On Oct. 25, 2019, bestselling rapper Kanye West released Jesus Is King, his ninth studio album overall but his first as a self-described Christian artist. From beginning to end, the album is about his relationship with Jesus, his joy at being saved and his awe for the God who loves him. The album is profanity-free and features no sexual or violent content.
Jesus Is King immediately triggered strong and polarized reactions. Many conservatives and evangelical Christians exuberantly expressed their love for the album. In a column for National Review, Andrew T. Walker breathlessly said West possessed “the anthropology of C. S. Lewis, the economics of Wilhelm Röpke, the cultural mood of Wendell Berry and the defiance of Francis Schaeffer.”
Meanwhile, longtime fans of West expressed their frustration, calling the lyrics corny and West an attention-seeker. The Daily Beast ran a headline calling Jesus Is King “fake Christianity at its finest.”
Even some Christian leaders expressed skepticism toward West’s sudden pivot into Christian music—including Tyler Burns, a Pentecostal pastor featured in last month’s “Tomorrow’s Charismatics” feature. Burns, writing for The Washington Post, noted that West appropriated the sound of gospel music while discarding the theology of the black church that is meant to accompany it.
He concluded, “While Jesus Is King feels like it should be a cultural moment of celebration for all Christians, it should come as no surprise that many black Christians question who this moment will ultimately empower.”
West’s Christian faith has only continued to dominate news headlines since Jesus Is King‘s release. The album hit No. 1 on Billboard charts during its debut week. West has spoken and performed at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church. In January, West replaced comedian John Crist as the headliner at the Strength to Stand Student Bible Conference in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, alongside Hillsong Young & Free. Over the span of 2019, West went from the artist who released the blasphemous album Yeezus to a bona fide Christian celebrity, in some cases being treated with the authority of a leader.
Naturally, such a drastic transformation also sparks many questions:
Is Kanye for real?
Will his conversion stick?
And should such a young, immature Christian ever be given so much authority and access to major platforms?
In fact, believers who only recently began paying attention to West may be surprised to learn he’s been wrestling with God his entire life. Though unlikely to assure those doubting West’s sincerity—and ultimately, West’s faith is between him and God—this story will review West’s long and troubled relationship with Christianity over two decades in the public eye.
By all accounts, West was raised in a Christian household and could be considered at least a nominal Christian for most of his life. While speaking with Osteen at Lakewood Church, West shared that he grew up going to church “three times a week,” thanks to his father.
“For me as a kid, going to church on Wednesday instead of going to basketball practice or getting to play video games got to be a little bit boring,” West says. “My mom had me in church twice a week, definitely on Sundays. We actually grew with the church; it was a pastor named Johnny Coleman, and we grew from a small church to a megachurch—a Chicago version. I think it grew to like five or six thousand [people]. My mom always had the records in the house, and we would be playing a lot of R&B records, but then we’d go and hear the gospel and hear worship.”
In January 2009, West told Bossip his father scared him straight when he thought about leaving the Christian faith.
“I had a conversation with my dad when I was 20 years old and [said], ‘I don’t believe in this everybody’s going to hell thing [where] everyone who isn’t a Christian is in the wrong,'” West says. “His response at that time was, ‘Well, I’d hate to see you not spend eternity with me and burn in the depths of hell.’ I was like, ‘Well … I don’t want that to happen, so let me set up this insurance plan and just do this.'”
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SOURCE: Charisma News