The year was 1979. On the 20th day of August, a moment that shifted the conversation in the culture took place.
Nobody expected that the critically acclaimed musical artist Bob Dylan would turn to Christianity, but on this day he released his album “Slow Train Coming” -and shocked his fans (and those in the church) with an explicit pronouncement of his faith in Jesus Christ. The tone of the album was akin to an evangelist’s call to faith for all who would listen. After all, “you got to serve somebody” and Dylan left no doubt about Who He served and why. And the culture listened. And the culture engaged.
Fast forward to October 25, 2019, and another cultural moment is taking place as artist Kanye West just released his first gospel album “Jesus is King.”
Like Dylan, Kanye has made it clear as to Who He now serves. West has shared in several interviews that He was recently saved, within this past year, particularly after undergoing a season of personal difficulties, including a very public mental breakdown. This found him humbled, looking for answers, and in time responding to the gospel of Jesus Christ. By Kanye’s own admisssion “For now on, all I want to do is serve Christ. I want every song I sing to have part of my testimony, to include the gospel, and to include the element of worship to our great God.” West has even gone so far as to say that though he had previously used religious imagery in his music (“Jesus Walks”, “The Life Of Pablo”), he has no desire to return to his previous catalog in his live concerts unless he makes changes to the lyrics to reflect where he is now at with Jesus.
According to one of the Pastors in Kanye’s life, Pastor Adam Tyson from Placerita Bible Church, there’s no reason not to believe Kanye is a genuine new believer. “The fruit that I’m seeing is he’s no longer continuing in some of the sin patterns that he was before he came to Christ. Right now, everyday, he is living and walking with God, so from what I can tell, there’s no reason for me not to encourage that and be a part of that.” Tyson even explained that he advises West on the right way to “articulate the gospel” clearly in his songs. As long-time Christian Hip Hop artist Shai Linne says of the new album, “Jesus is King has the aroma of someone who’s had an encounter with the Lord and wants everyone to know it.”
Who would have thought, even a year ago, that today millions of people will be streaming a Kanye West album and hearing these lyrics:
“I can’t keep it to myself, I can’t sit here and be still / Everybody, I will tell to the whole world, it’s Him / King of Kings, Lord of Lords, All the things He has in store, From the rich to the poor, All are welcomed through the door, You won’t ever be the same, when you call on Jesus’ name, listen to the words I’m saying, Jesus saved me” (“God Is”).
Is the album perfect? No. But justification comes before sanctification and let’s not despise the passionate cry of a newborn. And while it can be easy for any of us to be skeptical when a public figure acknowledges Jesus as their Lord and Saviour (how many times have we heard that phrase at the Grammys), it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Jesus saves celebrities too. Many are rightly and wisely saying “let’s see what happens, time will tell, there will be growth, maturity, and fruit if this is genuine”. But I hope we can all acknowledge that this can be an incredible open door for the gospel. When a Bob Dylan or a Johnny Cash or a Kanye West write albums that explicitly point to Jesus as King, as Savior, as Lord, and an entire generation of young ears are listening, that is something to get fired up and excited about.
So how do we as the church respond?
Kanye has made a profession of faith and we give him the judgment of charity like Paul did in his letters and regard him as a brother in Christ. We rejoice that another sinner has been saved. We pray for him, that He grows in His faith and in knowledge and depth of insight (Philippians 1:9). We pray that he has a genuine Christian community to care for him instead of people who want to use him for their own platforms and agendas. We ask that God would protect Him from the many snares that surround him and the wolves that will lie to him. We extend grace to him as he will say and do things that are not perfect, as we would for any new believer, and pray that God would surround Him with spiritual leadership that will teach, encourage and rebuke with all authority (Titus 2:15) and long-suffering. And we talk. With our kids, our youth groups, our communities, all those listening, about the fact the gospel is still the power of God unto salvation for ALL those who believe.
Eric Metaxas recently tweeted:
“With Kanye & Bieber & Selena Gomez openly talking about Jesus in a way that seems authentic (to all but cynics), you have to wonder if we are on the verge of a cultural shift. This is not normal. And I like it. A lot. We need revival. NEED. Please pray.”
And for all of the cautious skeptics that want to believe the best, we can all agree that one of the greatest parts of this Kanye thing is this: “People who hate both Kanye and the God that he’s praising and choose to mock and ridicule the album – they still have to say “Jesus is King” while doing so!” (Shai Linne)