The Arts and the 21st Century
"Until the return of Christ and the restoration of all things, that group of believers through history known as the church of Christ will never achieve perfection in any one day or age." -Frank Schaeffer
We are continually told by pollsters and prognosticators that, here in the United States of America, some 40 percent of our citizens claim to be "born-again" Christians. A fair reply might be, "Where's the evidence?"
For the previous two millennia, the history of Western culture was dominated by Christian thought and consciousness. Transformed individuals, in touch with their Creator and endowed with certain gifts and talents, affected every sphere of society in which they lived: family, education, politics, law, and the arts.
It is the latter - the arts - that I'm convinced the Church must rediscover in the 21st century as a vehicle of human expression and creativity. I firmly embrace the power of the arts to convey ideas. As Charles Colson remarked in his book How Now Shall We Live? "Music, literature, and art offer us a window through which we can appreciate God's truth more fully."
Art or Schlock?
Why is it, then, that quality art can adorn the walls of fine restaurants and cafes, yet in the Church we settle for cheesy reproductions of mediocrity? How are we satisfied with Barnes & Noble being the trendsetter for the combination of literature and café, while the Church must settle for banal surroundings and the status quo?
If it's true that art reflects culture, then Christians have not been the preserving influence Jesus prayed we would be. Rather than seizing upon our abundant spiritual life and obeying the clear commands of Scripture to effect change in the real world, Christians have settled for – even, in the last several decades, endorsed – a dissident subculture that, in a sense, has been talking to itself.
Often, the standard for creativity within this dissident culture has been one of mediocrity rather than excellence. Frank Schaeffer expounds, "Mediocrity shows up in the standard preaching and teaching of the church, as well as in the attitude toward creativity. If life and spirituality are separated, then even in [many] churches' primary functions, mediocrity reigns supreme" (Shaeffer, Addicted to Mediocrity: Contemporary Christians and the Arts).
In all fairness, churches are not the only guilty parties in this matter.
A visit to a Christian booksellers' convention reveals just how far we've sunk in our efforts to portray a proper Christian worldview. One can only wonder what a non-Christian must think as he views the assortment of trinkets, videos, music, apparel, and literature that eventually makes its way to our bookstores.
The late Winston Churchill once remarked that the most valuable commodity in the world is truth. If that were valid – and we know it is – then shouldn't the Church, more than any other institution, have as its mission and purpose the desire to be a reflection of the One who claimed to be the truth? (See John 14:6.)
As I stated earlier, this was the rule, rather than the exception, during much of the last two centuries in the West. Men such as Bach, van Eyck, Vermeer, Handel, Mendelssohn, Hayden, and the artists of the early Renaissance all contributed to a culture that was both positive and healthy, while effectively maintaining a Christian perspective on life. The fruit of their work continues to the present time.
Called to Create
The key to an essential modern-day renaissance is something I believe the Church must rediscover, or face the expulsion of God from the dominant culture of our nation. We cannot run and hide, but must instead chart a course that I believe can be won on two distinct fronts.
First, we must endorse those in the arts within our secular culture who bring glory to God, and reject the work of those who would segregate Him. Second, we must realize that true fulfillment in the Christian life comes, not through recreation and pleasure, but through our calling. Made in the image of our Creator, we were designed with the capacity to create beauty that glorifies Him.
In the book of Exodus we see that, in the construction of the tabernacle in the wilderness, the Lord appointed a man named Bezalel "to design artistic works, to work in gold and silver and bronze, and . . . in all manner of artistic workmanship." Scripture says that Bezalel was called by name, and filled with the Spirit of God to do this work. (See Exodus 35:30-33).
Truly, if more of God's people would begin to see their artistic gifts and talents as a true spiritual anointing – and then begin to use them for His glory – we believers could make a strong statement within the popular culture as well as find true fulfillment in our own lives.
The Power of Art
As a pastor, I'm jealous for the local church. It's the one community on Earth whereby the diversity of peoples' talents, personalities, and gifts can be used together to glorify God and further His kingdom.
It is for this reason that a prominent U.S. pastor urges pastors everywhere to build an evangelistic heart into the lives of their artists. When artistic expression is combined with great preaching, the fruit that comes as a result will last for eternity.
Is this not the purpose for which we were born, and born again? Will we continue to settle for mediocrity in our Christian lives and places of worship, or will we embrace the power of song, drama, literature, and art to reach the masses with the greatest story ever told?