Propaganda: Giving the Puritans a Bad Rap

A new rap song by Propaganda has caught the attention of a number of Christians in the blogosphere (lyrics here). It styles itself as a series of questions to a pastor who loves to quote the Puritans, criticizing them for their culpability in the slavery of African-Americans. The rap repeatedly uses the phrase “your precious puritans” in a way that is ironic, to say the least. It is sad that “precious” becomes a piece of sarcasm, for the Lord Himself said to His people that we are “precious in my sight” and “I have loved thee” (Isa. 43:4).

To his credit, Propaganda promotes the gospel of Christ in other raps, and says that he has learned a lot from reading the Puritans. But his rap song forcefully portrays them as deeply flawed men, profoundly guilty for their participation in the Atlantic slave trade and slave economy.

What should we make of this? The subjects of slavery and racism are huge, difficult, and beyond the scope of a single blog post. However, I would like to offer some perspective on Propaganda’s rap song. There are three dimensions to Propaganda’s song: emotional, historical, and theological. While these are intertwined, I think it will help to look at them one at a time.

(1) Emotional Dimension.

You don’t have to read between the lines to see the pain and anger in this song. He raps about “bewilderment,” “heart break,” and an “anger” that “screams.” Furthermore, he is not speaking just for himself, but as the voice behind “our facial expressions,” presumably the African-Americans in the church. White people reading or hearing the rap are also drawn emotionally into the pain in the “shackled, diseased, imprisoned face.” Propaganda’s lines pierce.

The enslavement of African-Americans was a horrific and shameful evil. It remains a stain upon our national history, a sin that only the blood of Christ could cleanse away. To read of the conditions of our fellow human beings in this bondage is painful indeed. Yet, like the Holocaust and the present international atrocity of abortion, slavery must be faced in order that we may renounce it fully and strive to end all human trafficking that continues today.

His imaginary conversation with a pastor is an important reminder that this has implications for preaching and pastoral care. The moral and relational effects of slavery are multi-generational, and we should not pass lightly over the suffering experienced today by African-American citizens in America and our brothers and sisters in the church.

But Propaganda’s song does not set a good example for us. Whatever his personal views may be, his rap portrays the Puritans in a starkly negative light. Some have commented that the song really isn’t about the Puritans, but is a clever, artistic work designed to make us question ourselves and to treat no one as inerrant. We will return to this theological point in a moment, for it has value. But making that point does not justify depicting godly Christians in such a manner.

It is naïve to say that the song does not make us recoil in horror away from the picture it paints of the Puritans. Surely many people who hear the song will be moved to anger and disgust towards the Puritans and resentment towards those who quote them, unless they come to know them better. The song could create a false shame in lovers of Puritan literature, and also give ammunition to those who are eager to write off biblical and Reformed Christianity as bigotry.

Perhaps someone might object that Propaganda’s song is just historical fact. Is that true? This brings us to the second dimension of his rap.

(2) Historical Dimension.

He characterizes the Puritans as “the chaplains on slave ships”—those who “purchased people” and believed that white men bore God’s image in a way that black people don’t. He also says, “Their fore-destined salvation contains a contentment in the stage for which they were given.” These words imply that the Puritan doctrine of predestination was a weapon of oppression that taught people to be passive.

In reality, the Puritan’s doctrine of unconditional election does not foster arrogance, but instead places people on an equal playing field before God as sinners utterly dependent on unmerited grace. The biblical teaching of God’s providence does not make us passive towards wicked men, but inspires courageous activism to resist evil because we believe a sovereign God hears our prayers and is working out His plan through our efforts.

Furthermore, the Puritan view of authority and servitude contained the seeds that ultimately grew into anti-slavery doctrine. They taught that masters could not treat servants and slaves as mere property like a block of wood, but as human beings with rights. Puritans like William Gouge did believe in corporal punishment, but warned strongly against cruelty that would wound or disable people. William Perkins and the Westminster Larger Catechism also recognized that “man-stealing,” the root of slavery, was a sin condemned in Scripture (Ex. 21:16; 1 Tim. 1:10). Some Puritans opposed the Atlantic slave trade, like Jonathan Edwards. Some Puritans followed this to the logical conclusion and opposed all slavery, such as Richard Baxter and Samuel Sewall. After the Puritan era ended and slavery grew in the magnitude of its evil, heirs of the Puritans such as Jonathan Edwards, Jr., and Alexander McLeod became strong advocates of the abolition of the bondage of African-Americans.

(For specific quotations and Puritan sources, click here.)

My point is this: if we view the Puritans only through the lens of their slave ownership, then we draw a lop-sided and inaccurate picture of their character and views. Their theological system held the key to unlock the slave’s chains.

We must recognize that because of the sin and darkness that remain in the church, it takes a long time, sometimes generations, for the seeds of truth present in our theology to grow up and bear fruit in our practice. How many things will future generations see in us that will make them exclaim, “How could they tolerate that and still be godly Christians?” So we need to show a lot of grace to each other.

This brings me to the third and final aspect I want to consider in Propaganda’s rap song.

(3) Theological Dimension.

