There Is More to Christian Art

I love the fluid nature of wisdom: the way one person can learn something and then convey what they've learned to another. Wisdom transferred - passed on to another as a gift. Dr. Poe, one of my college professors, passed on to me some wisdom that he received from the mother of his friend: "There is more to Christian art than landscapes dotted with apostles".

This thought surfaced again when I finished a book written by some recognizable Christian authors. It received good press in Christian spheres and polarized reviews. After I read it, I concluded that Dr. Poe was right: There is more to Christian art than landscapes dotted with apostles.

It appears that Christian artists believe Christian art to be that which leads individuals to the entirety of the gospel through its medium. I find this view frustrating - frustrating because of loose plots that climax to deus ex machina conversion finales, frustrating because of art stooping to the level of propaganda, frustrating because the gospel is reduced to a gimmick.  This way of thought makes the gospel a creative restriction instead of a wellspring of creative potential.

Many writers of songs for the church subscribe to this way of thinking: songs must be gospel centered. I don't disagree, but not every song needs to be ONLY gospel centered, bearing the cross of presenting the totality of the gospel. God Himself did not subscribe to this thought when He inspired scripture.

The book of Esther clearly speaks of the deliverance of God's people and implies the idea of God's sovereignty although it never mentions Him.  The prophets clearly show the ability of humans to choose disobedience to the law of God.  Leviticus shows the importance of atonement and redemption.  Song of Solomon shows the glory of human love and allegorically parallels Christ's relationship with the Church.  These books are not less than Romans or the Gospels; indeed, these books support the gospel. God, using incomplete pieces, forms a complete whole.

A song that invites singers to love God more deeply for His faithfulness has as much worth as a song that points out the problem of sin; the need for a Savior; His death, burial, and resurrection; and the Holy Spirit's power in working out what that looks like in our lives.  They have equal value, but they accomplish different, necessary functions. If we do not love God and others more deeply tomorrow than today, then what good is the gospel? We run the risk of making the good news a self-serving object with art as its slave, instead of the doorway to an infinite relationship and abundant life with art as a light.

Why is art held to a different standard than other activities engaged in by Christians? The success of a Christian businessman's presentation is not evaluated by its culmination in the gospel message but by the success of the sale. A Christian carpenter is not expected to build crosses but quality furniture.  The Christianity of an architect is never questioned because the project was a housing development instead of a church.

Creating to express the heart - exercising care in keeping it with all diligence; for out of it flow the issues of life; creating to imitate the Creator; creating to illuminate the beautiful, to present life with its joys and pains, to explore the power of light over darkness, to show the superiority of grace over law are all within the boundaries of Christian art. I am not writing a new thought; Christians must evaluate their role in the arts and as artists and broaden the scope of their craft if they are to have any sort of lasting cultural impact.

The gospel is more than a birth, death, and resurrection.  It plays out as both those that know God and those that don'tinteract with His person and are changed.  Gospel-driven creativity is not about a legalistic adherence to a methodology but about the expression of grace in truth in the most fitting form. There is more to Christian art than landscapes dotted with apostles.