Kanye West, standing in back with white shirt and inset, helps lead worship during “Sunday Service” at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta on Sept. 15. YOUTUBE/Screen capture
Let me be the first to warn you about Kanye West’s latest album, “Jesus is King.”
When a soccer game rainout gave me the opportunity to do some cleaning up in the garage Saturday, I decided to give the album a listen. I’d heard a lot about its upcoming release as West led a series of worship events called “Sunday Service” at churches throughout the country.
Before I go any further, let’s be clear that I’m not an expert on hip-hop or Kanye himself. My knowledge on both is limited. “Christ is King” is really an introduction of the man as an artist to me. This is something I suspect is true for many – if not most – of the Spotify listeners who have placed nine songs from the album among West’s ten most popular with the streaming service.
Back to the warning: in listening to “Christ is King,” you’ll be introduced to songs praising Jesus for a life that has been changed. Then, you’re going to hear it. A different song with a different tone and a very different message. You’ll be shocked.
That’s because you’ve come to the end of the final track of “Christ is King” and now been connected to West’s previous recordings. It’s jarring. Words flow in those sets of lyrics you wouldn’t expect of a Christian singer. It’s a clear example of where he is now compared to where he used to be.
The church is no stranger to those professing Christ who are eyed suspiciously at first. The most famous example of this, of course, is Paul. A murderer of Christians, his presence was particularly alarming and commitment questioned by the early church.
Kanye West is no Paul, but his profession as a born-again believer in Christ draws the same sideways glances. This is the guy who married into the Kardashians; the guy who repeatedly has been described as having a Messiah complex; the guy who has made it a habit of making a moment about himself, whether it was claiming then-President George W. Bush “didn’t care about black people” on live TV in the middle of a Hurricane Katrina relief fundraiser or snatching the microphone from a shocked Taylor Swift in 2009 to point out that Beyoncé actually had the better video.
Yes, all of those things are true. But what is also true is that at this point West’s faith appears genuine. It’s unmistakably getting attention, though West himself appears to be stepping back from his former way of wanting the attention on himself. The New York Times noted how he relegates himself to the background and bristles at being called an “entertainer.” Focus on the Family said that “no doubt, something radical is happening in Kanye’s life.” National Review termed West’s conversion as a potential “cultural wrecking ball.”
The reaction of those on the Left can be even more telling. Slate’s piece, “Evangelicals are Extremely Excited about Kanye’s Jesus is King” lists West’s recently stated cultural and religious positions as well as endorsements. These are presented in a kind of ominous tone, complete with a warning that West’s conservative pastor (a Georgia guy who grew up in Cochran) attended The Master’s Seminary, co-founded by John MacArthur. This is done while dismissively saying West has been a “Christian rapper” for years.
There are two thoughts I keep coming back to on this. First, it’s dangerous (foolish, even) to immediately place all of our hopes of making Jesus cool in the hands of a celebrity claiming he or she is a new believer. People fail, but God doesn’t.
That leads me to the second point: It’s impossible for an individual to judge what is in another’s heart. Only God can do that. People have different platforms. One stands in front of an audience of millions while another stands in front of a Wednesday RA class. Both groups need the same Gospel. The bearer of that message needs the same grace for any mistakes made in his or her life.
“Christ is King” is a relatively short album, only 27 minutes. I listened through it while cleaning my garage. I listened through it several times yesterday as I worked at my office. Yes, Kanye West was played at a more-than-background level in the editor’s office of The Christian Index.
One of the two songs from “Christ is King” not on Spotify’s top ten most streamed by West is “Hands On.” While his newfound faith is tracked throughout the album, a line in this stuck out to me:
“Told the devil that I’m going on a strike. I’ve been workin’ for ya my whole life.”
Such a turn in one’s life is shocking for all observers. Right now, believers need to pray for Kanye West and his family. As with any new Christian, pray for his growth and discipleship. Pray for those surrounding him to lead him well. Pray for the unbelievers in his immediate circle.
And pray for a world to be shocked at the grace and forgiveness of Jesus, the King.
An earlier version of this story mistakenly said Adam Tyson was from Savannah instead of Cochran.