Hip-hop artist Kanye West released his ninth studio album in October 2019, but he says this one is different from the others. The album is titled Jesus is King, and West is touting it as a Christian album.
To that end, the album is completely profanity-free, and Kanye spends most of its 27 minutes describing his walk with God. He compares himself to Noah, gives a shout-out to Chick-fil-A, and wards off “the culture” that tries to push him from his righteous path. Unsurprisingly, the album has been warmly received by some public Christian figures.
This is not the first time Kanye West has talked about God. In fact, he’s been talking about God throughout his two-decade career. But until now, his music has been irreverent, profane, and crass enough to ensure it would not be accepted in most contemporary Christian spaces. West professed to be a Christian, but his art was viewed as un-Christian, or at least not fully Christian—a dynamic only now changed by West avoiding swear words on this album. For many Christians, Jesus is King represents a shift from secular to sacred.
I think this perspective is misguided.
There is a widely held view that any art that explicitly references God in an inoffensive, sanitized way is sacred while any art that does not match that description is secular. But this does not take God’s creative and redemptive work on earth seriously enough. It’s the classic heresy of gnostic dualism, in which anything belonging to the physical world is evil and completely separate from the goodness of God.
If we believe Christ is fully human and fully God, the notion of sacred and secular in the theological sense no longer works. Christ lived, worked, ate, and wept on earth. He prayed for God’s kingdom to come to earth. None of these actions changed the fact that he was God.
What I believe this means for Kanye West, hip-hop, and all of popular culture is that there is no strictly sacred or strictly secular art. Everything belongs to the narrative of a fallen Creation redeemed through Christ. God’s truth is truth wherever it shows up. To call a work of art sacred is to claim that we have the power to pigeonhole God’s truth within a box of our own making. To call another work of art secular is to claim that God cannot work outside of that box.
I’m not saying that everything we make is good. Evil exists in the world, and it exists in art too. I’m also not saying that Jesus is King is a bad album because Kanye West does not swear on it or that it would be a better album if he did. I am saying the premise that Jesus is King is West’s first Christian album is flawed because it perpetuates a view that devalues the world and Christ’s work within it.