By now you’ve heard that Kanye West, world-famous music artist, has been converted to Christianity. While some have been skeptical, what I’ve seen from afar seems like a genuine conversion. His recently released album “Jesus is King,” while mostly not my musical taste, is full of songs exalting and praising the Lord. I particularly like “God Is.”
So, how should the average Christian evaluate “celebrity” conversions like this? I think we can gain some insight from a “celebrity” conversion Luke recounts in his gospel:
He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:1-10
Zacchaeus was rich and well known – and a notorious sinner. Yet, Zacchaeus sought Christ, something we know does not happen unless God acts on a person’s heart (John 6:44). Secondly, Zacchaeus received Jesus “joyfully.” There was a change in Zacchaeus’ demeanor. He went from being a money-grubbing tax collector out to cheat his fellow Israelites to a man full of joy. Thirdly, there were those skeptical of Zacchaeus’ conversion because of the way he’d lived up until then. Finally, Zacchaeus’ conversion resulted in changed behavior. He no longer sought to cheat people but to use the resources he’d stolen to make good his repentance. It was at this point that Jesus declared Zacchaeus a “son of Abraham” or we might say “saved.”
I see a similar pattern with Kanye West. He appears filled with joy and gratitude for what Christ has done for him and he has shown the fruit of repentance in the changed way he’s using the talents and platform God has given him. Our response to this should be joy and rejoicing at the grace of God in his life. We should pray for Kanye to grow in the faith and that he be protected from those who would use his conversion for their own purposes.
But there are also things we should not do.
Kanye West is a new believer. Therefore, we should not set him up as an example of anything but God’s grace at work in a person’s life. He should not be viewed as a spokesman for Christianity or an authoritative source for theological issues.
The Apostle Paul after his dramatic conversion the Road to Damascus (Acts 9) did begin declaring the truths of Christ right away but before he began his missionary endeavors in earnest, he went away for three years and then spent fifteen days with Peter being discipled (Galatians 1:14-18). The Bible is clear that new believers are not to be given authority in the church (I Timothy 3:6), they are to spend time learning and growing in Christ first. How long is that process? It varies from individual to individual, but celebrity status does not negate the need to take time to learn the faith before assuming a role leading or teaching.
When Paul commended the Thessalonian believers it was because they’d become “imitators of us and of the Lord” (I Thessalonians 1:6). To imitate someone’s faith means you’ve gotten to know them, and you’ve learned from them. Paul is not talking here about rote imitation like some kind of Las Vegas act where people sound and act like famous people on command, he’s talking about learning to follow Christ from him and then following Christ that same way (I Corinthians 11:1; II Timothy 1:13). This takes time.
The best thing the church can do for Kanye is not invite him into our pulpits to speak. We should, instead, invite him into our pews to worship, learn and grow. We should gather around him and teach him the things of God, confident that when the time comes, God will use this new brother in Christ for His glory and the good of His church.