Kanye’s Christianity

Kanye West is perhaps the twenty-first century’s most influential figure in hip hop. With a discography that spans nearly two decades, countless hit songs, and credits as a producer for many other artists, Kanye’s influence is indisputable. Kanye, however, is known for much more than just his music. The eccentric billionaire has stayed in the public eye due to his marriage (and recent divorce) to reality star Kim Kardashian, because of his tendency to say outrageous and offensive things, because of his support for Donald Trump’s presidency, and recently, because of his conversion to Christianity (2019). Kanye’s conversion seemed out of character, given that his music was strewn with explicit content as recently as 2019. In the past few years, however, Kanye’s faith has been a major influence on his music, from the release of JESUS IS KING to the Christian themes and references on his most recent album, Donda. While many Christians would disagree with many aspects of Kanye’s Christianity, the musician has more or less stuck to his professed religious convictions, keeping his faith central in his music and public life since his conversion. The implications of Kanye’s faith are frequently evident in his lyrics. Yet, many Christians will not recognize their own faith in the beliefs that Kanye professes. A close listen to Kanye’s albums released since his conversion leaves the listener with the question, What is Kanye’s Christianity?

 

What Makes a Christian Worldview?
Some Christians, celebrity or otherwise, are Christians without having a faith that shapes how they see the world as a whole. Yet, a true worldview—Christian or otherwise— informs what people believe about everything. When someone becomes a Christian, their ideas and beliefs should begin to cohere, making sense in tandem, rooted in their central Christian beliefs and convictions, which come from the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and Christian tradition.

A Christian might lack a Christian worldview because they do not take their faith seriously or because they have not thought through the implications of their faith with sufficient rigor. Perhaps they became a Christian later in life and were not shaped by Christian ideas in their childhood, so they are unfamiliar with the beliefs and practices of Christianity. Either way, believers who lack a Christian worldview do not realize that their faith should change how they see everything. However, even among various Christians who have thought deeply about the implications of their faith, there are numerous differing beliefs. A Catholic Christian, an Eastern Orthodox Christian, and a Protestant Christian may all hold a Christian worldview, but each will be somewhat different in form and expression. Further, cultural or even economic differences might give a person a variation on the Christian worldview. How a middle-class Christian from America understands Christianity will be different than how a poor Christian in India understands Christianity.1

One might suspect that Kanye falls into the category of being a Christian without a Christian worldview; that he is someone who has not thought out the ramifications of his faith. It is easy to assume that Kanye does not realize that Christianity has implications for all of life and that he has made no attempt to make sense of everything in the world through the lens of Christianity. However, this is not the case—Kanye has a worldview distinctly shaped by Christianity. If his music is any indicator, Kanye has put significant thought into how Christianity relates to all of life. The nine-minute song “Jesus Lord” on Donda covers a diverse range of topics, implicitly tying his view on each of them to his relationship with Jesus. Whether or not all of Kanye’s views are correct, “Jesus Lord” suggests that Kanye knows that faith should change how you see everything.

Professor Kanye’s Worldview Class
The composition of “Jesus Lord” strongly suggests that the song should be understood as an articulation of Kanye’s worldview. The song begins with Kanye repeating the words, “Tell me if you know someone who needs Jesus, Lord,” establishing from the beginning the idea that people need Jesus as Lord. Throughout the song the singer repeats the words “Jesus, Lord” after nearly every line, implicitly connecting all of what Kanye is saying to his Christianity. “Jesus Lord” by no means gives us a point-by-point breakdown of Kanye’s worldview, but it does lend us insight into how he views the world.

Imagine you are a student in a worldview class taught by Kanye. Using “Jesus Lord”2 as a roadmap, Kanye covers the topics of abortion, drug use, marriage and family, the mercy of God, politics, suffering, justice, punishment, forgiveness, love, and hope—returning constantly to the fact that Jesus is Lord in each area. What might stand out is that Kanye emphatically connects his views on all of these topics to his Christian beliefs, yet his Chrisitan worldview does not fit well with any major version of the Christian Worldview. As is the nature of many songs, his lyrics could be interpreted multiple ways. In this case, one could argue that which things he chooses to mention in his song implies a particular view on the range of topics touched on in “Jesus Lord,” views that are eclectic and resist categorization.

