Last month I heard that Kanye West had become a Christian. Yes, that Kanye — the outspoken rapper and record producer married to television celebrity Kim Kardashian. According to a Christianity Today article, it all began when West unexpectedly visited the small California Bible church pastored by Adam Tyson. Since then, Tyson has flown to Cody, Wyoming, to lead a Bible study with West and his employees, and has preached at multiple tour stops for the artist. And Tyson is here for it.
“I want to be faithful to a new brother in the faith, Kanye,” Tyson said. “I want to help him be connected to the Word of God. I told him, ‘As long as you’re exalting Christ, I’m 100% behind you.’”
While I admire Tyson’s fervor, I have to admit that when I first heard the news, I was skeptical. Could such a controversial public figure as Kanye West truly do a 180 and follow Jesus? Could this do more harm than good to the cause of Christ?
Through the years, I’ve watched actors, singers and athletes claim to have a conversion experience But in many of these cases, their newfound faith didn’t seem to stick. Like the seed that fell on the rocky ground in Matthew 13:20-21, they appeared to receive the faith with joy until it became too challenging — then they fell away.
But as puzzling as the celebrity journey to faith can be, the average Christian’s reaction to celebrity conversion is also puzzling. We are either skeptical, thinking a person living in such a worldly context could not possibly take up his cross and follow Jesus — or we embrace the person as a new spokesperson for the faith and expect him to live a perfect Christian life. Neither of these responses is particularly healthy or biblical.
Responding to celebrity professions of faith
Part of the difficulty in knowing how to respond is that the Bible doesn’t really talk about celebrity conversions. We do know that it is difficult for a rich person to come to God and that the Bible speaks out against favoritism in the church. But beyond that, we’re not told how to respond when a high-profile person claims faith in Christ. That said, I do think we can rely on a few principles in forming a biblical response.
Remember no one is beyond Christ’s reach.
I have recently been studying the book of 1 Timothy. In it, the Apostle Paul says, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15). Paul did some terrible things before he came to Christ, including persecuting Christians. He was an unlikely convert. And yet God used him mightily to spread the gospel and help establish the early church. We should never believe that a person cannot be saved because of his or her background or lifestyle.
Don’t show favoritism.
Maybe, like me, you’ve noticed favoritism in the body of believers. This Christian influencer has a blue checkmark on Instagram, therefore he must have more to offer than Average Joe Christian who is faithfully serving at his church each week. The Bible outright condemns believers showing favoritism. Here’s the famous passage in James:
“Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:2-4)
As Christians we are called to value all people equally, rich or poor, famous or obscure. This principle applies when it comes to welcoming high profile people into our ranks. Fawning over those who are impressive is unproductive and will not produce the fruit of true humility and servanthood in our lives.
Pray for them.
After my precursory dismissal of the news about Kanye’s conversion (even the Babylon Bee had a little fun), I was challenged by a Christian friend who posted the CT article with these words: “Let’s pray hard for the salvation of all who hear the gospel!”
People have met Jesus through the events West and Tyson are participating in. Instead of acting as a holier-than-thou member of the peanut gallery, I should be praying for the salvation of sinners! 1 Timothy 2:1-2 says, “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”
Celebrities are in high positions. They influence millions of people. They need our prayers, especially as they seek to honor Christ.
Something to be excited about
When a celebrity professes faith in Jesus, we don’t need to respond with either adulation or cynicism. We can trust that God knows the person’s heart and has a plan. The genuineness of the person’s faith will be revealed over time, and we can rejoice in the meantime. That’s certainly Pastor Tyson’s perspective.
“It is a story to be excited about. This is an opportunity to reach pop culture and America for Christ,” Tyson said. “I’m fired up.”
Being fired up about people hearing the gospel is a good thing. I hope and pray that Kanye West has made Jesus his Lord, and that many will come to faith because of it.
Copyright 2019 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.