Kanye West says he’s a born again Christian. He says he’s going to be spreading the gospel. His Sunday Service concerts feature gospel music, reading the Bible, and a sermon from Adam Tyson—a non-celebrity pastor of a normal church in California and a Master’s Seminary alum.
Kanye and Tyson got connected by someone simply inviting Kanye to their church. He came. He listened. They setup a meeting. Kanye shared his testimony, Tyson unpacked different aspects of Christianity to him, and Kanye said he believes and he’s ready to live it out.
Everyone has thoughts about celebrity conversions. Kanye’s profession of faith in Christ is no different in that regard. What I find so encouraging about Kanye’s pursuit of Christ is that he’s being discipled by Tyson, they are having Bible studies, and Tyson says he has seen fruits of repentance and encouraging signs from Kanye.
Augustine would be excited too.
While reading Augustine’s Confessions, it struck me that Augustine would be encouraged to hear of Kanye’s conversion. Augustine would praise God for the news of a celebrity trusting Christ alone.
In Book 8 of Confessions (8.3–9), Augustine tells the conversion story of Victorinus, a “celebrity” teacher. Victorinus was highly regarded in Roman culture. He tutored Senators and other Roman nobility. He used to worship the idols and took part in the cult of Osiris—he was even a defender of them. (Listen to Kanye describe the idols of our culture he used to worship.)
One day, Victorinus told a friend, another Christian, that he believed in Christ. His friend didn’t believe him. “I haven’t seen you at church.” Victorinus said that going to church doesn’t make you a Christian. True enough. But Victorinus wasn’t joining the fellowship of believers because he didn’t want to offend his idol-worshipping friends. But then, days later, Victorinus told his friend, “Let’s go to church. I’m ready to be a Christian (to believe it rightly, to live it faithfully).” He went. Professed his faith publicly and got baptized. Victorinus was taught how to live the Christian life and began to live it out. Their friend was “unable to contain himself for joy.” Rome was amazed at what happened. The church responded in joy.
As Victorinus walked up to profess his faith in front of the church, they began to whisper to one another, “Isn’t that Victorinus? Look! It is!” Isn’t that what we did when the headlines filled our social media feeds? “Kanye! Isn’t that Kanye!? It is!”
Augustine writes, “The lips of all rejoiced, ‘Victorinus! Victorinus!’ As soon as they saw him, they suddenly murmured in exaltation and equally suddenly were silent in concentration to hear him. He proclaimed his unfeigned faith with ringing assurance. All of them wanted to clasp him to their hearts, and the hands with which they embraced him were their love and joy” (8.5).
Hasn’t Kanye done the same? Standing before crowds, announcing his faith? Streaming before millions that he is a new follower of Jesus?
Augustine explains why we rejoice differently at the conversion of a celebrity. Heaven and the Church don’t rejoice more over a celebrity than we do a college student getting born again. All are equal in the eyes of God. But there is a different kind of rejoicing. Augustine says:
“The enemy suffers a severer defeat when he is overcome in a man upon whom he has a greater hold and by whose influence he dominates many. Pride in aristocratic nobility enables him to hold sway especially over the upper class, and by their title and authority he dominates many more.”
Satan is hit with a whopper uppercut when someone from the upper class, a celebrity, is converted. Kanye’s influence, like Victorinus’, gives a wide platform to the power of the gospel and that makes us smile deep in our souls.
“Special pleasure, therefore, was felt at the conversion of Victorinus’ heart in which the devil had an impregnable fortress, and of Victorinus’ tongue which he had used as a mighty and sharp dart to destroy many.”
We rejoice at the conversion of a Kanye or any celebrity because it is a particular manifestation of God’s mercy. Hollywood seems impregnable to the gospel. These conversions remind us that it isn’t. Kanye’s old music, like all of our lives before Christ, had themes the devil enjoyed. His new music, like our new lives, will make the devil shriek. That’s why we rejoice:
“Your children had good reason to rejoice the more jubilantly because our king had bound the strong man (Matt. 12:29), and they saw his vessels being snatched away to be cleaned and made fit for your honor to ‘useful to the Lord for every good work’ (2 Tim. 2:21)” (8.9).
If you wonder what to think about Kanye’s conversion, or the next time a celebrity, professes faith in Christ, look to Augustine. Don’t roll your eyes. Don’t get cynical. Get biblical. Rejoice. Be patient. Praise God. Celebrate fruit. Pray for your family members. May Kanye, you, and me, may we all be useful to the Lord, ready for good works.