Arts & Culture

‘When Sacred Meets Secular’: How a Seminary Student and Bible Professor Uses Hip-Hop to Frame a Gospel Vision of the World

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I recently had the opportunity to interview hip-hop artist and Grammy nominee, William “Duce” Branch, known as The Ambassador, about his recent album and how he integrates faith with all of life.

When Sacred Meets Secular

The title of Branch’s latest project is When Sacred Meets Secular. Breaking down the perceived wall between things dedicated to God and things done for worldly motivations is a major theme of the songs. This involves reordering love toward God.

Branch explains why this project is important to him:

The conflict is inevitable in the Christian life between the so-called secular and the sacred. Some think that secular means ‘neutral.’ But that’s not true. Things done for the world, by the world’s standards, and without God in view are called secular, and they are trying to expand secularism. This is as ideological as the sacred things done to advance the recognition of God.

When people describe certain things as secular, Branch notes:

There is a failure to understand the sovereignty of God over all life. This sets up a situation in life where some folks can live apart from their religious ideas.

Describing things as “secular” allows people to love things of the world first, while still claiming to love God foremost.

Using Music to Frame a Gospel Vision of the World

Since rap is a form of proclamation, much like preaching or storytelling, it comes naturally for Branch to use his music to frame a vision of the world that sees all of life under Christ’s lordship. In “My King,” he celebrates God’s supremacy:

Pick a square inch—He owns every one/ Pauper to the prince, and beyond—He owns every one.

Our love for God is a response to his lordship over all things.

As a collection of music, When Sacred Meets Secular presents a clear message of how Branch has integrated his work with his faith. His lyrics are explicitly Christ-centered and gospel-oriented as he seeks to make good music. He calls other Christian rappers to be open about the influence of the gospel on their lives through their music.

At the same time, hip-hop is only one part of Branch’s life and work. As the Ambassador, he helped launch the Cross Movement. This movement has largely shaped contemporary Christian hip-hop, but Branch’s ministry goes well beyond his music. Branch is a doctoral student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and an assistant professor of preaching and Bible at the College of Southeastern.

I asked him why he chose to produce another album instead of writing a book or an academic article. He explains that part of his vocation is taking the message of the power of the gospel over all of life to an audience that is unlikely to read a book on theology. He notes:

People are not being formed by longer writings from people whose primary identity has been [artistic]. But people will listen to the music.

Branch is trying to combine his callings as pastor, academic, and rapper. This means that the gospel is as much a part of his music as his sermons and class material. “Everything doesn’t have to have a conversion goal,” he says, then states:

The gospel is a way – it is at the heart of the Christian way. Being a New Testament student helps me see that life is not merit based, it’s grace based. I need to sow even if there is no expected reaping.

The gospel being at the heart of the Christian life is a truth that comes through in Branch’s music. In “Preview,” Branch writes about life as a prelude to the renewed creation. He describes a great day with no stress and peace among friends, but it is just a glimpse of the goodness that is to come. He sees the power of the gospel at work in the world and looks forward to when Christ brings that work to completion.

A Distinct Christian Ethos That Influences Life

What is the reaction Branch hopes to see in response to When Sacred Meets Secular? He says it would be:

[People recalibrating] their commitment to glorifying in [a] distinct Christian contribution to society…. That a distinct Christian ethos would influence their [lives].

He hopes people see the love of God as the most important reality in their lives and live that out consistently.

Each song on When Sacred Meets Secular pushes against the myth that we can separate our loves. We can’t be neutral in any area of our life. What we do is done either for God’s glory or for ours. The things we talk about and think about most are the things we really love.

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