“All truth is God’s truth.”
– Unknown [possibly Augustine or Aquinas]
To allegorize is to give hidden meaning that transcends the literal sense of a text (Merriam-Webster). An allegory is a figurative treatment of one subject under the guise of another (Dictionary.com), and it can be a song, poem, play, picture, etc, in which the apparent meaning of the characters and events may be used to symbolize a deeper moral or spiritual meaning (The Free Dictionary).
That said, allegory is a literary device used by an author to convey something, often moral or spiritual, to the world. C.S. Lewis is a noted author of allegorical works (The Chronicles of Narnia, The Space Trilogy), and some would also include J.R.R. Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings) though Tolkien himself despised allegory and wholeheartedly denied use of it. But the emphasis is on the author’s use of allegory—the reader cannot ‘allegorize’ an author’s work. That is to say, you and I cannot give a deeper meaning that was unintended by the author to a text. To post-modern relativistic reader-response ears, this may kill many potential experiences for the reader in enjoying a film, book, or song. But I am not saying that we cannot find applications or parallels within a work.
Tolkien writes in the foreword to the second edition of the LOTR series, “I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history—true or feigned—with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.”
This insight is a subtle but important one. By finding applications throughout a work, we are able to preserve respect for the author and the intent of his own work while at the same time exercising freedom in discovering parallels to our own experience or thought within the work. And there is a beauty in that. “The genius of applicability is in its ability to show us a facet of Truth through the lens of our current state in life. Truth never changes. We constantly change. We, the readers, are constantly discovering new facets of that grand Truth we can never fully grasp. The Truth at the heart of myth, at the heart of human existence, is so vast that it can never be fully perceived. We are allowed catch glimpses, and new vistas as we progress through life. Though we may see many of those facets in life we never see the whole diamond of Truth,” T. Widman (Allegory, No! Applicability, Yes!).
That said, I enjoy finding applications within works produced from the mere minds of men (most typically ‘secular’/non-Christian authors), not work brought forth by the Spirit of God. In other words, I do believe that the Scriptures mean what they mean in the literal sense, and I use the word literal to mean what the author intended, which could be narrative language in Genesis or figurative speech in the wisdom literature or hyperbole in the gospels or whatever—each work must be read and interpreted within its own context. This means that I do not think it does justice to the biblical authors and their writings to speculate and symbolize what they had meant, ignoring basic hermeneutical principles and the perspicuity of Scripture.
Yet, I fully believe that there is beauty in finding applicability, as stated above. Though I’m not sure that they had application in mind (as it appears that they often attributed allegory to the authors of the biblical text), the early church fathers are often notoriously known for allegorizing works within Scripture; these church fathers include Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Ambrose, and Augustine. This is important to note that finding application within texts, biblical texts no less, is far from a new practice. And regardless of their potential misinterpretations, I do believe that there is a healthy way to find application within a biblical text; see this post by Billy Kangas.
As for me, I find joy in finding biblical applications embedded within pop culture, whether popular movies or TV shows or radio songs—whatever comes my way. For example, I could talk to you all freaking day about the biblical themes that pervade Sons of Anarchy. I mean, the title for one (“sons of disobedience,” Ephesians 2, hello?), the love for the club that parallels the deep covenantal love for the church we should share, the way justice is always dealt for every sin committed, etc. The same goes for Breaking Bad (justice), Mad Men (power corrupts, humanity is depraved), etc.
The following compilation of lyrics is devoted predominantly to my love for the music of Aubrey Graham, otherwise known as Drake. His lyricism is so raw and real, and I absolutely love creating biblical applications out of his quite obviously wicked lyrics. This passion arose out of the Lord breaking the MP3 port in my car and forcing me to listen to the radio since I couldn’t play my own music. Despite my hipster-borne hatred for the radio, it began to grow on me as I twisted the stupid lyrics of these popular radio songs into worshipful lyrics full of Christ-exalting joy. Drake, Beyoncé, Lil Wayne… all some of the 21st century’s greatest Christian worship artists. It just required a complete warping of their lyrics into Christocentric meanings. And here I am, systematizing my worship of the Lord through Drizzy Drake. Enjoy.
