What Makes “Christian” Art?
What makes “Christian” art? This debate has gone on for many years, but at least in my circles, the discussion has not progressed very far. In some ways, this question can be misleading because there is not necessarily a single answer. There are at least 3 ways to define Christian art:
1. In terms of source: art made by a Christian individual or a group of Christians.
2. In terms of motive: art intended to minister to others or to glorify God in a general way.
3. In terms of message: art that communicates a message about the Christian God or is somehow influenced by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Considering the Oxford dictionary as an example, there are various alternatives when defining a word. A single definition is not more “correct” than another, so we would be better off describing what kind of Christian art we are talking about. As a result, the conversation can advance further when we avoid semantics and focus our discussion on a specific kind of Christian art.
All of Creation – Psalm 19
Before God created music, He created the heavens and earth. Think about it for a moment. There are many styles of music, but we all share the oceans, the stars, the sun and moon. All over the world, we look at the same handiwork of God. Incredible!
Psalm 19:1-2 tells us that the skies display the glory of God. David says that the world around us declares, proclaims, speaks, and displays truth about God. In other words, God’s creation speaks to all cultures, to every part of the globe — regardless of language or dialect. Everyone can see God’s glory because He left no one out.
To inspire global worship in our churches, it is helpful to include images of creation in worship gatherings. Since most congregants spend a large part of their week indoors, Sunday is a great opportunity to remind them that the world is bigger than the sanctuary. In doing so, make sure that artwork and photography represents a wide scope of locations, not just scenes of North America.
God is committed to global worship, and we should try to reflect this in our worship gatherings.
Suggestions for Meaningful Worship
Recently I was asked, “What are your suggestions for a Christian to experience meaningful worship?” What a great question! It can be answered in a variety of ways, but here I will limit my response to the weekly worship gathering.
In this post, I would like to summarize a few observations that I have made over the last ten years. These are merely opinions, so feel free to disagree, but I have found that these factors have led me towards more meaningful worship.
* Time. My most meaningful worship experiences often occur after focusing on God for an extended period of time. Time itself is not magical, but we all need time to slow down. We need to ruminate in God’s presence, not merely rush on to the next thing on our agenda.
* Diversity. We all have my musical preferences, but cultural variety in a worship service deepens our vision of the Kingdom of God. Diversity helps us get beyond our self and our selfish preferences.
* Balance. There needs to be balance between theology and emotions, or truth and spirit. Without any content to our worship, we merely express our feelings. Without any emotion, we merely impress ourselves. Meaningful worship occurs when we have both.
* Freedom. As much as we need order in our worship services, we also need freedom. Worship is more meaningful when we go beyond singing to raise a hand, kneel, pray, listen, etc.
* Christian. This may seem obvious, but in practice, many worship songs lack content that is unique to Christianity. As a result, many worship songs could be just as easily sung in a temple, mosque, or synagogue. A worship service needs to be noticeably Christian.
Art that Betters the World
In his closing comments at the Arise Arts Conference, Brian McLaren complimented Christian artists for “using the arts to better the church.” Most of us could agree with that because over the past 30 years the Church has made huge strides in music and arts in the church. There has been an improvement in quality and diversity, as seen in our churches and the success of contemporary Christian music.
Following his brief compliment, McLaren challenged Christian artists to use the arts to “better the world.” His challenge resonated deeply with me. Far too often, we fall into the temptation of using art to improve our local, personal context. We only think within the walls of the Church. In reality, though, art can transcend that and become much more. Our art, in short, should be selfless.
Through art, we can do amazing things. Just to name a few… We can personalize strangers. We can spread light. We can help people feel compassion. We can invoke emotions. We can bring people into the redemptive story.
>>> By the way, be sure to check out Taylor Birkey’s blog and his post about the arts conference. He is a fellow Taylor grad that graciously helped me attend the conference, and his blog is definitely worth checking out.
Music to Check Out
Today, The Weepies released a brand new CD, and it got me thinking of some artists that are worth checking out. This list could go on for pages, so I’ll save some for later, but if you are looking for some new music, be sure to listen to these:
Charlie Hall — Christian worship
Denison Witmer — Catholic, Philadelphia singer / song-writer
Fernando Ortega — Christian, peaceful, orchestral
Ingrid Michaelson — NYC indie-pop
Adam Watts — Christian, one of the best artists you’ve never known
Mute Math — Electro, ambient rock
Glen Phillips — Formerly of Todd the Wet Sprocket
The Choir — Christian, ambient rock, classic
Robert Randolph — Christian blues; incredible in concert
Plumb — Christian, electronic alternative
Shane & Shane — Christian worship, acoustic, tight vocal harmonies
Theology is different from other “ologies” in the sense that if we only engage our subject intellectually, we miss the mark. We may understand hundreds of propositions about God, but if our imaginations are not involved in the process, I would say that we have failed. (By imagination I mean “envisioning what we do not rationally know.”)
Over at Signs of Emergence, Nick Hughes was quoted as saying, “I wish that someone, some group, something, somewhere would develop a theological project that captured the imagination. All the good ideas are elsewhere.” He is a graphic designer, not a theologian, but he expresses why many feel disenchanted and disconnected from theology.
Think about it: Shouldn’t studying theology make us more imaginative? If we truly and intently focus on God and His beauty, we will be inspired to overcome our ignorance. We will want to explore what we do not rationally know.
Songwriters can testify to this. When you write a song about a person, you intently focus on that person and you are inspired. The same goes for a glorious sunset. All you need to do is look intently, and the words and melodies naturally spring forth. In this way, something “other” or mysterious becomes personal.
Studying God, then, should inspire us — not only intellectually, but holistically. When we look at God and converse with Him, we should be enraptured with words, melodies, images, ideas, designs, and so on. After all, the source of creativity is God Himself.