Kanye West Declaring Jesus As King: Legit or A Joke?

Written By Aaron Di Placido, Australia

There’s a popular saying in some circles about a Christian’s journey of transformation called “progression over perfection”. This saying comes to mind when I think of my own journey in Christ, but most recently it has also come up a lot when discussing none other than artist/producer/rapper/pop culture icon Kanye West.

Over the past week, there have been countless articles, videos, and reviews breaking down the release of Kanye West’s latest album, Jesus Is King. Kanye is one of the most popular and influential artists of the 21st century, so any time he releases an album—it is a big deal.

It’s no surprise then, that when West announced that he had become a born-again Christian and would be releasing a gospel album—less than 12 months after he had released I Love It, a song that is perhaps his most raunchiest to date—a vast amount of criticism and hype surfaced across the globe.

The world’s biggest artist who is renowned for vulgar lyrics and explicit thematic elements within his music would be creating an album about . . . God?

It had to be a joke, right?

After hearing this announcement, my initial response was to question his faith: “Surely, he can’t be a Christian?”, “Even if he is, he doesn’t know the first thing about God to create a gospel album”, “He’s going to lead so many astray”.

I immediately had to catch myself from allowing these thoughts to fester. As is written in James 4:12, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?”

It is incredibly prideful and foolish to judge another person’s faith, especially when I have never met the person before. Yet, it is also incredibly easy for all of us to do that on a whim—simply based upon personal thought or public appearances, rather than looking to the Word for guidance in our response.

What I found most interesting though was that, I, as someone who has been following Kanye’s work, never once judged him as harshly as I did when he became a Christian. This is a man who had been abrasive at awards nights, called himself a god, and even named an album Yeezus. And whilst I had my own opinions, none of them met the magnitude of doubt and skepticism than when he announced his faith.

That made me realize that perhaps I had subconsciously set a standard in my mind about who’s deserving of salvation—and who isn’t.

Thinking it through, I was reminded of all the past wrongdoings and mistakes that I have made, and continue to make. While they aren’t publicized like West’s have been, I have still sinned—regardless of who was watching. In spite of all that, I know in my heart that I am forgiven because I have placed my faith in Christ.

John 5:24 is straightforward in communicating the truth that believing and accepting Christ leads to forgiveness of all past sins: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”

On top of this, we have seen riddled within history incredible transformations of even larger scale. Think Saul (also known as Paul) who went from killing Christians to being one of the most devout and passionate martyrs of the faith in the book of Acts. As Paul himself later wrote in 1 Timothy 1:15, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came in to the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.”

Through this line of thinking, Kanye’s story of redemption and discovery of Christ is a lesson in not allowing our judgmental thoughts to take hold when we look at the lives of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. It can be so easy for us to put ourselves on a pedestal and to accept our own forgiveness from God, but not His forgiveness of others. When we do so, we limit God’s ability to transform the most broken of people even though He has forgiven us for our wrongdoings.

 

What Would Jesus Say?

When we catch ourselves in these thoughts, the best place to go is straight to the Word. To ask ourselves, what does God say about it all? Through our own reading and reflecting, God wants us to be able to stand for his Word, yet to never judge others in their journey. In Matthew 7:1-4, Jesus famously speaks of the need for us to remove the plank in our own eye before the speck of dust in our brother’s eye. This serves as an incredible reminder for us to consistently allow God to work in our hearts, instead of focusing on the wrongs of others—or what God could be working in their hearts.

When Kanye’s album Jesus is King dropped, global response has been centered around Kanye’s faith, and Christians and non-Christians alike have been contending over whether his faith is legitimate.

This is exactly what we shouldn’t be doing.

Continuing on from Matthew 7:4, Jesus says in verse 5, “. . . first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (emphasis mine). Sometimes, we can forget that final line. Jesus was telling us that once we have been humbled by our own sin, we can then help those whom we have perhaps slandered or judged in the past.

This is something we as Christians can live out to those who have yet to come to know Jesus as a demonstration of His grace. That despite someone’s past and how they have lived their life, we still love, pray for, and reach out to them. What an encouragement this will be to those on their spiritual journey, to see that there are people willing to help them through their struggles!

Kanye has started a brand new life of discovering Christ, and while we have no say on the legitimacy of his faith, I am encouraged to see that Jesus is King is personalized in communicating his own stories of struggling with faith, and large portions of the album praise and uplift God. Tracks like “Selah”, “Closed on Sunday” and “Use This Gospel”, praise and worship God for His ability to use us despite our sins, knowing full well “my life is his and not my own”.

