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Culture | Critics and Christians scratch their heads over Kanye West’s gospel album
by Loren Skinker
Posted 11/01/19, 04:27 pm

Whether it’s the work of a repentant convert or an insidious con artist, Kanye West’s gospel album Jesus Is King has vaulted to the apex of pop culture in its first week of release. Secular and religious critics have denounced West as a heretic who is commodifying the gospel for the spotlight and personal benefit. Tyler Burn, vice president of The Witness, a self-described black Christian collective, accused West in a Washington Post op-ed of repressing black rights by combining “a theology rooted in contemporary white evangelicalism with black gospel music.”

But the negative reviews have done little to stop the avalanche of West’s success with the album. Jesus Is King is on pace to earn the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 Chart in its debut week. On Oct. 25, the first day of its release, nine of the album’s 11 songs appeared on Spotify’s U.S. top 10 list.

How did this happen?

New York Times music critic Jon Caramanica called the album the culmination of a “gentle evolution.” Los Angeles Times music writer Gerrick D. Kennedy concurred, saying, “West has never been far from the teachings of Christ.”

The rapper has historically drizzled Christian themes throughout his music, including his single “Jesus Walks” from his 2004 debut album The College Dropout and his soulful anthem “Ultralight Beam” in 2016. His signature style of incorporating high-level, philosophical ideas in his songs has set him apart throughout his career.

But Jesus Is King is more than an extension of his old spiritual undertones. The majority of the album overflows with Biblical truths of redemption and faithfulness. It also includes Scripture references.

Google Trends reported a 700 percent increase in searches for Bible verses that West mentions in the album’s second song, “Selah,” including John 8:33.

“God’s always had a plan for me,” West told James Corden during a taped segment on CBS’s The Late Late Show on Monday. West continued to excitedly announce his devotion to God: “Now I’m about to work for God, and He is showing out!”

God’s plan has taken West on a roller coaster of a spiritual ride—from his declaring “I Am a God,” the title of a track on his 2013 album Yeezus, to confessing “Jesus is Lord” on his new album.

West’s transformation extends well beyond the microphone. Last weekend, he expressed his disdain for abortion during a radio interview with Los Angeles DJ Big Boy. He also recently opened up about how God helped him overcome a long-lasting addiction to pornography.

“With God, I’ve been able to beat things that had a full control of me,” West told Zane Lowe on Apple Music’s Beats 1.

Egotism still seems to hold sway over West, who hailed himself “the greatest artist alive.” But nobody is perfect—not the least a new celebrity convert.

Christians have reasonable grounds to be skeptical of West’s crusade. A similar stunt occurred in 2004 when R. Kelly released a pseudo-gospel album. Today the R&B artist faces sex-crime charges.

In the face of tentative acceptance from religious listeners, West beseeches Christians to lay hands on him in prayerful support in the single “Hands On.” It isn’t asking too much of the church. After all, as Munster Bible College professor Dustin Benge pointed out, there is something far more astonishing than West’s conversion.

“I am more surprised God saved me than I am that He saved Kanye West,” Benge tweeted, riffing on the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 1:15. “I am the worst sinner I know.”

Associated Press/Photo by Michel Euler (file) Associated Press/Photo by Michel Euler (file) The 13th-century painting by Italian master Cimabue in Paris

Surprise treasure

An old icon that hung in a French family’s kitchen for decades turned out to be the work of a pre-Renaissance Italian master. On Sunday, the painting of a scene from Good Friday sold at auction for $26.8 million.

An auctioneer discovered the work by the painter Cimabue this past summer while cleaning out the home of a nonagenarian in the northern French town of Compiègne. The 8-by-10-inch painting on a plank of poplar had been in the family so long that no one knew where it came from. They assumed it was an old icon from Russia, a representative from Acteon auction house in Senlis, France, told The Guardian.

Cimabue, a 12th-century painter, helped usher in the Italian Renaissance by incorporating movement and perspective in his work. The newly discovered painting, Christ Mocked, belongs to a set of panels depicting Jesus’ torment and crucifixion. Imperfections in the wood match perfectly two other panels from the set that are on display at the Frick Collection in New York and the National Gallery in London.

The family that owned the painting has insisted on remaining anonymous. According to Acteon, the woman who owned it will receive most of the money from the sale. —Lynde Langdon

Facebook/Johnnyswim Facebook/Johnnyswim Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano (foreground) of Johnnyswim with Joanna and Chip Gaines

But will there be shiplap?

Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia cable channel is coming in October 2020 with a reality show featuring the band Johnnyswim. The group features husband-wife duo Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano, whose music is not explicitly Christian but often conveys themes from the couple’s faith background. The show will follow them, their two young children, and crew members as they tour the country making music. The Magnolia channel will replace DIY, owned by Discovery Inc. The same company owns HGTV, which aired the Gaines’ hit show Fixer Upper for five seasons before it ended in 2018. —L.L.

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Loren Skinker

Loren is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.

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  •  nevertheless's picture
    Posted: Sat, 11/02/2019 06:21 am

    Re: Kanye West story; Is God exalting the name of Jesus his son and doing a new thing in our midst? I certainly hope so. Praise Him!

  •  CaptTee's picture
    Posted: Sat, 11/02/2019 01:40 pm

    The common them in these 3 stories:

    "Praise God from whom all blessings flow..."