Kanye’s complex. He’s battled mental illness and is one of the most popular and revolutionary hip-hop artists. He wears MAGA hats and sells his Jesus is King crewnecks for $250 dollars. He has spoken out against how pornography has harmed him and he asked his collaborators at times to not have premarital sex while they worked on his new album. He married Kim Kardashian in 2014 and he praises family values, and he has proclaimed that he is “unquestionably, undoubtedly, the greatest human artist of all time.” He used to call himself “Yeezus,” but now he’s singing “Jesus is King” in his newest album.
We are all confused. The Christian community has come to anything but a census about Kanye’s album and new character. Some are comparing his “theology” to Martin Luther, or his emphasis on the Sabbath to be in the same line of thought as Pope Benedict XVI. Others think he “internalizes the religious entitlement that props up the wealthy and powerful.”
There is undoubtedly a strain of prosperity gospel running through the album, notably on tracks God Is where Kanye raps, “How you get so much favor on your side? Accept Him as your Lord and Savior, I replied,” and on Water where he asks Jesus to “give us wealth.” Perhaps Kanye is talking about spiritual favor and wealth, but in a recent conversation with James Cordon, Kanye shared that God is “using me to show off because last year I made 115 million dollars and still ended up 35 million dollars in debt. This year, I looked up and I got 68 million dollars returned to me on my tax returns” as if being in service of Christ is bringing monetary success. I’m sure all of my holy, high school theology-teaching-friends might disagree.
It’s not difficult to understand why so many are doubting Kanye’s conversion. The lyrics throughout the album are more like a shot of sugar that makes you feel good for a moment rather than rich, soul-nourishing, spiritual truths, and it makes me question the depth of his conversion. He is making loads of money off of Jesus’s name, and he’s receiving the publicity his ego seems to desire. Fed up with a portrayal of Christ I don’t completely believe in, I want to run to Jesus, and say “look what this guy is doing your holy name!”
Then I remember John asked Jesus a similar question, “‘Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.’ Jesus replied, ‘Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me’” (Mark 9:38).
Yes, Kanye’s flawed, and no, I don’t support all of what Kanye is preaching, but he is proclaiming the kingship of Jesus Christ, and there is merit in that. His song Selah features a jaw-dropping choir belting a repeated series of “hallelujahs,” and the album ends with Kanye singing, “every knee shall bend, every tongue confess, Jesus is Lord, Jesus is Lord.” One of my favorite bars asks, “what if eve made apple juice? You gon’ do what Adam do? Or say baby let’s put this back on the tree cause we have everything we need.” While his “theology” may not be flawless and his character saintly, it is important for us to remember that Jesus can call those who we least expect. Jesus called Matthew, a tax collector, and Peter, a fisherman. I could see him calling Kanye, a rapper. If you haven’t noticed, God’s funny like that.
We can judge Kanye and his conversion or lack thereof, but we’ll never know the purity of his intentions or sincerity of heart. But for all of us who consider ourselves to be followers of Christ, I think there is one question that cuts to the sincerity of our belief: will you follow Christ to the end, to the crucifix, when all earthly possessions and pleasures fade away?
Let’s pray that Kanye and each one of us may say “yes” to Christ’s invitation to serve and follow Him to the end.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user profzucker