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Children’s picture books

God made Me and You: Celebrating God's design for ethnic diversity

by Shai Linne illustrated by Trish Mahoney 32 pages / 2018 Reformed rapper Shai Linne has written a children's book about racism and God's appreciation for diversity. And it's really good. As those already familiar with his albums know, Linne loves to delve deep into God's Word, and his insights are not only profound, but he knows how to present them powerfully. This picture book is no different. In response to racism Christians typically talk about how we all come from the same two parents so there is, in fact, just one race – the human race. Linne builds on this point, even as he makes another – yes we are all alike in one way, but in others, we are wonderfully different. And as you would expect a rapper to do, he makes this point in rhyme. The book begins with a teacher arriving late to her class just as a couple of boys are making fun of other kids for their hair, clothes, and skin color. After telling the boys to ask for forgiveness, she teaches the class a lesson about how diversity is a testimony to God's greatness. She says: In Genesis 1, what we see in each verse Is God made a world that is REALLY diverse. The sun and the moon, the planets and stars, Saturn and Jupiter, Venus and Mars... Each one is different... Class, why did God make this? He made it to show off His beauty and greatness. And just as the variety and diversity in the rest of creation speaks of God's greatness, so too the diversity in Mankind. He gave some curly hair while others have straight. It pleased God to fashion each wonderful trait. Brown eyes and green eyes, hazel and blue, Each in their own way works of art we can view. Some that are deaf and some that are blind All have great worth in God's sovereign design. This is a morality tale, and sometimes this type of Christian books can be quite forced – more sermon than story – but the rhythm and rhyme of God Made Me and You carries us along. There so much to love in this fantastic book, from the much-needed message, to the bright colorful pictures kids will love, to the fun bouncing rhymes that make it great fun for mom and dad to read out loud. So two very enthusiastic thumbs up! Linne has released a children's album, Jesus Kids, along with the book, and one track shares the same title as the book. You can hear some of the song in the book trailer below. You can also check out a 10-page excerpt from the book here. ...

Book Reviews, Music

Does God listen to Rap?

by Curtis Allen 2013 / 99 pages "Why wouldn't He?" That's the answer the author gives to his title question. Whether you agree or don't might depend on what you think of Rap's sinful origins. In chapters two and three, in the space of just 25 pages, author Curtis Allan gives an authoritative, detailed account of these beginnings. He explains it started back in the late '60s, and that even though some earlier innovators tried to use Rap to promote a social consciousness, it was the pimp/drug dealer-glorifying "Gangsta Rap" that ended up dominating the genre. The genetic fallacy Allen then investigates whether its sinful origins are reason enough to dismiss Rap. If they are, what then, he asks, are we to do with music itself, which seems to find its origins in the sinful line of Cain (Gen. 4:21). A good point, but I think a stronger argument should have been made with more examples, since this is a key point. It is a fallacy – the "genetic fallacy" – to condemn something simply for where it comes from. We don't do that with classical music composed by immoral composers, or foreign foods from pagan cultures, or anything else, so why would we do it with Rap? One very large issue that is left unexplored is whether the driving beat of Rap impacts its appropriateness for conveying Christian content. That is a significant omission, since this is the question for some Reformed Christians. Allen describes the lyrics as the content, and the music as the context. And to him it seems it is only the content that matters. The context - the music - seems to be almost a neutral aspect. Is music neutral? But this overlooks the way different sorts of music can impact us in distinct ways. For example, the thumping beat of Rap conjures up very different emotions than the rising swell of the string section in an orchestral piece. The beat might spawn feelings of aggression. This is the sort of music we would warm up to for a basketball game, or might want on our iPod when we go running - it drives us. Some orchestral music can tug at the tear ducts, bringing moisture to the eye of even the most stalwart of men. So music is far from a neutral, unimportant aspect of Rap – it brings the power to the words. I would suggest that there is a reason that Rock and Rap, with their thumping beat, are closely linked with sex, drugs and perversions of many sorts: the beat does get us aggressive, it does get us riled up, and if that energy isn't put to good use, it will be put to bad. God calls us to self-control That doesn't mean Rock and Rap are inherently bad – aggression is not an inherently bad emotion.  But Rock and Rap are known for encouraging people to "lose yourself in the music" while God says we must instead be controlled. So we need to be aware of the emotions Rock and Rap can stir up, and ensure that they are properly channeled and directed. We need to ensure these emotions are constrained and controlled. There is a reason that the Billboard Top 100 is filled with sexually perverse songs – this is the aggression unrestrained. However, this aggression need not be unrestrained. A songs lyrics can do a lot to properly direct and control the emotions the music stirs up. But if we are going to control these emotions, we have to understand that the music – the context – is far from neutral or insignificant. It is the music that brings the power to the words. So this is a topic that should have been explored. However, the book is just 99 pages, so, clearly, it couldn't cover everything and what it does cover is well worth reading. In fact, it is worth buying for the historical background alone. This review first appeared on ReallyGoodReads.com....

