This discussion is especially appropriate now, as Christian artists TobyMac has the #1 album on the Billboard charts, Eye On It, while Lecrae’s latest release, Gravity, spent most of the past week as the best-selling album on iTunes.
Christians can make good art. Christians can make exceptional art. From my perspective, both TobyMac and Lecrae are extraordinary artists who are concerned with glorifying God in their work.
However, Christians often make poor entertainment, frequently doing so under the guise of evangelism. “Sure the story isn’t the best, but this movie shows people responding to Jesus.”
|Photo illustration from Sxc.hu by uars|
It used to be the case that Christians would evaluate music based on JPM (Jesus’s Per Minute). How often does the song mention Jesus would determine how Christian the song is. While that might not be exactly the case now, have we moved much beyond that?
One could argue that we judge that way because we want others to see or hear about our Savior. I do not doubt that is the heart of most, but I also think it can be misguided. In actuality, it is an unrecognized capitulation to an anti-Christian way of thinking.
Utilitarianism is the philosophy that argues everything is judged based on what it can do, what it can produce. You have value if you produce. You have value to me if you can do something for me.
Obviously, when we look at it removed from specifics we can see the error of this. We know that people have intrinsic worth. Human beings have worth because they are made in God’s image, not because they might be able to do something for someone else.
It can become difficult, however, when we began to evaluate things. Are inanimate objects only good in as much as they do something for us? Is a song only good if it mentions Jesus? Is a movie only worthy of praise if it has an altar call? Can art or entertainment be judged as having intrinsic worth?
I think it can, because I think creation, God’s work of art, has intrinsic value, beyond the utilitarian worth it has for us.
When you see swaths of gold, orange, red, purple and blue across the sky in a sunset, does it not have value simply because of its beauty? Can you not sit and appreciate the loveliness of what God made?
Think about creation. It didn’t have to be beautiful. It is not required that flowers look like a box of crayons in a field. Leaves didn’t have to transform Autumn trees into rich, fiery canvases.
Even your food. There was nothing that really forced God to give us taste buds and layers of flavors chefs can explore for our enjoyment.
But that’s what those things are about – enjoyment, beauty. It’s not anything tangible. There is just something intrinsically valuable about those things, beyond what they produce.
Can humans, as those created in the very image of the Creator, not create things that have worth for their beauty? Can a movie not speak to God because it is a beautiful story, filled with conflict yes, but the tale is moving and gripping? Can a song not point beyond itself with the very way the music flows?
I believe it can. I believe that art and entertainment can be evaluated, not simply by how many times the song speaks of Jesus and if the movie features a sermon explaining the Gospel.
I believe we can see and appreciate beauty and truth as part of what makes something a worthy piece of entertainment or art produced by a Christian.
I believe this to be the case, because of how we see God revealing Himself in creation, Scripture and the person of Jesus. Specifically, I think we can see the art that Jesus produces and recognize that art and entertainment made by Christians can be artful and entertaining.
That will be the subject of our next conversation.