If you work with students, you probably knew Jesus is King was coming. Prolific and controversial celebrities like Kanye West have a knack for getting people talking long before an album drops. And for the Christian community, there is a special interest in hearing an album put out by a person who is newly professing faith in Christ. There is also a large amount of pressure, because of our students’ interest, to comment on Kanye and his newfound faith. Here are a couple of words of encouragement to youth ministry workers as we talk with students about this issue.
Don’t expect a new believer to put out a theological treatise
After having listened to the album three or four times, there are a lot of things that I find refreshing and encouraging.
First, it truly is a clean album, content-wise. There are a lot of artists out there who profess faith in Jesus, and yet the content of their music would suggest a celebration of things that God condemns. I don’t feel this way about Jesus is King.There is one curse word that is referring to “religion,” and no celebration over sexual immorality or any other sin. The album truly does seem to put forth an encouragement for hearers to follow after Jesus.
Secondly, the lyrics demonstrate Kanye’s repentance and a new direction in life.
He makes statements about remorse for his past work:
A lot of damaged souls, I damaged those
He also talks about his previous life and some of the arrogant statements he’s made (though it’s a little difficult to tell whether he’s repenting of or restating some of that arrogance). He refers to his past life as “chasing statues.” There is a persistent theme throughout the album of a changed life and a new direction.
Additionally, he talks about his encounter with Jesus:
Everybody wanting Yandi (the album he had planned to release)
But then Jesus did the laundry (washed him clean from sin)
I probably walked into listening to the album secretly hoping that I would hear some really robust theological statements, but that’s an unreasonable expectation from a new believer. We can’t expect a Shai Linne-level theology from someone who just became a Christian a few months ago. In truth, there are some really good, encouraging words I hear in the album and there are some lines that leave me scratching my head. But I think that I’d feel the same way listening to anyone who was a recent convert.
Don’t rush to use the content of this album to make a judgment about whether his conversion is “legit”
The big question a lot of students want to ask is whether it’s possible that Kanye could truly be saved. There are several things we could respond to this:
First, we were dead in our trespasses and sins, just like this man. If we can be saved, so can he, end of story. The reach of God’s grace are longer and wider than anything we can imagine, and Kanye can be saved because God is endlessly merciful.
I haven’t seen anything in this album that would give me cause to question his salvation, and I don’t think it’s our job to declare people saved or not. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be discerning. “You shall know them by their fruit” holds true, but we can’t put a new believer in the same category as someone who has been following Jesus for decades. Kanye’s platform just puts a magnifying glass on his life which provides scrutiny that most new believers would never have to endure.
Secondly, he is professing faith in Jesus. Suspicions about his conversion can only be based upon his past. And if we know anything about conversion it’s that the “old has passed away.” So the past is off limits and all we have to go on is what he is saying now. So far, I haven’t seen anything that I wouldn’t expect from any new believer.
Kanye’s own wrestling with negative comments (especially from Christians) is laid out in these lyrics from “Hands On”:
I deserve all the criticism you got
If that’s all the love you have, that’s all you got
To sing of change, you think I’m joking
To praise His name, you ask what I’m smoking
Yes, I understand your reluctancy, yeah
But I have a request, you see
Don’t throw me up, lay your hands on me
Please, pray for me
So instead of treating Kanye’s conversion with suspicion and cynicism, how about joy for him and sincere prayer? Otherwise, we become like the older brother of the Prodigal Son, who begrudged the Father for being gracious to the one who had strayed “too far” away.
Help students to put their faith in Jesus, and not in the faith of celebrities
Our students (as well as adults if we are honest) hunger for our faith to be legitimized by someone in a notable position coming to Christ. I understand that. It makes sense that we want people with a platform to be promoting the Gospel. It is a great thing that someone with a platform like West’s to now be professing faith in Christ.
On the flip side, there have been celebrities in the past who have professed faith in Christ only to seemingly forsake that faith, leading to the discouragement of many. There’s a lot of talk out there about whether West’s conversion is simply a marketing ploy. I hope that this is not the case, but either way we need to help our students understand that the faith of celebrities should ultimately have no bearing on their own.
Our faith is not our parents’ faith, our pastor’s faith, and certainly not Kanye’s. Let your faith rest in Jesus alone – because he says he is the truth — not because a celebrity says so.
Don’t let a new believer be your teacher
There’s a reason Paul said that new believers shouldn’t be elders (1 Tim. 3:6). When a person puts out an album, it is making a statement. But I think it’s worth teaching our students that, because Kanye is new to the faith, they shouldn’t let this album be a major contribution to how they approach God. For instance, I wouldn’t try to start a Jesus is KingBible study where you parse his lyrics (please).
Finally, I’ll just say that I personally love that Kanye is professing faith in Jesus. You couldn’t find a more controversial figure. He has largely been known for doing and saying things that have outraged people. He has repeatedly put his foot in his mouth. It makes total sense to me that God would save a person like this. If he is truly born again, we couldn’t point a finger at anything other than the grace of God. What better person to say:
You won’t ever be the same when you call on Jesus’ name
Listen to the words I’m sayin’, Jesus saved me, now I’m sane
And I know, I know God is the force that picked me up
I know Christ is the fountain that filled my cup
Head over to Rooted Parent today to read Mike McGarry’s Thoughts and Talking Points for Parents on Kanye’s Conversion.