Kanye West’s move from saying “Jesus walks” to confessing “Jesus is King” has divided Christians.
Some are overjoyed that such a prominent figure has made public turn to faith. Others are more hesitant, taking the “let’s see if this sticks” approach. Kanye himself expected the latter, singing on his new album, “What have you been hearin’ from the Christians? They’ll be the first one to judge me. Make it feel like nobody love me.”
While some believers want to wait and see whether his faith is genuine, we don’t find much evidence for this strategy in the Scriptures.
The early church in Acts had its share of surprising transformations and celebrity conversions, which stirred a range of reactions. But ultimately, the text points to acceptance over distrust. It also emphasizes the importance of perseverance for these unexpected converts.
These accounts suggest that with Kanye, there is room for the church to rejoice without suspicion, while also pleading for endurance and mentorship in the faith.
Paul’s Sudden Transformation
Paul represents the first surprising conversion in Acts. He was killer of Christians, but then Jesus appeared to him. Understandably, Paul’s conversion is met with some hesitation and fear. Some readers today may take this response as a case for wariness when someone does an about-face. Ananias questions whether he should go to Paul when the Lord comes to him (Acts 9:13-16). The crowd in Damascus is amazed, wondering what has happened (9:21). In Jerusalem, the disciples were afraid and did not believe he was a disciple (9:26).
Each reaction is different based on context. But it helps to consider their concerns in light of the pattern we see throughout Scripture: Continually, God’s people are slow to God’s plan. They need help to catch up to his agenda. They need convincing when God’s plan is out sprinting ahead of them.
In contrast to the skeptics, Barnabas testifies to those in Jerusalem on Paul’s behalf, and they listen to him (9:27). He is gracious and patient with their concerns and explains the change he has seen. (Maybe the “accepters” need to hear this as well and be gracious to “skeptics.”) The crowd moves from doubt to acceptance based on Barnabas’s testimony.
This does not mean texts like the Parable of the Sower are out of the discussion. There is a place for watching for fruit and perseverance. However, waiting is put into the context of grace and hope, not concern and judgment.
Cornelius’s Surprising Transformation
A next surprising conversion comes from Cornelius and his household in Acts 10–11. Once again, we sense a hesitation as the Jerusalem council gathers to debate Cornelius and his household among the earliest accounts of Gentile convers ions (Acts 10-11,15).
However, their story is not example of “let’s see if it sticks.” In fact, Peter and the rest are quite quick to accept that a Gentile centurion, the last person they would expect, has come to the faith. They recognize right away that “the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God” (Acts 10:45-46).
The Spirit has overcome their prejudices. The evidence is clear. The question in the Council is not if Gentiles are saved, but how and in what way they can enter the people of God. The council accepts the fruit of the Spirit.
The council concludes Gentiles don’t have to “act like Jews” to enter. This is an interesting example because the Spirit’s arrival and the evident fruit makes the conversion of Cornelius’s house widely accepted. They see fruit and move forward accordingly. This does not mean they move forward uncritically, but they move forward with open arms.
Simon the Sorcerer, a New Testament Celebrity Convert
There is also a “celebrity conversion” in Acts: Simon the Sorcerer (8:4-25). This passage is notoriously difficult, and interpreters are divided about whether Simon’s faith is genuine to begin with. He “believed and was baptized” (8:13) and followed Phillip, but Peter refused to pray that Simon would receive the Holy Spirit, citing the condition of his heart.
Some are suspicious noting his discipleship to Philip is abnormal, and his fascination with signs and miracles will be his downfall. However, I think it is better to see Luke presenting this initially as a genuine conversion, though time will reveal the truth.
As Acts commentator Eckhard J. Schnabel writes, “There is no hint that Philip baptized Simon prematurely.” Simon follows Philip, like the disciples follow Jesus, and he is amazed at the signs of Philip like the Samaritans (8:6–7). It’s easy to doubt Simon’s conversion as genuine when we as readers already know the end of the story. But Luke makes a point present Simon’s conversion in a positive light before he reveals its spuriousness. This trains his readers to realize not everything is at it seems in kingdom ministry – like with Simon's miracles. Some people might be attracted initially for the wrong reasons.
We learn that Simon ultimately thinks the apostles are magicians like him, and he can purchase and mechanically control the Spirit (8:18-25). Peter responds by pronouncing Old Testament curses upon him, but also calling him to repentance. In verse 24, Simon asks for Peter to pray for him, but again interpreters are divided on whether his request is genuine.
Though I lean toward a more pessimistic view of Simon’s future, Luke is formally silent about the outcome of Simon. This omission does two things. It instructs readers to search for the main point of this text elsewhere. The word of God powerfully spreads to Samaria under the preaching of Philip and through the hands of Peter and John—so much that even Simon, a celebrity sorcerer, recognizes the power that comes through them. In addition, leaving Simon's future open, Luke urges his readers to consider his back and forth—acceptance, fall, repentance?—and see that the work of God is not always clear initially.
In Acts, we see Simon can be accepted, but he must persevere. Peter’s rebuke exists under the umbrella of grace; it is a covenantal curse. A celebrity conversion in that sense is not different from any conversion. Luke doesn’t encourage an initial suspicion over the magician’s new faith, nor should we expect celebrity converts to inevitably fall. Rather, Simon’s conversion is presented as genuine and he goes on to receive baptism—but time (and his money) reveals his heart.
Praying for Perseverance and a Barnabas
We see that conversions in Acts should be viewed initially with joy, acceptance, and baptism. However, Paul will also go around to the churches he planted and “encourage them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts” (Acts 11:23), to “continue in the grace of God” (13:43), to “remain true to the faith” (14:22). Paul urges his congregation in Philippi to “hold firmly to the word of life” because then he will be able to boast on the day of the Lord knowing that he “did not run or labor in vain” (Phil 2:16). Paul sends Timothy back to Thessalonica to find out about their faith fearing he had labored in vain (1 Thess. 3:1-5).
Encouraging perseverance is not the same as suspecting disbelief and doubt. Paul writes to these congregations as saints. He tells them they are loved by God. He encourages them by saying he remembers their faith, love, and hope. He says they have a great inheritance waiting for them: We need to hold fast to Christ, but ultimately he is the one who holds fast to us.
As Christians, we should also remember that discipleship and growth takes time (see 1 Corinthians!). No convert can be expected to be shot into maturity immediately. Even when those who come to faith happen to be famous, not every Christian needs to be a leader, public spokesperson, or the next Constantine.
So what do the Scriptures teach us about how we are to respond to Kanye’s turn to Christ? They encourage rejoicing, acceptance, and support. They also call us to pray for his perseverance and for a mentor. To recognize that all of us can labor in vain. We shouldn’t rain on anyone’s Christ parade. We should fall to our knees asking the Lord of the Harvest to continue the work he has begun.
We have reports of gospel musicians and pastors themselves who vouch for Kanye’s faith. My prayer is that Kanye would continue to be mentored, that a Barnabas would come into his life, that he would grow into an oak of righteousness.
God, show him the way for the devil’s trying to break him down. Jesus walks. Even better, Jesus is King.
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