“They are superstitious who dare not borrow anything from profane writers. For since all truth is from God, if anything has been aptly or truly said by those who have not piety, it ought not to be repudiated.”
– John Calvin, Commentary on Titus
“Test everything; hold fast what is good.”
– Paul, 1 Thessalonians 5:21
“When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth.”
– John, John 16:13
– T. Widman, Allegory, No! Applicability, Yes!
– T. Widman, The Triumph of Applicability
– TV Tropes, Applicability
– Michael Jahosky, Tolkien: Allegory or Application?
– Christo Brittain, Allegory vs. Applicability in The Dark Knight
– D.S. Pearson, Hollywood Hermeneutics
– Anton Karl Kozlovic, Postmodernism, Christianity and the Hollywood Hermeneutic
– Billy Kangas, Scripture Remixed: The Theology of Allegorizing
“Mind in one place, heart in another.”
– Aubrey Graham, It’s Good (ft. Lil Wayne and Jadakiss)
Drake highlights the dichotomy people commonly experience between the mind and the heart, commonly captured in the idiom “the distance between the head and the heart.” Often times our thoughts and affections are not in sync, as we cognitively know what is true or right but we experientially feel otherwise. This notion closely aligns with the Christian, often torn between the desires of a still fleshly heart and a mind being renewed daily unto transformation.
“And good ain’t good enough, and your hood ain’t hood enough
Spent my whole life putting on, you spend your whole life putting up
Ain’t no telling when I go, so there ain’t shit that I’mma wait for
I’m the type to say a prayer, then go get what I just prayed for.”
– Aubrey Graham, Amen (ft. Meek Mill and Jeremih)
The first line in this verse is reminiscent of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 2: “Your salvation is not your own doing! It is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Your good ain’t good enough, nigga. Likewise, your hood ain’t hood enough! It doesn’t matter where you’re from or what your background is, Christ is far bigger than that.
Then Drake appears to pen an allusion to Colossians 3, “…you have put off the old self and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” He’s spent his whole Christian life putting on the new self and putting sin to death, and these unbelievers have spent their whole lives just putting up with the daily miseries and tragedies of life, with no purpose or King to follow.
Finally, he demonstrates a holy zeal to achieve the goals he’s made before the Lord. D.L. Moody once said, “If you pray for bread and bring no basket to carry it, you prove the doubting spirit.” Drake has his basket ready and he’s not just gonna ask the Lord for what he wants and sit there. Our heart should be trusting that the Lord will be faithful to answer the prayers of the redeemed, so we should seek hard after the things we pray for.
“Rich enough that I don’t have to tell ’em that I’m rich;
Self explanatory, you just here to spread the story, wassup.
On a mission tryna shift the culture.
– Aubrey Graham, Tuscan Leather
This falls in line with the notion that our daily lives should demonstrate the heavenly riches we hold without us even needing to tell people about them, often summed up in the quote often misattributed to Francis of Assissi, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary use words.” In better words, preach the gospel by your deeds (James 2-esque). To the Christian, this concept is self-explanatory, and Drake acknowledges that we are mere characters in God’s grand plan here to spread the story, the good news, the truth of God’s redemptive plan in history. Drake appeals to the man of God combatting worldliness with a battle cry and call to mission, we’re here to shift the culture. Only when the ethics of the kingdom are implemented in this world will heaven truly meet earth.
“Somewhere between psychotic and iconic
Somewhere between I want it and I got it
Somewhere between I’m sober and I’m lifted
Somewhere between a mistress and commitment.”
– Aubrey Graham, Furthest Thing
“Started from the bottom, now we’re here
Started from the bottom, now my whole team fucking here.
No new niggas, nigga, we don’t feel that
Fuck a fake friend, where your real friends at?”
– Aubrey Graham, Started From the Bottom
This is a modern day rendition of Amazing Grace in no unclear terms. Drake and the elect were once lost, blind, wretches but have now been ushered into amazing grace. The upward metaphor, that is, the movement from the bottom to “here” (assumably a higher location), reminds us of the Lord ushering us up into the heavens, and now our whole team is here, the whole of the elect. Drake hits the nail on the head when he denies feeling any “new niggas,” in the spirit of Christ preaching the sermon on the Mount, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” In essence, the “fake friend” will be denied, for only the “real friend,” the one who does the Father’s will, will see the kingdom.
