Kanye West (with microphone) performs “Nothing’s too hard for God” at one of his Sunday Services with his choir. YOUTUBE/Screen capture
A few weeks ago, I had a strange day. The morning began in a typical fashion: I put on my sweater vest and bow tie and got in the car to head out for a day of teaching at Shorter University. Rather than play my usual podcast or audiobook on the way to work, however, I pulled up iTunes and listened to the new Kanye West album “Jesus Is King.” I have never listened to a Kanye West album before in my life, so this was a new experience for me. I quite enjoyed it.
I listened to the album for two reasons. The first reason is because it is certain to shape the way many people think about Christianity. Kanye West is one of the most influential artists in our culture, so his representation of Christianity on the album is destined to be a significant factor on how others understand the Gospel – for good or for ill.
I wanted to be ready to speak with others about how the message of the album compared with the Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed to us in the Bible. The second reason was that I was compelled by Kanye West’s story. In his past Kanye has been known for crude lyrics and blasphemous statements. I was intrigued that this man claimed God had transformed his life in such a way and wanted to know more about his expression of his newfound faith in his music.
“Jesus Is King” is, in many ways, a typical Christian album. The theology is not always directly based on the teachings of Scripture, but neither is the theology of a large portion of contemporary Christian music. Despite some theological issues, Kanye’s central message in the album does center around the kingship of Jesus. The message of the album reflects the message Kanye has communicated in recent interviews. He seems to be a truly changed man and his art reflects such a change.
Both traditional and social media has been abuzz in the coming weeks about Kanye’s album and his conversion to Christianity. Christians need to think seriously about how we approach the unfolding narrative of Kanye West’s conversion to Christianity as well as his work on “Jesus Is King” and the albums that may follow. As we consider how to think about this culturally relevant topic in a way that glorifies God, we need to keep several truths in mind.
We should be quick to celebrate the conversion of sinners
The Bible is clear that there is heavenly rejoicing that takes place when a rebellious sinner is transformed by the Gospel of Jesus into a daughter or son of God. The Bible is equally clear that those in the family of God who fail to celebrate the restoration of the lost are fools who do not understand the love of the Father.
Consider the three parables Jesus tells in Luke 15. A sheep is lost and when it is returned to the 99 and there is rejoicing. A widow loses a coin and when she finds it and returns it to the other nine there is rejoicing. A father loses a son and when he returns the second brother loathes the celebration of his father. All of these stories are told by Jesus in response to the Pharisees complaint that Jesus was eating with tax collectors and sinners. The message of the stories is clear – do not fail to celebrate when a lost person comes into the family of God.
It is not wrong to be discerning of what Kanye West says and does, but since there seems to be evidence that he has come to true faith in Jesus Christ, then our disposition should be one of joy!
We should recognize that celebrity conversions can be a two-edged sword
Kanye West is one of the most influential voices in the western world and his influence is now associated with Christianity. His recent interviews and the overarching message of “Jesus Is King” seem to be having a positive Gospel impact on our culture. Celebrity influence, however, cuts both ways. Kanye West’s influence is not predicated on his positive behavior or orthodox theological positions. If he fails to uphold biblical standards in his theology or behavior his negative influence will also be significant.
From a historical perspective this is not surprising. The Roman Emperor Constantine, an early celebrity convert, was more influential over his culture than Kanye West is on ours. While Constantine’s conversion impacted Christianity in some positive ways, his eventual embrace of Arian theology (a teaching that denied the full divinity of Jesus) was a catalyst for a theological crisis in the church.
Understanding the positive and negative potential Kanye West has in his celebrity influence should cause us to be fervent in our prayers for him and cautious of how we promote the message of this new brother in Christ.
We should be cautious about the ways in which we are influenced by celebrities
As social media fills with posts celebrating Kanye West’s conversion, sharing interviews where he expresses biblical convictions, and spreading the songs on his new album, Christians must be cautious with the way in which this new celebrity Christian influences us.
Kanye West has said many things that seem to indicate a genuine faith and a growing knowledge of biblical truth. However, not all of his statements – in his lyrics or in interviews – reflect biblically sound doctrine. Such inconsistency is to be expected of a new believer. Christians should remember that is what Kanye West is – a new believer.
We should celebrate what seems to be his genuine conversion and enjoy the God glorifying lyrics of much of his new album. We should also not vest too much authority in his opinions on the faith or be quick to hold him up as an example of Christian morality or doctrine. We need to pray for Kanye as a new brother in Christ.
If God is calling him to lead others in the teaching of the Word or in other ways, God will continue to open doors for Kanye West to study to show himself approved for this task. In the meantime, celebrate that by all accounts God, who is rich in mercy, has transformed a sinner into a saint.
This is the story of every Christian and every Christian’s story – whether notorious or obscure – serves to glorify God.
Cory Barnes is the dean of Humanities and Social Sciences at Shorter University. An alumnus of Shorter University and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, he is a member of Three Rivers Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in Rome, and occasionally serves as an interim pastor for churches in the Rome area.