Sometimes revivals happen with unlikely sparks
Over the past year, hip-hop artist Kanye West has amazed both the hip-hop and the Christian communities with his very vocal and public proclamations of his faith. He has always referred to his faith in the past, but his public behavior and lifestyle never matched his proclamations. Many of us remember “Jesus Walks” as one of the few overtly Christian songs to top the Billboard charts. A few others have done well from the gospel world including Kirk Franklyn and Mary Mary and even DMX with songs that proclaim the gospel in the marketplace. Lecrae and a few others have also achieved relative success. Even Snoop Dogg has entered the gospel arena successfully. While those relatively successful forays have put the spotlight on the gospel message, I do not recall anything like what has transpired with Kanye West.
It appears that he has had a very personal experience and being the public figure that he is, he has intentionally (or unintentionally) invited the world to come along. It began fairly obscurely with what had been termed Sunday services, a musical gathering at remote locations on Sundays, and gradually built up to become an international phenomenon. Many have debated his sincerity, questioned whether his actions are good for Christianity, or if he is using the gospel for his personal gain. Many have asked for my thoughts on the subject and after reviewing his journey, I have observed several things.
First of all, I am always in favor of hip-hop artists singing anything positive over the negative and toxic lyrics that are usually espoused in the genre. Anytime an artist, whether they are Christian or not, sings something positive rather than negative, I must be in favor of it because destructive music continues to destroy lives. Unfortunately, some artists have done so while maintaining a very negative lifestyle. Some Christians and churches have embraced such artists and sanctioned and endorsed them as individuals rather than simply saying thank you for doing something positive. I believe it is a mistake to endorse a person simply because they have sung something positive while ignoring their continued lifestyle conflict. I believe it is important to acknowledge their positive lyrics and hope that they continue in that vein, but wait to see more “fruit” before jumping onboard the bandwagon. Snoop Dogg was one example where he sang positive songs, but very little in the way that genuine “fruit” could be seen.
Kanye West’s foray has been different. It is still very early, and West is a multifaceted individual who has publicly admitted to dealing with a mental illness, so we all have to monitor his progress before concluding on the status of his Christianity. What is different about West is that his music and his proclamations seem to be very genuine and he has not been ashamed or timid with his newly found or newly focused faith. Kanye West has seemed to have seen the light and decided to do what the Bible says and “let his light shine for all the world to see”. He has done a remarkable job in sharing his faith in a world and environment where public proclamations of Christian faith are frowned upon. His impact has truly been phenomenal. His album “Jesus is King” has topped not only the gospel charts but also all the other secular charts including the Billboard 100. I believe this is the first time this has ever been done.
Some in the Christian world have stated that Kanye West may have done more for the gospel than all the preachers in the world in the past few months. This may in fact be true, but while I celebrate what he has done, I believe that we must temper our expectations and not try to anoint West as savior, or put a greater burden on him than he is able to bear. Enjoy the music, embrace the message but realize that West is a novice in the gospel and therefore should not be looked to as savior or someone who has the authority or experience to be a spiritual guide. I consider him to be one who was blind but now sees and he is pointing others to the source of his light. Embrace it for what it is, one young man’s journey that has positively impacted many, and put the name of Jesus back where it should be. We should encourage him as much as possible but not allow ourselves to get caught up in the hype of the moment and lose sight of clear principles that govern our faith.
We do not know what’s ahead in his journey. He is a novice in the gospel, and the Bible admonishes us not to give positions of authority to a novice, but to allow them to be trained and nurtured first. We should be happy that he is expressing his faith in his music, especially in a genre that very seldom has anything positive to offer. That is a major victory. What lies ahead in the volatile life of Kanye West is unknown, but we should all be encouraged by his journey. He has brought a newfound focus to the gospel, used his status to encourage others, talked about his “born again” experience and revived discussions about Jesus. I pray that he continues in this vein and that he submits to authority so that he can be nurtured and mentored into a powerful voice in the kingdom.
As the young people would say, “don’t hate, just appreciate”. We will see in time what this means, and my hope and prayer is that Kanye West finds personal success in the faith and is able to share it with others. Sometimes revivals happen with unlikely sparks and we never know who God may choose to use for such a time and season as this. Praying for you Kanye, hoping that the journey continues, and you grow into the faith.
• Pastor Dave Burrows is senior pastor at Bahamas Faith Ministries International. Feel free to email comments, whether you agree or disagree, to firstname.lastname@example.org. I appreciate your input and dialogue. We become better when we discuss, examine and exchange.