But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.
—Philippians 1:12-18, New King James Version
Some of us remember when Bob Dylan found Christ. Dylan was at least as big as Kanye West has been in popular culture, with a laundry list of major and minor talents covering Dylan’s music. Bob Dylan’s turn to Christianity happened at the end of the 1970s, and caused a level of upset in his fan base that recalled the earlier outcries of his folk audience when Dylan went electric.
I saw Dylan live in concert on his Slow Train Coming tour. He played the whole album, yes album, as in LP. Between songs, there were hecklers yelling for “Lay Lady Lay.” His turn to religion was as upsetting as his turn to rock from folk.
Yet Dylan persisted, recording two more albums in short order: Saved in 1980 and Shot of Love in 1981. It was not as if this was a grasp for relevance after the 1970s. To the contrary, he had recorded steadily and would continue turning out original material after this phase. And it was Dylan’s Christian phase:
Ian Bell, in his excellent biography The Lives of Bob Dylan, recounts that though there had been some religious and biblical imagery in Dylan’s lyrics of the Sixties and early and mid-Seventies, it was in 1978 that the artist found God. And it happened in a Tucson hotel room. Certainly Dylan has gone on record saying that late in 1978 he sensed “a presence in the room that couldn’t have been anybody but Jesus”, and even felt a hand placed upon him. “Jesus put his hand on me,” he went on, “It was a physical thing. I felt it. I felt it all over me. I felt my whole body tremble. The glory of the Lord knocked me down and picked me up.”
It was pure secular supremacist hate pouring forth from the critics’ pens. And I heard some of the hate in the concert hall from his old fans. Yet, he apparently received no real training, mentorship, or in Christian terms, “discipleship.” So it was not surprising for him to swing away from Christianity and into Judaism, approaching Orthodox for a time.
It is this history that causes me to be quite cautious about and concerned for Kanye West. Saint Paul, writing to the church in Philippi, Greece from a prison in Rome, proclaimed that as long as it is actually Christ being preached, he, Paul would rejoice. Even if it be a would-be rival leader, seeking personal gain and credit, or even to hurt Paul’s status, Paul instructs Christians to rejoice in the message.
So, Christian leaders ought not lead by saying this new believer, Kanye West, should sit silently and learn (under their approved teaching). Rather, all Christians should test his words and pray for his spiritual growth and protection in the faith. Whether in or out of the Christian faith, all people of goodwill should look for this popular culture icon and trendsetter not to crash and burn personally, and not to end up isolated in a cult of his own making.
Whatever Kanye’s path, we might think again about the Dylan example, and realize there was more there than one man’s journey, more than “a simple twist of faith“:
In 1965, he’s take a sledgehammer to his entire folk-protest persona by debuting his new, fully electrified rock ‘n’ roll style to the audience at the Newport Folk Festival, a moment that many music historians hail as a turning point in the evolution of rock.
Even though talk of Dylan’s conversion was raising eyebrows prior to the release of his album, many were still shocked when at his 14-night “Slow Train Coming” tour debut at the San Francisco Warfield he played exactly zero songs from his universally loved back catalog. Instead, he offered an entirely new set list of music detailing his religious conversion. To say there were some angry reactions by longtime fans is an understatement.
…If there was money to be made in Christian music, it wasn’t yet a known quantity. If anything, it probably seemed like career suicide at the time.
In fact, “Slow Train Coming” was the record that brought into the light the financial potential for overt Christian music. The record went platinum, earned him a Grammy and a Dove award (the Christian Grammy equivalent) and the respect and adoration of a market of born-again Christians.
According to the “Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music,” the album was a turning point in the Christian community. “The growth of Christian music in the future would not come from acceptance by the secular, or non-gospel music world, but from better marketing within its own rank.”
If you believe there is a Sovereign above human designs and flaws, then you may look for Kanye’s present turn in word, song, and deed to be made useful in some way. Pray it be for the good to Kanye West, his family, and this world as well as the greater world we see only dimly.
* Wil and Meeke Addison had a biblically informed and balanced look at Kanye West’s new album and recent interviews on their Friday podcast.
* Has Kanye Lost His Jesus Complex and Found Christ? An article from this past summer.
* Kanye West takes James Corden on a spiritual flight for ‘Airpool Karaoke’ — coinciding with the album debut.Published in