Hip Hop artist Kanye West declared himself a born-again Christian while visiting Washington, D.C. on October 12. “I’m not here for your entertainment,” West said during Howard University’s Homecoming. “We’re here to spread the Gospel.”
In a video published by the entertainment site TMZ, West is heard directing the audience’s attention to Philippians chapter 2 before adding, “Excuse me if I mispronounce anything, I’m a recent convert. Means I recently got saved within this year.” One clip shows West reading Ephesians 4:9 and in another, he is heard discussing Mark 1:15, which he called one of his favorites verses.
Likely few readers of this blog regularly listen to West’s music. To be frank, I’m not hip enough to write much about West. I’m the mom of two babies. My car stereo blasts “Wheels on the Bus” on repeat. And, I don’t know about you, but I tend to be skeptical whenever I hear celebrities talking about Jesus.
Still, I’ve thought about how the clips of West at Howard University certainly sound different from other celebrities who thank God in one breath and mock Him the next. There is an excitement, awe, and wonder in his voice familiar in new saints who’ve just met their Savior personally. “On fire for God,” is a term we Charismatics might use and I find myself excited for him.
Maybe this is some sort of publicity stunt. If so, it’s a pretty convincing ruse detailed down to the spiritual leaders surrounding the hip hop artist and his most recent professional and personal transformations.
Who is influencing Kanye?
This year, West began what he calls “Sunday Services,” a type of worship gathering with a choir belting out Gospel music and Christianized popular songs at his home in Los Angeles. These events began as private, invite-only events that have expanded to gatherings in Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit, and New York that are open to the public and sometimes held in church sanctuaries.
While music is the focal point, short sermons are often delivered by a young Reformed pastor named Adam Tyson. Christianity Today ran an interesting profile piece on Tyson, who is the senior pastor of Placerita Bible Church, in Santa Clarita, California. The Bible church has an average Sunday attendance of 350 and focuses heavily on discipleship and outreach to students at a nearby conservative Christian college, The Master’s University.
Tyson is a graduate of The Master’s Seminary, whose leadership, until recently, included pastor and author John MacArthur (now chancellor emeritus). Tyson also teaches biblical counseling at The Master’s University and leads an evening Bible study with West and his employees.
“I want to be faithful to a new brother in the faith, Kanye,” Tyson told Christianity Today. “I want to help him be connected to the Word of God. I told him, ‘As long as you’re exalting Christ, I’m 100% behind you.’”
I watched a recording of West’s Sunday Service at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. Honestly, I heard the Gospel preached more here than I did at the Red Letter Christian “Goldsboro Revival” that I attended two weeks ago.
At one point during worship, West said, “Let’s not be concerned with the validation of men at all. Only the validation of God. To hold each other accountable…to be radically in service to Christ is the only culture I want to know about.” He also talked about transformation and miracles and — catch this — the devil and sin.”The road to Hell can be paved with ‘I’m just a good person,'” West declared in between singing Gospel praise.
West’s audience was more racially and age diverse, too. The entertainer’s platform is an undeniably, nearly limitless sphere of influence within popular culture.
“I know for a fact that I am a strong member in pop culture,” West said during his Howard University appearance. “I worshiped the idea of labels, brand names. I worshiped cars. I worshiped the city I grew up in. I probably said Chicago more in my career than I said Jesus.”
“This is an opportunity to reach pop culture and America for Christ.” Tyson expressed to CT, “I’m fired up.”
How has Kanye changed in recent years?
Skeptics will point out that West has displayed signs of mental instability. After all, this is the man who famously said, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” and inappropriately swiped the mic from Taylor Swift at an award show. The rapper sparked more controversy with his favorable support of President Trump and a bright red “Make America Great Again” hat. He has even opened up about his struggle with bipolar disorder.
So could his Sunday Services be aimed at wider publicity or more bizarre antics? Or is his Christian faith rooted in something deeper? In Matthew 7:15, Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?”
West’s music career certainly seems to have transformed into an effort to glorify Christ. Reportedly, West will no longer record secular music. His new Gospel album, titled “Jesus is King,” is expected to release October 25. CBS News reported that his latest album contains no explicit language and addresses themes of salvation through Christ. West is also set to release an IMAX film under the same name later this month.
In the video clip of West at Howard University, you can hear Kanye rapping the lyrics, “Don’t let them indoctrinate. Closed on Sunday. You my Chick-fil-a. This ain’t game-day. Get your house in shape. Train your sons. Raise them in the faith.” Okay, it’s a bit comical to hear Chick-fil-a mentioned in a rap song. But considering West’s previous lyrical content, I’ll gladly hear the fast-food chain reference.
More recently, outlets like the Christian Post reported that Kanye West dislikes seeing pictures of his wife Kim Kardashian dressing “too sexy” in public, now that he is a born-again Christian.
In a video clip from his wife’s television show, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, West recognized that he previously urged his wife to “be just like the other girls showing her body off.’” During the exchange, the hip hop artist shared, “You are my wife and it affects me when pictures are too sexy.”
West’s wife Kim is of Armenian Orthodox heritage. But in an uncomfortable scene to watch, Kardashian tells her husband that she is not on the same journey of transformation with him. It is saddening to watch West simply reply, “Ok” before walking out of the room.
This exchange all unfolds in front of a camera, which you would think fuels the nagging skeptic in the back of my head. In this case, it doesn’t. Maybe my ignorance of celebrity culture makes me naïve, but I’m hopeful West’s faith is sincere.
While I don’t know the ultimate motives of West, here’s what I am unquestionably convinced of: Jesus Christ’s mercy extends to celebrities, to rappers, to people who struggle with bipolar disorder, to people who unintentionally get theology wrong, to registered Republicans and Democrats alike, and to people who make mistake after mistake after mistake.
A celebrity of West’s status is under tremendous global scrutiny. Skeptics will want to see him stumble and fall in his walk with Jesus. And he probably will. Just like the rest of us daily sanctified through the Holy Spirit. In my opinion, all the scrutiny surrounding West’s Christian conversion simply means he could use our prayers.
(You can watch West’s Howard University appearance below.)