Moses got instructions to make garments for Aaron “for glory and beauty”. Christian art has largely lost the ability to make something for glory and beauty. In fact, there is an overwhelming sense that if art is not evangelistic, it is worthless. Or worse, it serves the devils purposes not God’s. Odd then that articles for the tabernacle were designed for glory and beauty.
There is a time in Church history where the arts were banned because they were taking very literally “You shall have no idols before me.” Any representation of God, Jesus, was considered an idol. And truth be told, they can be. But so can anything. Our response to art determines if it is an idol or not. As I stated in the last few blogs, we certainly have elevated Christian artists (musicians, authors, even pastors) to idol status. I wonder how long before we see the Christian Idol talent show on TBN (if someone from TBN reads this, consider it a pitch and I want points on the back end).
So how do we keep art from being idolatrous? Why, by saying it’s evangelistic. It sounds shallow but it’s exactly what we have done. The Bible says that love covers a multitude of sins, it does not say Evangelism covers stores filled with shoddy art. I have met people in the music industry who claim that their music is an evangelistic ministry. Well, lets follow that logic a bit.
I’m assuming that an evangelistic ministry would have at its core, the goal of seeing people saved. That would require playing/performing where unsaved people are. But my friends are in Christian bands that only play churches and Christian festivals. Very few unsaved people there. So following the logic, if your music is an evangelistic ministry, it should be competing in the world so that people in the world hear it.
The role of the evangelist is to lead people into the Kingdom. Hard to do at a Kingdom rally.
When I challenged another acquaintance with the verse that says “be slow to anger” (this guy was in a pretty hard rock outfit complete with Christian guttural screams and Sanctified mosh pits) he said “Yea but our music is a ministry to people who listen to Metallica and would never listen to Stephen Curtis Chapman.” Again, lets follow a scenario:
People listen to Metallica.
People who listen to Metallica listen to the latest band, Righteous Anger. People get saved at a Righteous Anger concert. Now what? Righteous anger has admitted that they play angry music and that the Bible says to be slow to anger. Do they then ask their newly converted fans to start listening to SCC, avoiding Righteous Anger? We can’t just set aside verses that we dont like because they conflict with our “ministry”
Somewhere this concept of art having a purpose and a mission crept into the Church and we just need to get rid of it. The purpose comes from US as believers. We have the purpose of bearing witness to the Truth. So that should come out in our art, but art doesnt have to have a mission, it is OUR mission that should come through.
Christian history can be broken up into three periods: Creation, the Fall, and Redemption. As Christians we live in Redemption. Non-believers live in the Fall and have yet to cross over into Redemption. It is our mission as believers to constantly be a sign post pointing to Redemption. BUT, and hear me now. It is difficult to stand in Redemption and point to Redemption. We need to somehow be in the Fall, pointing to Redemption. Some of us have lost touch with the Fall and forget what it was like to be in despair and desperation. What it is like to be without hope and purpose. Our art should speak to the Fall, even from the context of the Fall, pointing to Redemption.
Its amazing how many secular artists are standing in the Fall, looking for Redemption. I love it when I hear a song that reflects a heart that is searching for the answers and pray that God sends a clear sign post.
Here are a couple of my favorite examples right now.
Pink cries out on Sober:
When it’s good, then it’s good, it’s so good ’til it goes bad
‘Til you’re trying to find the you that you once had
I have heard myself cry ‘never again’ Broken down in agony, just tryin’ find a friend
I’m safe up high, nothing can touch me
But why do I feel this party’s over?
No pain inside, you’re like perfection
But how do I feel this good sober?”
Brand New reflects on Jesus Christ – “I know You think I’m someone you can trust, but I’m scared I’ll get scared and I swear I’ll try to nail you back up. I know you’re coming for people like me, but we’ve all got wood and nails…”
The Bravery sings “The drinking never stops because the drink absolves our sins. We sit and grow our roots into the floor, what are we waiting for? Give me something to believe, because I’m living just to breathe..”
One of my all time favorite artists Rob Dickinson (formerly of the Catherine Wheel) sings “Whats your name? Tell me where you can be found! My name is love I can’t be bound. Name your cost, let me know my time is short! My name is love I cant be bought..If your name is love show me some grace. My name, is Love.”
These songs reveal the heart of the artist. What’s going on deep inside them, perhaps revealing needs they haven’t yet been made aware of. When our music and books flow from the deep desire to see broken lives changed and people restored, it looks much different than what we have now. There is power behind it. Out of the abundance of the heart the artist’s work speaks.
In fact, I believe that the artist is usually more prophetic than evangelistic. Many artists have the experience where the work takes on a life of its own and comes from someplace outside themselves. Writers often have an outline, but are as surprised at the twists the novel takes as the reader is. Some songs just seem to drop into our laps out of nowhere. And art at the hands of a prophet can speak in ways that words alone often cant.
And prophets can be lousy evangelists.
I’ve gone deeper into a few different topics here than I meant to, but we need to realize a few things.
- When we set out to make evangelistic music without it matching our heart’s cry and life of purpose, it falls flat.
- If we use evangelism as an excuse to do music in a less crowded arena, we are not being Spirit and Truth.
- Art does not always have to be evangelistic. It will always point to Jesus, but it wont always be evangelistic
- The artist by nature tends toward the prophetic
- Art can exist for the purpose of beauty alone
We need to learn to create art that covers the wide swath of human experience and emotion. And we need to learn that there is nothing inherently bad in secular music (the institution itself). Conversely, Christian music is not inherently good. Art should point to Redemption and the Redeemer but doesn’t have to be evangelistic. Art can be art. Is it possible that art itself has neither an evilness or a goodness, but it reflects the heart of the creator? That would certainly be consistent with God. That would be why God wanted things created for glory and beauty. To reflect His glory and point to His beauty?