The rapper ends on a surprising note. After reflecting on his own fallibility and blind spots, he says, “So I guess it’s true. God really does use crooked sticks to make straight lines. Just like your precious puritans.” The rap has a theological point, that the sovereign God uses flawed men and women to bring goodness and truth to the world. Amen! If that were not the case I would resign from ministry today. If we did not believe in God’s sovereign grace, we would have to view the Psalms as suspect because David committed adultery and murder, and the writings of Peter as of dubious value because he denied the Lord Jesus three times. I am thankful that Propaganda made this point.

However, I believe that Propaganda’s point needs more balance. It is true that believers in Christ still have much remaining corruption. The best of us have grievous sins, whether we are talking about the seventeenth century or the twenty-first century. But we are more than “crooked sticks.” We are the saints of God. We are not hypocrites, mere pretenders wearing a Christian mask, but sincerely repentant sinners walking in the light of God. Paul thanked God for the exemplary faith, hope, and love in believers (1 Thess. 1:3, 7). He could even say, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

So while we need to be honest about the sins of our spiritual forefathers, let’s be careful not to view them or portray them as if they were nothing but sinners. Slavery is a big issue, but we should not make it the defining issue in how we view people lest we fall into another kind of idolatry. The examples and teachings of the Puritans, while not flawless, are very valuable to all who would know the living God. This is not putting someone on a pedestal, but following in the footsteps of the faithful (1 Thess. 1:5–6; 2 Tim. 3:10). The Puritans really are “precious,” not just to white people, but to all who love God and the Bible.

Comments

  1. AJ

    Dr. Beeke,

    Thank you for your thoughtful response to this “wildfire”.

    It is such a sensitive issue, and unfortunately, one that can be addressed through “crying out” without proper balance of thought. When we are confronted with the atrocities of the past, it is difficult to critique the one that is expressing his feelings because of the political correctness of our day. But your response is sympathetic while defending God’s people and those that have accurately expounded His word, and those which we can glean so much from.

    I am reminded of a message by Sherard Burns which he preached at the 2003 Desiring God Conference. The conference focused upon the God entranced views of Johnathan Edwards. Sherard Burns (a “dark skinned” brother) waxed eloquent giving a talk on Edward’s dealing with slavery. He looked at the history of Edwards’ involvement in defending slave owners, described how Edwards was wrong to do so. His conclusion was twofold; to his “white” brother, he encouraged them to be sympathetic and not to make light of the horror of the slave trade, and to his “black” brothers, he encouraged them not to throw out the theology of Edwards because he got it wrong on this one issue. Great message.

    Though DG does a wonderful job of making messages from past conferences available free of charge, this particular message is no longer available with the other talks from that conference. I have a copy however, and can email it if there is an interest.

    Thank you again for this wise approach.

    God Bless,
    AJ

  2. Jeannette Paulson

    I have been reading the Puritans for about 25 years. More than anyone else, they have steeled me in the fight against fear and depression, alerted me to the deceits of the evil one, and brought me to a fullness of joy in Jesus Christ. I have recommended them to many friends who have been matured through them. Not perfect, they. But an unspeakable gift nonetheless.

  3. Thank you for this, Dr. Beeke! This response was really edifying!

  4. Bernard Roberts

    I totally agree with what you’ve said here.

  5. jim delver

    In light of your recent book on the Puritans, i was really hoping that you would weigh in on this issue. I was not disappointed. thanks brother

  6. joseph

    Dr. Beeke, I agree with almost everything you said. But there is one point I think you misunderstand. Given the last one was about how God uses all things including the sins of godly people, it ended the song on a positive note. Even if most of the song was a bit imbalanced, having that note at the end (given the genre of music) outweighs any hyperbole.

  7. Roberto G

    Can someone please enlighten me on what puritans were chaplains on slave ships??? And were there puritans that actively argued for the biblical lawfulness of slavery as it was being practiced in their times? Thank you.

  8. Thanks for the post. As a former student and now teacher of history I have struggled against the perception of predestination as a de-motivating force in social action.There are two problems: 1) a genuine misunderstanding of the doctrine itself, and 2) the failure of Christians to apply their doctrine fully throughout history.
    There are those who do consider the Puritans “precious” in the idolatrous sense that Propaganda’s sarcasm suggests. While grace cloaks our relationships in goodness, truth holds no prisoners, shining a light on the darkest corners of the human heart.

  9. andy najera

    Pastor Beeke,
    In your research of the Puritans, did many of them actually own slaves?

  10. I needed to hear this perspective. Thank you.

  11. For many of us African Americans this response would be considered extremely discouraging. Just when we thought that our issues and concerns might be taken seriously what is reinforced, yet again, is that whenever African Americans challenge the idolatry and romanticism of the past those concerns get dismissed and defending by the focus on outliers. “You blacks are overreacting (again),” is the tone many could interpret from Beeke’s apologetic. The type of confirmation bias and white privilege present in this response could inadvertently discourage many African Americans from attending Beeke’s seminary (or would discourage many of us from ever recommending this school to our younger black brothers) questioning whether or not it’s a “safe space” for idol shattering discourse. I would encourage you all to do something that’s not the norm in Reformed circles: take African American voices seriously and simply listen. It remains clear, yet again, that the work of Joseph R. Washington has not been read by those claiming that the Puritans are “precious.” As such, the blind spots remain and are defended even if it creates a micro-aggression. At any rate, please read THABITI ANYABWILE’s response at The Gospel Coalition if you want to read how a Puritan-loving black pastor provides leadership on this issue and encourages humility rather than dismissal by those reading too much into a song that last 4 minutes and 17 seconds. It’s just a song remember. It’s neither a journal article nor a book. Here’s Thabiti: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/thabitianyabwile/2012/10/02/the-puritans-are-not-that-precious/

    • Anthony Coleman

      Thank you Mr. Bradley for representing a voice in this arena that is not often heard or as you stated often times dismissed as “overreacting.”

