Born-Again Kanye: Yea or Nay?

The hip-hop star is suddenly singing of Christ, and Christians have both good and unhealthy responses.
on Oct 29, 2019 · 7 comments

By know you know the drill: Hip-hop’s Kanye West says he’s really a Christian now. He even made a whole album about it.

Other Christians, as is our wont, react in considerably less musical ways by the writing of many words. So here are mine.

Yet first I must state why Speculative Faith’s unique, fantasy-fan readers should care about a hip-hop artist.

Why?

Because this ongoing drama has basically everything we like to explore here: biblical faith, creativity, debate, art vs. truth, and beyond.

So let’s go, beginning each section with five (generalized) responses I’ve heard from Christians. (Disclaimers in this footnote.1)

1. ‘Yay! It’s Christiannn! Let’s make Kanye our new top celebrity!’

via Gfycat

This response is predictable and inevitable. That’s because evangelicals have been doing this with Big Celebrities for ages. When I was a child, they were going nuts over music artist Pat Boone and Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton. More recently you see this done to film stars, say, after They supposedly told Chris Pratt to “leave God off the movie set,” and his response LEFT THEM SPEECHLESS.

However, perhaps I now follow better websites. Or have better friends. Either way, I haven’t seen this response nearly as much.

You, of course, might have more-traditionally conservative Christians among your friends, so you might see it more. I can easily imagine your very churchy Aunt Paula, taking a break from sharing more Minions memes and instead gushing on the Facebooks over West,2 this nice young man who’s apparently very famous and who just got saved.

With West apparently determined to opine on some politically conservative concepts (like pro-life ideas and fatherhood), this response of conservative over-praise will no doubt increase.

And if West keeps making more explicitly Christian music—without the cusswords!—those jokes about playing his new music on K-LOVE won’t be jokes for much longer. You’ll see (well-meaning but occasionally silly) evangelicals seriously wonder if West could be drafted into God’s Not Dead–style movies and explicitly-Christian music albums.

However, other Christians have this pushback well covered. The Babylon Bee snarked that West will become a Newsboy or sing “Silly Songs with Larry Kanye.” More-serious articles, such as Eugene Park’s Kanye West: From ‘I Am a God’ to ‘Jesus Is King,’ warn about making a new believer into a Big Spiritual Cheese too early. (And many rightly warn of the real-world consequences of elevating new believers into leadership positions.) I’ve seen far more resistance to the “make Kanye West our leader” notion than I’ve seen evidence of the actual notion itself. And either way, Christian culture’s leading edge is against such nonsense.

2. ‘Oh, great. Even if he’s sincere, lame evangelicals will ruin it.’

Despite this leading-edge view that is more biblical, I think some Christians still acting as if our culture’s real power lies in those naive persons repeating the above view. Perhaps in their mind, Aunt Paula represents all that is vapid or harmful about The Evangelical Church. So partly as an attempt to correct this, they view West’s professed conversion with undue skepticism.

Some have even said that West is probably just doing some marketing ploy to sell albums to Christians. Which is an outright laughable notion. West has been a kingpin of secular hip-hop. Going for “the evangelical audience” with Jesus-talk and cuss-free lyrics, while staying on top, might work for one album. By the next, you’re finished.

Others don’t go so far. They sound agnostic about West’s conversion. Instead, they reframe the issue in terms of what those bad evangelicals will do in response to West. They come across as if they believe it’s those Lame Evangelicals who are the real story here.

Honestly, I wonder if folks who suggest these notions actually suspect that Lame Evangelicals (like Aunt Paula) still dominate Western culture. They don’t. (And they won’t again, for a very long time. Update your browser. Get with the times.)3

The only place the Lame Evangelicals truly rule is in the real lives and imaginations (or sometimes just the imaginations) of some younger evangelicals, who may be genuinely wounded from previous experiences with evangelicals. Maybe they need to do some healing from those real bad experiences before they project their own stories atop other people’s stories. Or, as I summarized on Twitter and on Facebook:

Kanye West converting isn’t about your own struggle with Lame Evangelicals who pin their hopes on celebrities. . . .

