It’s been nearly two weeks since Kanye West dropped his latest and perhaps most controversial album yet, at least for Christians. The album is titled, Jesus Is King. Now, if you are unfamiliar with Kanye West and his music, you won’t understand the gravity of this album. If you’ve paid attention to pop culture, you are fully aware of the roller coaster of faith Kanye has taken his followers on.
Over the last 14 years, West has ebbed and flowed from an appetite for the Lord and for the world. But now, after all the seemingly incomplete attempts to reach for God in his music, it appears that a humbled, freshly motivated follower of Jesus has surfaced and the content is the most explicit yet –– explicitly God.
Yet, there are questions that haunt the Christian community, like–– Is Kanye really saved? Will this really last? And admittedly so, these are legitimate questions. But before you nod yea or nay, we should give Kanye’s art a chance and hear him out. And if you do, perhaps you will join me in rejoicing and praying?
The reason I have felt compelled to write this post is because of the vulnerability Kayne expresses on the album. In his song Hands On featuring Gospel artist, Fred Hammond, Kanye invites us into a confession of past mistakes and the fear of scrutiny from the Christian community in light of this renewed endeavor. He admits several times in the song:
What have you been hearing’ from the Christians?
They’ll be the first one to judge me.
Make it feel like nobody love me.
Kanye’s conflicted relationship with the Christian community is apparent. He is claiming the identity of an outcast, but one whose desire is to be loved and accepted.
In contrast, Christian hip-hop artist, Lecrae, sheds light on the expected scrutiny from a non-Christian in response the album. Lecrae, essentially the godfather of gospel-focused hip-hop, comments that Jesus Is King is his “favorite album in terms of content.” He adds, “Then, of course there is a Kanye fan who wants to hear subject matter they can relate to. When a person trades misogyny, and self-glorification, for talking about Jesus on every track, that will guarantee scrutiny and disappointment.” This makes total sense. The music Kanye fans are used to suddenly swings from man-centered praise to God-centered praise.
This God-centered Kanye is not the same Kanye that has garnered seven platinum albums since 04’. It’s hard to separate the person from the artist and for this reason, Christians should be the first ones to celebrate that Kanye has traded misogyny and self-glorification for Jesus. Period. The name of Jesus is glorified, and the gospel will penetrate the headphones of many who have never heard the name of Jesus. Paul rejoices that the gospel is still being proclaimed even though there were some in his day doing so out of “selfish ambition” (Phil. 1:17).
And it’s here we arrive at the rub. There are and will be many Christians that are not ready to let Kanye off the hook from his former ways and fear this is just another ploy for his self-glory.
Honestly, I am approaching this shift cautiously, yet hopeful and not assuming. The reality is most of us do not know that level of temptation for self-glory. I tasted that life in my brief stay in the NFL, but was never at the height of celebrity status, nonetheless understand the lure of the spotlight. So, I sympathize with Kanye and am choosing to take the posture of Paul of rejoicing that this album makes much of Jesus. Why? Because I think Kanye wants more. Look how he finishes Hands On:
I deserve all the criticism you got
If that’s all the love you have, that’s all you got
To sing of change, you think I’m joking
To praise His name, you ask what I’m smoking
Yes, I understand your reluctancy, yeah
But I have a request, you see
Don’t throw me up, lay your hands on me
Please, pray for me
Kanye asks the Christian community to pray for him. He knows criticism is imminent –– I don’t think he is overlooking the last 15 years. He even sympathizes with others’ reluctancy to give him a chance. And he makes a humble request –– please, pray for me. So, I am, and I will continue to pray for him.
The longer I walk with the Lord, the more I see my need for grace. Kanye’s path to this humility doesn’t look the same as mine and will not look the same as yours. Jesus brings people from every tribe, nation, tongue, and culture to this reality every day and it looks different for each one. And it is important to remember that sanctification is a process. Let us remember that we all go through a stage where light is mixed with darkness. Essentially, sanctification is bringing more and more light into our darkness. And Kanye’s faith journey is an open book for the world to see.
So, for those approaching his journey with extreme caution, bring Jesus’ extreme grace with you!
For those asking, Is Kanye really saved? Will this really last?, remember that we all need prayer for endurance and perseverance (Jas. 1:2-3) to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12) and that God is the one ultimately working in us and will see our salvation unto completion (Phil. 2:13, 1:9).
I am praying endurance and perseverance for Kanye.
To conclude, this past weekend at CHBC’s inaugural H3 (Head, Heart, Hands) Conference, I had the pleasure of hosting Rebecca Stevenson’s break-out session titled, Speaking the Truth Through Creativity: Encountering and Making Culture. The focal point of her presentation was her claim that “all good art is either praising God or grieving His absence.” When I listen to Kanye’s previous work, I mostly hear grieving. But Jesus Is King praises God unabashedly. So, I’m gonna keep bumpin’ this album, and as I do, rejoice in Kanye’s renewed work and pray for my brother.