    • Carlos

      Thank you for such an intelligent response to Mr. Beeke’s unbalanced post.

      • @Anthony, Carlos
        1. It would be discouraging if you have a warped view of slavery in the American Colonies compared to Slavery as a world and historical phenomenon.
        Quoting ” Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr ” Mr. GATES: Oh, it was fundamental. Like many people – remember, I was raised in the ’50s and ’60s. I’m 60 years old. And like many people my age, I thought that slavery, race, the African experience in the New World, really was about us, about our ancestors here in the Continental United States. But the most astonishing fact in this whole series, and the most astonishing fact which I think that the Transatlantic Slave Trade database has produced is the following: Between 1502 and 1867, 11.2 million Africans survived the Middle Passage and landed in the New World. And of that 11.2 million, as you said, only 450,000 came to the United States” .

        20 times more blacks came to Latinamerica than to the U.S. So I want to know what Puritans Chaplains made it to the coast of Brazil or Mexico? You know Mexico had it’s first African-American President Vicente Guerrero they called him “El Negro Guerrero”. In fact if you view Dr. Gates videos on NPR “Black In Latin America” i can claim african american ancestry just for the fact of being born in latin american. Mix of races was much more common that they were in the Northern Colonies.

        Can you imagine the repercussion of that, I can claim not only the brutal treatment of North American Colonies but also the harsh and horrible treatment of Latin American Colonizers. Not only that but my mestizo indian ancestors were also enslaved. Although previous to the Spanish Colonizers, indians enslaved indians, So i can add about a couple of centuries more of “issues and concerns”

        Now who do i blame there? the Puritans? the American Puritans? or English Puritans who were fleeing from persecution? How many were they? How many slaves or scores of slaves did they possess?

        See how such a Narrow scope view of History creates such warped view of reality?
        We hispanics need the Puritans, we have been taught much that we are victims of societies past and present, we are taught to carry the racial baggage as a badge and we lose sight of our own wickedness and evil. We need to view God as they viewed Him. As i started reading them my own question was, where have i been all this time? why dont people today write like them? Why dont we see Sin like them? Why dont we see providence like Flavel. Or sin like Owen? See how much you lose with a lose and hasty generalization of the Puritans. My father told me when you talk evil of someone without knowing him its like grabbing a pillow of feathers and tearing it open on a windy mountain top and trying to pick up each scattered feather one by one.
        Why are the Puritans quoted so often lately? Maybe because their generation reminds us much of what Evangelicalism has lost today.? Sinful man, Holy God, and Precious Christ. Are preachers wrong for that? We need examples and theirs is a much needed one.
        I pray more Hispanics read the Puritans and put off the racial disequality baggage that their ancestors may have experienced. The Gospel is our new identity, our sinfullness and sainthood in one, and the Puritans teach us that. Thank to Faro de Gracia for continuing to publish Spanish Puritan materials. May the Lord bring us their view and depth of Scripture and may awaken a Spiritual Revival in Brazil in Mexico and al Latin america.

        • Carlos

          I am not sure why you felt the need to call me out directly in your post. I just simply commended Dr. Bradley for his post. Did that offend you somehow?

        • Roberto G

          Yes. I, too, agree that the hispanic world would benefit greatly from more puritan theological influence. I have personally been blessed and have used their material to bless others. Admitedly, the situation is slightly different in that the audience would not have the same concerns that a person like Propaganda would have. Nevertheless, a teacher/pastor’s role is know his people and meet them where they are at. If anyone expressed reservations concerning my quoting of Calvin, for example, I would address their concerns the best I could and would argue that the direction, thrust, and bulk of his thought was profitable for God’s people for all times since it is derived from God’s Word.
          That’s what I think most people do who quote the puritans. Maybe some people do put them up on a pedastal as idols. I just haven’t seen that. But people’s perceptions are hard to predict or gauge.
          From the other side, I think the rap is a rap. It may wish to convey a contrary opinion as to the value of puritan opinion on theology or theology in practice. It’s a creative snapshop depicting a real scenario that takes place. And thank God for that. It means that Reformed theology is making its way to a broader audience. It needs to happen more and more. Have the specific doctrines of predestination, unconditional election, the eternal decree, meticulous/exhaustive providence in some way served as the basis for some to excuse, justify, or rationalize slavery??? That is a historical question easily answered. However, that does nothing to say these doctrines were not found taught in Scripture and that their implications are always correctly drawn out by us.
          A more valuable answer lies in the total depravity of all people from every color, tribe, kindred, tongue, and nation. We sin because we are sinners. And we exercise all our powers and creativity in sinning in thought, word, and deed against God and our neighbor. That is the logical,starting point of why something like slavery took place. The logical ending point is that if we look to Jesus, He will draw all men to Himself. Soli Deo Gloria!!!!!!

