When I first heard that a famous American hip-hop artist had become a Christian, I must confess that I was a bit sceptical. My response was similar to that of Gamaliel, a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin in the days of the early church. He once told the Sanhedrin that if the activities of Jesus’ disciples were of human origin, it would eventually fail; but if God was behind it, then no one could stop it [see Acts 5:34-39]. As the stories about his conversion and new album have spread, many have inevitably asked: “is it a real conversion? Has he really given his life to Christ”
On reflection, it is evident that he is a talented artist and he has been eminently successful. So the questions that have occurred to me are twofold. Firstly, who gave him the talent? Well, God did. Secondly, how would I prefer to see him use his talent? Would I prefer it if he used his talent to make music that glorifies violence, sex, money and a hedonistic lifestyle or would I prefer to see him use his talent to make music that glorifies God? Even if he is disingenuous with the latter, God can still use his music to encourage others and meet them at their points of need.
My natural tendency is to be cautious when something like this happens. I suspect I am not alone. Many famous people have claimed to be Christians before, only to make a mockery of Christianity. As such, we want to scrutinize and judge famous converts before opening our hearts to them. This is understandable but is it right? Would we be less sceptical if he wasn’t famous? Imagine how he feels to be rejected by some Christians if his conversion is genuine? Imagine what his former associates and anyone else thinking of following him might feel? Even if it’s all a scam, can’t we pray that he encounters God along the way? Is it beyond God to bring good from this situation regardless of his initial intentions?
Another thought that struck me was the lives he could reach. He probably has more social media followers than most pastors in America and it is highly plausible that he has fans and associates who have never had any interaction with a church or taken Christianity seriously. We know that God loves all peoples. He wants them to come to the knowledge of Christ and be saved. Can you think of a better way to bring the gospel to a community than raising an ambassador from within that community? Many Christians have rightly been praying for a revival across cultures and communities. Ever wondered what that revival might look like?
What if God is trying to use this artist to reach individuals the church has struggled to reach? Maybe God is seeking to reclaim a territory that the devil has used to ruin many lives. God isn’t one-dimensional, He is very much a multifaceted, exhilarating God who is full of surprises. And just when we try to put Him in a box and reduce Him to the limits of our imagination, He reminds us that His ways are not our ways [Isaiah 55:8-9]. I love the exchange in Habakkuk 1 where God tells Habakkuk: “you won’t believe what I’m about to do if I told you” and then proceeds to leave the prophet stunned by His plan to deal with Israel. This is a great example of God doing the unexpected and He’s capable of doing it again.
One of the prominent voices in the movement to abolish slavery in the United Kingdom was a Christian convert named John Newton. He was a slave trader before his conversion. He was probably viewed by some with scepticism when he joined the abolitionist movement. However, in hindsight, there is evidence God was at work in his life. He campaigned for the abolition of slavery culminating in the passage of the Slave Trade Act 1807 in Parliament, and he also wrote several hymns, including one of my all-time favourites, Amazing Grace. I doubt many would have predicted his impact when it all started but this is what happens when God steps into a person’s life and repurposes it.
Gamaliel was right in his analysis, time will tell if this artist’s conversion is real. Nevertheless, the role of the Christian community is to love him, not judge his motives. He definitely needs our love more than our scepticism and judgement. We should be encouraging him and praying for God’s will to be done in his life. Perhaps there is a fan out there who will be inspired to turn to God by his new music. Perhaps, there is a follower on social media who will be convicted by his message and invite God into his or her life. Perhaps someone will turn up at a Church where his choir is ministering and be encouraged, healed, etc. It won’t be because of him, it will be because God is using him as a conduit for His gospel of repentance, love and grace.
Jesus once warned that “the last will be first, and the first will be last” [Matthew 20:16]. It recently occurred to me that those who stubbornly sit back and expect God to act in a particular way are likely to miss what God is doing. Hopefully, this will not be our fate. Let’s always remember that it was the most religious people who missed God walking among them and crucified Him because He didn’t conform to their image of a Messiah. It is well within God’s sovereign power to surprise us and you know, He’s done it before.