The Corner

Music

Mixed Reviews for Kanye West’s Foray into Christian Music

Kanye West performs in Times Square in 2014. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

For months, fans of Kanye West have followed a burgeoning project behind the scenes of the rapper’s life — so-called “Sunday Services.” “I had the idea of making a church before but I really was sketching it out. Then in 2019, I was like ‘I’m not letting a Sunday go by without making this,’” West said on his family’s reality TV show Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

As these performances have gradually become open to the public, they’ve been met with mixed reviews in Christian circles. While some groups are praising him for reaching unchurched young people with his music, others argue that he doesn’t understand the gospel, that his foray into the genre is simply an ugly manifestation of egotism.

Back in April, when the shows were still in their early stages, Kim Kardashian, West’s wife, said on Jimmy Kimmel Live! that “there’s no praying, there’s no sermon, no word, just music, and just a feeling — and it’s Christian.” Then West met Adam Tyson, the pastor of a small California-based Bible Church a grad student at The Master’s Seminary, and the concerts took on a more-explicitly-religious tenor. “Tyson said he has directly told Kanye that Sunday Service concerts are not church, because they do not include ordained leadership, the sacraments or often the Word preached. So Kanye invited him to preach at the last two services,” Christianity Today reported.

But the backlash is building just as West’s latest album, Jesus Is King, approaches release. At West’s latest performance, in a historically black church in Queens, some regular congregants walked out shaking their heads. One critic in the Daily Beast compared the experience to a slave-training session led by a white pastor (Tyson) worshipping select scripture provided to keep the congregants in line. Another asked whether West is exploiting religion to sell Sunday Service merchandise.

But such reviews are far from a consensus. The reality is, many pastors have preached at these “Sunday Services,” including Carl Lentz, pastor of Hillsong New York, and Rich Wilkerson, who held services at West’s wedding. The shows have attracted dozens of celebrities, including Travis Scott, Chance the Rapper, Justin Bieber, Jaden Smith, Brad Pitt, Katy Perry, and Orlando Bloom, not to mention their fans.

Rap music is sometimes associated with decadence, philandering, and violence. But over the last decade, artists such as Logic, Chance the Rapper, and West have broadened the medium and grown as artists. Now West is saying he’s no longer making secular music, and some believers close to him vouch that he truly is a born-again Christian. While his understanding of the gospel may be lacking, if West is truly seeking truth, he might find it — and so may the fans who’ve come along for the ride.

Editor’s Note: This article has been revised since its initial publication.

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