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The Faith of Kanye West: Two Biblical Responses to Celebrity Conversions

Kanye West is one of the best-selling artists of all time, with more than 140 million records sold. He has been described as a “rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer, entrepreneur, and fashion designer.”

His latest album, Jesus Is King, debuted at No. 1 on the charts. Every song on the album has appeared on Billboard’s Hot 100 this week as well. 

His faith is making as many headlines as his albums. 

West launched Sunday Service, a Christian worship group, earlier this year. Its first public performance was on Easter Sunday. At a service this past Friday, more than a thousand people reportedly raised their hands to commit their lives to Christ. A pastor who attended the service called it a “new wave of revival.” 

West explained the purpose behind Jesus Is King: “Music is my job. That’s why I’m putting out the album. Serving God in everything that I can do is my job. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I’m on the planet is to be in service and in fear, love, and service to God.”

“He’s in the Bible. He’s in prayer.” 

West has struggled with mental health issues over the years, at one point telling David Letterman that he has bipolar disorder. His wife, Kim Kardashian West, told The View that her husband’s new album was instrumental in his becoming a Christian

“Kanye started this to really heal himself and it was a really personal thing, and it was just friends and family,” she said. “He has had an amazing evolution of being born again and being saved by Christ.” He has reportedly announced that he will only make gospel music going forward. 

Criticism has been swift and sharp. 

Referring to the financial contributions West is making to Sunday Service, Rolling Stone calls his new album “a megachurch masquerading as a 12-song tax-shelter bar bonanza.” An article in the New Yorker headlined: “Kanye West’s Sunday Service Is Full of Longing and Self-Promotion.” Another writer called the service “a private affair that looks more like a celebrity cult.” 

However, the pastor who is traveling with West and speaking at Sunday Service meetings says Kanye West’s new faith is genuine. According to Adam Tyson, West is “living and walking with God.” The pastor has seen noticeable changes in the rapper’s life: “He’s in the Bible. He’s in prayer.” 

When Tyson shared the gospel with West at their first meeting, the artist responded: “I’ve been radically saved. I believe that message and I want to get that message out to the world.”

“People want to see him fail at Christianity” 

Our first biblical responsibility to Kanye West and other celebrities who come to Christ is to pray for them. Paul wrote: “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). We are required to pray for each other and for those in positions of cultural influence. 

Actress Patricia Heaton, an outspoken Christian, says she is praying for Kanye West because she believes people want to see him fail in his new faith. “It’s very hard,” she explains. “I think when someone of his stature in the industry and someone who has his amount of fame makes that kind of proclamation, people then really watch and scrutinize everything he does to catch him falling down.” She warned that “people want to see him fail at Christianity.” 

Writing for FaithwireTré Goins-Phillips offers these suggestions as we pray for and encourage celebrity Christians: don’t expect instantaneous maturity; don’t anticipate perfection; stop idolizing fame; allow for missteps; and be understanding and trust God. 

“Don’t be like the prodigal son’s brother” 

Our second biblical responsibility to celebrity converts is to serve them by “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). 

Pastor Hans Fiene notes that “Christians shouldn’t be afraid of getting burned by Kanye West because our faith isn’t rooted in the fidelity of Christians but the faithfulness of Christ.” As a result, he counsels us, “Don’t be like the prodigal son’s brother.”

The pastor explains: “God has not called you to be Kanye West’s faith auditor. He’s called you to be Kanye West’s brother. So instead of trying to keep him outside the feast of salvation until he’s proven himself worthy, rejoice to enter with him into the feast where all formerly unworthy sinners are invited to eat and drink the worthiness of Jesus Christ.” 

As “formerly unworthy sinners,” we are called to help each other live biblically and redemptively: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1a). But we are also to “keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (v. 1b). 

In short, we are to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (v. 2). 

“Compassion will cure more sins than condemnation” 

I cannot determine the genuineness of Kanye West’s faith. Or of yours. Or you of mine. 

But I know this: How we treat Kanye West tells the unbelievers we know how we will treat them if they join our faith. 

Our Father calls us to pray for each other and help each other follow Jesus. And he calls us to model community that expects the best of one another and encourages one another when we fall short. 

Henry Ward Beecher noted that “compassion will cure more sins than condemnation.” And it will lead more sinners to the Savior. 

Who needs your compassion today?

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Publication Date: November 7, 2019

Photo Courtesy: Getty Images/Lars Niki/Stringer

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