Jesus writes more than one subplot.

The cynicism I see might be a result of someone who’s driven more by dislike of certain quarters of Christianity, more than love of Christ’s gospel’s power to overwhelm and change a wretched person.

This impulse is wrong. And Pharisaical. And dangerous if unchecked.

If you can’t even *theoretically* rejoice in one man’s conversion, because all those Wrong Sorts of Christians will go too crazy over it? Then you are letting them, not Christ’s joy, change you. You will grow blind to the glory of Christ’s messy mixed-up church, and even blind to the miracle of conversion.

3. ‘His new album isn’t even that good.’ (Or: ‘His earlier work was better.’)

A secondary re-framing comes by criticizing the art value West’s album “Jesus is King.” Some have said it’s not as good, creatively, as other hip-hop artists’ work that references biblical themes. Here I do think of one virtual-acquaintance who felt West’s earlier albums were in fact more substantive in faith content! (Despite the fact any previous spiritual messages were mixed not just with vile words but objectification of women and plain ol’ blasphemy, such as in the song “I am a God.”)

At that point, we really do need to re-evaluate whether we actually believe in this “sin and repentance” stuff, and even this “some people are saved and some people are not saved” concept, before we engage in criticism of a cultural form or creative work.

Presuming West wasn’t a Christian before, and is a Christian now: In a sense, I don’t care how Artistic his earlier albums were.

His present album—which by accounts I’ve read remains creative and engaging—is worth celebrating.

Yes, even more than his previous pagan works.

My record shows I’m all for Christians pursuing creative excellence, and not enabling bad stuff out of some bless-his-heart sentimentality. But. A person who has come to know Jesus should bring Christians more joy even if his newest creative work is arguably inferior. West may have been talking about Jesus before. But by all accounts, he’s only recently begun to take seriously the Lord’s call to holiness in all things, including sexual purity.

It’s highly worrisome to hear some folks who only want to talk about the Art and not the soul behind it. As if the Art, not the action, shows real holiness.

C. S. Lewis once remarked:

The salvation of a single soul is more important than the production or preservation of all the epics and tragedies in the world.4

This is truth. Moreover, the world remains divided between people who are saved by Jesus and people who are not. Discipleship, not Artistic Excellence, remains the prime directive of the Church.

4. ‘Well, I’ll wait X months/years/albums before I think it’s true saving faith.’

I’m very sympathetic to this view, and not just because several good friends voiced it. It speaks to the value of discernment, shrewdness, and testing someone who claims to follow Jesus. It also has some secondary support in Jesus’s parable of the sower.5 In this story, some of the sower’s “seed” (the preached word) fell on shallow soil, where the plants sprang up fast and enthusiastic, but died in shallow soil or when the sun scorched them.

Still. None of us can discern West’s claim because we don’t know him. We’re not in a local church. Even then, we’d have a hard time finding proof that he means it all. Especially when new Christians, in A-list celebrity worlds, live in such different worlds from most of us.

For my part, I’m optimistic not just based on West’s album content and interviews, but watching West’s own pastor-friend recount the tale.

Anyone skeptical needs to at least watch or listen to this interview, before deciding to maintain skepticism as a default posture.

5. ‘Praise Jesus! Yes, let’s see what happens next. But praise Jesus!’

This is my view, and here is why.

I’d rather be excited about the possibility of a miracle, and later proven wrong, than constantly skeptical because I’m letting those Lame Evangelicals live rent-free in my head, and miss any miracles.

When I read West’s seemingly heart-wrenching lines like this, I’d rather keep my trust-but-verifying heart open and pumping, rather than wound myself with bitter cynicism:

“Said I’m finna do a gospel album
What have you been hearin’ from the Christians?
They’ll be the first one to judge me
Make it feel like nobody love me . . .

Make you feel alone in the dark and you’ll never see the light . . .

