Kanye West has supposedly come to Jesus. Yes, that Kanye West. And yes, that Jesus.
Word of West’s alleged conversion has unfolded much like a carefully orchestrated public relations event. First with social media posts, then cryptic lyric drops, then public professions from the rapper himself (as well as his model wife Kim Kardashian West), then the release of his new album’s title “Jesus is King,” then this stunning announcement from music media promoter Andrew Barber:
And maybe it’s because this has the markings of a choreographed stunt that more than a few Christians have reacted with what could fairly be described as agitated skepticism. The New York Post ran a whole piece giving the Kanye/Christ doubters a chance to amplify their denials. This isn’t the first time in recent memory that the public profession of Christian faith has subjected a celebrity to what would otherwise be considered friendly fire.
A little over a year ago, Hollywood megastar Chris Pratt received the MTV “Generation” Award at a televised ceremony. While giving his acceptance speech, the Jurassic World star made waves by pointing young people to Jesus:
“Nobody is perfect. People are going to tell you you’re perfect just the way you are, you’re not. You are imperfect. You always will be. But there is a powerful force that designed you that way, and if you’re willing to accept that, you will have grace. And grace is a gift. And like the freedom that we enjoy in this country that grace was paid for with somebody else’s blood. Do not forget it. Don’t take it for granted.”
Secular mainstream entertainment media like Mashable, Entertainment Tonight, and the Hollywood Reporter all reacted with more curiosity than contempt. The condemnation came from Christians. Not all Christians, of course. But a great many took to social media and decried Pratt’s lack of specificity and detail in presenting the gospel. Apparently using your celebrity to broach the topic of salvation in a venue not known for its hospitality towards Christianity isn’t sufficient unless it is accompanied by a 12-point theological dissertation.
As evidenced in the cases of both Pratt and West, it seems that whenever a pop icon reportedly turns to Jesus, Christians usually respond in one of two ways:
- Go crazy with excitement, immediately elevating the supposed convert to spokesman of American Christianity.
- Embrace an arrogant condescension toward the alleged convert, and express no excitement at the prospect of a lost soul coming home.
Trevin Wax made prescient observations about both takes:
In the first reaction,
“It’s as if a celebrity conversion conveys a sense of validation for many Christians. Isn’t it wonderful? This rich and famous (and super cool) person has found Jesus! Too often, it feels like underneath this reaction is an inferiority complex: See, Christianity isn’t so uncool, after all! The result is then to lift up the celebrity as a great example of Christian faith.”
But with the second reaction,
“It’s as if a celebrity conversion is merely a pretext for extending their fan base, finding personal enrichment, or adopting a cultural Christianity that is therapeutic, not doctrinal. Yeah, we’ll see how long this lasts. Besides, you can tell from other things they’re saying or doing that they’re not seriously following Jesus. The result is to diminish the celebrity’s statements and to remain skeptical about their sincerity.”
In the first instance, we make the mistake of expecting a new believer to assume a position they are not prepared or equipped to assume; but in the next instance, we make the mistake of condemning a new believer for not being prepared or equipped to assume that position of influence.
I might simply suggest we try a third option: restrain our emotional impulses, and instead choose to react in a way that is humble, and obedient to Scripture.
Remember, Paul writes to Timothy that when selecting the leaders of our churches we should not choose a recent convert. There’s an immaturity there that should be expected. Not criticized unfairly, but not celebrated irresponsibly. But Paul also instructs us not to look down on anyone whose faith is less developed and mature than our own.
It may turn out that Kanye’s alleged conversion will prove to be a stunt and go the way of Bob Dylan’s. But evidence is emerging that the gospel that has reached Kanye’s ears is, in fact, the real gospel of Jesus Christ.
Any Christian with his or her head screwed on straight will be praying for the latter. Not for our sake, not because Jesus needs a celebrity to help His holy cause. But for Kanye’s sake, and because all of us – including celebrities – are in need of Jesus to help the otherwise hopeless cause of our own souls.