Chance the Rapper

Who is Chance the Rapper?

Talented, popular, confusing—Chance the Rapper. The 26-year-old Chicago native got his start in music during his senior year of high school. Following a ten-day suspension, he released his first mixtape, entitled 10 Day, which is all about said ten-day suspension. This was followed up in 2013 with Acid Rap, which has now been downloaded over 10,000,000 times. The mixtape involved the use of the hallucinogen LSD in small quantities to fuel creativity.

What is confusing to some is that Chance has been outspoken about his faith in God. He claims to be a Christian, and his third mixtape, Coloring Book, includes songs that talk a lot about God, including this song which begins with a choir version of Chris Tomlin’s “How Great is our God.”

Though he doesn’t consider his music to be Christian, Chance considers himself to be a “Christian Rapper.” In a video released on twitter, Chance announced “Your Favorite Rapper is a Christian.” But here is where the confusion sets in: in the same video where Chance claims to be a Christian, he also raps the line, “who the f— you think you is?”

Coloring Book, for all its being about God, has as a similar problem—frequent and unabashed use of strong and demeaning language. Also included on the mixtape is a fairly suggestive song about grinding, an explicitly sexual form of dance. The song entitled “Juke Jam” is actually a tribute to R. Kelly’s “Feelin’ on your booty,” which needs no explanation.

Another Song from Coloring Book, “No Problem,” has Chance exulting in his own success, which is, admittedly, something to pay attention to. All three of his mixtapes have been released free of charge, yet Chance is among the most popular rappers in America, and he collaborates regularly with some of the biggest names in rap. “No problem,” is a collaboration with 2 Chainze and Lil Wayne.

Of course, a self-proclaimed Christian collaborating with Lil Wayne is sure to cause controversy, since Lil Wayne is well known for his songs that display a demeaning and objectifying view of women. The objectification of women (regularly referred to as ‘bitches’ and ‘hoes’ in hip-hop music) is a persistent theme in the genre. Though Chance’s songs may not be quite as explicit on this front as other popular hip-hop artists, profanity and demeaning language regularly occur in his music. One moment he’s talking about God’s love, the next moment he’s talking about how he f—ing did this or that. Chance’s music is simply inconsistent.

However, in December of 2018, Chance announced that the was going on a sabbatical to get to know his Bible better, which he admitted he was guilty of not reading much.¹ He read the entire book of Galatians on Instagram Live, and candidly admitted, “I thought I knew the Bible, and I did not.” His reading of Galatians is honest and passionate. Recently, Chance said that getting married and baptized saved his life, and that his wife encouraged him to remain celibate before their wedding. “It changed my life for real,” he remarked.² With such a reputation, it’s no wonder that the Christian world is confused about him.

The Tension in Sanctification

Chance the Rapper on stage

Given the mixed messages of his music, what can we say about Chance the Rapper? Perhaps Chance is simply a man on a journey with God. While some would argue that an encounter with Jesus should cause immediate change in areas of morality (one thinks of testimonies that say, “I quit smoking” or “I stopped swearing” the day I encountered Jesus), many people do not have such an experience. The experience of many Christians upon conversion is that old habits die hard. Not everyone’s conversion looks like the Apostle Paul’s.

Becoming a Christian does not equal immediate victory over all our vices, or the complete transformation of our character overnight. Becoming a Christian does mean that we come under new authority. We are no longer bound and enslaved to the old master—sin. We now serve Jesus, the King of Kings, who delights in beauty, goodness, and truth. And what we are promised is that Jesus will finish the work that he started in us (Philippians 1:6)—the work of sanctification, or being formed into the image and likeness of Jesus.

Every person who has given their trust and allegiance to Jesus should be on the road to sanctification. And we all have a long way to go on this journey. Ultimately, the work of sanctification will not be completed until Jesus’ Kingdom is finally established; but we can be confident that in the power of the Holy Spirit, we can have freedom and joy in this life, even if we are tempted to fall in with the ways of the world.

It would be easy to criticize Chance as a hypocrite, condemning him because he is inconsistent; but that isn’t our job. Who knows where Chance may be in the process of sanctification or how God is working on him right now? It is not our duty to say.

In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer warns, “By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are . . . if when we judged others, our real motive was to destroy evil, we should look for evil where it is certain to be found, and that is in our own hearts.”³ It is our business to be open to the work that God wants to do in us, to be open to the Holy Spirit’s conviction of our sin, and to be open to the forgiveness and healing of Jesus.

That said, not judging others does not equal never saying that something is wrong. And as Christians, we can confidently say that there are some things that are wrong about Chance’s music. Unfortunately, three years after Coloring Book, Chance’s music is still troubling. Chance is complicit with the abusive language and the objectification of women in his collaborations with DJ Khaled and Lil Yachty; and his latest album, The Big Day, remains as confusing as his others, with songs about love for God and family, mixed with interludes of explicit sexual content and strong language.

Christians are called to love, holiness, and humility. This means that we respect one another and treat each other as image-bearers; it means that our words should be gracious and healing, not demeaning; and it means that our lives should glorify Christ, not ourselves. These qualities ought to be reflected in our music. Sometimes, Chance’s music expresses great love for others, transcending the average hip-hop song. At other times, his lyrics seem just as demeaning as Lil Wayne or DJ Khalid.

However, instead of seeing all of this as an opportunity to condemn, we can see it as an opportunity to examine our own hearts. If we claim to be Christians, do we live like we are? Are we characterized by humility or obsessed with our own glory? Do our words speak life or do they put others down? Do we love other people and treat them like humans or do we treat them like objects for our gratification, tools useful for accomplishing our own purposes? Is the way in which we live our lives causing confusion or pointing others toward Christ?

The answer, if we have failed in any of these ways (and we all have), is not to “try harder” or “stop worrying about it because we are forgiven.” The answer is to recognize our failure, to accept the forgiveness of God, to know that we are loved by him, and to ask for the grace to grow more like him everyday. Through the Holy Spirit, we can and will be remade. Jesus started this transformation in us, and he’s going to complete it.

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Ben Keiser

Ben Keiser is a writer, teacher, and student of theology, whose chief interests include biblical theology of heaven and earth, C. S. Lewis, and early Christianity in the first three centuries. Ben has a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Liberty University. He resides in Colorado where you can often find him hiking in the mountains.