JESUS IS KING
After so many delays that some were beginning to wonder whether JESUS IS KING or the second coming of Jesus the King would occur first, Kanye West’s ninth studio album is finally here. And it appears that everyone has an opinion about it.
I’ve seen friends celebrating Kanye’s conversion as a high profile defection from the “other side” to “our side,” rushing to embrace and celebrate him as a new ally. Some think Ye is the first in a revival that will sweep Hollywood. Others have more cynical takes—questioning the music, West’s motives, and even his salvation.
If you’re on social media, and if the people you follow are anything like the people I follow, you’ve probably seen enough hot takes (pro and con) on JESUS IS KING by now to last the rest of your life. So, I’m not going to offer you my take on the album, or on Kanye, or his politics, or whether his conversion is genuine, or whether “Closed on Sunday” will do for Chick-fil-A what Beyoncé’s “Formation” did for Red Lobster.
Instead, I want to propose a particular posture towards the album, and towards West himself. For better or worse, JESUS IS KING is a record without obvious precedence. Kanye West has been rapping about God on and off since “Jesus Walks” in 2004, challenging norms within the commercial rap market, but always within the (secular) commercial market. But JESUS IS KING is aimed at and for the Church.
For context, the last time an artist of West’s stature joined the church and started making explicitly evangelical Christian music it was the late 1970s, and Bob Dylan was about to release Slow Train Coming, Saved, and Shot of Love before returned to making music for general audiences.
What’s more, JESUS IS KING is straightforward in its message in a way that’s closer to K-Love than it is to Relevant—with none of the aesthetic distancing, irony, metaphor, or “allusivity” (to borrow Calvin Seerveld’s term) that are often seen as marking Christian art seeking to be taken seriously as art outside of the church. (This leads to a peculiar irony: the Christians who already listen to Kanye are precisely those who are, in matters of aesthetic taste, closer to Pitchfork or Stereogum than the audience Kanye seems to have in mind for JESUS IS KING.)
And Kanye is Kanye is Kanye. The “Controversies” section on his Wikipedia page is longer than many of the pieces on Conciliar Post. A little over a year ago, West served as Creative Director for the Pornhub Awards, and recently he claimed to be “undoubtedly the greatest human artist of all time.”
There’s a lot of baggage there.
How should Christians Approach JESUS IS KING?
I want to propose a simple posture towards this situation: if Kanye West made JESUS IS KING for the Church, the best standard to measure JESUS IS KING against is whether or not the music serves the Church.
Instead of rushing to put West on a pedestal, wait to see what sort of fruit JESUS IS KING bears. Is it good for the Church? Is it encouraging the people of God? Or will West’s celebrity, his ego, and complicated public persona prove to be too great a distraction? Is it stimulating creativity? Is it encouraging aesthetic innovation, or imitators?
On the flip side, while the album could easily be swallowed up in some political or doctrinal controversy waiting right around the corner, JESUS IS KING could still bear some net good (Philippians 1:15-18), by ministering and encouraging praise—even if this new Ye turns out to be a poseur, a creative has-been having a “Christian phase,” or just positioning himself for a presidential run in 2024.
In short, I want to suggest the wait-and-see approach. It may seem like a cop out, but it actually has a very specific purpose: de-emphasising the artist (without waiving legitimate moral or theological concerns) and focusing on the effect; shifting the burden of valuation from Metacritic, Twitter, The Washington Post, and the tabloids to the faithful, the people West is claiming as brothers and sisters in Christ: believers of all ages, all races, all education levels, and all nationalities. For those in the US, those who voted for Trump and those who didn’t. And maybe even to those people who don’t compare everything Kanye does to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.