Rapper Shai Linne, who found himself in the middle of an online firestorm earlier this month for his song calling out prosperity gospel preachers, has responded to criticism from Paula White’s son in an open letter and plans to continue the dialogue.
Linne’s song “Fal$e Teacher$” from his new album, Lyrical Theology Part 1, named 12 prosperity gospel preachers from Joel Osteen to Paula White to T.D. Jakes, calling them the false teachers mentioned in Matthew 7:15.
While Linne said he knew the song would create controversy when he wrote it, he didn’t have any idea how widespread the response would be. Following the song’s release, he’s received hate mail and comments on Twitter and Facebook questioning his motives, calling him “of the devil,” and hoping he dies in poverty. But at the same time, he’s also received encouragement from believers as far away as Africa, Asia, and South America.
One response came in the form of an open letter from Bradley Knight, the son of Paula White and the manager of her ministry. Posted on Wade-O Radio’s website, Knight asked what justifications Linne had for calling his mother a false prophet and scolded Linne for not coming to White in private first. He asked “are you creating more embitterment, more division and misunderstanding based on faulty premises and biases that you display openly?”
Linne said he actually felt encouraged by the letter: “It moved the conversation from song to a medium that is more conducive for going in depth in the issue.”
He goes on to explain that “the song was phase one. I did it because I wanted to use hip-hop for what hip-hop is good for: To shine light in a provocative manner. But hip-hop is limited in depth, particularly on issues like prosperity teaching, which has so many nuances.”
Before writing his response, Linne reached out to his elders at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., on how he should respond and spent a few days in prayer. He went through the videos on White’s website and pointed out the discrepancies between the Bible and what White preaches.
“As sincere as Paula White may be, she is extremely reckless in the many false things that she says God told her to tell her listeners,” Linne writes, including links to YouTube videos of White telling audiences physical healing and financial abundance come with the atonement of Christ and asking audiences for money so that God will give back more money.
As for Knight’s claim that he should have contacted White privately, he wrote, “The irony, of course, is that you made this claim in a letter that is open for the public to read without contacting me privately.” He goes on to say that because White and other prosperity preachers spoke publicly to millions it deserved a public response.
Linne told me that he and Knight are now communicating in private and plan to continue their correspondence.
Lyrical Theology Part 1 was released April 9 and peaked at No. 7 on the iTunes Hip-hop/Rap chart. The album is packed with Reformed doctrine, with each song essentially serving as a mini-sermon set to a beat with an old-school rap style. With songs like “Hypostatic Union,” “Regeneration,” and “Election,” the album delves deep into theological topics.
While for some it may seem strange to hear such deep topics in rap songs, Linne said rap is the perfect medium for theology.
“One of the things that make hip-hop ideal in conveying theology is its unique ability to convey large amounts of truth in a small amount of musical space,” Linne said, comparing the wordiness of rap to other types of music that elongates words. “Also there is a proclamatory aspect—an urgency to it, and it lends itself toward theology by virtue of format.”
While Linne grew up in the hip-hop culture in Philadelphia, he never planned on rapping himself, studying theater instead. But after he became a Christian in 1999, a friend brought him to a community of Christian hip-hop artists in the city, and he started rapping about theology.
Linne has not had any formal theological training aside from a pastoral internship at Capitol Hill Baptist, but he said he loves to read. His favorite writers includes “a lot of old dead guys” like John Owen, John Newton, and Thomas Watson. In his song “Take Up and Read” he plays with the names of books and authors he admires: “I’m Chosen by God just to put a little Sproul in this / And J.C. got me Ryle’d up about Holiness / The cross of Christ paid the price this tot was Owen / And The Glory of Christ is why I’m flowing.”
Linne said that even though he expected a response to his song, it was still jarring to see so many people criticize him and his music. Linne was on the The Black Out Circuit tour when the song released, and he said that one day he just sat in his hotel as “the weight of it all hit me and I just cried out to God.” He found encouragement in 2 Timothy 4:17-18, in which the Apostle Paul talks about how “the Lord stood by me and strengthened me.”
Linne said one of his concerns is that he doesn’t want to be known as the “false teacher guy” because the vast majority of his ministry and music deals with the cross, atonement, and God’s glory.
“The goal of the album is to proclaim the Word of God to provoke study primarily for the edification and building up of the body of Christ,” he said. “There are two aspects to theology: The positive to proclaim the truth about God, and the negative, to confront error concerning God.”