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.
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!’
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.
Kanye West converting isn’t about your own struggle with Lame Evangelicals who pin their hopes on celebrities.
John MacArthur v. Beth Moore isn’t about your own struggle with false teachers. Or with evangelical misogyny. Or with Moore’s fans.
Jesus writes more than one subplot.
— E. Stephen Burnett (@EStephenBurnett) October 26, 2019
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.
- 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. ↩
- 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. ↩
- 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. ↩
- C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory. ↩
- See Matthew 13:1–23, Mark 4:1–20, and Luke 8:4–15. ↩
- “Hands On,” lyrics from Genius.com. Without checking, say, Urban Dictionary, I don’t know the significance of the slang “finna.” ↩