We are all on a journey of progression over perfection, Kanye West included. Therefore, let’s not tear apart the album trying to search for evidence as to whether Kanye is an authentic Christian or not, but be reminded that even the most fallen of us can be saved. And regardless of our past wrongdoings and mistakes, God deserves all the praise for His amazing grace to us.

When Giants of the Faith Fall: Why It Matters

“Not again!” I thought when I read that the founder and CEO of Relevant Media Group, Cameron Strang, has come under fire for creating a racially insensitive work environment.

The 43-year-old was alleged to be a toxic boss who exhibited “various levels of high-handedness, shouting fits and racially insensitive slights”.

These accusations come on the heels of a spate of news headlined by Christian influencers in respected roles who have either left the faith or fallen short of living the Christian life that they claimed to represent.

In July, author Joshua Harris denounced his faith, and a month later, Hillsong songwriter and worship leader Marty Sampson said that his faith was on shaky grounds. Earlier this month, news of Harvest Christian Fellowship Church pastor Jarrid Wilson taking his own life rattled the Christian community around the world.

And now, criticisms of Cameron’s leadership skills have emerged after former employee, Andre Henry, an African-American writer, and Relevant’s managing editor from October 2017 to July 2018, posted the following on social media about a podcast episode the publication had put out on race and the church:

Several experiences & stories from my time @RELEVANT….convince me the org is not committed at all to creating an antiracist culture internally to produce a race podcast with integrity.

Cameron has since stepped down from his role, and said he will be taking a leave of absence in order to “grow and better understand important issues, especially about race and equality”.

While I do not consider myself a Joshua Harris fan, I enjoyed reading Relevant’s articles, and had looked up to Marty Sampson. So, seeing the succession of influential Christian leaders fall like a pack of dominoes is somewhat depressing.

To add to that list, the former pastor at a church I used to attend in my home country, New Zealand, was recently charged for sexually assaulting female congregants. The offences allegedly involved three female complainants, and spanned between January 2012 and April 2019. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and his case is still before the courts.

While I was not close friends with the pastor, we have chatted a few times, and connected on social media. He was like any charismatic pastor—warm, friendly, and welcoming. I remember thinking how wholesome he and his wife were. I was particularly blown away at my second visit to the church, when the pastor was on stage welcoming new visitors, and mentioned how good it was to see me back at their church.

So, imagine my disappointment and sense of betrayal when I read the news about his alleged assaults. Here was a pastor who preached about Jesus and was encouraging us to live a life worthy of Christ, but was living a double life behind closed doors.

While the news didn’t leave me disillusioned with God or the gospel, I did feel jaded to read of these giants of faith failing to live up to Christ-likeness.

 

Why We Look Up to Human Leaders

We often look up to human leaders because we crave to see Christians living out their faith in the 21st century, especially in a world where Christianity is increasingly being seen as outdated and irrelevant.

This is why I love seeing or hearing young and hip Christians like Cameron and Marty dominating the world stage or standing up against cultural norms. To me, they are proof that Christians can be in this world, but not of the world (John 18:36)—leaders I can point others to as evidence that Christians can be hip, modern, and relevant.

As a result, it’s easy to gravitate towards these cool personalities and put them on a pedestal without realizing how easily it could also lead to disappointment whenever a leader or influencer fails us.

As former Relevant editorial director, Aaron Hanbury, told The Washington Post, “We evangelicals have been far, far too quick to [equate] apparent financial-organizational success and aspirational personalities with faith leadership.”

Given the string of failures that we’ve witnessed in the past few months, perhaps it’s time for us to re-evaluate who we’re following—and why.

 

Follow the Ultimate Human Leader

As I write this, it dawned on me that regardless of how cool a leader is, or how impeccable their character might seem, or even how influential they may have been in our spiritual journey (perhaps even leading us to faith), ultimately, we cannot look to a human role model because he or she is bound to fail us at some point.

Theologian Albert Mohler, in response to Joshua Harris’ divorce and deconversion from the faith, wrote that the news was “deeply humbling to American evangelicalism”, and the “heartbreaking headlines reminds us that we can place our trust in no sinful human being, but in Christ alone, the One who alone is worthy of our trust”.

