It was an awesome Christian movie… except for the usual cheesy parts… but, you know, we’ve all learned to look past that.
It was a conversation at the front of my church following the worship service. A passionate Christian wanting to embrace the latest Christian movie on the big screen. A predictable refrain: ignore the cheesy parts.
Lately, Christian art (movies, TV, music, visual, etc.) has followed a similar trajectory. The theology is great, the storyline is decent, God’s reputation is upheld by the content, but the artistry is shoddy. Sub-par at best. Christians are left wanting to defend all the good things about it, but find themselves settling for “ignoring the cheesy parts.”
Why do we have to choose between a great message and great art?
It’s ironic that the movie Noah was released on the same week this conversation happened in the front of my church. Many Christian groups were outraged. The theology was tainted, God was never mentioned, the Bible was tampered with… but the artistry was fantastic. The cinematography, the set design, the costumes, the acting, the story arc, they were all breathtaking. Noah was the number one movie in the country while Christian movies battle to stay in the big theaters for a week.
Yes there are budgetary differences, yes the intensity of promotion of the movies is radically disproportionate and yes there is even a self-imposed victim mentality by some Christians that is a factor in all of this. Yet the truth remains that there is a wide chasm between the quality of art that is being produced in the secular realm and what is flowing out of the church.
I’m a pastor, not an artist, so I cannot provide a hands-on solution to this problem. You don’t want to see my paintings or hear me rap. But there must be a solution. The quality gap between sacred and secular art hasn’t always been like it is today.
The Church & Art
Some of the best art in history was produced or at least commissioned by the church. There were stages throughout history when the church was the center of artistic excellence. Many of the most enduring pieces are both theologically accurate and breathtakingly excellent. Johann Sebastian Bach’s worship music, Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, Michelangelo’s work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or the statue of David. There was a time when all the great art was happening in the church.
And it makes complete sense. The God of the Bible is an incredible artist. God used amazing innovation and ingenuity when he designed creation. He created mountains and valleys and rivers and oceans and beaches and sunsets. He created light and color and music and tastes and smells. God made 230,000 different species of flowers! The human body is a masterpiece. Mankind has never come close to reproducing the advanced auto-focus design of the human eye. Or consider the sun. God could have stopped with properly functioning celestial timepiece. Instead he made that timepiece beautiful. The rays of the sun are warm to the skin. They dance across the water making dazzling sunsets. They paint the sky at the dawn of each new day. The artistry of God is all around us.
Great Art is Godly
I’m very thankful to be able to serve God with some wonderful artists at my church. The raw materials and tools are different than in the Renaissance. But their commitment to excellence is the same. With guitars and drums, with Mac computers, video cameras and Pro Presenter, and sound and lighting consoles—their commitment is to make great art for the glory of God.
Often when churches attempt to produce excellent art, some well-meaning Christians level the critique, “Why are we trying to be like ‘the world’?” My response is since when did attempting great art become synonymous to being like “the world”? You see, “the world” did not create excellent art, God did. So maybe we’re just trying to be like him.
I’m tired of choosing between a great message and great art. It’s time for the church to reclaim art, to marry the message and the art in the way that’s worthy of our creative Creator.
Calling all artists… the church needs you.