    • Mr Bradley,

      It seems that your reply is overreacting, not the post to which you are responding. Beeke’s post notes that Propaganda’s song does make important points, but that it is mistaken in others. That seems pretty balanced to me. And does your call for Reformed Christians to “take African-American voice seriously and simply listen” preclude responding to that which they are hearing? If so, why? If not, then isn’t that what Beeke is doing here?

      Cheers,
      Josiah

    • Colin Samul

      Bradley,
      I definitely understand where you are coming from, and I agree that many white reformed Christians do not realize the depth of the sin of slavery, and its ongoing effects. However, I do not think that Dr. Beeke’s post betrays such “white privilege.” Obviously no one who is white, knows exactly what it is like to be African-American, in the same way that no two individuals will ever know what it is like to be the other person. That is part of the glory of God’s creation, that we share commonality, yet we are distinct. In the body of Christ, this should translate to where we humbly listen to one another, as iron sharpens iron. The problem with the whole concept of propaganda’s song, is that it is aimed at a moving target. Most scholars are not even quite sure how to define a puritan. It is a broad category, that clearly exists, but is yet broad and composed of diverse parts. Therefore, sarcastically (and somewhat viciously) rapping about “your precious puritans” doesn’t get us very far. Furthermore, there is a huge difference in many respects between the English puritans and the American puritans. I at least, have always seen the latter as having many problems in their ecclesiology, peity, and practice. Books like “Race and Redemption in Puritan New England” only deal with the American puritans. Unfortunately, in America, when most Americans think of “the puritans” this is what they have in mind, with stocks, witch burnings and all. Another issue is that the puritan movement, which we can say began with William Perkins in the 1500s, began before the African Slave trade was something England was even seriously involved with (remember, these people didn’t have twitter, facebook, of cable TV to be aware of the plight of people around the world). Furthermore, as Dr. Beeke pointed out, many of them DID speak out against the trade, some more so, and more strongly, than others. So to say a bunch of things and then end each stanza with “just like your precious puritans” does more harm than good. And I agree with Dr. Beeke, that just like common notions of “purtians” or being “puritanical,” this could be regressive in perpetuating false stereotypes about otherwise godly men we can learn from.

    • John Bothof

      Yes, you are overreacting to this BLOG POST. Please Anthony, is a blog post on a four minute song plus song worthy of a response? I think not. The song has been completely misunderstood by the puritan lovers of “white privilege”, and has garnered a response that it did not deserve. May we all be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. (Holy Spirit frequently hits me square in the chops on all of those)

    • Hope

      Thank you Anthony Bradley for what you said! I am sorry Dr. Beeke you missed it. Not on purpose but I truly believe you do not understand.

      • Hope, I dont think he missed the point. Im Hispanic, I thought it was careless association of generalizing on Puritans with slavery. I think Anthony Bradleys statements are trying to play the old race card game. But if a white man speaks out, “he dont understand” “hes racist” he is “privileged”. Well im not white, or privileged.

  12. Dario

    Just when you thought this type of situation was going to cause beneficial dialogue between African Americans & our fellow Caucasian brothers within the church, once again its taken lightly as a mere emotional and misguided attempt to defame historical Christianity. Not to mention the Holocaust, Abortion, and the current Human Trafficking were tossed in to in a way down play the whole slavery issue that has lasted centuries. Im not saying that these aren’t serious issues which need to be dealt with, all Im saying is lets deal with one before the other. No wonder “our” fellow Black churches wont embrace Reform Theology…what happened to winning them for Christ. This is sad but expected…

    • Joshua

      Dario,
      “Holocaust, Abortion and … Human Trafficking” connected to “down play the whole slavery issue”… is not coherent.
      Lower shoulder, remove chip.
      J

  13. James

    When he raps about slave owning Puritans does this refer to Scottish Covenanters (BoT’s book “scottish Puritans)? I know many of these men were executed, families imprisoned, and also sold into slavery. Also, what of the English Puritans who gave up their salary and home in opposition to Archbishop Laud? When I think of “Puritans” this is who I am typically referring to. Make no mistake I’m simply asking. I’ve never read of those individuals owning a slave. Many I read were hounded and hunted down, meeting their congregations in the woods or in a field in the middle of the night. In other words, I suppose I repeat the question Andy’s inquiry how many are we talking about? Thank you all for the gracious responses..very appreciative of Joel Beeke and Anthony Bradley’s discussion point.

  14. Jasper Abbott

    (1) if Propaganda wrote a song criticizing the Black church, it would be openly embraced by the Reformed community.
    (2) This article lacks a basic understanding of the use of hyperbole in hip-hop.

    • Carlos

      You are correct on both points Jasper. There have been many rap songs written by reformed rappers criticizing the church in general and none of them have caused as much controversy as this one song. Why is that?

      • Jasper Abbott

        Carlos, idols die hard. It is like offering criticism of MLK in many parts of the black church. It is interesting to me the amount of apologizing (in the formal defense sense) that people have been engaging in favor of the Puritans. It somehow is impossible for people to acknowledge their racism. And that lack of acknowledgement is the very thing the song is lamenting. In other words, the response proves the bias that Propaganda was pointing out.

