I believe art is an extremely important medium that the church too often ignores. I am also convinced that the question about art and the church isn’t if we will choose to do art or not, but rather how well we will choose to do it. Personally, as we talk about our attitude towards art in mission, I want to make sure that no matter what ministry I find myself in that it moves beyond the culturally traditional view that so many churches seem to be stuck in.
Michael Gungor, the lead singer of a hugely successful, groundbreaking worship band called Gungor, talks about this idea in an article called The Problem With Christian Art. Essentially he says that not only is the phrase “Christian art” redundant, but that the term “Christian” cannot just be a genre or subsection of art used simply for “an audience of huddled Christians afraid of the world and in need of an alternative art of their own.” Rather, Christians need to embrace art as a way to explore all of life, and pastors need to embrace it as a form of preaching and teaching.
Don’t get me wrong; there is a place for the traditional sacred art, especially as it is used to teach incredibly important Bible stories and theological themes. However, we are continually closing ourselves off unnecessarily from a wide range of tools that God can use for his kingdom. As W. David O. Taylor so eloquently put it in Christianity Today, “What if we saw the arts as essential, rather than optional, to the Spirit’s work of forming us in the image of Christ when we gather as a corporate body?”
In order for God to use art, it does not need to be expressly Christian. God has revealed his character to people throughout history in many things that aren’t found in a church building. There are a variety of examples of this in the world, but Joel Oliphint explores the connection between the Icelandic band “Sigur Ros and the Art of Christian Worship“. He basically says that “all good things come from God, and Sigur Rós makes music that’s stunningly beautiful. God can reveal something about himself in a Sigur Rós crescendo as much as a cascading waterfall.” Ogden Vogt, in his work Art & Religion, puts it this way: “There are very few things, perhaps nothing, more important to do for a child than to help him to see that the world is beautiful.”
Perhaps another aid to the church in exploring the use of art for mission is found in an article entitled “Why Art Should Matter to Christians” by Melissa Kircher. One of the main points she makes is that many artists feel that their art is not welcome in the church unless it is censored and “flannel graphy.” The Bible itself is a very graphic and untamed book, and I think we do ourselves, and those we serve, a disservice when we try to make all of our church art look the same. She also rightly points out that much of early Christian art was actually bloody and raw. After all, the cross itself was a hideous thing, and somehow it has become an adorable and cute accessory.
I want to end with a word to artists. One of the things that makes my skin crawl is when artists–in an attempt to be “cool” or “relevant”–try to “Christianize” things. Instead of creating something, they just imitate it. The truth is, the world isn’t looking to us to take what they do and simply clean it up a bit. What the world needs is a prophetic word. They need us to be original, authentic, and genuine. They need us to know the heart of God, to live absolutely faithful to him, and to let our art reflect that.