Don’t throw me up, lay your hands on me / Please, please pray for me.6

And what if I knew West would come out tomorrow and said, “Ha ha! Such a great prank. I got all you silly Christians good! Gads! I stuck in those corny Chick-fil-A references and everything? And you fell for it”?

Then I’ll still sleep easily tonight.

Because in presuming West’s conversion as genuine, I was still chasing joy and “believing all things, hoping all things,” while still testing all things. Rather than mutate into a skeptic, I will have remained true to my mission: to embrace grace wherever it’s found, and not just as tools to defeat my enemies; and to pursue joy in Christ and in anyone who rationally claims to love Jesus and worship Jesus as his king.

  1. Disclaimers: I’m phrasing these as five responses to Kanye West’s conversion. That doesn’t mean you yourself are limited to only one response. Also, I’ve not based these on any particular persons, factions, discernment ministries, and so on. My paraphrases are my own, based on impression/interpretation. Also, for the purpose of this article, I’m treating his faith confession as genuine. By all accounts, including this pastor who knows West, several “spiritual fruits” are in evidence. There’s no point in us trying to be more spiritually-skeptical than the Bible recommends.
  2. Note that I’m referring to him mainly as “West” in this article. This is intentional. We’re speaking of a person called Kanye West. Not a single-named celebrity, figurehead, or meme-image.
  3. One more note about Lame Evangelicals. If conservative/traditional Christians do readily accept West’s conversion as legit, then this is potentially a greater sign of Christ’s grace in them than we might expect. After all, these are folks who are more likely to attribute the greatest evils in society to hip-hop artists, sexually promiscuous persons, and popular-cultural materialists. West is perceived as the epitome of all three sin-pinnacles at the same time. (He is even married to a pornographic activist who has a sex tape and everything.) Also, he’s black, so shouldn’t that also trigger any lingering racism or separatism among the traditional conservative types? Yet in this case, it’s actually conservative evangelicals who first cheer, “He’s Chriiiiiisssttt-iiaaaaannn!” whilst non-conservatives remain more skeptical.
  4. C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory.
  5. See Matthew 13:1–23, Mark 4:1–20, and Luke 8:4–15.
  6. “Hands On,” lyrics from Genius.com. Without checking, say, Urban Dictionary, I don’t know the significance of the slang “finna.”
E. Stephen Burnett explores fantastical stories for God’s glory as publisher of Lorehaven.com and its weekly Fantastical Truth podcast. He coauthored The Pop Culture Parent and creates other resources for fans and families, serving with his wife, Lacy, in their central Texas church. Stephen's first novel, a science-fiction adventure, launches in 2025 from Enclave Publishing.
  1. Kathy says:

    Could write a long comment, but life events leave no heart-space for it. Just want to say, “Nicely done! I read the linked article about Chris Pratt. One commenter said that in heaven they were going to live on a different street from certain people. Will we really? Some how I doubt it. I have recently found myself saying, “I will be living at peace with these people in heaven. Seems like I should be practicing now.”

  2. Then there’s the additional option that this, along with his previous delusions of actually being God (and running for president), is part of his bipolar. My brother has bipolar. I know how profoundly it can impact your thoughts, words, and lifestyle. In a manic phase, my brother thought he was the son of an archangel. My brother is a Christian, but he was profoundly confused by his illness. It’s a shame that Kanye’s been put on a pedestal, because it’s enabled him to continue in a state of illness without getting the help he needs. I would wait 12 months, see what happens, and not count out that he’s a person who struggles with mental illness–which means this is more complex than most people seem to want to admit. Perhaps this is the real Kanye showing through, and the rest is the bipolar. Who knows? But there’s no way in heck he should be put on any sort of pedestal. Still, there he is… so he needs grace and kindness and strong leadership. As do we all… but him more than most of us because of the unique combination of popularity and illness. Hope that makes sense… I’m not being down on Kanye. I just hope he’s healthy and getting good support, and that this is the result of that. Rather than the other way around.