  15. This really feels like an intellectual response to an emotional issue. Which is usually unhelpful. It is clear from the discussion that Propaganda is not unfamiliar with the theological issue, or the historical ones. But many of the Reformed responses, including this one, seem to be unaware of the emotional issues that he is raising. Which seems to be why he is raising them.

    There are a number of responses here that either do not know about the issues of puritans and slavery and this is an area that Beeke could provide more background. That would be a helpful response.

  16. We all have our theological blind spots for various reasons i.e. Heroes in Black and White: Precious Puritans Vs. Martin Luther King Jr..

    If the gospel cannot move us to a place of grace and forgiveness toward a better understanding of our own bias and feelings, then nothing can. How will Christians ever move forward in this type of discussion?

  17. I agree with you mostly. It is fallacious to argue something like “because Mr.X was guilty of a very terrible sin, any theological beliefs he held should be rejected (or at least held in high suspicion)”. The artist managed to generate much emotional reaction with his use of slavery–but the logic is bad.

    Despite the bad logic, there is a valid critique in what he is saying. Propaganda’s charged example of the Puritans’ ambivalence toward racial slavery actually distracts from the more pertinent point: i.e., the Puritans were not perfect. I think that point (on which we all agree) serves as the premise for a very valid critique of the way that many in contemporary reformed circles have turned “the Puritans” into some sort of unquestionable ideal.

  18. This is my first encounter with this blog. I found you through a link in Tim Challie’s A-La-Carte today. I appreciated your take on Propaganda’s song. I think we need to be careful though when we say that the song needs more balance.

    You wrote: “However, I believe that Propaganda’s point needs more balance. It is true that believers in Christ still have much remaining corruption. The best of us have grievous sins, whether we are talking about the seventeenth century or the twenty-first century. “

    I do not think that the song needs more balance. I think that it provides the right balance to the overall discussion of the puritans. There is an incredible amount of reverence given to the Puritans, even though we might need a tighter definition, and I think the harshness of his tone pushes the needle back. There are many books, sermons, and discussions about the power of their writings and the lives that they led but not much on their failures beyond a causal mention. That is a tragedy because it is in viewing the failures that the true beauty of God’s redemption is shown through them and in us.

    • BG

      “There are many books, sermons, and discussions about the power of their writings and the lives that they led but not much on their failures beyond a causal mention. That is a tragedy because it is in viewing the failures that the true beauty of God’s redemption is shown through them and in us.”

      Very well said.

  19. John Sanford

    Sorry if this point has already been brought up, but it seems that Propoganda reads and benefits from the writings of the Puritans. He isn’t saying that we need to throw out their theology. Just wanted to make sure that is clear.

  20. John sanford

    Readers would do well to listen to Propoganda’s song a couple times before making any judgement.

  21. In my experience, my most tenacious sins usually hide behind virtues. Sometimes my desire to honor my mother prevents me from really relating to and loving her. Sometimes my desire to honor saints in previous eras causes me to downplay their sins. Sometimes my zeal for truth causes me to reject those from whom I could learn something.

    The conversation triggered by “Precious Puritans” provides an opportunity for us to examine ourselves before our brothers and sisters in Christ…and with their help to see around some of the accustomed corners in our minds. If we crooked sticks are really to relate, we must be deeply challenged.

    Most of us white people don’t fully appreciate race-based slavery and it’s legacy simply because we’re not threatened by it…because people on the more powerful side of a cultural divide tend to be less cognizant of a power differential. Growing up relatively poor and then associating with peers who grew up in the middle class taught me that much. A sense of admiration for the Puritans comes easier for us because we don’t have to deal with the complexities of identifying with theologians who wouldn’t have…or just didn’t…identify with our ancestors.

    I resonate with Dr. Beeke’s desire for balance and the general discomfort with “Precious Puritans,” but I’m concerned we too quickly shed our discomfort and return to our accustomed ways of being. When we argue it would be lopsided to think of the Puritans solely in terms of slavery, we would also be hypocritical not to include some discussion of slavery in our conversations about them.

    Should we not extend the same rigorous examination to ourselves that we extend to rap artists?

  22. According to J. I. Packer’s book Among God’s Giants (published in the US as A Quest for Godliness), the Puritans were English and lived between 1550 and 1700. To my knowledge, those Puritans did not own slaves and had no involvement in the Atlantic slave trade. It is perfectly fair to criticise later American Christian leaders such as Jonathan Edwards for their associations with slavery. But strictly speaking Propaganda is using the wrong term. He’s tarnishing the Puritans of 1550-1700 England with a sin that they weren’t guilty of. It doesn’t seem fair for the sins of later leaders who maintained the Puritan traditions (such as Edwards) to be transferred back in time to the people and the movement that inspired those later American leaders.

    I would fault Propaganda for treating an entire movement as guilty of a particular sin, when in fact the founders of that movement and several generations of their followers were innocent of that sin.

    But Propaganda certainly has a point that we should be sensitive to our hearers when quoting people whom they might have good reason to suspect. Luther, for example, was horrifically anti-Semitic, and so to quote him reverentially in a talk where Jewish guests or Jewish believers in Jesus might be present would be very ill-advised. They would take offence, and would have good reason for doing so.

    • Nicholas

      Luther was not anti-semitic, despite a brief anti-jewish outburst later in life. I, as a Lutheran, would not be afraid to quote Luther in the presence of Jews.

