The Contentious Conversion of Kanye West

A wide range of reactions to Kanye West’s new profession of faith in Jesus Christ have been displayed on social media over the past few weeks. To some, this is the beginning of a cultural revival that will launch us into the millennium (#DatPostmil). To others, it couldn’t be clearer that Ye is a false convert.

The one side accuses the other of stone-hearted cynicism, and likewise the other of naive optimism or even easy-believism. The conversion of Kanye has been quite contentious. It thankfully so happens that there are many perspectives in between the extremes, so as I address one dimension of these reactions, keep in mind the old adage: “If the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t wear it.”

Shoes and Seers

Let me present just one of the “hot takes” I’ve seen: “I’m not going to call him a brother just yet. I’m waiting to see the fruit. We can’t know if he’s truly converted or not until he’s been tested.”

This statement is important because it touches on a crucial aspect of theology and practice: ecclesiology—the study of the church. What is the church? How does it function? How do we become a part of it? These questions are foundational in determining how we interact with God’s household of faith and who we should receive as a brother. Beyond this, it also demonstrates a deep divide in thought regarding how one can have assurance of their own salvation. More on that at a later date.

Putting Positions in Perspective

There are basically two major perspectives in Christianity regarding the nature of the composition of the church: regenerate-only church membership and visible administration. This is flattening the plane a bit as these formulations are distinctly Baptist and Presbyterian in nature, but when you get to the substance of what these views mean, all major Christian denominations will find that they can agree with one or the other for the sake of argument. 

The first position could be stated this way: “The church is comprised only of born-again believers in Jesus. There are no unbelievers in the church. Church membership is predicated upon a credible profession of faith—meaning that we believe you are truly converted. In this view, there is no such thing as a member of the New Covenant who does not have the substance of the covenant: regeneration and justification.” Largely argued from Jeremiah 31 and certain texts in Hebrews.

The second, like so: “The church is comprised of all those whom God has sanctified to be a part of His covenant community. This includes everyone who professes faith in Jesus Christ through baptism— and their children, if you’re Presbyterian, Anglican, et cetera. The visible administration of the church includes saved and unsaved persons.” Argued from texts like John 15, Matthew 13, and 1 Corinthians 7.

Why it Matters for Kanye

Well, when your view of the church is such that it must consist only of born-again, saved individuals, and that to administer baptism to an unregenerate person is sinful, then it’s somewhat reasonable for you to be hyper-critical of a new believer’s testimony. But I am not persuaded that this is the correct approach.

I am inclined to believe as the Westminster Larger Catechism so eloquently puts it:

“Baptism is a sacrament… whereby the parties baptized are solemnly admitted into the visible church, and enter into an open and professed engagement to be wholly and only the Lord’s.”

WLC 165

In other words, those who are baptized are admitted into the congregation and are expected and encouraged to grow to maturity in the faith under the care and admonition of their own local church.

I don’t know whether Kanye has been baptized (he probably has, or will be soon). However, he does profess Jesus as Lord. As such, I believe he is a part of the visible church and is obligated to be wholly and only the Lord’s. Therefore, I call him brother.

It is not our job to figure out the invisible condition of his heart before we receive him into fellowship. Scripture never asks this of us, especially for a professing believer outside your local assembly whom you’ve never even met. 

If Ye Should Fall Away

You may envision weeks, months, years down the road and foresee Kanye or some other new professing believer falling away. And if that’s the case, we should probably have a different conversation about how fortune telling is not a spiritual gift and God is not giving new special revelations; I digress. 

But you may say, “What are you gonna do when so-and-so falls away and all of this could have been prevented by scrutinizing them a little harder?”

Well, first of all, I’m going to say that there is no amount of scrutinizing a new convert, or an old convert, from the outside that will give you epistemic certainty that they are born again.

Second, I’m going to reach out to them and seek to bring them back into fellowship and to see them truly converted.

Third, I’m going to pray for them—that God should grant them repentance. 

What else is there to do? Nothing, without going beyond Scripture. You may think this cheapens the church somehow. I don’t think that, obviously, but what I will point out is that my view actually has a higher view of apostasy than the alternative. If Kanye, or anyone else, apostatizes and sins unto death, then they are judged as covenant breakers, as those who have “trampled the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified.” But until that point, I am compelled to make a judgment of charity.

My hope is that we can all be sincerely “convinced of better things” for all those who newly profess to know and love the Lord Jesus Christ as we watch them grow.

——

Follow me on Twitter @EthanSowders

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