So Nimm Denn Meine Hande...

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Some thoughts on Christianity and Art...

Okay. Here's a total break from the norm. I was writing a post for the blog of a friend, and ended up writing so much that I thought "Why don't I use this as a post for MY own blog, seeing that I haven't posted in like 2 weeks or more"? So, basically there were 6 questions about art, though it seemed to be talking more about music. Here they are:

1. What is it that makes a song Christian? Lyrics? Lifestyle? Record label indentification?

2. Does the immoral lifestyle of a certain artist deem his art unworthy?

3. To all those who think that we should only listen to "Christian" music, what about other art forms? Do we only watch, "Christian" dance? Only view "Christian", Thomas Kinkade paintings? Do we only watch "Christian" film starring Kirk Cameron?

4. Would it be ok for a person who is a Christian musician to write and record a CD that never mentioned the name of Jesus and just simply talked about life issues of family, love, sex, pain and suffering, growing older, politics, etc? Or does being a Christian demand that you only produce music that directly communicates something about God?

5. Is music as sound amoral?

6. As an artist is it helpful to only expose oneself to "Christian" art?

7. Is it possible to rejoice in art that does not explicitly glorify the Creator since all creativity stems from being made in His image?

******************Now I know that there are several artists (or at least ONE) that read this, so I figured that he would be interested...or hate my guts. Either way, here's what I had to say:

Off and on, as necessity requires or time permits, I have been a semi-professional musician. I've taught and performed on both percussion and guitar, and I'm quite a paradox for most people: I'm a pastor/teacher/theologian (well, kinda…I’ve pastored and I'm in seminary) who loves music, and REALLY loves power/prog/extreme metal.

In the past I've been playing drums or guitar on Sunday morning and had people walk up to me and tell me "that was the most worshipful drumming I've ever heard in church" and then be completely shocked when they learned somehow that I was playing a gig on Saturday night with some crazy metal band. I've had the "That music sounds like Satan" rebuke from more than my share of people. (And honestly, my question to them is always the same: "I'm curious as to how you're so familiar with the Devil that you recognize his voice?")

Here's my answers to the questions though:

1. A Song is a "Christian" song in as much as it corresponds to truth. I've heard "Amazing Grace" performed by both DcTalk and Destiny's Child. The second version wasn't any less true than the first; though the second band didn't have a clue what they were singing about.

2. I think I've already answered this one. An artist who lives an immoral lifestyle is simply sad, but their hypocrisy doesn't invalidate the truth of the songs they sing. If Glen Danzig would sing the song 'amazing grace', it wouldn't make the song all of a sudden untrue. Glen Danzig would simply not have a clue what he's talking about.

3. As for the "only Christian music" question, I grew up listening to 'secular' rock. Then in Grade 9 I started going to a Baptist youth group and learned what a 'CD burning party was'. So long to Van Halen. Then, in my Bible School years, I learned that many 'Christian' musicians are pagans and really lousy musicians. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I want to fill my head with truth (whether positive or negative) and beauty.

I find that I love listening to Fernando Ortega, Petra, Point of Grace, Tourniquet, PFR, Glad, The Cathedrals and Narnia because their music is filled with truth. I've probably sung along with "Crown him with many Crowns" by Glad (Acapella Project III) or "A Dog's Breakfast" by Tourniquet (Psycho Surgery) a thousand times, and been encouraged and built up every time. I've also listened to the "Sin" by Megadeth (Cryptic Writings) dozens of times and had that song speak truth to me as well, knowing where Dave Mustaine was in his life when he wrote it. That song asks the question of Romans 7; "Why can I not seem to keep from sinning though I hate it so?" It's a very negative song, but a very true song as well.

As for beauty, I've learned a TON about melody, harmony, composition and arranging from thousands of strange places. I’ve had people often comment on how they loved some arrangement of a worship song. I wonder what would happen though if I would tell them “Well, that was a cool trick, hey? I stole that musical idea from Alexi Laiho and he’s a Finnish musician who probably worships Satan.” I’m guessing they would be slightly stunned…but I never tell them. They’re just happy that the music in church was beautiful.

As for the whole 'Christian' movies and dance question, I'd say that the same applies in other forms of art. If you can learn the technical side of art from a good pagan artists, do so and then use that art to communicate God honoring truth, in a beautiful vehicle served with technical excellence. If their art is so wicked that if causes you to stumble stay away. (On a side note, all the 'Christian' dance and television/movies I've ever seen are so horrible that I don't know how anyone would learn those art forms without seeking to learn from 'secular' sources!)

This question is a nonsense question. Everything you do communicates something about God, and “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:33). If you don’t care much about truth or Christ, you don’t usually talk about them.

Music as sound is as amoral as words not organized into a sentence. I can use ANY word, even the most innocent or vulgar word, in a ‘proper’ AND improper context. In the same way, I can use a guitar, drum set, bass guitar and keyboard to write the greatest worship song ever written, or, I can use those instruments to write a sound track for a pornographic movie. Music can be USED morally and immorally, but music doesn’t have inherent moral properties.

As an artist, it’s important to expose oneself to truth and beauty, as well as technical excellence. ‘Good’ art is art that corresponds to God. God is truth, beauty and perfection (among other things). Truth is that which corrseponds to God, and God has revealed himself generally in nature and specially (propositionally) in the scripture. Art that doesn't correspond to God, as revealed in nature and Scripture, but is instead blasphemous or immoral isn't "good" art; it's "bad" art (though it may be excellently made/performed). Beauty partially comes from the individual culture of the composer/performer (ie. Music that is considered ‘beautiful’ in Calcutta isn’t considered ‘beautiful’ in Connecticut and vice versa) and perfection comes from the standards of the individual discipline (a ‘good’ guitarist will have the technical side of guitar ‘down’; hand positioning, posture, scales, arpeggios, phrasing, feel, rhythm, dynamics, etc.) If any art causes one to sin/stumble, then avoid it. If it has truth or beauty or technical excellence and one can learn from it, then by all means one should glean what one can for the sake of making better "good" art.

7. The question “Is it possible to rejoice in art that does not explicitly glorify the Creator since all creativity stems from being made in His image?” is again a nonsense question. Everything glorifies Christ (some things glorify his justice and other things glorify his grace) and I don’t rejoice in music because creativity comes from the ‘imago dei’. I rejoice in art because it communicates truth in a way that I find beautiful, with excellence. Whether it's a landscape painting that captures the beauty of the landscape or a song that exhalts Jesus Christ;
I rejoice in art that corresponds to God.

Until Next Time,

The Armchair Theologian


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