By Haley Hasch
In our previous article, we discussed the separation of Christianity and culture, and how this led Christian artists to begin to copy secular art. We also discussed how in an effort to make their art “moral” and “Christian”, Christians began sacrificing inspiration and authenticity. In this final article, we will discuss how the Christian artist can make art that is glorifying to God which is, at the same time, genuine, inspired art.
WHAT MAKES ART AUTHENTIC?
Creating works that tell the truth, inspire goodness, and point to beauty should be the aim of every Christian artist. But artists who feel pressure to force Jesus into every piece of art they make often end up being inauthentic. They are not creating art because they love the craft—they are creating art because they feel that this is what they must do, or as Prof. Gene Edward Veith, Jr. puts it: “Faith today is often packaged and sold as a matter of consumer preference rather than proclaimed as an all-consuming truth.”
Hans Rookmaaker says it best when he writes: “Artists, in order to fit into the patterns of evangelicalism, have compromised and so prostituted their art. Handel with his Messiah, Bach with his St. Matthew Passion, Rembrandt with his Denial of St. Peter, and the architects of the Cisterian churches were not evangelizing, nor making tools for evangelism; they worked to the glory of God. They did not compromise their art. They were not devising tools for religious propaganda or holy advertisement . . .Their works were not the means to an end, the winning of souls, but they were meaningful and an end to themselves. They were to God’s glory, and showing forth something of the life that makes things warm and real.”
C.S. Lewis echoes the importance of being authentic in his essay, “Creating Narnia”: “Some people seem to think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument; then collected information about child-psychology and decided what age group I’d write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out “allegories” to embody them. This is all pure moonshine.”
Christians who want to be evangelistic in their work should take care in how it is presented. When the Gospel is forced into art, it can become more like propaganda and less like good news. This can cheapen the Gospel.
HOW WE CHANGE THINGS
The solution calls for work on both the part of the Church and the artist. Christ’s command to love and serve the neighbor is the guide for how the Church must deal with any artist. In doing this, the Church should first and foremost encourage the artist’s relationship with Christ, as this is the most important thing in any Christian’s life. Ashlee Cowells, award winning author of Beneath Wandering Stars writes in an article, “Perhaps the church’s ultimate responsibility isn’t giving specific works the stamp of approval but forming artists who are shaped by that Gospel”. While encouraging artists in their faith, the Church should not see the artist as a replacement for a pastor, or see the artist strictly as an evangelist, whose work is only valid if it brings people to Christ.
The Church should also always be honest in its critique of art. When a new song, movie, or book is released by a Christian artist, the piece should only be recommended to others if it is truly worthy. Of course, consideration should be taken for the amateur artist who is in the process of perfecting his skill, but whether professional or amateur, the Church should never promote an art form simply because it has been labeled “Christian.” It is a disservice to audiences to promote or recommend mediocre art. Doing this may even cause believers to lose credibility when audiences determine that the art being pushed is not appealing. The Church should love the artist and be honest about their art, and the artist should treat her craft as her vocation, and most importantly, always be looking to the Word and her pastor for spiritual guidance.
The role of the Christian artist, on the other hand, is to serve his neighbor by regarding his art as a vocation. Vocation is simply the work of people, through which God sees fit to bless the world. Colossians 3:23-24 says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Believers are to work “as for the Lord” but the one who is ultimately blessed by this work is not the Lord, but the neighbor. Artists should have the freedom to create art that is aimed towards spreading the faith to unbelievers, art that edifies fellow believers, or art that can be enjoyed by anyone. Leland Ryken writes, “We can clarify the issue if we simply view Christian artists like other Christians who speak publicly . . . We expect that they will not speak contrary to the truth of the Christian faith. And we expect that at least sometimes they will say things that are explicitly Christian.” To serve others well, artists should be willing to receive constructive criticism and constantly strive to perfect the talents God has given them.
So to sum up the failure of Christian art: Historically, Christians have been the forerunners of art, but after the Enlightenment, culture split. The 60s left the Western world completely changed, with secularism becoming the norm. In order to make Christianity more appealing to the unbeliever, artists copied the culture and showed the gospel through rose-colored glasses. Because of this, their art became inauthentic.
The solution, then, is that our world needs soul-filling, transcendent art—art with love, sacrifice, grace, peace, fellowship, and kindness. Humanity craves the true, the good, and the beautiful things. Art that demonstrates these virtues, and does so with excellence, is the art that points to something beyond ourselves. This is the art that changes people. Let us strive—as Church and artists—to create and foster transcendent art again, to the glory of God.
Haley Hasch is a 2020 homeschool graduate and is currently pursuing additional studies in English and music. She attends Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in San Antonio, TX.