“Nigga never loved us
Do it look like we stressin’?
Look at you, look at you and look at you
Aww, I’m glad that they chose us
Cause man it’s a mission, tryna fight to the finish
Just to see if I’m finished
On my worst behavior, no? They used to never want to hear us
Remember? Mothafucka never loved us
Remember? Mothafucka never loved us
I’m on my worst behavior! Don’t you ever get it fucked up!
Mothafuckas never loved us! Man, mothafuckas never loved us
Worst behavior! Mothafuckas never loved us
Fucka never loved us! Worst behavior
You know me? You know me?
I’m liable to do anything
When it comes to that you owe me
You owe me, you owe me
Bitch you better have my money
When I come for that shit like O.D.B.”
– Aubrey Graham, Worst Behavior
Drake weaves together several themes in this song, first decrying the praise of man by asking “Do it look like we stressin’?” in light of never being loved by everyone. He then looks to the people of God and emits a quick praise for the Lord’s election, “I’m glad that they chose us!” (the ‘they’ language is likely drawn from Genesis 1 and elsewhere, e.g. v.26 “Let us make man in our image,” in which a plurality of the Lord is implied from a Trinitarian framework). Drake recognizes that life is a mission that we’re trying to fight to the finish, similar to Peter’s exhortation to Timothy, “Fight the good fight of faith.”
The chorus of the song, which supplies the title, is a clear connection with the anti-imperial zeal that the apostles demonstrate as they’re constantly in and out of prison for their faith. They’re on their worst behavior, and they won’t abide by the rules of their culture, just as Drake calls us to be on our worst behavior to a culture that tells us that Jesus isn’t Lord, Christianity is incoherent, and that we must relegate our faith to Sunday mornings. This culture “never loved us,” so we’re on our worst behavior for the name of the Lord.
In the final verse, Drake includes a rendition of Christ’s apocryphal words to the ransomed, to the ones who owe him. “You know me? I’m liable to do anything when it comes to that you owe me.” Christ will do anything, so far as to sacrifice himself for God’s people, and they’d better “have his money” when he comes for it, the money being an obvious metaphor for a lifetime of devotion to the Lord. He’s coming for us on Judgment Day, and we must not be found workers of lawlessness whom the Lord never knew (Mt. 7:21-23).
“…I know exactly who you could be.
Just hold on, we’re going home.
Just hold on, we’re going home.
It’s hard to do these things alone.
Just hold on we’re going home.
You’re the girl, you’re the one
Gave you everything I loved
I think there’s something, baby.”
– Aubrey Graham, Hold On, We’re Going Home (ft. Majid Jordan)
Drake’s commentary on 2 Timothy is wonderful. I love his rendition of the Apostle Paul’s encouragement to the saints, awaiting our final resting place, that we merely need to hold on, to endure, because we’re going home unto the Lord. “If we endure, we will also reign with Christ,” (2Tim 2:12). Take heart, for the Lord knows “exactly who you could be.” Because “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are” (Heb 4:15), we hold on tightly to the Lord. We’re going home.
“We are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please Him,” (2Cor 5:8-9). The final words are from Christ himself to his Bride, “You’re the girl, you’re the one; gave you everything I loved; I think they’re something.” Thanks Drizzy. For your exegetical insight, for your sick beats, and for your love for God’s elect in Christ. Amen.
“Don’t think about it too much, too much, too much, too much.”
– Aubrey Graham, Too Much (ft. Sampha)
This is Drake’s coping mechanism when combatting the sin of anxiety, when we fail to trust the Lord. Jesus preaches against worrying in Matthew 7, and the writer of Proverbs calls us to trust in the Lord and lean not on our own understanding. In a similar vein of fighting that which we worry about, Drake exhorts us, “Don’t think about it too much.” Don’t worry, trust the Lord.
“Nothing was the same.” [Nothing Was The Same album]
– Aubrey Graham, Pound Cake / Paris Morton Music 2 (ft. Jay Z)
The incarnation. When Jesus Christ entered humanity and identified with us, taking on the sins of the world and redeeming mankind, nothing was the same. Nothing.
