Homeland Insecurity

A Hip-Hop Missiology for the Post-Civil Rights Context

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Daniel White Hodge
  • Downers Grove, IL: 
    IVP Academic Press
    , June
     2018.
     304 pages.
     $27.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780830851812.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Evangelical Christians have as their mission and vocation the saving of souls. But who, or what, will save Evangelicals from themselves? In this deeply moving, personal, political, and richly sociological study, Daniel White Hodge proposes hip hop culture as a soteriology for US Evangelical churches. “81 percent of white Evangelicals voted for Trump and continue to support his policies,” Hodge quickly notes (3). Concomitantly, a number of these Evangelicals work in/with black and brown communities under the auspices of Christian missions (of one sort or another). It is from this dangerous paradox that theologian Hodge sets about correcting the record on (US-based) Christian Mission work historically, and to which he crafts a “missiology of the wild” that might equip Christian missions today to meet the failures of its past and the challenges to its future. Holding Evangelical Christianity accountable to its de facto conflation of ecclesiology and missiology, Hodge argues that all Christians are morally responsible for the cultivation of “a church that embraces a mission of complexity, mystery, ambiguity, and high concentrations of doubt: the same mindset that makes up large portions of this generation’s ethos” (5). 

Reminiscent of his other books, Hodge turns to hip hop culture as an interpretive intervention, a description of and prescription for at least two generations whose reliance on certain “post-civil rights” sensibilities (like the easy ability to spot hypocrisy, etc.) make them highly suspect of Evangelical church membership and participation. Hodge argues that if traditional churches are to sustain themselves, and if the mandate to save souls is to be made manifest among increasingly diverse groups that constitute the mission field, then hip hop theology is an indispensable “missiological tool.” Such a tool enables the “finding of god” in one’s own context, leaving room for ambiguity and lament—often lacking in the overly certain platitudes marking Evangelical appeals to “god’s plan.” Whose god? Whose plan? And lastly, a theology born of hip hop culture enables an authentic relationship to Christianity that preserves “cultural heritage” and does not require bargaining with colonialism or other forms of oppression.

Hodge’s book tows a line between explicitly confessional and movingly sociological. Folks in one camp or another will not have their positions changed, but both groups can learn from the occasion. For instance, Hodge makes use of case studies and interviews of young people finding god in their own context, whilst also relaying perspectives and insights that any contemporary Christian might need to hear (even if it hurts). In one interview, “Jimmy”—an African American and Mexican American youth—suggests that all missionaries coming into his urban neighborhood are white and “full of shit.” The book is filled with this genuinely rich and sociologically vital material. But “god” remains a complicated foil to the far more interesting social actors. What does it mean to “find” god? If white folks find themselves in the contexts of non-whites, then whose god is being found? More than that, Hodge does not spend time defining what he means by god, which is an altogether intricate task when discussing hip hop. For instance, god might refer to an emcee on a street corner, it could be an acronym for “Gaining One’s Definition,” and if it is the high god of monotheism, then that brings all sorts of complications to a project seeking to extricate itself from colonialism and the history of white supremacy. When “God” has been used with such viciousness to enslave and subjugate, Hodge would do well to more carefully offer readers a definition for a notion so central to his project.

On the other hand, the sociologically-minded can learn from all this god-talk in that it leaves room for ambiguity and messiness, as if intended. Much of what is learned from Hodge’s exploration of the wild is that hip hop does not so much like, but nevertheless, makes messiness beautiful. Such is true of some theistic belief, as well, with one interviewee Javiar relaying that his relationship with god is “complicated, but that’s okay because I see him so much clearer now” (150). Both the belief and the reflection on the belief is “complicated,” and this complication extends “vertically” to perspectives on god and “horizontally” between social actors. Here in the book, Hodge takes time to trouble assumptions about the sociological category of the “nones,” arguing that religious disaffiliation says very little (if anything) about belief in god, and Hodge forces readers to confront the multivalent economic, ethical, and ethnic factors that impact the “nones” and the construction of that category. 

For Hodge, the “wild” symbolizes “the uncharted, nondomesticated, non–evangelically tamed area of ideological thoughts, theological principles, and generational motifs of those from the Hip Hop and urban multiethnic generation.” Ostensibly, the author wants a “wild” intervention into the staid, tepid mission field (as a response to colonial traces and inheritances within mission work). Yet, the notion of “wild” runs the risk of reinforcing certain normative judgments of behavior onto particular groups who have endured ridicule and worse, in part, through application of such norms as “wild,” “primitive,” and the like. When, aside from the ethical implications alone, really it takes an audacious sort of wild whiteness to exact hundreds of years of both explicit abuse of black and brown folks and concomitant denial of such abuses. As a reader, I am wont to retort that what the contemporary Christian mission field finds itself wrestling with today is white primitivity, a true-to-life haunting where what whites have signified of others comes into focus as its central symbol today, savage. 

Despite all the challenges, Hodge offers an unflinching diagnosis of the idol worship of whiteness that has permeated mission efforts abroad and blinded US Christians to the kinds of suffering that now mark the United States as the last mission field, a wild country filled with those who have rejected the idolatry inside of the church. Hip hop culture is born in this “wild” frontier, and today, it provides a space where Evangelicals might exorcize the worship of whiteness from itself, find its contemporary missional mandate, as well as cultivate the tools for execution of that mission.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Christopher M. Driscoll is Assistant Professor of Religion Studies, American Studies, and Africana Studies at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.

Date of Review: 
December 18, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Daniel White Hodge is Associate Professor of Intercultural Communications at North Park University in Chicago, where he also chairs the department of communication arts and is research lead for the Catalyst 606 program. He also serves as editor in chief of the Journal of Hip Hop Studies. He is the author of Heaven Has a GhettoThe Soul of Hip Hop, and Hip Hop's Hostile Gospel: A Post Soul Theological Exploration.

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