While we’re looking to hip, cool Christians to lead the world stage, what we often don’t realize is that we already have the ultimate leader to follow—in the form of Jesus, who lived 2,000 years ago, and changed the system and the beliefs of the ancient world. He walked among humans, experienced fatigue, hunger, and was tempted just like the rest of us (Matthew 4:1-11), and eventually suffered the most agonizing death mankind could ever think of.

Because of this, Scripture says we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). Instead of desperately searching for the next big leader to look up to, we should all be focusing on following Jesus.

Of course, it isn’t always as easy as it sounds. In fact, the Apostle Paul likens the Christian walk to running a race, and exhorts believers to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1). This verse reminds me of how easy it is for me—or for any of us, whether or not we’re in a place of influence like Marty Sampson and Cameron Strang—to go off track in my own race.

It’s so much easier for us to criticize those in the spotlight, pointing out their missteps, and shaking our heads at them. But knowing how prone all of us are to falling and occasionally going off-track should cause us to reflect on our own personal lives and examine our hearts. Just because we don’t constantly live under the scrutiny of the public eye, it doesn’t make our sins or failings any less real than theirs.

And when we do so, we’re reminded to continually fix our eyes on Jesus, who is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). To “fix our eyes on Jesus” is to see him as our leader, king, and inspiration, the one who has gone before us, and is calling us to follow in His footsteps.

While it can be tempting to magnify the mistakes of these faith leaders, let’s also not forget the incredible work they have done. Cameron Strang created a media space for Christian young adults, giving us a platform to read and reflect on articles relevant to our lives. In his years serving as a worship leader, I’m sure Marty Sampson has helped countless people worship God at a deeper level. In our shortsightedness, we might write them off or disqualify them from the “race”, but I have no doubt that Jesus can redeem their stories for His glory.

If you’re like me, and finding yourself a little disillusioned and jaded by the recent news of these high-profile Christian leaders, can I encourage you to look to Jesus, who is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8)—and to entrust all our failings to Him?

Losing Jarrid Wilson: Where Do We Go From Here?

Photo taken from Jarrid’s Instagram

Written By Josiah Kennealy, USA

 

It was a few years ago that Jarrid Wilson and I were invited to the same event and we ended up staying connected afterwards. We chatted and encouraged each other, as we were both young adult pastors and had a lot in common. Every single interaction I ever had with him was life-giving.

In fact, on Monday night last week, we had just been messaging back and forth. He closed the conversation by saying, “Love you”. I tweeted shortly after about how he and a few others brighten social media and make the world around them a better place. To which he replied once more, “Love you”.

Those were sadly the last words he ever tweeted.

Finding out the news of what happened just hours or minutes after we talked brought me to a place of deep sadness, shock, bewilderment, and disbelief.

Jarrid Wilson, a husband to a beautiful wife and dad to two sons, a well-known pastor, author, and friend of many, took his own life suddenly and tragically.

This past week has been one where I haven’t had much to say, and I haven’t known what to do. As I type this, I am feeling unqualified to even write something that’s of worth, but I am going to try to shed some light and share some hope.

See, I’m a pastor too, and I’ve seen a counselor for mental and emotional health. I’ve also seen a doctor for physical health. I’ve been to a Chiropractor many times for adjustments. In fact, after the suicide of my uncle, I developed tension headaches for three long painful and hard years. I know very well that pain can be invisible from the outside and yet so very real on the inside—it’s no different with depression.
 

So Where Do We Go From Here?

Let’s be honest. We the church can’t stay here any longer. As I grapple with the tragic news of Jarrid’s death, here are some reflections I’ve had this week. We need to move from a place of:

 

Avoided to Addressed

It’s not okay that 800,000 people each year lose their life to suicide (World Health Organization). Among teens and young adults, suicide is one of the leading causes of death and that’s unacceptable.

And yet, mental health in the church is a topic that is taboo, avoided, and misunderstood. Let’s say sayonara to the stigma. Individually and collectively, we would all do well to have the willingness to have conversations vulnerably like Jarrid did.

This can look like a lot of different things, but for starters we need to recognize it’s okay to talk about it. Maybe nobody has ever given you permission to say you’re not okay, I want you to know that it is perfectly okay to say so. You might be asking a lot of questions—rightfully so. It’s also okay to admit that we don’t have all of the answers to life’s deepest questions.

We need to have more sermon series about anxiety, mental health, and depression; we must talk about it in our small groups, at youth on Wednesday nights; or simply get together for a cup of coffee and share our struggles with a friend. The Bible is filled with content we can cling to and chat about.

