Friday, October 26, 2012

Theologians Are Like Rappers

by Ben Howard
I've mentioned a few times in the last couple weeks how I've been on a rap binge. When normal people listen to rap music they dance to the beat or listen to the words or do normal things, that's not how my mind works because I'm a crazy person. When I listen to rap, I think about weird things, like theology and history and whether or not the rapper in question has a deeply thought out agenda or if they're just saying things that rhyme and sound cool.

Eventually, those thoughts morph and twist and turn and I find myself driving down the road at 10:30 at night thinking, "I wonder what theologian Jay-Z is most like." And then after thinking about it way too much I end up here.

So, without further ado, the weirdest thing I've ever put on this site. Theologians and rappers. (All comparisons are based pretty much on gut instinct because I don't know nearly enough about rap or possibly theology.)


Martin Luther – Eminem – Who else would Martin Luther be? Both are supremely talented, brilliant minds who just happen to have a hair trigger when someone happens to disagree with them. Eminem expresses himself through profanity laced tirades and Martin Luther does this.

John Calvin – Ice Cube – Aggressive, angry and political this father and forerunner of the reformed theological tradition has a lot in common with the young version of Ice Cube that was a part of California-based gangsta rap group N.W.A. Along with the groups founder, Eazy-E (perhaps Ulrich Zwingli for comparison) and a host of others, Ice Cube struck fear into the hearts of the establishment much like John Calvin did. Though both were known for being aggressors, they also had a softer more sensitive side. Calvin's views on grace and a loving God are beautiful and Ice Cube became a grumpy dad in a bunch of kid movies.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Tupac Shakur – A martyr who died in his prime and did not receive the real recognition he deserved until after death. Also, these are the answers you get when you ask a suburban white kid who he reads/listens to when he wants to sound spiritual and deep.

Cappadocian Fathers – Wu Tang Clan – Numbers and a bit of eastern flair, what other options did I have? (Also, I've utilized the Wu Tang Name Generator to figure out these theologians “Wu Tang Names”)
Basil the Great is RZA – The eldest and most professional by most accounts. (Lucky Warrior)
Gregory of Nyssa is Method Man – The most successful and well-known. (Master Mercenary)
Gregory of Nazianzus is Ghostface Killah – The most talented with words. (Gentlemen Dreamer)

Augustine – Dr. Dre – Premiere influences and prolific producers within their respective worlds. Both have been criticized as well as praised because of this influence. Both are most well known for one master work (Confessions and The Chronic) though they have massive volumes of other material which better defines their ideas.

Julian of Norwich – Snoop DoggThis one isn't actually a great comparison. I just think Julian of Norwich represents the happy/optimistic version of Augustine's theology and Snoop Dogg is the laid-back protege of Dr. Dre. It kind of works. Also, if you read Revelations of Divine Love there is a very good chance you'll ask what Julian was smoking and Snoop can answer that question better than most.

Thomas Aquinas – Rakim – Everybody references them and says that they're both geniuses, but whenever I've tried to read/listen to either of them I just don't get it. It doesn't click with me, I'm sorry. I'm sure they're both wonderful, but I'll probably be ignoring them from here on out.

Gregory the Great and Augustine of Canterbury – Notorious B.I.G. And Diddy – These two get to team up. Gregory and Augustine are responsible for the conversion of the British Isles to Christianity. Gregory was easily the more talented one and was also known as Pope Gregory I. Augustine was a monk and a bit of braggart from the records. So, let's see a duo with a clearly more talented person (Notorious B.I.G.) and a loud mouth braggart (Diddy) who went one to achieve great success. I think we have a winner. Now I want to explore how Diddy has influenced future Archbishops of Canterbury.


N.T. Wright – Jay-Z – One is the reigning king of rap and the other is the reigning king of theology. Here's hoping neither of those statements is too sacreligious. Also, I really want to see N.T. Wright perform Big Pimpin'. We need to make this happen.

Rob Bell – Nelly – Every time a new Nelly song comes on the radio my mind automatically wants to reject it out of some sort of popular backlash mentality. Then I listen to the song and realize I really enjoy it. Then it gets better and better and I end up listening to Nelly non-stop for a day or two. I have the exact same reaction to everything Rob Bell does.

Rachel Held Evans – Nicki Minaj – When your new book sparks a controversy called “vagina-gate”, there's really only one place to go with a rap comparison. Both of these talented women like to cause a bit of a stir though Rachel seems to do it incidentally, while Nicki steers right into the skid. Rachel, it's Halloween, put on your fancy wig and your bright pink dress and have some fun being the rabble-rouser you are for a day.

Peter Rollins – Lil Wayne – There is an equal chance that each of these men is either A) a brilliant once in a generation mind or B) a stark-raving lunatic. I also think Pete Rollins could rock a sweet grill. Can someone make this happen?

Anne Lamott is Lauryn Hill – Talented laid back hippy-esque ladies, who have a special skill when talking about challenging subjects. Like Lauryn Hill, Anne Lamott is almost always referenced when you ask somebody about their influences as an artist.

Derek Webb – Macklemore – Okay, so Derek's not a traditional theologian, it doesn't matter. He still ends up talking about important issues that most people overlook. Same thing for Macklemore. The Seattle based indie sensation addresses issues like gay marriage, addiction, and thrift stores in his latest album. Also, Derek seems to be moderately obsessed with “The Heist” on Twitter.

Lee Camp – Common – Well-known for their thoughtful, sincere, political (in the most positive sense of the word) thoughts and ideas. While both are known for their primary work (theology and music respectively), they also branch out to other areas to explore their ideas creatively.

Stanley Hauerwas – Kanye West – Because this Twitter account exists and you need to follow it.

Brian McLaren – Nas – Highly creative storytellers who know how to connect with their audience as they guide them through often unfamiliar terrain. Nas is respected as one of the great MC's in rap history and I don't think it's a stretch to say Brian is one of the best communicators in modern Christianity.

Miroslav Volf – K'Naan – Children of oppression and violence who have overcome that violence in order to spread messages of peace, love and community. Some of the most beautiful passages I've ever read have come out of these two writers.

To be fair, this idea isn't nearly as strange as it sounds. It's kind of like when you hear on some nature show that the closest genetic relative of the elephant is the South African Tree Mouse. Theologians and rappers really do share a lot of common traits. Both of them are trying to explain and explore their existence within the context they find themselves. Sometimes they use comedy, sometimes they pull on your emotions, sometimes its political, sometimes its beautiful, and sometimes its crass and confrontational. It's all communicating and it's all a form of self-expression searching for meaning.

I meant for this to be a fun little joke, maybe spark a weird conversation or two, but maybe it's more than that. Maybe this kind of comparison can open us up to find meaning and theology everywhere even in places that don't necessarily intend to be theological.

I'm out! *drops mic*

You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenHoward87 or email him at benjamin.howard87 [at]

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