Updated: Oct 30, 2019
So, I know I’m behind the game, but I finally got around to listening to Kanye West’s new album Jesus is King. It seems that this album has rocked the worlds of both Christians – who can’t seem whether to love the album or approach it with caution, and non-Christians, who no doubt are confused on the purpose behind Kanye’s newfound love of Jesus and his interesting approach to religion as a whole. I for one, was a bit caught off guard too, but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t excited.
If there’s something that I’ve noticed about the talk around this album that is bothersome, it’s that most of it has been around Kanye, rather than worth of his album. This is worrisome to me. The backlash about Kanye’s Sunday worship services and this album seems to be about whether Kanye has the right to preach the gospel – and its mostly coming from self-identified Christians. Now, I must admit, I don’t listen to Kanye frequently, but I have kept up with him enough to know about his style. I’ve also followed him on Twitter long enough to see why some people are skeptical of this seemingly sudden change in faith. But this unnecessary gatekeeping is frustrating to say the least, and though I think that we shouldn’t rush to make Kanye (or anyone for that matter) the spokesperson of the Christian faith, I think it’s hard to deny how impactful his words could be to those that listen to him. This is an effective means of witness.
Recently I’ve been analyzing the data from the General Social Survey as part of a project. In case you don’t know, this is a survey that has been going on since 1972, allowing social scientists to see trends in American culture in order to make policy recommendations among other things. A variable I’ve been focusing on has been a question regarding respondents’ religion. During the study, the percentage of those that claim to have no faith has jumped from just 5.2% in 1972 to 23.3% in 2018. Now, I’m not somebody who thinks that numbers are the one measure when looking at the health of a church, but I do think that when the gospel is preached properly, and the Holy Spirit is moving within the church, it naturally grows because want the things that Christ offers, and we’ve seen the opposite trend in our culture. In other words, I think the American church is failing to reach people with the gospel. I don’t think what we are doing as a whole right now is working, and I think I have the data to prove that.
The lyrics of Kanye’s gospel - esque album are theologically sound and I don't see many contesting that. There’s nothing in there that seems like it would discount its authenticity. It seems like words from a new believer; a believer so eager to share the divine intervention in their life that they need to share it with others. Kanye’s platform is his music. So, who are we to question it? Paul murdered early Christians and then after an encounter with Christ became their biggest advocate – authoring the majority of the New Testament books that we cherish today. Throughout the entire Bible we see massive, sudden transformations of human beings because they gained a relationship with God, yet we constantly deny it when it happens in the real world. Furthermore, we often refuse to talk about how we still fall after our salvation - we read stories of Godly people that massively screw up time and time again. In just a few chapters of the Bible, David managed to break nearly every commandment given to him and still he was recorded to be a man after God’s own heart.
I don’t know Kanye’s heart, but it isn’t my job – or anyone’s for that matter – to question it. His frustrations with the Christian old guard voiced eloquently in his album are completely warranted, and it especially aggravates me and many other Millennial and Gen-Z Christians just as much. The idea that God is exclusionary is asinine.
K-Love isn’t going to work forever. The “Positive and Encouraging” self-centered church model is going to fail because it simply isn’t Godly. It isn’t based in scripture, tradition, or anyone’s experience. It’s a failing attempt to change the gospel from something about justice and redemption into a satisfying message for those seeking instant gratification in a world where it comes from everywhere but God. I’m not bashing the people that do genuinely attempt to reach people through ministry like that, but I do think the grand scheme is unhelpful. Most of the people that listen to K-Love are already Christians. Kanye has an audience that spans countless cultures, creeds and nations. For a generation that seemingly has nothing genuine to hold on to, Kanye’s words strike a chord that the current narrative will not. It was genuine, heartfelt, and was a cry of praise and for forgiveness. It echoed the real struggles that people with knowledge of their imperfections share. Even if this turns out to be nothing more than a money-making scheme (which I doubt, but I’ll play along to make my point) the words of this post ring true. God didn’t ordain us to keep people out of the faith.
If we’re going to reach people, we must be addressing their struggles and accepting them where they are by preaching the gospel and nothing else. That sounds cliche, I know. But seriously, we can’t expect people to show up to church mature in their faith. It’s time that we banish that idea forever. Organized Christianity is a means to an end, not the end itself. We need to show the world that we love the message Kanye is preaching and stop alienating people who want nothing more than a relationship with God and citizenship in His Kingdom. I loved worshiping in my car to a song by Kanye West. I genuinely hope that the millions of fans that he reached through this album and heard the gospel come to know Christ in the way that I do. Keeping Kanye at bay will do nothing for them.
If you’re a Kanye fan and you’re new to the whole King Jesus thing, welcome to a community of Christ followers that is more wholesome than anything you will ever encounter. I’m glad you’re here. If you’re interested in knowing more, I encourage you to go to a local church and talk to the pastor. Personally, I’m biased towards the United Methodist Church, but there are plenty of churches out there that preach the message that Kanye is talking about. Listen to some more Christian music. There’s some good stuff out there. If you’re into Kanye, try TobyMac, Andy Mineo and Lecrae, among others. And as always, feel free to reach out to me and I’d be happy to share how a relationship with Jesus has been awesome for me and others in my life.