By this time, much has been said about Kanye West.
From his dramatic profession of faith, to the subsequent release of a worship album, to his public concerts and statements. People have waxed eloquent on his motives, his faith journey, his career, his new Christianized merchandising, and of course, his album. It seems that everyone has an opinion of him, from the secular media to the Christian right to the people on my worship teams.
In spite of this, I’ve been reluctant to speak, either publicly or one-on-one about Kanye, and I’ve tried to wait until most of the hype blew over before even mentioning him. And I think that’s appropriate. After all, when all is said and done, the true mark of his impact will be measured not in sales or social media hits, but in how he loved God and how he loved people. So this blog post is not so much about Kanye, as that he is an excuse to talk about some larger issues that apply to all artists of faith.
Certainly, the whole situation raises questions worth discussing. What spiritual expectations should we have of Christian songwriters, performers, actors, artists? Should we hold them to a particular standard of conduct or morality? Should we judge their art in accordance with their walk? Should we only patronize those artists for whom we personally approve? And how should we, as artists ourselves, conduct ourselves publicly? What do we make of all this?
Here are a number of trains of thought that have gone through my brain regarding these larger, substantive issues.
Talent doesn’t translate to spiritual maturity. We’ve all heard stories of amazingly talented Christian artists who have fallen to sin. I’ve seen a few first hand myself. Sexual indiscretion, divorce, substance abuse, abuses of power, financial impropriety, gluttony and avarice and greed. Sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.
And then there is the basic lack of Godly character that should be displayed by us all—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control. Too many times, I’ve seen and heard about artists of faith who are publicly nice and friendly, but are privately narcissistic and petty, divas and jerks.
In my opinion, the issue is this: It’s very hard to train the soul for worldly success. Fame, status, power, and wealth all create a quite different—and extremely distorted—set of lens from which to see. After a while, you begin to expect the preferential treatment and believe the hype. People like Kanye, who only see the world from this lens, need to take the time to relearn how to see the world according to God’s upside down economy—where the first shall be last, the meek inherit the earth, and the poor in spirit are blessed.
Consider how long it took the Apostle Paul from his dramatic conversion to his first public testimony of the Gospel. We understand that Paul needed that time to be with His Savior and relearn and reframe all the wrong ideas and values he had deeply held about God. I wish that all artists of faith would take that time to mature in faith and ground themselves in true humility and relationship before launching into any public ministry.
There seems to be a general lack of accountability to artists of faith. And that applies from the person going on world tours to the person leading in the small country church. It may surprise you to know that, as a book author, no one in the Christian publishing industry ever asked me about my faith, questioned my motives or my maturity, or even asked whether I was a Christian. No one asked me about my background, if I had a code of conduct, or if I had accountability in place. And that pretty much goes for every church and ministry and conference and concert I’ve ever performed or spoken at. I think it is because it is assumed that someone who performs or speaks or writes publicly has all that in place.
I strongly encourage all of you, as artists of faith, to foster strong and deeply-engaging relationships where you can be held accountable in a loving and grace-filled way. Whether you are going on a world tour or sitting in a small country church, your soul matters greatly.
Art can stand separate from the artist. And it should. I’ve blogged about this before (please read “The Artist As Servant” for more on this) and mentioned it at length in Imagine That. I strongly contend that art—if it is to have any consequence—must have meaning apart from the artist. For the song you compose, the sonnet you write, the painting you’ve coaxed from the canvas, will have a relationship with your audience quite apart from you. And it should. That is the nature of how art works.
Many people will prejudge a person’s art simply based on whether they like that person or not. And I understand that at some level. You don’t want to patronize a person that you don’t believe in. But please understand that every piece of sacred art ever conceived—from the stained glass in the sanctuary to the Veggie Tales episode playing in the nursery, from the songs you hear on KLOVE to the Hallelujah chorus—was created by a imperfectly-sinful, uniquely-flawed human being. And God chose to use it anyway.
Many people, especially worship leaders, have been sharing their opinions about the songs on Kanye’s album. They love it or they hate it for many reasons. My encouragement to you is not to judge the art according to the artist, but on the merits of that art itself. Is it good art? In other words, does it have excellence and quality and uniqueness? Does it reflect a true Kingdom worldview in a way that is winsome and engaging? And finally, does it move you? These may be the more relevant questions to ask, if we are to experience any art.
Which brings us to the last issue in mind.
What do we make of all this? Over time, there have been a number of celebrities who have made splashy professions of faith. Some have stuck and some have fallen away (see Matthew 13). So let’s give Kanye and all the others the benefit of the doubt, and not be so quick to critique. If a person has truly entered into a life-changing relationship with the God of the universe, then he is in pretty good hands. Our first response to celebrity professions of faith should be to pray for them, and hope that God is deeply in the midst of it. But also don’t necessarily put any faith in them either.
Here’s the thing. As artists of faith, we should know that the ultimate art is the art that God is making out of us. We are God’s workmanship, and He is quietly and intentionally in the process of molding us into the best version of ourselves. We have a part to play in this artwork, of course. We need to learn to surrender, more and more, in every aspect of our lives, to our Master.
I hope that celebrities like Kanye understand that—in the deepest part of their souls.