“For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.” (1 Corinthians 1:26–29, NASB95)
Celebrating Conversion & The Proclamation of the Gospel
I, like every other God-fearing, Christ-loving, Spirit-bearing Christian I know, gets excited to hear about God’s great sovereign work in salvation. I love knowing that “old, old story” has been wrought upon a broken sinner’s heart and God has graciously drawn someone out of the darkness and into His marvelous light. This is how I felt about Kanye West when I heard of his conversion. Praise God! Another sinner has been saved by grace. Some of the community questionings about this are out of place. Of course, we are to inspect the fruit. But while the plant is young and green, we nurture it, water it, celebrate it. That is what I have done with news of Kanye’s conversion.
I also enjoyed listening to Kanye’s album. I know it isn’t for everyone. I grew up listening to rap music. Though it has improved over the years, the genre of “Christian rap” has left a lot to be desired as far as lyricism and quality. Kanye is skilled at his craft and applied that skill to an album celebrating the gospel and the salvation he has found in Jesus Christ. It is an excellent and well-done effort at making much of Jesus.
The Twofold Problem
There are two problems. At the moment, these are potential problems, visible potholes that can prayerfully be avoided by God’s grace and the application of wisdom by God’s people. The first problem has to do with the nature of the church and corporate worship. The other has to do with the impact Kanye’s public growth in the faith may have on those that are young and/or immature in the faith.
Let me start by saying that I think it is awesome that Kayne is declaring Jesus in every environment possible. Whether it is on television, radio, webcast, YouTube, etc., he is sharing the gospel unashamedly and unreservedly. Amen to that. I have no problem with spontaneous evangelism services, efforts at creating platforms for the gospel, etc. These all can (and have and should) be used as the culture and environment allows.
But, let’s be very clear about something: Kanye is a new believer. He is young in his faith. He is not a spiritual leader, pastor-elder, etc. There are certain biblical qualifications, one of which restricts this role to those who specifically are not new converts. To his credit, I haven’t heard Kanye make this claim, which is a good thing. Given the way many claiming the name of Jesus view the church, however, I am concerned that this will feed the “do church any way you want to” mentality that exists in the Christian western mindset. Church life is marked in the New Testament chiefly by faithfulness to a particular community. That community prays together, learns God’s Word together, sings songs together, does life together, calls each other into account, uses their spiritual gifts to the benefit of one another, etc. The church isn’t a thing we travel around to. The church isn’t predominantly a place we go to. The church (in the local sense) is a group of people we covenant together with to grow in Christlikeness together. Sometimes it is hard, sometimes it is ugly, sometimes it is messy, but all the time it is to be a consistent demonstration of the faithfulness of God toward us in Christ, by way of us being faithful toward one another in the gifts of the Spirit. My prayer is that outward acts of evangelism and outreach being done by Kanye don’t add to the confusion already present among many in the local church.
The second problem has to do with the elevation of individual believers in the Christian church. There is the potential for this to be on display with Kanye in one of two ways. First, his transition into Christian maturity is on full, public, televised display. When the Lord saved me, I had a significant number of rough edges that the gospel still needed to smooth off. He isn’t done with me yet. But in those earliest days, I needed guarding, protection, sheltering, and graced filled opportunities to fail without it being publicly offensive to the name of Christ or as a detriment to those watching the journey. Kayne is not receiving this same opportunity. In his song “Hands On,” he mentions that the Christians will be the first ones to judge him. And while this is unfortunate in the sense of doubting his salvation, it is appropriate in the sense of calling his life into account and walking rightly with Jesus. Often, the new believer is walked with closely, to aid in growth and the early bearing of fruit. Seldom is the new believer’s entire early steps put on full display for all the world to see. I pray that this burden is not too great for Kanye to bear.
Second, there is a tendency among Christians to believe one of two false things. First, we believe that if God would just save that one powerful, influential person, then the gospel will skyrocket and the world will suddenly cave in under the weight of the influence of this great man or woman. Consider the passage listed at the beginning of this post from 1 Corinthians: “…not many mighty…” God intentionally uses the small and seemingly insignificant things of this world to demonstrate His glory. It isn’t that He can’t (or won’t) use that which is great by the world’s standards. Thing is, becoming great by God’s standards usually goes hand in hand with becoming small according to this world. I reiterate: I am overwhelmingly delighted that God saved Kanye and is using his current influence for a prominent, public work of Jesus. But this work is not more or less superior than the young mother teacher her toddler Bible stories, or the co-worker consistently and compassionately making much of Jesus day by day in the work environment, or the teacher investing Jesus into the life of a troubled student. Which brings us to the next thing…
Christian often falsely believe that they “can’t do much for God and the kingdom.” I have heard every version of this story before. “I am not talented enough.” “I don’t have enough resources.” “I am not smart enough.” The list goes on. Christians often run the risk of excusing themselves from being faithful in the small things under the bright light of a public “Christian celebrity.” We have done it for years with heroic leaders of the church. We must be cautious not to do it with Kanye. So, you don’t have millions of dollars at your disposal to rent the sides of buses, or billboards, or skill enough to make an album, etc., etc. So what?!?! Do you have the time and resources to sit down over a cup of coffee with that person you know that is hurting and has no one else to turn to? Can you love the unlovely closest to you? Can you be forgiving in the face of great hurt and pain, and then give the glory of the forgiveness to the gospel of Jesus in your own life?
The church has had many great events that have sparked large scale change and have garnered widespread attention to the glory of Jesus as King. Peter and the apostles did so at Pentecost. Paul at Mars Hill. We could run through the history of the church and point to the larger than life moments that God orchestrated for his glory. But that isn’t how God normally does things. Most people have the testimony of the gospel coming to them quite quietly, from someone that reached out and cared. Nameless faces across a hundred generations, in every corner of the earth. People being faithful with what they have, where they are. I pray that Kanye keeps doing his thing and doing it well. But in the process, I pray that it doesn’t add another excuse for us to not be faithful in our good works as well.