Have To Make Sense

Ingrid Michaelson’s ‘Boys and Girls’ and ‘It Doesn’t Have To Make Sense’ intersect in the space between what love should be and what we’ve made it.

by Val Dunham

Listening Closer: Torres and the “New Skin” of Faith

The most interesting correlation between Torres and graduating Seattle Pacific University Scholars is their frequent testimony that, throughout their struggle, they have sustained their faith in Jesus Christ.

by Jeffrey Overstreet

Women Behaving Badly: What Miranda Lambert’s ‘Vice’ Is Really Telling Us

Country star Miranda Lambert gives us insight into sexual freedom for women: does it mean behaving as badly as men?

by Gina Dalfonzo