Is Jay-Z a genius?

Driscoll and Jay-Z

On Tuesday, November 30, 2010, Pastor Mark Driscoll, the well-known pastor from Mars Hill Church, Seattle said this on Facebook and Twitter:

 ‘It’s a Jay-Z soundtrack kind of day. Watched his NY show this weekend – I know he says bowling words but man the guy is a genius.’

So Pastor Mark Driscoll is telling the world, and all his supporters, that the controversial hip-hop artist Jay-Z is a genius. Predictably, his comment upset many, many people. And this was the puzzling question: How is it possible for a man of God to praise Jay-Z? 

Driscoll responds on his blog to the adverse comments:

‘Funny that this week, a simple comment I made appreciating the talent of Jay-Z generated hundreds and hundreds of comments across multiple threads on my Facebook page…

 The back story is this. While flipping through TV channels recently, I noticed an enormous concert by Jay-Z. The event was simply epic. MadisonSquareGardenwas packed and people were raising their hands and singing along with religious zeal. By no means a hip-hop expert, but someone who did grow up listening to the earliest days of rap as a non-Christian, I have been aware of his influence for some time. He has sold fifty million albums, garnered ten Grammys, and was honored as one of the Ten Most Successful Artists of the previous decade by Billboard Magazine. He’s also helped to launch the careers or at least influence the music of Beyoncé, Eminem, Rihanna, Kanye West, Notorious B.I.G., Timbaland,LinkinPark, and Dr. Dre, among others. Some of these friends joined him on stage for the portion of the concert I watched, which was quite a performance.

 Back to Facebook, where I posted that despite using bowling words, Jay-Z is a genius. I was very surprised to see how heated the ensuing debate became. Scanning the comments, it became clear that there was a polarization between two camps of thought about how Christians should engage culture. One side cited Philippians 4:8 and 1 Peter 1:13ff and advocated that Christians should not listen to music like Jay-Z.

 The other side cited 1 Corinthians 9, Romans 14, and John 17:15 and advocated that Christians have freedom in Christ and should be in the world but not of the world. All in all, it was a predictably ugly display of Internet flame-throwing where it gets personal fast and people say things digitally they would never say in a face-to-face conversation. Still, I’d like to address the issue of how Christians should engage culture—mostly for those caught in the crossfire of the two extremes.

 This blog is not intended to defend everything I’ve ever said and done, as, like all sinners, there are things in retrospect I would say and do differently. This blog is also not intended to defend or impugn Jay-Z. He’s a gifted producer and musician, some of his lyrics are vulgar, and though it will likely never happen, if I ever got to chat with him I would be curious to hear what he thinks about Jesus.’

 So who is Jay-Z?

Driscoll says he’s a genius and a gifted producer and musician. Pastor G Craig Lewis sees things differently. He warns of the ungodly message of Jay-Z’s music. The two pictures below, taken from a presentation by Pastor Lewis, give us a good idea of what Jay-Z stands for. Note that the words on the T-shirt – Do what thou wilt – form the centre-point of pagan morality. They sum up perfectly the moral code of Driscoll’s genius.

Do what thou wilt


The significance of this episode

Driscoll’s comments were clearly designed to endorse the hip-hop culture of Jay-Z and the other hip-hop artists he mentions. He sees nothing wrong in the music scene of which Jay-Z is a prominent representative. He clearly wants freedom in Christ to enjoy the music of Jay-Z. He is sending a message to his Mars Hill congregation and Acts 29 churches that listening to Jay-Z is okay. Indeed, Driscoll’s endorsement is this—the guy is a genius.   

Friendship with the world is enmity with God

Notice that Driscoll entirely avoids the issue of worldliness. Yet Scripture is absolutely clear that a Christian should not love the world or the things in the world. A Christian should not be a friend of the world, and should not be conformed to the pattern of world.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world’ (1 John 2.15-16) 

‘Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God’ (James 4.4).  This verse speaks of spiritual adultery that mixes the holy and the profane, as did idolatrousIsrael, when they worship the golden calves atBethel.  

‘And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God’ (Romans 12.2).

 By avoiding the clear teaching of Scripture on worldliness, Driscoll is promoting a false version of the Christian faith that is in love with the world and the things of the world; a false version of the Christian faith that loves the music of the world; that enjoys the music of Jay-Z and all he stands for.   

 Discerning between good and evil

The sign of a mature Christian is that he is able to discern between good and evil (Hebrews 5.14). A believer, who is born again of God, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, is a new creation—the old has gone, the new has come. A believer is taught by the Holy Spirit to ‘abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good’ (Romans 12.9). The fact that Driscoll is unable to discern the evil in the hip hop culture of Jay-Z is a sure sign that he lacks spiritual discernment

 The fear of the Lord is to hate evil

An essential characteristic of true believers, born again of the Holy Spirit, is that they hate evil. Scripture is clear: ‘Ye that love the LORD, hate evil’ (Psalm 97.10) and ‘The fear of the LORD is to hate evil’ (Proverbs 8.13). The fact is that Driscoll appears to be fascinated by Jay-Z and the hip-hop scene, and is unable to see anything wrong in the hip-hop culture of which Jay-Z is a prominent figure. This is why Driscoll does not warn his followers to come out and be separate from the evil of the Jay-Z scene.