2006-06-22

on christian vs. secular art

I've been thinking more and more about this lately. What is the distinction between "christian" and "secular" art? Why do we draw a distinction? At first the answer seems really easy. Christian art embodies the ideas of christianity, while secular art does not. However, like most easy answers, if we take a look a little bit deeper, we find it's too simple.

  • First of all, is not the act of creating in itself screaming the nature of God? Could we say that anything that we find which is true and truly beautiful comes from God? (Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above) So why would that be different if that true and beautiful thing is coming from a non-christian? That person was made in the image of God just as much as I was, can be used by God just as well as I can.
  • Secondly, does being a christian mean that any art I make will be inherently true, beautiful, useful, edifying, etc? NO! The fact that my brokenness is forgiven does not eliminate the brokenness. I am likely at times to do things which are quite ugly, unthoughtful, insensitive, far from encouraging and uplifting. There is no guarantee that just because I am a christian everything that comes out of my creative pen will be wholesome and true and beautiful.


So, this distinction between christian and secular art does two things. It gives us a false sense of fear of anything which is not labeled as christian. It also gives us a false sense of security about anything that is labeled as christian.

Anywhere we can find the truth and beauty of God (which is anything that is really true and beautiful), we can interact with Him. Even if it is in the art of a non-christian, or something which is not labeled as christian. There is breathtaking beauty in many non-christians' music, poetry, painting, etc... and it causes me to wonder at the hugeness and beauty of God. I don't think it's healthy to just summarily dismiss art which is not labeled as christian.

Regarding art that is labeled as christian, we have to be careful as well. In his podcast recently, Derek Webb (formerly of Caedmon's Call) says he knows a lot of people in the music industry who are professional songwriters, and just as they learn the language of country music and write country songs, they also learn the language of christian music and write christian songs and even worship songs, though many of them are not christians themselves. He notes that a good bit of the music you hear on christian radio was actually written by non-christians. How is someone going to write a meaningful song about a relationship with Christ if they haven't got one?

So, the point is this - as christians, I believe we have the freedom to engage in all art, finding the truth and beauty and discarding the dross wherever we find it. These distinctions between christian and secular art were just set up to sell things in a lot of cases, and we have to look deeper than just labels to determine if something is worthwhile, beautiful, encouraging, uplifting, etc.

There is an issue of sensitivity to the Spirit involved here, in that if you, at the point in life you are at, feel that it is really harmful for you to interact with some particular art, then don't. However, don't dismiss it just because it is not labeled christian, or blindly accept it because it is.

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