No doubt at some point you have heard this famous statement attributed (although perhaps falsely) to Martin Luther: “The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.” However, when we survey the current situation among arts and crafts among Christendom, it would seem that not only for Christians to make good shoes, but everything imaginable must have a cross on it—or a fish, if someone felt daring in a design meeting. One can find every cheesy or tacky variation of beloved Christian symbols imaginable on every conceivable item. One finds this same attitude in Christian media as well. To be blunt, it is enough to make me cry out, “How long, O Lord?!” And if I ever found some fellow believer who had a simple poster of some famous old work of Christian art, I may well weep tears of joy as if I found the Holy Grail!
Now, you will likely say that I’m perhaps being rather harsh, but I would point several things. First, Christians should be able to produce art on par with their pagan counterparts. And, as in the case of North America, where the pagans are obsessed with sleaze and death, one would think this would be the chance to demonstrate the power of the Christian worldview through powerful art of all kinds!
Instead, evangelicalism has responded with Indo-European Jesus and Thomas Kinkade. Indeed, Kinkade paintings are demonstrative of part of the problem. Certainly, they are pretty to look at, evoke a nebulous nostalgia, and adorn a wall—but that is about it. They have no artistic power or depth, and are a far cry from the honesty about life of Van Gogh’s paintings of townsfolk, or the depth of religious feeling of a Gustave Dore illustration. But then again it is much harder to sell decorative pillows featuring Dore’s illustration of “The Vision of the Valley of Dry Bones” to elderly ladies, I suppose.
This actually brings me into a second observation—the dominant art culture in modern evangelicalism shows a rather shallow approach to existence. Put briefly, we only have room for a few moods and tempos. This is blatantly obvious in our worship services, where one would expect the most variety and depth in expression, but much to our dismay (particularly for those going through great trouble) one gets this Kinkade approach to worship.
I must stop here for a moment to praise God that the Psalms know no such cookie cutter approaches to things. The Scriptures themselves include all of life and existence! Holy Writ has such diversity in subject, tone, style, and complexity; I’m at an utter loss at how much of Christian art and media can be so two dimensional. Imagine if some brave soul came to a Christian film company, pitching a screenplay with a story dealing with some of the themes of a book like Ecclesiastes, the poor soul would probably have about the same (if not better) luck with an independent film studio run by secularists. These days I wonder if, in our current battle with the forces of evil, we have decided that to allow ourselves to convey honesty of thought and emotion in our art and modes of expression is to show weakness to our enemies.
Before I make my final observation, I must thank any reader that has braved it so far. Congratulations are in order, for you either share my concerns thus far or want to accurately portray my statements in your angry comments—I’m grateful in either case. But let us move on.
Finally, I must play the snob because I consider the making of quality art in whatever lawful form by Christians to be a way to greatly honor our God, and as a witness to an unbelieving world. Consider how in Exodus 35-36 God specifically gifts the craftsmen and builders of his Tabernacle, not only in the basic construction, but also in its decoration. If some Elders during the building or renovation of a sanctuary asked the local artists to please decorate the sanctuary with garden imagery in service to God, we would consider such a thing odd, but considering how from Genesis to Revelation (consider the description of the New Jerusalem) the garden motif is part of where God meets with man; I can think of nothing more appropriate in design! And such a thing would honor God and be a great blessing to those God has given artistic gifts!
As far as a witness, great works of art far outlive their creators. In the case of J. S. Bach, his body of work is massive and masterful, which is common knowledge. However, that music because of its beauty and mostly Christian subject matter, it has been used greatly in bringing many to faith in Christ. Because of Bach’s devotion both to God’s glory and quality, a Bach concert often becomes an evangelistic occasion to people that would not bother to pay attention to a street preacher and can be an aid in the devotional life of believers (as was closer to the music’s original intent). But oh, how far we have fallen! As our laziness in standing for doctrinal truth in the 20th century was, our art reflected it most surely. If one wanted to hear something that sounded similar in message to an Old Testament prophet one would have to listen to the Queen song “The Prophet’s Song” or if you want something on your TV screen that explores human existence you will have an easier time finding an Anime that will do so, despite the normally Secular worldview of its creators. Surely it is shameful that those blessed to see God’s truth intimately, create things that those without eyes to see rightly consider of low quality!
Now to those, especially to those reading this, that strive to honor God in their art with quality in form and truth, I hope that God blesses such as you, and may your kind increase greatly; for your calling and task is a noble one! Once Christians produced the finest works of art on Earth; it is my sincere and earnest belief that that will be the case in the future, this side of eternity. God bless you all with grace and peace.