  3. notleia says:

    Fred the Slacktivist wrote some about how the Kardashians may become the biggest influence in the evangelicalism.
    The thing is, they run in the same circles as prosperity gospel peddlers like Paula White-Cain. They’re the kind of capitalists who are trying to trademark things like “kimono” and “rise and shine” that create no value for the consumer but makes them buttloads of money.
    I guess I feel about them the way I feel about the the Green family of Hobby Lobby — peddlers of cheap particleboard crap who fund tomb robbers and museum thieves in the archaeological black market in order to stock their Bible museum.
    So I have lots of cynical feelings about them but for different reasons. But I can back it up scripturally because whatever your feelings about works-based anything, words are cheap and faith without works is dead. Kanye can afford to release an album of him belching into the microphone without much damage to his status.

    This has been your Cynicism Moment with Notleia.

  4. Since I’m conlanging hacker slang for the next half of this century, I can inform you that “finna” is a version of “finally.”

    Bob Dylan’s three-year embrace of music as a ministry sent me into spasms of new believer exultation and his retirement from the ministry wasn’t the end of his musical career nor was it a verdict on the sincerity of his relationship with God.

    I guess that puts me firmly in the “Praise God! Let’s see how this turns out ” camp.

  5. I guess my response is ‘this could be good if it’s genuine, so let’s wait and see’. But then it could be really bad, too. If someone is in the public eye AND they’re Christian, one has to hope they conduct themselves well, otherwise it will probably hurt more than it helps.

    Not wanting to put a brand new Christian on a pedestal or leadership position is a legitimate concern. Of course experienced Christians can easily have problems too, but any big life transition can be pretty turbulent. A new Christian is still getting used to adjusting their lives or even figuring out how to act on their new beliefs in a constructive way.

    This kind of reminds me of a youtuber that was once kinda famous in the Warrior Cats community. He was an atheist, but converted to Christianity and started including that in his videos. It was fine at first, but then apparently he said something on Twitter that angered everyone and got him pushed out of the community. I didn’t see that controversy and don’t know exactly what he said. But as everyone dragged his name through the mud, they shared screenshots of conversations that were less than stellar, but no worse than the millions of other youtube comments people leave without any major repercussions. Considering that many people were supportive enough of him before, though, (Christianity and all) one can presume and hope what he said on Twitter was actually a big deal.

    But even though many were supportive of him at first, there were still comments from people that weren’t happy about his faith. Like, during the fallout of his ‘banishment’, there were comments saying that when he first came out as Christian, their reaction was like ‘oh great, another Christian youtuber’. (As if there weren’t tons of nonChristian youtubers already…) So seeing this guy come out as Christian, be on a pedestal, then fall from grace, is just another thing they can point to to reinforce their negativity towards anything remotely resembling Christianity.

    What people won’t understand(in many cases) is that this is less about the guy’s faith and more about his maturity levels as a person. In one of his early podcasts talking about his conversion, he was talking about what a die hard atheist he used to be, and if I recall correctly, he even mentioned that he might have been the kind that would have thought religious people must have a mental illness of some kind.

    But that was such a small comment. Maybe a lot of people missed it, and the videos containing it might not be up anymore. Even some people supportive of his faith might have had an increase in negativity towards Christians. Maybe not a lot, and maybe they ‘know’ that this was more about who he is as a person and that not all Christians are like that. But in their hearts, seeing situations like this over and over might reinforce an unconscious bias towards Christians or at least conservatives.

    So, yeah, definitely should be careful about the pedestals we put anyone on, especially new Christians that are still figuring themselves out. Same for experienced Christians, though. People should be careful when saying they know the way(or even just acting like they know). Instead, it’s often better to be like ‘here’s what I think and why’ or ‘I’m on a journey like everyone else, so here is my perspective on this issue at this time’.

  6. Esther says:

    Thanks, E. Stephen Burnett.

  7. Jes Drew says:

    I lived under a rock when it came to pre-conversion Kanye West. Didn’t really know about him until suddenly everyone was talking about his conversion. But boy did I thank God to find out about another brother in Christ. He definitely needs a lot of prayer, because you know the evil one is going to be doing counter-measures

What do you think?