Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Stephen the Levite: The Interview (Part 1 of 2)

One of the greatest things I learned about when I first read Collin Hansen's book Young, Restless, and Reformed was of the existence of Calvinist Hip Hop. Artists such as Shai Linne, Hazakim, and Stephen the Levite faithfully proclaim the word of God in their music, and their message is being heard at events such as the Legacy Conference, which just concluded a week ago.

Stephen is signed to Lamp Mode Recordings. Interestingly enough, after I requested this interview from Stephen, I discovered that my co-blogger Josh Walker actually attended bible college with him, which, to me, was a funny coincidence. Stephen's first solo album, To Die is Gain... was released in '06, and he has a forthcoming EP called The Forerunner coming out in September. Lyrics to all of Stephen's songs can be found at his blog.

BTB: First of all, let me just say thank you for agreeing to speak with us. Let me also say, congratulations on your Lamp Mode collaboration 'The Church'. I saw that it made it into the top 10 and outsold Lil' Wayne's album on iTunes the week that it came out, which must have been a thrill. It's a tremendous album from beginning to end, but I especially appreciated the insights you brought with your contributions.

I guess to begin with, I wanted to talk about this Christian sub-culture that takes theology very seriously and yet tends to look down on musical and cultural engagement. There are a lot in the Reformed community who think that the idea of Christian Hip Hop is not just a bad idea, but actually wrong. What do you say to Christians who think that Hip Hop is the Devil's music and should have no place in the church?

STL: Well, and I mean this as respectfully as possible, it's culturalism.

It reminds me of the passage in Galatians 3 where the Apostle Paul rebukes Peter openly for trying to leave the Gentiles when the Jews showed up. It works against the gospel of peace, which should bring cultural reconciliation based on Galatians 3:28 and Ephesians 2, and demonizes the culture instead of redeeming it. It's no different than racism or classism. When you say that Hip Hop has no place in the church, you're really saying that Hip Hoppers don't belong in the church. The cultural supremacist is saying that in order to be holy, you have to drop your culture, your language, your clothing, your music, and all that identifies you with your origins and your people, and become like the suburban, European-American middle class. You might as well say we need to get circumcised. I know these are strong terms, but that's what it is.

BTB: There are a lot of Calvinistic undertones in your music. Can you tell us a little bit about the point at which you started to really recognize the sovereignty of God and then make that a serious part of your theology?

STL: My membership at Epiphany Fellowship was a major part of it. I wrestled with a lot of God-centered theology for years, but being at Epiphany and being taught there help me come to grips with the reality of it all. It became less about how the doctrine felt and more about whether it was true and in the Bible or not.

BTB: Who are some of your biggest theological influences?

STL: Obviously for me it's just the Bible. No book can keep my attention as well as the Scriptures do, so I don't read a lot of theology books or too many commentaries. I'm big on reading huge chunks of scripture and meditating on what I've read. But also my Pastor Eric Mason from Epiphany is a huge influence on my understanding of Scripture. Marriage also changed the way I viewed foundational stuff like the Godhead, church, government structure, the gospel. And lastly I'd say a book called "Missional Church" which also changed the way I read the Bible and viewed missiology.

BTB: Your song "DNA" (Demons and Angels) makes hay of Christian rappers who do over-the-top spiritual warfare in their songs, calling it "an embarassment." You conclude the first part of the song by saying, "so preach the gospel, and stop tryin' to prove/ that you’re God's Ghostbuster, and the Bible is a glock that you shoot." When I listened to this song for the first time, I laughed out loud. Do you intentionally try to employ humor in your songs, or is it just sort of a byproduct of dealing with theological errors?

STL: I think the topic itself was humorous. Not all theological error is funny, but I felt like this wasn't the kind of theological issue where it would be unkind to make light the opposing view. So I was a little sharper in the first half because I was dealing with rappers whom I feel fit under the teacher category and should know better. But at the same time, it wasn't a damnable heresy, so i felt the humor would help drive home the point of how silly some of it is, and hopefully get them to laugh as they agree.

Tomorrow we will post the conclusion of our interview with Stephen.

[You can find Part 2 of the Interview here]

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