“All my young boys ‘round me saying, “Get money and fuck these hoes,”
Where we learn these values? I do not know what to tell you.
I’m just trying to find a reason not to go out every evening,
I need someone that’ll help me think of someone besides myself.”
– Aubrey Graham, Girls Love Beyoncé (ft. James Blake)
Fairly self-explanatory, one of the few things that I’m not just allegorizing to fit my own definitions and intentions. Drake laments the culture of men that espouse, explicitly or implicitly, wicked mottos like, “Get money and fuck these hoes.” He’s at a loss to pinpoint the source of these poor values, and in contrast to them, he values simplicity and romance. He’s just looking for something simple to avoid the party scene (“going out every evening”) and someone to draw his attention away from himself. He recognizes the unbiblical, empty worldview these “young boys” preach.
“Nigga we made it.”
– Aubrey Graham, We Made It (ft. Soulja Boy)
A choral praise that the angels lead us in upon arrival into heaven.
“Time after time after time
Money’s all I get and there’s still money on my mind
But I ain’t never satisfied
Yeah, I ain’t never satisfied
I found the one and say, “I’ll never cheat again”
We don’t talk for like some months
I ended up fucking with her friend
I ain’t never satisfied
I ain’t never satisfied
I’m putting pressure on these niggas and I know
But I still be on the road like I’m scared of going broke
Cause I ain’t never satisfied
I ain’t never satisfied.”
– Aubrey Graham, Never Satisfied (ft. Future)
Another song that I don’t even need to allegorize. Drake is highly aware, like the author of Ecclesiastes, that money and sex are never satisfying. Time after time after time, “money’s all I get” and yet “there’s still money on my mind,” and then he believes himself to have found “the one” only to wind up cheating on her a few months later. He’s never satisfied, and he’s looking for satisfaction where it cannot be found. Fulfillment is only found in the Lord.
“I’m just tryna stay alive and take care of my people
And they don’t have no award for that
And they don’t have no award for that
Shit don’t come with trophies, ain’t no envelopes to open
I just do it cause I’m ‘sposed to, nigga.”
– Aubrey Graham, Trophies
Again, identifying empty value systems that many in modern culture adhere to, Drake isn’t chasing after the money and the fame and what not, the “trophies” or “envelopes to open,” but rather he’s just trying to live and pastor the flock he’s been given. God gives authority to those who walk with Him, and Drake is fulfilling his calling to “take care of [his] people.” The people of God walk in freedom as slaves of God, an inexplicable paradox, and as slaves we have responsibilities and obligations to bring the reign of God to this world. We don’t do it for trophies, we do it because we’re “‘sposed to.”
“Oh Lord, know yourself, know your worth, nigga
My actions been louder than my words, nigga
How you so high, but still so down to Earth, nigga
If niggas wanna do it, we can do it on they turf, nigga
Oh Lord, I’m the rookie and the vet.”
– Aubrey Graham, 0 to 100 / The Catch Up
Drake has obviously been reading through John Calvin’s Institutes, as he begins, “Oh Lord, know yourself,” with the similar concept derived from the introduction to Institutes: “Man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself.” Amen. Beyond this, we’re exhorted to know our worth. We’re in union with the risen King, all of his merit and worth is ours, wholly undeserved. As a result of this, Drake’s “actions [have] been louder than [my] words,” in line with the inspired words of James, Jesus’ half-brother, throughout the second chapter of his epistle, that our faith apart from works is dead. Our love should match the gospel we preach.
In the second half of the selected verse, Drake’s line very clearly echoes C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, speaking of Christians who are so heavenly-minded that they are no earthly good. “How you so high, but still so down to earth?” He then spouts a line of contextual wisdom, in which we should “do it on they turf,” that is, “become all things to all men” (1Cor. 9:19-23), and, like God, reach people where they’re at rather than expect them to reach a particular standard before they can follow Jesus. Lastly, Drake looks to the Lord and expresses the paradox found in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Mt. 20:1-16), in which both the first and the last, “the rookie and the veteran,” the old and young, the rich and the poor, receive the same reward in Christ. Praise God.