      • I suggest you read Luther’s book ‘The Jews and their Lies’, which is freely available online.

        If a 65,000 word publication is a ‘brief anti-Jewish outburst’ what would a substantial anti-Jewish outburst be, Nicholas?

        Luther says in the book: ‘I shall give you my sincere advice: First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom… Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed.’

        During the Nuremberg Trials after WW2, Julius Streicher, editor of the most notorious Nazi newspaper, Der Sturmer, referred to Luther in his defence. He claimed that he hadn’t done anything other than what Luther had already done before him! [http://avalon.law.yale.edu/imt/04-29-46.asp]

        I will pray that you take Propaganda’s point about sensitivity to your listeners to heart.

  23. Aaron

    As a young(23) African American who’s LOVES the puritans and reformed theology, propagandas song could not have been written better. Beekes response was needed and I honestly believe he has valid points but most of you are missing the point of props song which is a lot of white reformed believer holding the puritans on a pedestal as if they are infallible or don’t sin at all. Slavery was a ridiculous part of history that none are proud of, but slavery was just the sin that he was pointing out. It seems one man called out sin and people got offended. But like he says in the song “you get it, but you just don’t get it”.

  24. Dr. Beeke, you did not directly address whether or not Reformed theology was misused by some to support slavery. Therefore, I ask: was the Puritan doctrine of predestination misused by some to excuse slavery?

  25. Dr. Beeke,

    1. Why did you not interact with the “Body of Liberties” which many New England Puritans used to support race-based slavery?

    2. Have you interacted with scholars, like John Wood Sweet, who demonstrate that, because of race, marriage laws were moved from the ecclesiastical to civil arena during the time/place that the Northeast was most influenced by American Puritanism/Congregationalism? Why does social/racial inequality seem off limits?

    3. You list Jonathan Edwards as against the Atlantic Slave Trade. Does that assertion derive from his unpublished draft on the slave trade? If so, how do we reconcile that assertion with the several decades prior of slave ownership? For example, the receipt of which we are aware that shows the Edwards purchased a girl named Venus, who, most likely, had her name changed to Leah.

    4. Is it not equally lop-sided to focus on the devotional side of the Puritans (love God) to the neglect of the social side of the Puritans (how they loved people)? What would the Book of Judges look like if the writer left out the “bad stuff” done by Gideon, et al?

    5. In your writings, do you interact with current scholarship on the Puritans, performed in the non-theological academy?

  26. This post represents the type of Reformed tribalism that I talk about at Urban Faith.com (Lord, help us and come quickly) http://www.urbanfaith.com/2012/10/puritans-and-propaganda.html/

    • Dr. Bradley, I don’t think your comments are fair at all. You are wanting Dr. Beeke to respond to a mischaracterization as if it is true in all cases, and when he doesn’t you call it Reformed tribalism.

      Imagine a survey done on theologians (especially of the Reformed influence) that asks “Do you still beat your wife?”

      There were none who answered yes, however a large percentage said no implying that they did at one point, while the others refused to take part in the survey.

      You can see the problems with this.

      It’s unfair, and it can be just as easily turned around.

    • Wow, mr bradley your emotionally charged attacks are quite disrespectful…and to be frank, this sort of black apologetic isn’t helpful, it doesn’t help ‘us’, it only stirs more resentment and distance, as well as a more defined and all consuming view of life through racial eyes.
      That post you link to of yours is just terrible, ‘calvin executed servetus’ what real historian would throw that out like that (do your research), furthermore you are DEAD WRONG on your assessment of how blacks arrive to ‘reformed’ convictions, and discover puritans, maybe just maybe some blacks read books, maybe they do their research and found a lot of dead men quoting puritans as well, maybe it was spurgeon, maybe it was jc ryle, maybe through lloyd-jones, maybe through the grace of God…..to speak of something good, like coming to reformed convictions in racial terms and through white-man channels is absolutely disturbing and unedifying.

      and yes in my small little circle i too blogged on this issue: http://www.constrainedbygrace.com/2012/09/propaganda-precious-puritansmissed-it.html

      • Jasper Abbott

        (1) Anthony Bradley has a Ph.D. from Westminister Theological Seminary, it is only respectful to call him “Dr. Bradley” (or Professor Bradley, he also is a Professor at the King’s College in New York).
        (2) No where in the article does Dr. Bradley address how blacks come to Reformed circles. He refers to what is commonly called “New Calvinism” and it is well documented that the likes of John Piper have been highly influential in bringing about this phenomenon.
        (3) You say we should not talk about coming to Reformed faith in racial terms, but every single one of the men you reference in your response is white…just saying.

        • Jasper,

          Bradley is actually an Associate Professor, not a Professor.

          Cheers-
          Josiah

  27. Eric

    On the use of the word “precious”:

    Using a word in a sarcastic sense to prophetically point out idolatry does not cheapen its use in the Bible. While the church is precious to our God, the one ring was precious to Gollum in a much different sense. Tolkein didn’t cheapen Isaiah 34 with his use of precious and neither did Propaganda.

    Would an elder who confronts a man who has abandoned his wife by continually using the phrase “your inviolable covenant” in a sarcastic manner in order to grab the man’s attention be guilty of cheapening the Bible’s use of “covenant”?

