10 Questions with Shai Linne
Shai, what is “lyrical theology” and what sets it apart from the rest of hip-hop?
Lyrical Theology is basically using artful lyricism to provoke the study and knowledge of God, particularly in the context of hip-hop culture. This can take many forms, including expounding on biblical narratives, explaining a particular scriptural truth, etc. What sets it apart from the rest of hip-hop is its explicit biblical, gospel-centered, Christ-exalting focus.
In the past you have been criticized for redeeming such a “depraved genre” as hip-hop. What is your response to this criticism?
To those who say, “How can you take that thing that is used for evil and glorify God with it?” My two word answer is “The Cross.”
But my response to that particular criticism is usually to simply re-phrase the objection. I would say something like, “Are you saying that you have a problem with me taking a medium that has been used to blaspheme God and using it instead as a medium to praise and exalt God’s holy name, proclaim His glorious gospel, speak biblical truth and magnify the infinite worth of the Lord Jesus Christ?” Arguments against “depraved genres” are ultimately arguments against redemption itself, because depraved genres are the products of depraved human beings, who need redemption. (In fact, “depraved genre” is a misnomer because it’s ascribing moral value to a medium, which by definition is morally neutral until informed by content.) Once God has redeemed a person, it’s fitting for the Christian to take the “genres” or vehicles (such as books, cameras, canvasses, the internet, language, musical forms, etc.) that he or she once used for evil and now use them to promote the glory of God. Those who make the objection (especially as they use the internet to do so) are often unaware that they themselves use “depraved genres” all the time.
You might be the first I have ever seen write a song on limited atonement. How has Reformed theology impacted your lyrics?
Reformed Theology has greatly impacted my understanding of Scripture, which obviously trickles down into my lyrics. It affects the themes that I tend to emphasize and it also impacts the way I word things. For instance, I have a song called “Penelope Judd”, which is an allegorical children’s song that never explicitly mentions Jesus or reformed theology. Yet, classical reformed emphases like imputed righteousness, the sufficiency of Scripture, radical corruption, etc. are found throughout if you dig beneath the surface a little. Though I rarely use “reformed” terminology in my songs, it permeates everything I do.
Your new album is on the attributes of God. What attribute of God do you think your generation needs to hear about the most?
Without a question, it’s the holiness of God. Our culture assumes the love, mercy and grace of God. But none of those glorious truths make sense apart from understanding that God is infinitely holy.
Christians and the Arts. Why is it so important for Christians to produce high quality artistic material?
Excellent art by Christians commends the gospel in a compelling way. It is attractive because it doesn’t stop at the creature, but points beyond itself to the ultimate Artist. It says, “This is what it looks like to not only be made in the image of God, but to be ‘created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness'” (Eph. 4:23) In our world, which is characterized by rebellion against God, there are many obstacles to belief in Jesus. But very few provoke the kind visceral, immediate response of displeasure that bad Christian art does.
Where would you like to see further development by Christians in artistic fields?
Great question. The first thing that comes to mind for me is film. I long for the day when the evaluation of a film—”It was good”—no longer has to be qualified by “… for a Christian movie.”
What is the difference between art for the church and art from the church? Can Christians in each of these categories get along?
Art for the church is art being used as a support for and pointer to the ministry of prayer and the word. For instance, all of the aesthetic choices made in a typical Sunday gathering of believers (music, architecture, interior design, graphics, etc.) would fall into this category. It would also apply to any Christian artist whose goal is the encouragement and edification of the church. Art from the church is the Christian artist who has been called vocationally as salt and light in the dark world of the arts as a representative of Jesus Christ in his/her particular field of expertise. We should not expect art from the church to be explicitly Christ-centered or gospel focused. Yet, these works should never ultimately contradict a biblical worldview. The first step towards these groups getting along is recognizing the necessity and value of the other group. This will come as pastors instruct their congregations so that these categories will be clear in their minds.
Your historical hero is John Newton. Tell us, why Newton?
Many of your readers will know that Newton was at one time actively involved in the slave trade. When you hear him describe what he once was and then see what God made him to be, it can only be attributed to the abundant power of God’s grace in his life. I resonate deeply with that, because that’s my story too! Beyond that, I’ve never read anyone who had such a balance of strong doctrinal fidelity and theological commitment along with the heart of a tender, warm-hearted shepherd. His letters are a treasure of pastoral wisdom and insight. On top of that, he was a poet! Doesn’t get much better than that.
The Solus Christus Project (2005), The Atonement (2008), Storiez (2008), and now The Attributes of God (2011). What’s next?
I’m working on a few projects right now. One that I’m really excited about is a children’s album that I hope to release later this year. It’s called Jesus Kids and it’s intended to help parents teach their kids theology.
Congratulations on the birth of Sage Owen Linne. He may be the youngest Eagles fan yet! How does it feel to be a father?
Thank you. As an Eagles fan, he’ll learn from a young age that our world is filled with disappointment! That will provide many opportunities to point him to the only one who will never truly disappoint. Fatherhood has been amazing and challenging at the same time. I have an incredible wife, which makes even the challenging times sweet in their own way. Seeing my son’s neediness and utter dependence on his parents gives me a faint picture of my need for the Lord, which has certainly helped my prayer life. It’s been a gift from God.
Shai Linne’s most recent record, The Attributes of God, is published by Lamp Mode Rec. You can also follow Linne’s personal blog: Lyrical Theology. Or follow Shai Linne on Twitter at twitter.com/ShaiLinne
This interview is from the March issue of Credo Magazine, “Make Disciples of All Nations.” Read others like it today!