Tuesday, August 28, 2007


The more I explore the world of Christianity and the Arts, the more I find that I am in disagreement with other believers in the Arts, and about fundamentally important issues. Those who are the most vocal about Christian aesthetics, tend to have a theology which abuses the Arts for an unbiblical motive.

I'm not a Christian reconstructionalist, Dominionist, Liberal, or Emergent.

These differences are important because they all have a tremendous effect on the actual creation and use of art.

For many who are concerned with Christian aesthetics, Art is a vehicle for social and political change. In this crowd, the Great Commission is secondary to the physical needs of people, and Art is the method by which we can draw the Church's attention to those physical needs. Many who follow this view will scream to catch the ears of those ignoring social injustice, but shun the thought of speaking of Christ's work on the cross publicly.

For others, Art is a means of conquering the culture in order to help establish a Christian kingdom. If we retreat from the Arts, the secular world will have total control over it! Christ's kingdom is no longer spiritual in this ideology, it can be measured in album sales and popularity.

Then there are those who would have us make Christian Art so that we can retreat from the world. If we have our own songs, we will not have to be exposed to theirs. Art in this view is a aspartame solution, a poor and cancerous substitute which at best will make us gaseous and at worst will kill us. And the Art of the unsaved is seen as unredeemable waste, utterly devoid of the glory of God and incapable of communicating anything worthy of praise.

Or perhaps Art is used to communicate spiritual truth, since propositional truth is completely elusive. Here Art replaces the exposition of Scripture and is imbued with mystical meaning to fill some imagined spiritual void which the Word of God cannot speak to.

Or Art is a tool for reaching the lost. A disingenuous and insincere platform for evangelism that is too close to propaganda for my comfort. Much like setting traps for the lost, they make art that closely resembles that of the world to lure unbelievers into their midst and convince them that they need not sacrifice any of the amusements of the world. And by repetition of Christian-esse over the familiar sounds of the world, they can subtly persuade unsuspecting heathens to convert. How similar to radio jingles this approach is.

This is not meant to be yet another Internet jeremiad over the "problems" of the Church. My hope is to find more believers that seek to make art to glorify God and edify man. I openly acknowledge that some of these views of art have resulted in great contributions to Christianity and the Arts. And nearly all of these views have kernels of truth to them. But I am disappointed to find so few believers interested in the arts in a way that is Biblically sound and aesthetically excellent. Perhaps I'm just looking in the wrong places.


John said...

It seems to me that there are very few left in this day and age who even remotely believe in "ars gratia artis," much less "ars gratia Dei."

Samuel Johnson had it right. "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money." The same is true for every medium. If you are so skilled, to resist the urge to make a fortune is all but impossible. Or so I would imagine.

To find someone who has the ability and desire to make quality contributions to Christian art, and remains uncorrupted by the almighty dollar, is understandably a rarity.

Stejahen said...

Good thoughts, I think perhaps a good balance is to see art simply as work and work as a way of serving others. When something becomes too ideologically driven it seems to put everything else in service of those ideas, which means being disconnected one's particular neighbors, loving mankind without loving one's room-mates and siblings.

Lewis said something like: we don't need more 'christian artist', we need more artists who are christians.

It seems like many of the great christian artists have simply been sound christians (almost always either Anglican, Catholic or Orthodox) whose work or craft was in the arts. Probably they were not even self-consciously Christian artists, but there worldview no doubt had a huge impact on their work. They were merely Christians whose vocation happened to be the arts.

I think a big problem in our american evangelical wing of the church is we see evangelism and art too tied together and we have difficulty seeing the value of anything that isn't getting some job done, that isn't utilitarian.

Perhaps one of the problems is we think and talk about 'worldview' too much thinking it is something separate and distinct from the way we live in life.

So perhaps too much thinking about thinking and not enough doing and making.

Stejahen said...

P.S. Have you checked out Art and Soul: Signposts: for Christians in the Arts? It's the most balanced, comprehensive and interesting book on the subject in my opinion, I've checked it out from a library before, but I just bought it.

Israel Wayne said...

What about Art as an act of worship? What are your thoughts on that?

noneuclidean said...

I agree, and I think we can see many of the problems with Christian art surrounding this issue of work.

One half of the problems stem (at least in part) from people with a Romantic view of art, people who elevate art above other kinds of work. Seerveld is good about dealing with this idea and putting it in context of the history of aesthetics, although many of the people he's influenced seem to still embrace the Romantic ideal that art is somehow more important or meaningful than other kinds of labor. When people elevate art above work, they become, as you said, too ideologically driven, whether it is politically, theologically, or socially.

Treating art as labor, as work, does keep our focus on the needs of others around us; however, its just one step from labor to commerce, and once we begin thinking of art as a source of income, we have the other major problem with Modern Christian Art, which is that it is didactic, utilitarian, shallow, and saccharine.

If we fail to understand that art is work, then we have delusions of grandeur that will disconnect use from our neighbor and the Truth. If we view art as a job then we are too concerned about pleasing our neighbor, even at the cost of this spiritual life.

As with a lot of things in life, the healthy view seems to be somewhere in the middle.

I haven't read "Art and Soul" yet, I think it's on my Amazon wishlist. So many books to read!

Worship seems to be connected with Stejahen's idea of work. Everything we do is to be an act of worship to God. And we are called to worship in Spirit and in Truth. How do we apply this?

I would say that to worship in Spirit we first have to be walking with the Lord; our spiritually lives should be vibrant and ardent, we should be striving after righteousness through Christ. It also means that we are sincere. We are not making art that speaks of spiritual ideas abstracted from ourselves, but things that we sincerely believe and live out. Sincerity is a serious problem in the Church today, especially among artists.

To worship in Truth we need to be Biblically grounded. We need to understand the Word of God and apply it to our lives and to the world around us. This is were Worldview is important. We cannot worship in Truth in our works of art unless we seek to apply the Word of God to every area of our lives.

What do you think about Art and Worship?

noneuclidean said...

Oh, and speaking of pragmatic Christian art, check out this post on O'Connor from John Piper's blog:
How Is Fiction True and Valuable?

John said...

Alan, thanks for the tip (on my blog) regarding Berger's work-- I started reading it some months ago, but unfortunately didn't have time to finish it before other reading crowded it out.