    Dr. Beeke might argue that this is an occasion where prophetic speech is not warranted but to criticize Propaganda for using a perfectly legitimate word in a creative way does nothing to strengthen his argument.

    (One final thought/commendation [with no sarcasm intended]. It is humbling that when Dr. Beeke hears “precious” his first thought is of Scripture. I can’t say that my mind does the same thing.)

  28. I’ve posted a response as I don’t think this post, nor most posts by those criticizing the song, rightly view the song as a piece of art: http://www.stevekmccoy.com/reformissionary/2012/10/the-precious-puritans-discussion.html

    • Carlos

      You’ve just brought some great insight to the discussion. I would recommend that everyone read your post. Thanks for reminding me that it is art which is how I viewed it in the beginning until all of these discussions and various blog posts came about.

  29. I’m brazilian. My father is black, my wife is black. I’m white. I’m reformed and really love all my brothers in Christ, from this age and from the past. Both we and the puritans are flawed people. We count on God’s grace only. Demeriting those brothers from old brings no benefit to the church nor to solve interracial issues that the American society still has. We need to understand their historical context. Would you throw out the pages of your Bible where the “precious” apostle Paul talks to the church, since he also lived among slavery and did/talked nothing against it, but reinforced saying that slaves should obey their masters?

    That said, I think the song is immature and aggressive. It instills anger and rebellion in the hearts, even against church ministers. Not edifying at all. That’s not the way to address such sensible questions.

    By the way, it seems like we cannot criticize the song if we are not experts in music critique, somebody said. I don’t need to be a specialist to understand a message and dislike it. It is as simple as that.

    I apologize for my bad English. I really wanted to say a lot more than that, but I’m very limited.

    God bless y’all.

    Fabio

  30. Jasper im with Julius, Im hispanic and I read books too….

  31. Adam

    Jesus > Puritans

  32. Thank you, Dr. Beeke, for bringing some clarity to the issues involved.

    It does seem illegitimate to cover up character assassination with an appeal to art. If the claims are an intentional exaggeration then they are dishonest. Hyberbole isn’t the problem. The problem is hyberbole applied to the character of God’s people. How does this sort of vitriol actually help the problem? If the medium is the message, then what sort of message does Rap send when it uses hyperbole in this manner? It may elicit a reaction, but the expense is too high. Timely cliche: The ends do not justify the means. The end is a good one, but lets find a better way to get there.

    • andy najera

      What I learned through all this:
      1. Beware of uplifting men higher then Christ you will be disappointed
      2. Not everything you hear, read or see is true (not all puritans had slaves)
      3. The issue of Slavery still cuts deep in America, even among the redeemed (must be Forgiveness)
      4. Christ is still on the Throne, and is using this for his Glory (Amen)

    • Am I the only white, reformed guy that loves the theology of the Puritans but empathizes greatly with the concerns of Dr. Anthony Bradley?

  33. While Dr. Beeke addresses the emotional, historical and theological elements of Propaganda’s “Precious Puritans” with scholarly skill, I’m afraid he fails to seriously consider what is likely the key element in interpreting this rap song – the literary, or poetic, element. Just as one would not interpret, for example, Psalm 137 on the basis of emotional, historical and theological elements while ignoring the literary, Propaganda’s song should be interpreted in light of the literary devices he skillfully employs.

    Although Beeke does briefly mention the “twist” that closes the song, his nod gives short shrift to Propaganda’s dramatic conclusion of grappling with his own fallibility and need for deeper scrutiny than we all find comfortable. From a poetic standpoint, it simply would not be effective (let alone accurate) to rap about how the Puritans got some things wrong but were essentially pretty awesome, and then to draw a comparison to highlight one’s own fallibility and brokenness. That, in fact, would be properly viewed as prideful and lacking in self-awareness. Rather, Propaganda refers to himself with the term “precious,” which is used repetitively (almost monotonously) of the Puritans throughout the rest of the song. Propaganda is clearly acknowledging that the harshness applied to the Puritans’ deeds of the flesh mentioned earlier in the song is the same harshness that needs to be applied to his own self-assured flesh. His treatment of the Puritans is intended to be offensive, because he recognizes just how offensive his own flesh is.

    This song is not really about the Puritans at all, but about Propaganda and about ourselves. It is about our mutual brokenness and the realization that even the greatest champions of truth, in word or deed, are utterly dependent upon grace. It is about inviting the conviction of the Spirit and the often discomforting scrutiny of community into our lives that we may, by the Spirit, put to death the deeds of the flesh. It is a message, I believe, the Puritans would whole-heartedly embrace.

    • Dwight that would be true but evidence that Beeke did get the point of the rap song isDr. Bradley’s reaction to his response. Puritans are smeared as a whole and Bradley goes on to even affirm the songs intent with Washington’s books. It seems that the only two who really understtod the rap song is Beeke and Bradley.

      • Jonathan, I read over Dr. Bradley’s responses again to make sure I hadn’t missed something, and I don’t see the evidence that you claim in them. Dr. Bradley’s response strikes me as a plea to not simply dismiss Propaganda’s song as the rant of an “angry black man,” but to be challenged by it to seriously consider how easily we romanticize and even idolize of a group of believers who, while properly respected, also have some troublesome baggage that accompanies the tremendous good that they contributed to the Church. I’m not familiar with Washington’s work, so I cannot offer any reply to Dr. Bradley’s use of those books. What I can say is that I don’t detect an attempt on Dr. Bradley’s part (or Propaganda’s) to “smear” the Puritans, unless drawing attention to their fallenness and fallibility – i.e,. their humanness – now qualifies as a smear.

