Kanye West - A radical remix
What do I know of Kanye West? Not much. I know he is considered to be one of the greatest rap artists of our time and a really big name in the music world of hip-hop.
I know he is married to a Kardashian - I had to look up which one. I know he has a designer sneaker line called 'Yeezy.' Could I have picked him out in a crowd? Perhaps.
I have not been a part of this iconic rapper’s fan club, nor a follower of his family’s status as Hollywood royalty.
However, over the past couple of months - thanks to my Facebook feed and some enlightening conversations - I have learnt a lot about Kanye West. All the hype has been regarding his bold and personal testimony of becoming a born-again Christian.
The responses, from all sides of the divide, have been mixed – ranging from criticism and skepticism to cautious excitement and support. Some reactions have been measured while others have been scathingly judgmental. (There is apparently a cynic around every social media corner).
So, here is my 2 cents (or ‘50 Cent’) worth.
‘Who do you say that I am?’
Jesus asked this question of his disciples in Matthew 16:15. Simon Peter, without hesitation, boldly answered: ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’
Jesus then replied: ‘Blessed are you, Simon, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.’
I honestly believe this is the starting point when someone testifies that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Saviour, as Kanye has. The work of regeneration is supernatural and faith is a gift from God. The Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 10:9 that ‘if you openly confess that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’
Kanye West has gone from shouting ‘I am God' to confessing ‘Jesus is King!’
That is radical!
When self-adulation gives way to bowing the knee; when self-focus becomes God-focus; and when glorifying self shifts to glorifying God, we should pause and marvel at the amazing grace of God in a sinner’s life.
After all – God has been radically saving people for 2000 years and He has not stopped. Redemptive history can trace a myriad of biographies that can be defined as radical conversions - from the life of a prostitute (Rahab), a serial adulterer (the Samaritan woman at the well), a thief on the cross, and a persecutor and killer of Christians (Paul), to a slave trader (John Newton) - just for starters.
So, what makes us doubtful that God could save a rap artist whose lyrics focused on vulgar language, misogyny, fornication and money? Surely the God-honouring content of Kanye West’s latest album and its sanctified lyrics - which are packed with Bible verses and praises to God - are evidence of the fruit of repentance and the life-changing transformative work of the Gospel in his life?
‘I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’
When the scribes who were Pharisees saw Jesus eating with these people, they asked His disciples, ‘Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ On hearing this, Jesus told them...’I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’ [Mark 2:16-17]
LeCrae weighs in on the conversation with a telling and perceptive observation: ‘Often people can’t imagine people from the hip-hop community finding Christ.’
When Paul (aka Saul), - still breathing threats and murder against the Lord’s disciples - was radically saved on the road to Damascus, Ananias, a disciple, questioned and doubted such a conversion. ‘Lord, he said, I have heard much about this man and how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem.’ But God said, ‘Go to him. He is praying, I have chosen him.’
Self-righteousness has been a dangerous blind spot for centuries and it lurks in the corners of our hearts. And Paul shatters our self-righteous illusions with these words: ‘There is no-one good, not even one.’
Tim Keller’s explains it this way: ‘No-one is so good that they don’t need the grace of the Gospel, nor so bad that they can’t receive the grace of the Gospel.‘
The wonder of the Gospel is that God finds us. ‘No-one seeks God, not even one.’ If Kanye West has ‘found Christ,’ it is because Christ found him.
‘Go and tell what the Lord has done for you, that He had mercy on you.’
When Jesus had saved the demoniac and sent the demons into a herd of pigs, He said to the man, ‘Go to your home and to your people and tell them what the Lord has done for you, that he had mercy on you.’ So he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis what Jesus had done for him, and all were amazed. [Mark 5:19-20]
This too, is Kanye’s passionate response: 'It's my job to let people know what Jesus has done for me... my only mission and calling, is to spread the gospel.’ A resounding ‘Amen’ should echo around the room. Perhaps we should all be amazed.
Our focus should shift from the man, Kanye West, to God and His amazing grace in the life of this man who, up until a few months ago, wouldn't give God the time of day. As the prophet Jonah pronounced, ‘Salvation belongs to our God!’
‘Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me.’
Kanye is likely to face much persecution for his profession of faith.
He has a prominent voice and celebrity status, and many will be looking for him to fail. Many will judge him and many will look to hold him to a higher standard and checklist of legalistic rules.
God is transforming any true believer from what they once were to what they will be, and that process is in God’s hands. It is not about us deciding whether they meet a minimum standard of ‘Christian’ behaviour to give them a stamp of approval.
But if the Gospel is effective and taken root in someone's life - evidenced in a changed heart and life – a few signs will always be visible:
They will be humbled – their pride will be shattered and their ego deconstructed. (I must decrease and He must increase)
Their life will be transformed by grace – God will change them and continue to change them. What they once loved as hedonistic sinners, they will now hate.
They will be motivated by the Gospel of grace. There will be a passion and zeal to work and live for Christ and they will have a genuine love for the church.
When Kanye West was asked if he now considered himself a Christian music artist, He replied, ‘I’m just a Christian everything.’
If a reprobate slave trader like John Newton could pen the hymn, ‘Amazing Grace,’ there should be no doubt that God could do a work in Kanye’s life and save him and that he could release an album called ‘Jesus is King.’
After all, with God, nothing is impossible.
‘I’m in service to Christ’ [Kanye West]
Kanye West has shared that he prays for more grace: ‘The thing I pray for to be more Christlike, is grace. And then as God strengthens my hand, it’s to have more grace.’
In a recent discussion with someone who does know a little more about Kanye West than me, his response and challenge was this: our attitude and focus when considering Kanye’s Christian zeal should be reminiscent of Paul’s prayer in Colossians 1: 9-10:
'For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.'
God saving Kanye West does not suddenly make Christianity ‘cool’ or validate Christianity. God saving Kanye West validates the Gospel and the atoning and substitutionary work of Christ on the cross. It validates John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
I do not know much about Kanye West. I do not even know how to accurately discern the genuineness and sincerity of his profession. But that is not my place.
This is not about us knowing the heart of man.
This is about us knowing the heart of God.
If Kanye West is a new creation, adopted into God’s family, then he is my brother-in-Christ and we are co-heirs with Christ. It means that if God has started a work in his heart, He will bring it to completion. It means that, as his faith is tested, he will stand firm and persevere. It means Kanye will ‘forget what is behind and press on towards the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus.’ [Philippians 3:13-14]
It also means I will get to know a lot about him one day as we spend eternity worshipping Jesus Christ as the King of kings together.
For further reading on a perspective towards Christian Rap, please read this blogpost: Should we ‘dis’ Christian rap?