CEDARVILLE, Ohio (BP) — “I’m thinking he was going for stylistically gospel,” Christian rapper Lecrae said of Kanye West’s 2016 album “The Life of Pablo.” “If he’s talking about the content, I think it’s another story altogether.”
Three years later, Kanye’s new release “Jesus Is King” aims for both gospel style and gospel content. West explains the marked difference as a result of his radical conversion to Christ.
Adam Tyson, pastor of Placerita Bible Church in Santa Clarita, Calif., on a recent episode of “The Pure Flix Podcast,” describes how he spent about three hours going through the Gospel with Kanye after the artist first visited his church. In addition to doing Bible study with West, Tyson has preached at West’s “Sunday Service.”
In late September, Kanye announced he would no longer produce secular music.
Short album with Christian focus
The New York Times quotes West telling a Manhattan audience days before the “Jesus Is King” release, “This album has been made to be an expression of the gospel and to share the gospel and the truth of what Jesus has done to me.” Composed of 11 songs, “Jesus Is King” covers a variety of themes, but clearly focuses on Kanye’s Christian faith.
West discusses addiction, mental health and family relationships in lyrics that communicate dependence upon God and gratitude for God’s salvation. The most evocative song is “God Is,” in which Kanye gives a breathless description of what God means to the artist. The album ends with the song “Jesus Is Lord,” a melodic paraphrase of Philippians 2:10-11.
The new album isn’t without its provocative ideas. In the song “On God,” West touches on U.S. incarceration rates and restates his long-held claim to be the greatest music artist ever, dead or alive.
A varied reception
Kanye anticipates apprehension from the Christian community in the song “Hands On.” West writes, “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.”
But any lackluster response has come primarily from secular outlets. A review in Variety calls the new album, “not very good” and a reviewer for USA Today calls it “frustrating.” The title of the Daily Beast article says it all, “MAGA-era Kanye West Turns to God but Serves Himself in Jesus Is King.”
Some well-known Christian hip-hop artists have been more supportive. Shai Linne writes, “Overall, I’m really encouraged by ‘Jesus Is King.’ It’s not perfect, but that’s ok. Justification comes before sanctification. Let us not despise the loud, passionate cries of a newborn.” Ambassador, considered by many to be the godfather of Christian rap, posted a series of Scripture passages on Twitter encouraging Kanye to grow in wisdom and service to the Lord.
On leadership and love
In response to West’s change of heart, Christians should consider Paul’s instruction not to place a new believer in authority in the church (1 Timothy 3:6). That’s primarily a matter between Kanye and the leadership of his local church, and we should not assume that producing an album is on par with becoming a pastor. Furthermore, we shouldn’t discount his pastor’s involvement in Kanye’s ministry.
We should remember Paul’s description that Christian love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). Kanye West is an artist, and we shouldn’t expect him to quit making art because of his conversion. Rather, we should hope and pray that his faith will find expression in his music. This certainly seems to be what is going on in “Jesus Is King.”
We should commit to pray for Kanye as he matures in faith, is discipled by his pastor and grows in relationship with other believers. We should pray for his family, that his entire household might come to saving faith. And we should pray that the Lord uses his testimony to change lives.
C.S. Lewis once said, “Don’t judge a man by where he is, because you don’t know how far he has come.” Lewis, who came to Christian faith as a reluctant atheist, published a description of his conversion two years after the fact in a book titled “The Pilgrim’s Regress.” Those who love the Narnia stories might be surprised to read Lewis’ unveiled references to sexual experimentation in his allegorical description of his journey to faith. “But Lewis was a new believer,” some might retort. Fair enough. Let’s afford that same space to Kanye.