        • Read Bradley’s blog and his theological bent and you will think differently.

          • Will do when I get a chance. Assuming you are correct in your assessment, it seems strange to me to conclude that two men who clearly come to the discussion with an agenda to defend are the “only two who really understood” the song in question. I would be much more inclined to assume that both of them view the song through their respective theological or cultural filters, making it less likely that either of them would understand the song correctly.

      • One other point I’d like to make: the song “Precious Puritans” needs to be considered not only in it’s literary/poetic context, but also within the full context of Propaganda’s work. In the fuller body of his work, do you see similar threads of thought that “smear” the Puritans or others? I would argue that not only do I not see such a thread, I see the positive expression of theology for which Propaganda is most likely indebted to the Puritans. Viewed in that context, it is unfair and intellectually dishonest to characterize the song as an attack on the Puritans and/or those who have been shaped by them. It’s just that it’s easily interpreted as attack when sacred cows get tipped.

  34. Link

    This is a song. Meant to make you think. It’s not a blanket statement against purtanical preachers. At first I was shocked and was second guessing my “loyalty” to the puritans I read. But the crooked sticks line makes it all make sense. It’s just that simple. No dissertation needed

  35. Link

    I hate music that’s vague and ambiguous. I really feel that’s a lack of talent and not using what you have to communicate something. So when prop released this song I was shocked but listened all the way through cause he was saying something. And it made sense. Now to have some dude pick it apart emotionally, historically and theologically?!?! Please. Men are flawed. No one is inerrant. Everyone is fallen. Joy in our redemption should be what this song leads to. Also, listen to his whole album. Dudes way talented.

    • Link, to smear the legacy of anyone without any sense of historical certainty is akin to association. This “dude” you speak of can speak more accurately on who the Puritans were than anyone I can think of. It would have been tragic if Dr. beeke wouldn’t have given his take on Props song. Prop was careless in his history careless in his treatment of his fellow brothers from the past and careless in letting this discussion continue without any consideration to historical accuracy. I really believe this whole excuse that we are making idols of the Puritans is false. how can you make an of a generation of Pastors that constantly spoke of their sins and debased themselves in their writings and sermons. Truly we are attracted to them because they saw deeper into the depravity of man and the world than the superficial sims of society. They addressed the sins of the heart much more than any other Christians in history.

      • Corrections

        Akin to character assassination …..

        how can you make an idol of a generation of Pastors……..

      • “how can you make an [idol] of a generation of Pastors that constantly spoke of their sins and debased themselves in their writings and sermons?”

        The fact that the Puritans were notably aware of the depths of their own sin and were, thus, not likely inclined towards self-worship and self-idolization, really says nothing about the propensity of people to make idols of them today. It is many of the very qualities you mention in the Puritans that lead many Catholics, for example, to essentially idolize certain saints. Just because the Puritans were deeply aware of their fallenness, we cannot assume that all who read them share that awareness.

  36. Uncle Tom's Puritan Cabin

    I’m still in disbelief over this blog post. Not because of the content or responses. Rather, I never thought I’d see the day that Beeke writes a response to a rap song! That’s almost like Doug Wilson writing a blog post without sarcasm.

  37. marcus

    before I heard this song I saw this article saying that prop was lopsided in how he depicts puritans and their doctrine. not even having heard the song (nor knowing much about the puritans) I was offended by wat this article was saying given it (kind of) detailed props lyrics in this song . However I didn’t feel my taking offense to the article was justified because as I said I had limited to no knowledge about the topic at hand(the puritans). After hearing the song I feel a little more justified in being offended by the author writing off these atrocities because he felt they also” taught well” but still acknowledge my need to read up on the puritans. I am grateful to the articles author for creating a discussion and a desire for me to learn more about the teachings and (more importantly) practices the puritans held.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] are worth reading.  This morning, Joel Beeke, president of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, posted his reaction to the song on his blog.  I found the post extremely helpful and desired to repost it here in its [...]

  2. [...] Beeke – “Propaganda: Giving the Puritans a Bad Rap” (Be sure to read Bradley’s response in the comment [...]

  3. [...] tome “A Puritan Theology” has weighed in on the discussion with an excellent post: “Propaganda: Giving the Puritans a Bad Rap”. If you’ve followed the discussion at all, you need to read Joel’s [...]

  4. [...] Propaganda: Giving The Puritans A Bad Rap  This comes from Joel Beeke and his blog Doctrine for Life. Propaganda, a Christian rap artist, recently came out with a song that contained some lines regarding the Puritan reformers. Beeke does a very good job at carefully deconstructing the lyrics and noting where Propaganda got it right and may have got it wrong. This is significant for leaders in light of communication. We all need to know the impact of what we say–or sing. [...]

  5. [...] in high esteem. Joel Beeke, Puritan scholar extraordinaire, has address this issue at his blog, Doctrine for Life.   I believe that Dr. Beeke has given a very well-informed and well-rounded perspective on the [...]