Occasionally we hear of a celebrity who comes to faith in Jesus. Rarely is that celebrity as big as Kanye West.
Kanye West is an American rapper and musical artist who has sold 140 million records globally and won 21 Grammy Awards, making him one of the most critically-acclaimed artists ever. Time has named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
West was raised a Christian, but his beliefs have been the subject of ongoing speculation. Early in his career and at various times since, he identified as a Christian—though his lyrics, personal life, and sometimes-blasphemous claims have made many decry that label.
His 2013 album Yeezus, for example, included a track entitled I am a God. Among the usual expletives, the song’s lyrics boasted, “I know He the most high / But I am a close high”.
But around January this year, something shifted. Rumours began to circulate that Kanye had a genuine conversion experience. Video grabs showed him speaking unapologetically of Jesus to the media. Footage was released of him hosting pop-up worship services around the USA.
And then last week, West released his latest album, Jesus is King.
The lyrics on this album couldn’t stand in starker contrast to his previous records. Gone are the obscenities and dark themes. In their place are soulful melodies of worship. If you know anything about the Kanye of the past, you really have to hear it to believe it.
After a call to worship in track one, the album’s second song Selah declares:
They say the week start on Monday
But the strong start on Sunday
Won’t be in bondage to any man
We the descendants of Abraham
Ye should be made free
To whom the son set free is free indeed
He saved a wretch like me
The same day his record dropped, two long-form interviews with West were published to YouTube (here and here), in which he discusses his mental health struggles, fatherhood, and his brand new born-again faith in God.
The night of his album’s release, he was asked by television host Jimmy Kimmel, “Would you consider yourself to be a Christian artist now?” West responded with hesitation, saying, “I’m just a Christian… everything.”
Given the egotism and hypocrisy of Kanye’s past, it’s understandable that all of this has been met with mixed public reactions. Some followers of Jesus especially wonder if his faith just a passing fad.
There’s nothing wrong with healthy caution, but here are three reasons I’m excited about the conversion of Kanye West.
His Fans Will Hear the Gospel
As I write, Selah—the song quoted above—has had 14.5 million listens on Spotify in the five days since it was released. Another track from the album called Follow God has had almost 24 million streams.
Add to this other streaming services like Apple Music and Google Play; all of the other songs on his record, all the listens that will happen in the months ahead, and all of Kanye’s interview grabs, and that’s a lot of Jesus on the airwaves right now.
Doubtless, some of this following will be from curious Christian bystanders like me. But the great bulk of these downloads will be from diehard Kanye fans. For many of them, it will be the first time they’ve heard about Jesus in a clear and culturally-meaningful way. It’s any missiologists’ dream.
All this at a time when Christianity faces unprecedented opposition in the public square.
The last time you prayed for God to raise up labourers for the harvest, you might not have pictured the conversion of Kanye West. But praise God—that’s how He answered your prayer.
His Words are Backed By Actions
In both his public statements and his songs, Kanye is conveying more than spiritual-sounding sentiments. He’s advocating for a whole new way of life.
As one journalist put it, West’s brand of Christianity “bears no resemblance to the vague spiritualism of Moral Therapeutic Deism that is often associated with celebrity conversions.”
Kanye’s overblown ego is a shadow of its former self. He speaks of family prayer times and of being ‘cancelled’ by mainstream culture for pushing back against progressive viewpoints. He speaks against abortion, and about teaching his daughter to dress modestly in a materialistic and sexualised culture that he confesses he helped create.
All of this reflects a deeper discipleship that’s taking place in his life. A source close to Kanye has said this:
“Those who are currently ministering to Kanye and “speaking into his life” are… Gospel-preaching, God-fearing, ain’t-playing-around, Bible-believing Christians who share our common faith. These men are not celebrity-hounds… and are not enamoured with wealth or attention.”
His Conversion is Part of a Pattern
Kanye West is one of several celebrities in recent times who have had life-altering encounters with Jesus. Author Eric Metaxas tweeted this week:
With Kanye & Bieber & Selena Gomez openly talking about Jesus in a way that seems authentic (to all but cynics), you have to wonder if we are on the verge of a cultural shift. This is not normal. And I like it. A lot. We need revival. NEED. Please pray. https://t.co/dmeoz7i6hg
— Eric Metaxas (@ericmetaxas) October 26, 2019
These are encouraging signs for anyone with a heart for cultural renewal. Justin Bieber and Kanye West especially—who happen to share a friendship—have tasted the very best that the secular culture has to offer. And it has left them wanting. Now they’ve found Jesus, and their public life is reflecting that.
Keep praying, because God is hearing your prayers for revival. He always said He would.
“You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth.”
~ Psalm 65:5