The Significance of Christian Art

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In case you’re wondering what’s happened to your writers’ group, it’s been in transit recently. Yes, the electrons are being borrowed and routed from a completely different locale altogether, and I’m no longer able to jump on my unsuspecting neighbors’ wireless networks. Dang it. I was getting pretty comfy with the communal bandwidth thing. Serves me right, I guess, that there are now 5 in my general vicinity all of which are password protected. Doesn’t anyone trust people anymore? So basically, I’m back to the old dial-up for a while, so if this looks clunky you now know why.

What didn’t look clunky to me when it showed up in my mailbox the other day was the new Relevant magazine. Many, many awesome articles this month about living what we preach, not least of all, one by Craig Detweiler, film program director at Biola. This article is reason enough to go subscribe right now.

You think I’m being cute. Okay. This bit is from his article, "Life Outside the Faith Ghetto":

"The artistic community deals primarily with descriptive truth. Artists attempt to hold up a mirror, to reveal the human condition as is, quirks and all. While music, literature and film can inspire us to greater heights, they often begin by describing the depths of our depravity. Haunting and enduring art raises all the right questions and challenges audiences to search for answers."

I like what he’s suggesting here. There may be no such thing as a Christian artist community if we continue to believe we have all the answers to life. If we did, what would we need art for? Proselytize, assumedly. The community over at the Image forum has been dealing with the question "Should art do anything?" What is it’s purpose? Should artists and writers be motivated by questions rather than a desire to share a message? The question we’ve been concerned with here is "How will writers be allowed to search and question in the CBA when one of the requirements is that answers be given?" I’ve said it so often, but I’ll keep saying it: Christians have the greatest advantage in showing just how depraved and dark the evil can be without God, going to the extremes others can’t to express just how powerful this God is. Yes, He can redeem everything. But no, He didn’t answer all the questions. How much more compromise should we be paying to effectively subvert God’s power in our characters’ lives by diluting the darkness and pretending we know everything?

Christians do have the ultimate answer that God redeems everything. But if we really believe that, there should be no question of how much darkness we should be allowed to show redeemed. There is no real pit, no true evil, no horror, no suffering, no irreparable damage that isn’t merely unrevealed glory. Ignorance and doubt are only unrealized holiness. But does that mean we always see that in our day to day lives? Who among us understands this mystery? Who is not sometimes miserable with confusion? Is living easier since becoming a Christian? If so, I’m happy for you, but be aware that it might not always be so. Finding life with Christ cures a lot of what ails, but having some answers ultimately makes other things more difficult. You now have an ultimate hope in the realization of future redemption, but this world is still under darkness and your new understanding is not meant simply to make us complete. It is an urgent responsibility to seek out deeper faith with fear and trembling. And if you happen to be a fellow artist, I believe it’s doubly incumbent upon you to represent truthfully the difficult and chaotic world in which we all live.

In my opinion, the only reason for writing less than full, mysterious Goodness, Truth, and Beauty is if you’re currently in the writer’s lifestage of slowly easing your readers into your world, providing just enough certainty to prevent them blocking the door against you entirely. That’s a valid concern. But I’d hope that in a matter of time, the full definition of living in mystery would take over, even with those particularly resistant readers. The American music industry offers a great example of what Christian fiction will soon become, with fuzzy lines between Christian and non-Christian all over the place. (John Fischer has a great piece on this in the same Relevant mag issue mentioned above.) Soon, it will be even more necessary for responsible artists to provide deeply significant stories and aid readers in discerning truth from lies.

Even if you are starting slowly and building toward deeper truth, as Christian artists of significance, I believe it’s important to give your readers every reason to question what they thought they knew. Be encouraging wanderers, but confound assumptions to mature souls, and always portray Truth with love and care for your audience. As Christian Artists of Significance, this is the hope it is your honor to introduce. Respect your role and your world will be changed.

With hope and courage, I pray with you on your journey toward deeper fulfillment of your call.

P.S. Look for an interview coming soon with my good friend and recent published author, Siri Mitchell who will speak to "writing what you want in CBA—and getting away with it."

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6 thoughts on “The Significance of Christian Art”

  1. I believe writers who have the Answer will of necessity SUGGEST it in their work. Since imagination is the organ of meaning and since its use isn’t only conscious, meaning will be all over the place. Embedded like hypertext, looming to open portals . . . Am listening to the audio tape of King’s book On Writing. Why doesn’t his bad language bother me as a Christian, when such language normally makes me shudder? There is something so beyond this in his treatments, whacky holiness, I don’t know . . .
    On another score, I would argue against trying to FIND meaning all the time, can’t anything just be? Like an ocean that not only IS, but will sometimes wash treasures ashore or sweep you away?

