Controversy – noun. A discussion marked especially by the expression of opposing viewpoints
“No, I’m not the first king of controversy
I am the worst thing since Elvis Presley
To do black music so selfishly
And used it to get myself wealthy
There is a concept that works
Twenty million other white rappers emerge
But no matter how many fish in the sea
It’ll be so empty without me….
Now this looks like a job for me
So everybody just follow me
Cause we need a little controversy
Cause it feels so empty without me”
Without Me, Eminem
With some fear and trepidation I am going to do a blog post on Eminem. I know a lot of Christians would crucify me for just talking about him. How could you talk about that terrible, obscene, vile, filthy rapper? One reason I dare is because he is so influential. “Recovery” was his seventh studio album. The album debuted at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, selling 741,000 copies in its first week. It was his sixth album to debut at number one in the United States. It was the best selling album of 2010 and sold 5.7 million copies worldwide. Those statistics reflect the enormous influence he has. On first glance Eminem is just an angry male who grew up in the white equivalent of the ghetto: the trailer park. No doubt he is angry. Cursing in general is a sign of an angry heart. Yet his music resonates with many, many young people who grew up in broken homes and who also are angry. Whether you love him or despise him, no one can deny he is influential.
Let me say for the record that I do not endorse Eminem. I don’t own any of his music. I don’t agree with all his viewpoints. I don’t like his profanity. I don’t like the way he has talked about women in such degrading, violent ways. The only music I have heard of his is that which receives airplay on the radio. Obviously that is usually censored. Eminem, real name Marshall Mathers, knows that he is controversial. He obviously has a healthy ego about that fact as evidenced by his lyrics “Cause we need a little controversy, cause it feels so empty without me.” Controversial people are in your face and they put things out there for people to consider. Mathers has made a nice living from it.
Though as Christians we may only listen to praise and worship or classical music, most, if not all, of the people we need to reach with the gospel do not listen to that. Many young people listen to Eminem. This must mean they resonate with the things he raps about on some level. In order to connect with these young people, many who are angry and come from broken homes like Mathers, we must be able to connect with their world. How can we do that? One way is through music. Music is a very powerful medium for a culture to express its values. Though we may hate Eminem’s views and “values” they reflect the views of some people in the culture. You man say, well who would share the gospel with anyone who listens to Eminem? They are obviously beyond salvation. Really? I think Jesus would have shared the gospel with them. I think Paul would have too. The Apostle Paul, who is probably one of the greatest evangelists of all time said, “I become all things to all people, so that by all means I may save some.” (I Corinthians 9:22) When he was speaking to the men of Athens he quoted their own poets to try and reach them with the message of salvation. Mathers is a poet of sorts. So how could we use Eminem to reach someone with the gospel? Let me give you an example. One of Eminem’s popular songs which received airplay was “Lose Yourself.” At the beginning of this song Eminem asks this question:
Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted in one moment
Would you capture it, or just let it slip?
Eminem is talking here about opportunity. Opportunity is a universal idea. We all are faced with opportunities. More than this he is asking if you had one shot to grasp all you ever wanted, would you go for it? Now most people translate this to mean things like achieving wealth, success, power, influence, love, etc. Eminem himself tells us what it means to him: success. Success he says “is his only option, failure is not.” Why? For Eminem success is the highest goal one can attain in life, so if he fails to achieve that there is nothing higher to reach for and all is lost. At this point one could suggest that the truth is that there is more than this life and a higher goal to reach for than success. The highest goal that any man can attain to is to know God. God is his creator. He was made to know and be known by his Creator. Because knowledge of the Holy is so high and exalted and can never be plumbed in totality, it takes all that you have as a person. It requires your best effort, all your talent, the extremes of your intellect and most of all, the totality of your heart. When the gospel is presented to a man, it is an opportunity, but not just an opportunity, it is THE opportunity. It is the very thing Eminem describes. It is the chance to seize everything you ever wanted. Of course only God’s grace can enable a man to understand this high and lofty truth. For indeed God is so great, so beautiful, so holy, so mighty, so glorious, so all in all, He is indeed everything you could ever want. When Christ said I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and end, He not only means that He has always existed, but that He is the greatest gift to be had.
We are all presented with opportunities, and opportunities require choice. An opportunity is defined as a favorable juncture of circumstances, or a good chance for advancement and progress. Later in the song Eminem says, “You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, for opportunities only come once in a lifetime.” Opportunities are favorable crossroads. Sometimes it is true that the opportunity only comes once. Some people do let it go. There are people every day who are presented with the greatest, most glorious, most exalted truth of the gospel and refuse its truth. They say, “I will search for God later.” Nothing could be more foolish. What is the gospel? It is the truth that man because of his rebellion against his creator has been separated from God. God himself however provided a way that man could once again have a restored relationship with Him, and that is through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Why does that act provide a restored relationship to God? Christ’s death on the cross paid the debt we owed to God. We all know in earthly terms when we commit a wrong there is a payment to be made for that wrong. If we commit murder, hopefully if our justice system works properly we go to prison. Scripture makes it clear that all the wrongdoing we do is ultimately against God and God alone. So the penalty we owe for the wrong that we do is death, not only physical death, but spiritual death. Christ pays that penalty in our place. If we accept and believe that truth, we have a restored relationship with God and the promise of eternal life with him. The alternative is that we pay the penalty for our rebellious deeds ourselves.
You may think that using Eminem lyrics to talk to someone about the gospel is sacrilege. Certainly one should not do so if one cannot in good conscience do so. Yet I think it is a powerful way we can build a bridge with someone who is an unbeliever. Some people will be disappointed in my view. Some people will be disappointed with me. I am being controversial. Certainly no figure in history could have been more controversial than Christ himself. When I read the gospels I find that he is constantly challenging people in many ways they don’t like. People could not stand the fact that he ate with sinners, people like prostitutes and greedy tax collectors. People were amazed that his harshest words were reserved for the “religious”, while he was greatly merciful to “sinners.” He constantly exposed the prejudices of men and the idols of their hearts. He never did the expected. He told men what they needed to hear and not what they wanted to hear. He was not the proud political king men longed for, he was the humble spiritual king men need. Everything about his kingdom is disconcerting: dying to self, taking up your cross, the last shall be first, no other gods before him, he is the only way, just to name a few. I think many, many Christians would NEVER even entertain the idea of having dinner with Eminem. I think if Jesus Christ were here today he would. I know that idea is very controversial. Yet, perhaps, we need a little controversy.