As we begin to normalize conversations about mental health and overall wellbeing, you will see that you are not the only one struggling and that a lot of people are facing anxiety, depression, and dark thoughts. And part of the design God has for the church is to encourage one another and help each other in hard times.

 

Isolated to Connected 

A recent Barna study showed that a majority of pastors don’t have someone to call a friend. Just last week, Barna Group also released a global youth study that shows only one-third of 18-35-year-olds (from 25 different countries) know that someone actually cares for them. That means over 66 percent of young adults don’t realize they are loved or cared for.

The enemy wants Christians to believe the lie that they are the only ones struggling and keep them in isolation. So we need to do better to tell people around us how much they mean to us. That can start with a text, a direct message, or a phone call to someone you love and care about who’s having a hard time right now. Being available to listen and being present is one of the greatest things a friend can offer. Your pastor needs your encouragement and prayers more than you realize.

Being connected to a local church and having godly friendships doesn’t cure everything, but it sure beats being alone. God created Eve for Adam because from the beginning He said it wasn’t good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18)! Jesus did life with 12 disciples for three years. The early church in Acts exploded because everyone wanted to be a part of this life-giving community that hung out together, ate together, prayed for each other’s struggles, studied Scripture, and shared generously to meet each other’s needs (Acts 2:42-47).

Let’s take a step to get connected today!

 

Broken to Hopeful 

It may not always feel like it, but the truth is that God has never left you. You’ve not been abandoned or alone. Look up to the hills and see that heaven is where your help comes from. Jesus is near to the brokenhearted. He will wipe every tear. You can cling to and trust in His promises.
I used to be broken, but God lifted my head. He turned my greatest sorrows into joy. He took away discouragement and brought new peace. I’m still on a journey and it’s still a process. I believe with all my heart this begins with abiding in Jesus like it says in John 15.

All week long, this is the passage that has brought me healing, help, and hope. Jesus taught, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:6). To me, and to all of us, this is a promise: we can do nothing apart from Jesus. Yet if we stay connected to Him, we can and will do all things.

Clinging to Jesus, clinging to loved ones, clinging to godly community, and clinging to helpful tools and resources are the necessary steps we need to help us get through each day.

And finally, I wish to say this to each of these groups:

To Jarrid – I love you, too. I deeply wish I had replied quicker and that our conversation could have lasted longer. I’m so sad that you made this decision. I’m praying for your family. We all are. We remember you by your voice for the hopeless, your friendship, your love for God, your family and everyone, and lastly, we remember your #anthemofhope. We honor you by picking up the mantle of leadership you’ve carried so well for so long. Thank you for bravely speaking up about your own struggles.

To Juli and the boys – We love you so very much. Our thoughts, our prayers, and our support are here for you and the family. We are here for you. I trust that Jesus will pick up the pieces even though life will never be the same. I pray peace, strength, and grace over you all.

To Those Who Knew Jarrid – I’ve gotten a lot of DMs, calls, and texts from mutual friends who also knew Jarrid. Relationships matter so much whether they are online connections or over a cup of coffee. As we face this great loss, may we rally closer than ever before.

To Pastors – You need hobbies, friends, breaks from technology. You preach the importance of community and now it’s time to live it. Admitting you need to see a doctor, a therapist, or a Christian counselor is not a sin and it is not a sign of weakness—it’s courageous. Jesus is described as a young man in Luke 2:52 “growing in wisdom, stature, favor with God, and favor with people.” That means Jesus grew in mental health, physical health, spiritual health, and relational health. Let us pursue health, wellness, rest, and wholeness in each of those areas.

To Everyone – We will all go through hardships, but there is help, there is healing, and there is hope. So hold on, there is such great hope. In nature and in daily life there are ups and downs, mountains and valleys, deserts and oases, there are storms and there is stillness.

 

You need to know you are not alone in any of these different circumstances. Jesus said in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Let’s all agree to help each other come to a new level of understanding when it comes to mental health. Suicide is never the answer.

My prayer is we will all be bolder to talk about mental health and that we will see people with new eyes of understanding—that no matter how good things look on the outside, there might be more that’s going on inside of them. Let those closest to us know how much we love them and how much they mean to us no matter what season they are in. Let’s showcase love, empathy, and community.

Dear Joshua and Marty: You’re Not Alone

Dear Joshua and Marty,

I read your announcements within weeks of each other and can only imagine the circumstances that led you both to write your posts. I know enough to recognize that what you’ve told the public will only be a fraction of an intense and complex story. No one walks away from everything they’ve known on a whim.