What Kanye would teach in his worldview class would not align with any theological tradition or political party. Kanye has taken heat for his professed religion from many sides. From a theological perspective, he has been accused of peddling his own version of the prosperity gospel, with some critics questioning whether his Christianity is really about Jesus or about Kanye. He has also made statements about race and abortion that have led his more politically-minded openents to claim that, to put it lightly, his wrong-headed views on social justice and racism are inherently non-Christian. 3 Conversely, some say that, despite the fact that they “cannot embrace all of Kanye’s political beliefs,” they support his profession of Christianity because Kanye has a huge public platform and that platform helps spread the gospel. 4 Some argue that Kanye is using Jesus to promote Kanye, not vice versa, but some respond that it doesn’t matter as long as Christ is preached (Philippians 1:15-18).

Kanye is well-known for saying what he thinks and not fitting in anywhere, and his Christianity is no different. All Christians could agree with Kanye that people need Jesus as Lord, but besides that, nearly any Christian could find somewhere in the lyrics of “Jesus Lord” that their convictions are vastly different than what Kanye espouses.

What to Do with Kanye’s Christianity
How do we account for the idiosyncratic Christian worldview of the man who thought he could use the book of Leviticus to criticize someone’s fashion choices? Although he may not always be the best informed about Chrisian beliefs, to say that Kanye has simply not thought about his faith or that he holds non-Christian views because he does not understand that Christianity should change how we see everything is unsatisfying, because it seems that Kanye does realize that the claim “Jesus is Lord” should change how we see everything. Like anyone, Kanye is subject to biases based on his own life and cultural experiences.

Perhaps Kanye’s Christian worldview is a bit eccentric because of his unparalleled position in the world. His position as hip-hop icon has given him a particular set of experiences that uniquely shape his beliefs. Because Kanye’s Christianity is so individualized, nearly any Christian might strongly object to one part of his worldview or another. As an eccentric billionaire super-celebrity, Kanye has had unique life experiences, so perhaps we should not be surprised that his Christian worldview is also unique in some ways.

Let us consider also that each of us has our own place in the world, our own place in our culture, and our own biases. Yet, unlike Kanye, whose experiences and beliefs are somewhat singular, each one of us is surrounded by others who share many of our economic, cultural, religious, and other life experiences. When we are surrounded by others whose beliefs have been shaped by the same roots (cultural, theological, or moral) and similar assumptions and experiences as our own beliefs, then their worldview will seem normal to us.

We might think we hold a belief from a purely objective viewpoint without realizing that our belief has, to some degree, been influenced by our experiences and subjective assumptions. Often it turns out that our belief only seems objective because the vast majority of trustworthy people around us agree with us. Because Kanye’s Christianity doesn’t line up neatly with what we expect from a Christian, it’s easier for us to see how Kanye’ experiences have given him assumptions that are a part of his worldview than it is to see how our experiences have given us assumptions that are part of our worldviews.5

Conclusion: Objectivity and Assumption
We are called to believe that Christianity is objectively true. We are not, however, called to believe that we are able to objectively and completely understand that truth. Being too quick to assume that we know exactly what is true over and against other Christians makes us vulnerable to arrogance, even spiritual pride. Being sensitive to the perspectives of others, even if their perceptions are partially based on assumptions or experiences that are incorrect, does not make us wishy-washy about objective truth, nor does it mean that we have to agree with everything someone else believes. Rather, it can help us see how we, too, have formed some of our beliefs on our assumptions rather than total objectivity. Instead of sitting iron-bound in the belief that Christianity as we understand it right now comprehends truth completely, perhaps we should be open to the learning and growth available when we accept that we may be wrong about some things. We began by asking, What is Kanye’s Christianity? because his worldview does not fit neatly into any category of Christianity. But, when we realize that every one of us holds a Christian worldview that has, to some extent, been shaped by our assumptions, perhaps we should end by asking, what is our Christianity?

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