The Catalyst: An Artistic Challenge to the Church

(This posts was originally written for my personal blog, The Sojourner’s Journal, in November, 2008.  It served as one of my first expressions of my discontent with the church’s modern relationship with art and the desire to engage that relationship and motivate greater art from the Christian community.  Thus, it is the forerunner of this site and, as this site prepares for a soon-to-come redevelopment in its existence, I thought it would be fitting to post a personal moment of catalyst from which it was eventually formed.)

An Artistic Challenge to the Church (or, Why Does Christian Art Usually Suck?) [part 1 of many]

The modern day Evangelical Church has largely (almost completely) failed in creative endeavors such as visual art (drawing, painting, etc.), music, literature, and film. Failed might be an understatement. The church has produced very little that exceeds above a pile refuse (in the Pauline sense of that word) in any of these categories, and this is most troubling indeed.

The Church was once the powerhouse behind the arts. Who can forget the great masters of the Renaissance? Who can forget the compositions of Handel or Bach? Who can disregard the time-preserved classic writings of Danté, Milton, or Bunyan? However, today conservative Evangelical Christianity seems at least five years behind the world with no cutting edge and a bland shadow of the quality once produced by those creators who know we are a reflection of the Great Creator.

We have largely refused to engage the issues.

The Evangelical community will get behind films like Schindler’s List or The Passion of the Christ, but we won’t make them… we let the world make them… because we won’t make something with that kind of content (i.e. strong violence, harsh language, or situational nudity that would, in actuality, be present in the circumstances needing to be portrayed). Christian movie producers won’t make anything that won’t sell to the “Christian” audience. Unfortunately, the Evangelical Christian audience thinks that the Bible is rated “G.”

However, they so conveniently ignore the fact that even Sam Butcher’s Precious Moments Bible can’t omit Ezekiel 23. The two whoring sisters there, or the abundant violence, sexuality, and, yes, strong language in the Scriptures is largely ignored by those who would also choose to say “God is love” and ignore his justness.

Christian art is one of the greatest means of edifying the Church. We live in a visually dominated world. We live in a world driven by images… this is how we learn, this is how we take stuff in… look at how we are talking this second. Our lives are ruled by art and design. Film, theater, art… they are great teaching tools and can connect to people in ways very few other things can.

Sojourn has done a wonderful job of that.

I’m not looking to turn sanctuaries into art galleries (even though historically that has often been beneficial and, again, has worked to some extent with Sojourn’s 930 Art Center). I am looking to engage the world with exceptional art, film, music, prose, both inside and outside the church (or Church).

If the only Christian paintings we can come up with are the warm, fuzzy sentimentality of a Thomas Kinkade or a Warner Sallman, just what state of creativity have we fallen to? If the “hit” movies we make are so cheezy as the gosh-awful Left Behind films, just what kind of worldview has convinced us that this is the best we can do? If our bestselling novels contains such heresies as the Modalism of The Shack, just how knowledgeable are we about our own faith? If the songs we put on the radio contain such theologically shallow sentimentality as “Above All,” just what kind of narcissistic gospel are we preaching?

We are the one who know we are creative beings made in the image of the great Creator. The church produced the greatest movements of all time in the arts… and this is the best we can do now? The challenge: become the creative beings that God created us to be. He has revealed himself to his Church in a unique and special way. We, of all people, have something to communicate through the arts. We are the ones who have the greatest ability to be achievers in the arts. Why must we settle for this scatological emission we’ve so regularly become accustomed to?

I have a feeling this post is to be continued…

[Picture: Head of Christ by Warner Sallman, which has found its way onto mantlepieces for decades now. Bland, sentimental, theologically and historically problematic dribble.]