This letter comes from no place resembling a high horse. I only wanted to reach out to say that I identify with this turning point in your lives. I certainly wasn’t well-known like either of you, but did have some degree of standing in my local church. More importantly, I felt like I’d really gotten it, what it meant to have a relationship with God. But life happened, and one day I was just done believing in Him.

I was very frustrated with a lot of the Christian responses I got. Some expressed their incredulousness that “someone like you” could be in “a place like that” (I’m still not quite sure how that was meant to spur me back to the faith). Others did try to be present. But in their urgency to fix me, they tended to listen only to point out all the logical inconsistencies in what I was saying. Mind, I didn’t have to make any public announcements about leaving the faith, so I was spared the hateful reactions I’ve seen whizzing about online (I’m so very sorry you’ve had to be subjected to that).

The trouble was that these responses weren’t saying anything I hadn’t already used in an attempt to beat myself back “on track”. But being told what I should be thinking or doing just wasn’t enough to get me there. Did you feel this too? The anguish of knowing what the “right things” to think and feel are, but realizing, more and more acutely as the days go on, that you’re just not there. I felt it coming for a few years myself, without a clue about how to bridge the increasing chasm between where I was and where I should be.

“Come home!” everyone was crying. “You know where it is!” Well yes, that’d be nice. But without first trying to find out exactly where I was, how could anyone give me useful directions to get me back to the right spot?

Perhaps that was what I needed, once I was ready to deal with the pain of where I was. To have someone recognize that I was in pain, and then be patient enough to identify the terrain of that pain with me. What was I feeling and why? What was the deep cry and need in my heart that my version of the Christian life wasn’t meeting? Was there a truth that I was somehow missing, even after all these years of being a believer?

Perhaps not many of us are taught how to speak to pain. So we often panic and are at a loss for what to say when we see it. Then we grasp for the words that we do have: platitudes, solutions, truth-telling (oh, we’re so good at that).

But the language of the mind is not the language that speaks to a broken heart. It is not what makes another person’s pain feel seen.

Not that I was ready to figure this out immediately, of course. And in all likelihood, neither of you will be too. But perhaps a response that creates space for doubt is part of the language that speaks to pain.

Maybe if someone had been able to show me how to struggle well and ask wiser questions when the pieces of my faith were starting not to fit, I wouldn’t have bolted in the other direction to find comfort elsewhere. Maybe I would have stayed a little longer to figure it out.

Because maybe the “God” that we were wanting to leave wasn’t really God at all. Just someone who looked and sounded a lot like Him. I didn’t believe the wrong things about God; He had all the fundamental tenets of all the right Christian creeds. It was just that what I knew about Him was incomplete. I’d missed a critical detail, one critical beam that would keep my framework from collapsing in a storm (Matthew 7:24–27): I didn’t believe that God knew me better than I knew myself (Psalm 139:1–4) . That made it impossible to trust Him when times got really tough, because I couldn’t be certain that He knew what I really needed.

Our missing pieces are probably different, but their consequences are similar. Being one degree off at the starting point doesn’t really look like much. But if we keep walking on along that bearing for long enough, we eventually end up terribly off course. We find ourselves on an arduous path, carrying an enormous burden, without going anywhere life-giving. It is hell trying to bear the high, high cost of Christian discipleship for a “God” who isn’t really God, even if he does have the name “Jesus” slapped on him.

It was utterly freeing at first to leave the faith. Finally, I could build a life with frameworks that resonated with what I felt. For three years, it really did seem like I’d found a better place to set up home. But somewhere along the way, the same sensitivity in my gut that told me my earlier version of Christianity wasn’t working told me again that something wasn’t quite right with all the new frameworks I’d found either.

And it was painful all over again. But this time, someone was there to really listen to me. Based on what I said, she was able to help me see the piece that I missed about God. The piece that would make things fit, give me hope, and—finally—peace. I wish she could have been there the first time. But maybe I needed to come to the end of myself first, to really be able to ask for help.

Joshua and Marty, more than anything, I hope that you’ll have people who can create a safe space for you in this turning point of your life. I hope they’ll sit with you for as long as it takes to grieve what you have lost and bear witness to your pain. And I hope they’ll have words that offer both compassion and clarity, so that you’ll be able to step out of your pain and into something more life-giving one day. I’m rooting for you.

Sincerely,
Nelle