Music

Some thoughts on Christian Contemporary music

I’ve loved music all my life, so when I was approached to write about music, I was happy to oblige. I grew up listening to music at home, from classical music, to the marches of John Philip Sousa, to Buddy Holly and the Beach Boys, and finally to some of the giants of country music like Johnny Cash, Jimmy Rodgers, and Hank Snow. Those are some of the names I remember from my dad’s record collection. My taste in music has broadened over the years; while I’ve largely abandoned the world of popular music (which more than occasionally offends my Christian sensibilities, but almost always bores me), over the years I’ve found myself exploring the vast musical treasures that can be found in the worlds of jazz, classical, blues, world music, and elsewhere. But when it comes to popular Christian music, Black Gospel music from the 1950s and 60s used to be about as contemporary as I would get. Up until very recently, I’ve found myself repeatedly disappointed, and to be frank, disturbed, by the quality of the music that you’ll hear on Christian Contemporary radio. Why? Well, whereas from the 1930s to about the 1960s it was the music of the church that had a profound influence on the secular music industry, in the 1970s the trend was reversed. The music of the church once exerted a profound influence on the world. But in the past three decades, Christian music has done little more than imitate trends in popular music, rather than shaping them. Where’s the meat? The content of a lot of Christian Contemporary music is highly individualistic and largely divorced from the greater context of Scripture, and this poses a major problem when it comes to singing about the Lord Jesus. On a corporate level – as the body, the Church – we know and confess that the Lord Jesus has taken the Church to be His bride. The Church is the beloved of the Lord, and as a body, we live in this relationship of love with Him. He is the ultimate Husband, who gives His life for His Bride (Ephesians 5:25). The problem comes about when the corporate aspects of this relationship are forgotten, when the message becomes all about me, and my relationship with Jesus. What happens when Christian musicians do this? They go from praising the Lord Jesus, the Husband of His church, to singing a sanctified love song to Jesus, the greatest boyfriend you could ever imagine. Here’s a recent example, by Jamie Grace, called “Hold me”: Oo, I love the way you hold me, By my side you’ll always be You take each and every day, Make it special in some way. I love the way you hold me, In your arms I’ll always be You take each and every day, Make it special in some way I love you more than the words in my brain can express. I can’t imagine even loving you less. Lord, I love the way you hold me. There are a couple of problems with songs like this one, but the most serious one is this: apart from the word “Lord” in the final line of the chorus, the lyrics to this song are virtually indistinguishable from any other love song ever recorded. The song has little in the way of actual content; it’s solely about a feeling of being loved – but there’s so much missing! What’s the basis of this love? What’s the content of this love? What’s the context of this love? What kind of love is this anyway? As I mentioned earlier, until recently I have pretty much ignored Christian Contemporary music. Musically I find much of it boring, lacking in originality, pre-packaged, mass-marketed, appealing to the lowest common denominator. Lyrically, even where there isn’t overt false teaching, the messages are often shallow, effeminate, and cringe-inducing, to say the least. There are some gems out there, if you’re willing to look diligently enough. But like all “art” that’s produced to appeal to a mass market, there is all too often a tendency to tread worn paths, to follow trends, to “dumb it down.” In short, the motto that rules Contemporary Christian music too often seems to be, “Do what works,” and not necessarily, “Do what’s right.” A change is happening But over the past year, a couple of young men in my congregation have introduced me to another type of Contemporary Christian music; I hadn’t realized that this genre of music even existed, but when it was introduced to me, I found myself devouring it. And that music came from a surprising source – the American hip-hop culture. I was introduced to the music of men like Lecrae, Shai Linne, Tedashii, Timothy Brindle, Trip Lee, and Sho Baraka. And the more I listened to their songs, the more impressed I became. I had avoided Hip-hop and Rap music, since, as a genre, so much of its message is totally opposed to the Christian faith. When I thought of Rap music, I thought of musicians who reveled in wickedness, boasted of evil, and extolled the virtues of a godless lifestyle. But imagine my surprise when I heard songs like this one, “All-Consuming Fire,” from Shai Linne’s latest album, The Attributes of God: The Lord is speaking through His prophecies and all of His commands Unequalled in His qualities, He’s awesome and He’s grand He’s regal and His policies are gloriously planned He’s peeping the idolatry that’s all over the land How people in society ignore the Son of Man By seeking their autonomy, they are caught in a trance But He will put a stop to the evil and apostasy The devious hypocrisy, the fallenness of man We’re teaching you theology so y’all can understand According to His plans: the slaughter of the damned Unspeakable reality to fall into His hands No sequels, it’s finality and awful is the span No weeping or apologies, no sneakiness or bribery will keep the Lord from honoring His law and its demands We’re pieces of His pottery – He causes us to stand His people see Him properly – exalted is the Lamb! That’s just one example, but it’s indicative of Shai Linne’s lyrical output. It’s God-centered. It’s honest. It doesn’t shy away from the “hard truths” that the Christian message is filled with. It’s unashamedly theological, it’s got real depth to it, and it speaks prophetically to a world that needs to hear this message. Simply put, I would not hesitate to recommend any one of Shai Linne’s albums to Reformed, Christian people, young or old. Musically speaking, the style may not be your cup of tea; but there’s no denying the quality of the production, the originality of the musical accompaniment, and the centrality of God’s glory to the message of the lyrics. This is music that glorifies God and edifies His people. This first appeared under the title “Some thoughts on Contemporary Christian Music (Part 1).” Rev. Witteveen is a missionary who has served the Church in Canada and now Brazil....