Kanye West went to Lakewood Church on Sunday and delivered a cringeworthy endorsement and defense of prosperity gospel preacher Joel Osteen. Could it be an indication that Kanye doesn’t understand the real gospel? Yes, it could. Could it be a confused recent convert lacking spiritual maturity and demonstrating precisely why the Apostle Paul says not to thrust such baby believers into positions of leadership? Yes, it could.
That’s why I’m content to withhold judgment and encourage the same thing I’ve suggested from the start.
When the news about West’s alleged conversion to Christianity began to make the rounds, I found myself more intrigued by the reactions to the rumor than anything. After all, an encounter with the risen Christ turned one of the early Church’s great persecutors into its most effective missionary. If Saul can become Paul, or more personally, if God can transform my rebellious heart into one that chases after His, then it’s nothing for Him to do the same with a once-provocative hip-hop star.
No, what I thought was most fascinating were the varying responses from groups across the cultural spectrum. For its part, the secular world largely exhibited confusion and curiosity: was this real, is this a PR stunt, what does Kim think? But the reaction from the Christian world was more pronounced, and quite disappointingly, more sharply divided.
On the one hand, there were those who expressed excitement at the prospect of a lost soul coming home. They were quick to cheer, if not guarded by the understanding that Kanye would need prayerful support and wise counsel as a baby Christian.
But on the other, there were more than a fair share of skeptical Christians who offered harsh assessments and unproductive condemnations: do you know who this guy is, do you know the things he’s said and done, do you know who his wife is? In one sense it was pharisaical judgmentalism at its worst. But it was also a most unbiblical and damaging message to a watching world that some sinners are too far gone to be redeemed by the blood of Christ.
Personally, I’m not sure why any standard should be applied to the conversion of Kanye other than the same Matthew 7 guideline Jesus gave that, “by their fruits they will be known.” And by that criteria, a fair observer can’t help but note some very encouraging signs:
- The preaching that Kanye has been exposed to, and that he has exposed his followers to, has been solid and Biblical.
- The rapper has reportedly been privately studying Scripture weekly with a minister known for Biblical fidelity.
- West has renounced his involvement in the secular music world, stating his intent to no longer perform his pre-conversion music and lyrics. He has committed to only make faith-related albums going forward.
- His “Jesus is King” album passes all expectations in terms of its Christian authenticity and Biblical faithfulness.
- West has incurred the wrath of pop culture by disapproving of his wife Kim’s choice of sensual attire, explaining that appearing publicly in such revealing attire is damaging.
And while Christian skeptics are fairly pointing to West’s willful defense of Osteen, they should consider his other stop this last weekend:
Rap superstar Kanye West, along with his Sunday Service choir, made a surprise visit to a Houston jail Friday and held a “Jesus is King” concert for hundreds of inmates.
West performed for more than 200 male inmates at one jail facility before crossing the street to a female facility and performing for a smaller crowd of incarcerated women.
If this is a fake conversion hoax, it’s becoming quite an elaborate one. I’d encourage everyone to go and watch the video clips from his prison performances. Look at the faces of the inmates:
In Matthew 25, Jesus the King announces that He will one day say of His redeemed,
“‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For…I was in prison and you came to visit me’…Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord…when did you see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
I don’t pretend to know the heart of Kanye West. But I do know that what he did last Friday was very good fruit.