By Steve Morgan
In his song Gangsta’s Paradise, St. Coolio the Rapper provides many provocative thoughts. I could spend multiple posts examining the numerous lines in the song that compel us to think past the surface and do a little self-examination. I do not mean to say that Coolio intends for his music to be theologically profound; however, many times completely secular sources (including Coolio) accidentally provide echoes of truths we find in Scripture. We find these sorts of things all the time in contemporary typology. Typology is what we do when we find shades or shadows of Christ in the Old Testament. Jon Akin recently wrote a book called Preaching Christ from the Proverbs. Jon’s attempt to find Christ in the book of Proverbs is an example of typology.
Contemporary typology is the attempt to locate echoes of Christ among contemporary stories and using that as a tool to point to Christ. I was recently witnessing to a friend who had not the first idea about the Gospel. The more I tried to talk to him about Christ, the more confused he became. Perhaps you’re thinking, “User error, duh,” and there’s probably some truth to that; but if you’ve ever found someone who does not know the first thing about Christianity, then you know that speaking in the most basic Christian lingo can still make communication difficult. So I took my cue from Paul at the Areopogas and appealed to something he did know: Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Star Wars. Each of those stories contains echoes of a Christ figure, some more intentional than others. The sacrifice, the quest to overcome evil and set the captives free, and the recognition of good and evil are present in all of those films and can help to communicate the Gospel. This is a form of contemporary typology.
Back to Coolio
Now I’m not using Coolio in the contemporary typology sense; Coolio is not an echo of Jesus, ha! Instead, I’m using contemporary typology as an analogy for the echoes of truth we can find when we exegete the culture.
St. Coolio the Rapper writes in his song Gangsta’s Paradise:
They say I’ve got to learn, but nobody’s here to teach me
If they can’t understand it, how can they reach me
I guess they can’t
I guess they won’t
I guess they front
That’s why I know my life is out of luck, fool
St. Coolio the Rapper recognizes two things here. First, he sees the hopelessness of his position if there is no outside help. Second, he is saying that people have set a high standard, but no one is willing to help him meet that standard. Think about this for a moment. Coolio recognizes that there is a standard that is demanded, but there is no one there to help him. Can you think of the theological connotations of this statement? His lyric reminds me of a few passages of Scripture.
I’m first reminded of the book of James where James commands that we have a faith of action. We say we love people, we say we are praying for people, and we say we want people to follow Christ, but what is our love or prayer or desire with no action? James wrote in chapter two, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” James is probably writing against Antinomianism, which is an issue that developed in the early church. Antinomianism means lawlessness. At the most basic of levels it is the belief that faith has saved us, so we need to change nothing in the continuing process of salvation. It is the very definition of fire-insurance, which in case you haven’t realized, is quite unbiblical.
We know that is not how faith works. Paul goes to great lengths in the book of Galatians to explain that the Son has justified us, and now the Spirit is actively and continually sanctifying us. The two are interconnected. With no justification from the Son, there is no sanctification from the Spirit. Conversely, if there is no presence of the Spirit, then there is no justification from the Son. We cannot shout to people that they need to meet a standard or help themselves, then provide no help. The sanctifying power of the Spirit compels us to act in faith to help the hurting.
I’m also reminded of the spiritual bankruptcy of Matthew 5. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” The first step to the Kingdom of Heaven is the recognition of our status before God. Coolio recognizes that there is a need for improvement, but there is not a man to be found that will help him. Paul writes in Romans 5, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Coolio calls it right; there is no real help if there is no outside help. We cannot pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.
Help from a Helper
Sin is oppressive. It is so oppressive that if we do not receive an outside helper, we are doomed. Thanks be to God that He sent Jesus to set the captives free. Coolio’s song has some truth, but not the whole truth. He echoes the bleakness of the human condition, but fails to talk about the hope in Christ. Contrary to the hopelessness found in Coolio’s track, we do not have to spend our lives trapped in the Gangsta’s Paradise; we can find hope in the sweeping widespread love of God.
Steve Morgan is a graduate student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Morgan also serves as the Digital Communication and Marketing Coordinator at NOBTS.