by George Brahm
Since his dramatic conversion, there had been rumours that Kanye West was in touch with Joel Osteen, causing many Christians to fear that the former had developed an affinity for the ‘prosperity gospel’ that Osteen is controversially known for. These fears were stoked by the announcement that Kanye would make a special appearance at Lakewood Church this Sunday to promote his new album and have a chat with Osteen.
I had the opportunity to watch a clip of Kanye speaking at Lakewood ths morning and wanted to put down some of the things he said (and my thoughts on them), classifying them under three headings–the Good, the (Somewhat) Bad, and the Ugly.
These were the points of Kanye’s ‘speech’ that I would say a wholehearted ‘Amen’ to.
- Right at the start, Kanye spoke of his struggle with mental illness a few years ago. And while there were many Christians around him at that time, none of them came forward to share the message of the Gospel with him. Why not? Kanye thinks they were too afraid because of his status as a ‘superstar’ in the entertainment world. This brings up an important point that I often point out to folks of my generation–we are very often afraid to share the Gospel with our peers, not because we are unaware of its message or what it is capable of doing, but because we are ashamed of it. We are afraid of losing our status as a ‘cool’ friend, or losing the friendship altogether, because the Gospel is not ‘cool’ by today’s standards. Standing for the Gospel will not make you popular, and it certainly has potential to harm your reputation among your peers. But the question you ought to ask yourself ought to be, “Is there something greater at stake than my reputation? Is there something more important at stake than how I might make my friend feel about me for the moment?” And the honest answer is, yes there is. Your friend’s eternity is at stake; something that should matter far more to you than your reputation if he or she is truly your friend.
- On a related note, Kanye highlighted the importance of sharing the Gospel in the midst of other ‘loud’ noises that can drown it out. If we fail to share this Gospel, he says, the pleasures of this world will not cease to call out to people, who will willingly fall into their traps. And while he did not say this, I must point out that God will hold us accountable for our role in their destruction, namely not proclaiming the Gospel to them when we had the opportunity to do so.
- He spoke of the importance of inculcating purity in your children and the need for fathers to take responsibility and protect their children from being indoctrinated by the world around them.
- A particularly powerful moment was when he reminded the audience of the dangers of taking religion and religious values out of the school system. In his words, “When you remove the fear and love of God [from schools, and everyday life], you create the fear and love of everything else. Reinstate the fear and love of God, and you eliminate the fear and love of everything else.”
- A point that Osteen emphasized on (and one that Kanye had brought up earlier in his interaction with James Corden) was the nature of a salvation experience–it involves more than just turning over a new leaf in your life. When one is saved, one wakes up from a state of death into a state of new life. For that was the purpose of Christ’s death on the cross–to make dead men live.
The (Somewhat) Bad
These were the points of Kanye’s speech that I wouldn’t give a wholehearted ‘Amen’ to, but would prefer that he be more clear on what he means by them, given that they could have both good and bad connotations.
- At one point, Kanye says something along the lines of, “If you are in the service of God, you will prosper.” It is here that I feel a tad uneasy, because while there is a sense in which this is true–God does make all things work together for the good of those who love Him–the ‘prosperity’ can be misunderstood to mean material prosperity alone, which might be what Joel Osteen teaches, but not what the Bible teaches. Rather, the Bible promises affliction and persecution in the life of every believer, both as a means to test our faith and as a way of moulding us into what God wants us to be. A faith that is based on an unqualified statement like Kanye’s is in danger of falling apart at the first sign of major affliction.
- At another point, he says, “Because Jesus has won the victory the best [artists, musicians, and producers] now belong to God.” I shall say no more about this, but it should be clear to us that this is not necessarily true either.
- There is still a trace of his old trademark arrogance when he says, referring to himself, “The greatest artist God every created is now working for him.” To be fair to him, he does acknowledge it as arrogance, but says God is using his arrogance to glorify Himself. Again, this is technically true; God does ultimately use the consequences of our sinful actions for His glory, just as He ultimately uses all things for His glory. But this should not be an excuse for Kanye, just as none of us are excused of our sins merely because their consequences ultimately end up glorifying Him. The reason I put this under ‘somewhat bad’ was because we must also acknowledge that Kanye is still a new believer in Christ, and we must show him the same grace that we expected to be shown to us during the time after our salvation experiences.
These are the points of Kanye’s ‘speech’ which I can by no means endorse, even by the most charitable interpretations of what he was trying to convey.
- Kanye mentions that he was dissuaded from starting his own church because he didn’t have a pastor and wasn’t a pastor himself. He took this as an active act of discouragement from his fellow believers. And while that is true, they were right to discourage him from doing so. Any gathering in Christ’s name does not automatically constitute a church. A church, per the accounts in the book of Acts and the instructions in the Pauline epistles is a formal body of believers, headed by pastors or a plurality of elders, and one that functions in a fitting and orderly way. More importantly, the church is important to the individual believer–it acts as a way to hold the believer accountable for his actions and disciplines him according to the Scriptures when necessary. It is for this reason that membership in a local church is essential to every believer, including Kanye West. Starting a new church on one’s own upon one’s conversion is neither spiritually beneficial nor scripturally permitted and ought to be discouraged.
- Kanye defended Joel Osteen, saying that many people in the Christian world were giving Osteen a ‘hard time’ because “he keeps showing how good God is”. He went on to list a number of God’s positive attributes, which included, “God is prosperity”. I find both of these statements problematic. For one, Osteen is routinely criticized for more than just showing people how good God is. His work reduces the Christian faith to a self-help program that will guarantee a happier and healthier life, the Christian God to the cosmic Santa Claus of moral therapeutic deism, and the Bible to a book of terrific practical advice but little more than that. Secondly, to say that “God is prosperity” might be true in some sense, but it is far too vague and its most obvious connotations are associated with the heretical message of the prosperity gospel.
So What Do We Do?
So what can we do for Kanye? I’d recommend three things.
- Pray for him. He is still a babe in Christ and has a long way to go in his spiritual journey. Pray that God keeps the fire in his heart burning, that he might continue to dig into the truths of the Word of God and draw closer to sound doctrine.
- Show grace. While we must not be ashamed to correct him on inaccuracies, as I have attempted to in this post, we must also be careful not to prematurely condemn him. None of us got all of our theology straight in the few months (or years) after our conversions, and most of us probably don’t have all of our theology straight today. And if Christ could save our immature selves then, He is strong enough to save Kanye today and bring him to the recognition of His truth.
- Trust God. God, not Kanye, is the author and finisher of Kanye’s faith. It is God who provides the assurance of salvation to each one of us and it is He who places His Spirit as a guarantee in each of our hearts. He alone can finish the good work that He began in Kanye some months ago, and we must trust that He will bring that work to completion.
UPDATE (5:00 pm ET): Kanye is hosting a ‘Jesus is King Sunday Service Experience’ at Lakewood’s evening service. You can watch it here.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of other authors at Cogent Christianity.