  2. I have a feeling that art goes through cycles. One day it erects the ideal above the muck, then next day people are tearing down ideals and replacing them with harsh realities. On and on it goes. Like a pendulum, each creates the momentum of the other.
    Did anyone see the movie, “Max” with John Cusac? This is what it’s about, basically. Not so much the cycle, but the momentum against the ideal. Very revealing. Very good questions raised about why we need harsh reality checks.
    Last night I watched the movie, “Hotel Rwanda” and swore to myself that I’ll never watch another movie like that again. But I know I will. Just like I watched this one, even though I’ve often sworn that I’d never watch another movie about genocide and bigotry like that again. Oh, well. Anyhow, that sort of thing traumatizes me so badly that I am paralyzed with shame and grief. So I’m sitting there being paralyzed, and I decide to watch the extras on the dvd. In one of the blurbs, they said that they deliberately designed the movie around the love story so that it would reach a larger audience. It had originally read more like the “Traffic” (or is it Traffik?) movie – docu-drama, more characters, less story, fewer relationships. But they knew that telling it like that would mean that fewer people would see it, the story wouldn’t get out, fewer people would raise an outcry when it came time for history to repeat itself. So lets go over the list of all the ghastly things this says about humanity, shall we?
    1. People WILL REJECT THE IDEA THAT WE’RE all the same and WORTHY OF LIFE, and instead will prefer any old idea about killing the humans of “lesser quality”.
    2. Other people who don’t necessarily believe ideas about killing lesser quality humans, WILL NOT CARE that People from #1 are killing people for stupid reasons.
    3. In order for people who don’t necessarily believe in the idea of killing lesser quality humans to care about these people being killed they will HAVE TO HAVE THE STORY SUGAR COATED FOR THEM.
    4. The people who are telling the story will tell it in such a way that is MANIPULATIVE AND DECEPTIVE.
    …once again I am paralyzed. I know there are more things for the list, but I cannot think straight enough to come up with them now. I felt dirty for watching this film. Not just because I belong to a species who would do that, and a race that doesn’t care and a nation that will tell the story but only if it has the desired effect…
    !!!!!??!!!!!
    but because I was warm and fed and protected and sleeping in my own bed – and alive. And I was okay with that.

  3. Mick says:
    >>>>>And if you are an artist, it is doubly incumbent on you to represent truthfully the random and chaotic world in which we all live.
    The only excuse for anything less would be to slowly ease the CBA market into the idea, for fear of them blocking the door against us entirely.<<<<<< Hi Mick. I've been gone for several months—moving from Alaska to Atlanta—so I'm jumping in here and may be taking things out of context. But I feel the need to bring the little old lady voice to bear. I don't believe that we live in a random and chaotic world. Since I am a Christian it is incumbent upon me to truthfully represent the world, but I think we live in a beautiful and ordered world. Oh, sure there is evil and it strives to impede the righteous and thwart God's purposes, but it cannot ever succeed. I think it's fine to write about that. But to write about the evil and not write about it's failure would be to write only half the truth. I'm not sure what you are trying to say in this post. I think maybe you are saying that CBA fiction has only been writing half the truth all along because it's been writing rosy and ignoring the mean streets. Is that your point? If so, I can agree. Where I get a little worried is when I hear people calling for questions with no answers. Christians do have the answer for a dying world. Christians are supposed to answer the questions. We have not been left as orphans. We have not been left without God's word. He has revealed truth to us in scripture that the world cannot see. We are to share this truth that we have. Don't you think? Why do we want to have fuzzy lines between Christian and nonChristian? We are supposed to be different from the world. The world should be able to look at us and see such love in us as they have never witnessed elsewhere. We alone have the power to forgive and to love selflessly. In Christ alone that freedom is granted. We should not look like the world. So what is meant by fuzzy lines? sally

  4. Sally! We’ve missed your contrarian posts. If you want to know what is meant by fuzzy lines, go read John Fischer’s article in Relevant, May issue. It’s worth it.

  5. Sorry, Mick. I have a wish list on Amazon a half a mile long and I’m driving a car that is kept off the scrap heap by duct tape and prayer. I don’t have any money to spend on studying the emergent church. Subscribing to Relevant is not high on my list of things to do.
    I’m not surprised you don’t want to tell me, though. It seems your emergent people live what you believe. No answers—just questions. =0) But don’t think that because you won’t give me the answer, I will go and seek it out. It just ain’t that important to me. =0)
    My posts have not always been contrary, either, Mick. I happen to like much of what you say. Just don’t like to see fuzzy lines. There is one truth, one way, one Spirit, one baptism, one body. You and I are not enemies, but dear friends. We are brother and sister. NonChristians are not my friends or my brothers. They are beloved enemies and I love to show them mercy and so imitate my Father. But they are enemies still, and I don’t want that line fuzzed.
    Love in Christ,
    Sally

  6. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve mentioned it and I’ve missed it, but if you’ve not read it, I highly recommend “Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts”, a book by Steve Turner.

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