R. Christopher Teichler, Composer

Some Thoughts on "Christian Art"

In his book "Art for God's Sake," (P&R, 2006), Dr. Philip Ryken makes the case that Christians have a duty to pursue excellence in the arts. In his chapter on "The Good, the True and the Beautiful," Dr. Ryken points out a sobering fact about "Christian" art and what it tends to communicate:

"The problem with some modern and postmodern art is that it seeks to offer truth at the expense of beauty. It tells the truth only about ugliness and alienation, leaving out the beauty of creation and redemption. A good deal of so-called Christian art tends to have the opposite problem. It tries to show beauty without admitting the truth about sin, and to that extent it is false- dishonest about the tragic implications of our depravity. Think of all the bright, sentimental landscapes that portray an ideal world unaffected by the Fall, or the light, cheery melodies that characterize the Christian life as one of undiminished happiness. Such a world may be nice to imagine, but it is not the world God sent his Son to save." (p. 43, emphasis mine)

Ouch.

That is a sobering critique; but, as I survey the landscape of Christian produced art (especially movies, music and visual art), it is accurate.

The simple fact is that the church does very little to encourage supporting the arts. Functionality trumps form. Style trumps substance. "What can get people in the door" trumps "how can we foster discipleship and spiritual growth?" This prioritization is deadly for a healthy artistic philosophy. And, unfortunately, this way of thinking completely shuts out the experts in this area, namely the artists! The church doesn't do this in other areas; when was the last time a church handed out a survey to see how the congregation felt about the building's plumbing or electrical wiring?

The church needs a radical shift in the philosophy and priority of the arts. Often it's the movies that don't have a happy ending that make me think the most, and remind me to pray for the needs of others. A song that is in a minor key can have a weight and poignancy to communicate a deep truth that a major key can't capture. A painting that conveys the truth about the world's need for a Savior can stir the heart to action more than the idealized perfection of a hill-covered landscape. The more we understand the world, and the people hurting within it, the more we can learn to love and serve others like Christ would have us.

Since writing "Art for God's Sake," Dr. Ryken has become the president of Wheaton College, whose motto is "For Christ and His Kingdom." I can think of no greater motivation to pursue artistic excellence.

"May His beauty rest upon me,
As I seek the lost to win,
And may they forget the channel,
Seeing only Him." - Kate B. Wilkonson (1859-1928)

 

Comments

Yes! Thanks for reminding us of "Truth, Goodness, and Beauty." Art is not subjective.

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