Are You a Christian Artist or an Artist who Follows Christ?
What is Christian art? What qualifies a book, movie, or album to be sold in a Christian bookstore? Even more specifically, what is Christian theatre? Does a play only glorify God when the Gospel message is spelled out and the character experiences a dramatic conversion? Can a professed Christian read Harry Potter or Twilight? Can a Christian sing the songs from Wicked or Hamilton?
Some background. I grew up in a Christian home, listening to Point of Grace, DC Talk, Steven Curtis Chapman, and Plus One. I read Janette Oke and watched The Greatest Adventure: Stories from the Bible. Most of this was by choice. My parents are awesome and discerning. The only things we weren’t allowed to watch were the Smurfs (because of witchcraft) and The Simpsons (because of the snarky, disrespectful attitude of Bart). I also watched Power Rangers (I was the Pink one). I strongly and vocally opposed the Harry Potter books (WITHOUT EVEN READING THEM!) because so many Christians were against them.
I chose to the safety of books and movies I found in the Christian genre because they affirmed the worldview I was forming.
“Often with Christian entertainment, the goal is for something to be affirmational more than it is to be authentic or artistic.” – Knox McCoy, The Wondering Years.
But here's the thing...
Everything...science, history, technology, education, and art belong to the Lord. Everything we create, secular or sacred, can be used to glorify Him!
So What is the Difference?
I like labels. Labels tell us what to expect. A label on a box of cereal tells me what is inside that box. A warning label reminds us that the substance is harmful when not used correctly. Even on people, labels can be useful. I expect a Police Officer to uphold the law. I expect a doctor to know something about medicine. I expect an artsy person to use funky colors in their hair, nails, and makeup. I have different expectations for my family, my friends, and my acquaintances.
I am an artist. What kind? A writer. What kind? Non-fiction, blogs, opinions, devotionals. Does that mean I can’t write other things? Certainly not! That label can help define things when you first get to know me, but it is not the be all end all of who I am or what I do.
A Christian artist is someone who creates art – books, music, paintings, etc – specifically for the Christian market. In theory, “Christian art” is something informed by a Christian worldview, a “regenerated outlook on the whole of life”. In practice, it is anything created by Christians, specifically for Christians to be used in worship evangelism.
An artist who follows Christ is someone who creates to contribute to the cultural conversation, exploring questions about origins, behavior, identity and so on, through the influence of their faith. It may or may not specifically be about their faith. It may or may not be consumed by the general market. Steve Turner, author of Imagine, wrote,
“I resented ever being described as a ‘Christian poet’ because the label was too confining. I believed that Christians should be writing poetry infused with godly perception rather than poetry about religion.”
The works of Charles Dickens – A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, Great Expectations and so on – are rich with the gospel message but never spell out their Christianity.
God is a creator, and we, made in His image, are driven to create as well. We are storytellers because He is a storyteller. We take our jumbled, disordered thoughts and feelings and channel them into something beautiful, orderly, and expressive because that is what He did first.
I am Not in any way, shape, or form saying that ALL Christian art is poor quality or that all secular art is excellent. Art should be judged on its merits, not by its label. As believers we have a responsibility to be wise and thoughtful, discerning what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable (Philippians 4:8).
Art is a big part of our culture. As both a consumer and a creator I want to contribute to our collective understanding of the world. I love writing about Bible stories, digging deep in the character of the people God left for us as a testimony of who He is. But I do not want to play it safe, avoid hard topics, or dismiss something as good simply because it is not comfortably “Christian”.