This Isn’t About Kanye

Kanye West Jesus is King

“I’m my favorite rapper.” What Kanye West lacks in subtlety, he makes up for in honesty.

Kanye’s conversion to Christianity and his release of an album which reflects that faith, titled “Jesus is King”, is big news right now.

But to look at this and only see Kanye, is to miss the bigger picture.

Christianity is Not Collapsing in America

There has been much talk recently about the decline of Christianity in the United States. However, reports of decline are overstated. I have explained why the numbers alone do not tell the whole story in these posts:

The New York Times published an article this past week about why claims about the “collapse” of Christianity in America are grossly overstated.

On his new album, Kanye is joined by Kenny G, who has also attended his Sunday Service events. Christian rapper NF was recently the best selling musician in the entire US.

Let’s put it this way: Christianity is much more widespread and influential than many would have you believe, and it is not going away any time soon.

Christianity is Thriving Amongst Minority Communities

Why are there fewer Christians were I live, near Boulder, Colorado, than there are in the American South? At least one reason is probably because of the relative homogeny of the  population in this area, compared with the number of people of color in the South.

The type of person most likely to be an atheist in America – and in the entire world – are white males. According to Pew Research Group, 78% of atheists in America are white, and 68% are men, even though white males only make up just over 30% of the US population.

According to one study, for example, at historically black universities 85.2% of students identified as Christian, and 11.2% identified as atheist, agnostic, or none. This is contrasted with a national average in all universities of 60.2% of students identifying as Christian, and 30.9% identifying as atheist, agnostic, or none.

As the major Western countries, including the United States, continue to become more ethnically diverse, it is predicted that we will see the number of atheists and agnostics decline, not increase – due to the fact that atheism and agnosticism are overrepresented by white males. For more on this topic, read: Projections for Belief & Secularization Around the World

If you look at Kanye’s Sunday Services, you will notice many people of color. Christianity is not, nor ever has been, a white, Western religion. African American communities have a rich heritage of Christianity, including Christian music, and it should come as no surprise to see African American people making music with gospel themes; it’s nothing new.

Speaking of the gospel and gospel music, I loved this episode of Carpool Karaoke with James Corden and Kanye West – both what Kanye said, and the music the choir sang:

Of course one of the big topics of discussion has been whether Kanye’s conversion is for real. I really appreciated Greg Laurie’s comments on this:

Furthermore, Kellen Criswell wrote a great article for Calvarychapel.com: Eight Things I Would Say to Kanye If I Could

For what it’s worth, here is my favorite song from “Jesus is King”:

To echo Greg Laurie’s words: I am glad for any person who makes a movement toward God, and I think it’s great that he is using his platform to get people talking about Jesus.

This isn’t about Kanye, but I’m glad Kanye is making it about Jesus.

 

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Christian Artists vs. Christians who are Artists

This past Thursday night Lecrae performed a sold out show at the Paramount Theater in downtown Denver along with Trip Lee and Andy Mineo. A lot of my friends went to the show, and I wanted to go, but wasn’t able to make it.

All three of these guys are straightforward about their Christian faith (Trip Lee is a Reformed Baptist pastor), and their music reflects their faith, but at the same time they have wanted to avoid being labeled as “Christian artists”.

Lecrae and Andy Mineo have both won Dove awards, but yet Lecrae especially has been very successful at crossing over into the mainstream market. Lecrae recently performed on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and, most notably, IMO, reached #1 on the Billboard charts with his album Anomaly.

A friend of mine gave me the Anomaly album, and I have to say that I loved it. I’ve never considered myself a fan of hip hop, but what I love about the album is how thoughtful and intelligent it is. Lecrae’s lyrics aren’t shallow and predictable. The topics he covers are deep and sometimes difficult – like in my favorite song off the album: Good, Bad, Ugly.

Today I ran across this video of Trip Lee on the BET website talking about how he doesn’t want to be known as a Christian artist, but as an artist who is a Christian.

Why don’t these guys want to be known as “Christian artists”?   There are several reasons.

One big reason is because they want their music to be heard outside of Christian circles. How can you influence – which is unquestionably one of their objectives – if your only audience is people who already think like you do?

Another reason is because Christian art simply has a terrible reputation for being subpar copycat art, with a capital SUBPAR. If this were not the case, then why do the Dove awards even exist in the first place? Is it not because Christian music is rarely good enough to win Grammys? Sure, the case might be made that “Christian artists” get written off by the pop music community – but Lecrae has done it and so have other Christian artists who are making legitimately good art.

I think it is a much more thoughtful, mission-aware approach to be an “artist who is a Christian”, whether you’re a painter or a rapper or a photographer or a baker.

There are many things about the modern evangelical subculture which are much more cultural than they are “evangelical” in the true sense of the word – and I believe that if Christians are going to be heard by people outside of our own camp, we must distance ourselves from those things.
For example, a friend of mine (who happens to be a pastor) recently recounted a trip to a local Christian bookstore:

My trip to the Christian bookstore on Friday was downright surreal. 10 different Duck Dynasty books, assorted “Christian” candies, a $50 faux pumpkin, a prescription bottle with Bible verses inside and a “legalize prayer” t-shirt…Legalize prayer? Is that a shirt for North Koreans? Wow.
I have to admit I couldn’t bring myself to purchase the embellished Thomas Kincade Painting for $7500:)

These kinds of things, IMO, lend themselves towards an inwardly focused subculture that approaches faith like a hobby rather than a mission from God to save the world. With this in mind, I appreciate the attitudes of those who want to be known as artists who are Christians rather than Christian artists.