Is embracing religion just another way to make a splash?
If church historians are working on a list of the most famous converts of the 21st century, the controversial and omni-talented artist Kanye West might be on it. Last year West announced his turn (or return) to Christian faith. This was startling news to many of his fans who have known him mainly for his foul language, rude antics (interrupting Taylor Swift at the MVA Music Awards in 2009), porn addiction, rampant materialism and over-the-top ego.
For example, West allowed himself to be pictured as Jesus on a 2006 cover of Rolling Stone, and referred to himself as the "greatest artist God has ever created" in a November 2019 on-stage interview with megachurch pastor Joel Osteen.
Has West, married to the reality TV star Kim Kardashian since 2014, really become a disciple of Jesus? Consider two opposing reviews of West’s new album Jesus is King, released this past October.
Claude Atcho, writing at Think Christian, says West’s songs demonstrate "the beautiful arc of redemption that is true for every person who encounters the saving love of Jesus Christ."
Music critic Rawiya Kameir of Pitchfork accuses West of superficiality, and says West’s view of following Jesus amounts to sitting back and waiting for Jesus "to give you a Forbes cover and a billiondollar sneaker brand."
So, is he redeemed by Jesus, or is he a selfish, shallow manipulator of the gospel? I don’t know West, but I am leaning toward the former interpretation. Here are four reasons why.
First, West has been clear about his need for cleansing and salvation. In a powerful interview with Zane Lowe this past October, West said he was trapped by his addictions to sex, money, clothes, accolades and social media. West, a native of Atlanta, said, "I thought I was the god of culture, but really culture was my god." (The interview is on YouTube.)
Second, his wife has been outspoken about her husband’s conversion. She told The View that West "has had an amazing evolution of being born again and being saved by Christ."
Third, the 42-year-old rapper is working on his sanctification, trying to stop bad habits (drunkenness, rudeness, watching porn, swearing and so on) and following spiritual disciplines (Bible reading, fasting, prayer and witnessing). He is bold about sharing the gospel, whether at the White House, on national television, at his famous Sunday Services or to his 29 million Twitter followers.
Fourth, Kameir is wrong in arguing West’s faith is shallow. West has a strong activist impulse, supporting prison reform, hurricane-proof housing, famine relief, literacy improvement and mental health awareness (West was hospitalized in 2016 because of a mental breakdown). West is also concerned about creation care. He even told the American president (whom he admires) that Air Force One should be altered or abandoned because of environmental costs. In keeping with his conservative politics, West is also pro-life. On a less political front, he is wildly supportive of his wife and their two daughters (North, Chicago) and two sons (Saint, Psalm).
The positives above don’t mean West has arrived. Like the rest of us, there are areas for growth, personally and in his social world. He knows he must work on his pushiness, ego, penchant for squabbles with fellow artists (Drake, for example) and the trappings of wealth. On his public ministry, Tobi Oredin argues in Premier Christianity that there is an elitist element in West’s Sunday Service events. "Although this may not be Kanye West’s intention, he is in danger of creating a congregation full of high net worth individuals." Some attendees at the worship complain about pushing of merchandise. Socks engraved with "Jesus Walks" (one of West’s song titles) go for $50. A crewneck sweatshirt sets you back $140.
Despite such negatives I believe the man who has been called America’s Mozart, the winner of 21 Grammy Awards, with millions in album and digital sales, is a follower of Jesus. Praise God.
LYRICS FROM KANYE WEST’S ALBUM JESUS IS KING
RELEASED OCTOBER 25, 2019
"PRAISE THE LORD, I KNOW I WON’T FORGET JESUS. YOU WON’T EVER BE THE SAME WHEN YOU CALL OUT JESUS’ NAME."
"SATAN GET BEHIND ME / JESUS TAKE THE WHEEL."
"TOLD PEOPLE GOD WAS MY MISSION / WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN HEARIN’ FROM THE CHRISTIANS? / THEY’LL BE THE FIRST ONE TO JUDGE ME / MAKE IT FEEL LIKE NOBODY LOVE ME."
"YOU WON’T EVER BE THE SAME WHEN YOU CALL ON JESUS’ NAME / LISTEN TO THE WORDS I’M SAYIN’, JESUS SAVED ME, NOW I’M SANE / AND I KNOW, I KNOW GOD IS THE FORCE THAT PICKED ME UP / I KNOW CHRIST IS THE FOUNTAIN THAT FILLED MY CUP."
James A. Beverley’s latest book God’s Man in the White House? Donald Trump in Modern Christian Prophecy (Castle Quay, 2020) is now available at www.TrumpAndProphecy.com.