top of the flops: a problem with christian art

So I got thinking about this post’s content when someone I heard preaching used the recording of a song from a fairly popular Christian artist as an illustration.

The song was terrible.

I thought to myself; why is it that many Christians feel it necessary to listen to such abhorrent music simply because it expressly identifies itself as “Christian” or “worship” or some such thing?

I can’t answer from any perspective but my own. When I was a teenage Christian I was convinced that it was best to mainly listen to Christian music because it was somehow spiritually uplifting. These days I find it the exact opposite is more often the case.

If you've seen the video this is from, you know why it goes with this post... Click for the video.

This is not to say all Christian music is bad, though a lot of it is in my opinion. It too often suffers from one or more of the following; uncreative composition, tired chord progressions, cliched and unthoughtful lyrics, woeful theology, sterile production.

This might sound like an overly critical or mean-spirited rant (and maybe it is…), but this is not my intention. It would also be apt to ask the question – what have I got to offer that is better?

My answer to such a strawman question is that I don’t have to come up with anything better. It’s already been done.

We live in a world where so-called “secular” music artists constantly create beautiful, creative and inspiring works of art. While many such artists suffer from the same problems that exist in the Christian music scene, many do not, and these artists are probably most often not Christian.

In these works of art I often find myself most drawn to God. Not because the artist is required to be Christian to compose something spiritually uplifting, but because God is present in such beauty regardless of the author. In fact I have often found myself reflecting on the work of non-Christian artists and finding more beauty, holiness and godliness than anything I’ve ever heard in the Christian music scene.

I feel comfortable with this because of my high view of creation.

I take very seriously my belief that God created the world (how he did it is irrelevant). If God did indeed create the universe, then his signature is on the entire thing, most notably in his image found in every human being. Though such humans often do not acknowledge the Creator, they still bear his image…

… an image expressed in the creativity they display. This is evident in not only music, but also other artforms like film, dance, visual art, architecture etc. (in fact one of the most awe inspiring experiences I have ever had was exploring the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia; these temples were built by Buddhists and Hindus).

It is no secret that this post is aimed specifically at Christians. I suppose I want to make a small contribution to the effort to liberate Christian creativity from being cheaply prostituted and uninspired drivel. I want to make clear that this is not the case for all Christian art, but sadly it is all too common (in my opinion, at least).

A major reason, I think, that the Christian arts scene is largely uninspiring is because it has largely been turned into a media marketing machine – the major contributors to influential creative arts are locked into producing regular projects for mass sale. If we can move to producing art for the sake of loving God and displaying his beauty then we might see more of the inspiring art that most often appears amongst those who do not profess to know God (and hopefully even surpass it – new creations, anyone?).

MCA

P.S. While I am aware that personal tastes, generation gaps and other factors play a part in how people feel about art, you can’t talk about everything in a post.

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Posted on October 24, 2010, in Culture & Art, Theology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Does that include AIR’s Sexy Boy?
    I think people think it’s a gay anthem, but it’s actually about materialism and hubris as values in society. But as the lyrics are in French and ‘the film clip is about a monkey most people miss the point. The music itself is awesome.

  2. Another one that tweaks me is the film clip for Frankie Goes To Hollywoods ‘The Power of Love’. A secular portrayal of the sacred which brings tears to my eyes when I watch it – a band led by a singer who has to live with the stigma and ultimate sentence of being HIV positive portraying the power of love as the birth of Jesus. Some people would say that record execs took advantage of a Christmas release in 1985 but so what, watch it on You Tube and tell me if you think God uses secular music to touch us.

  3. I was at a secular dance music festival about a year back. There was one particular electro/punk artist, who everyone was talking about, and just about everyone was there to see. The particular stage they were scheduled to play at was nearing capacity 2 hours before they were due to get on stage, i was one of the lucky ones who made it in, moments later the gates and doors where closed, many thousands of people started queing up at the gates and doors demanding to be let in to see the main artists that most people had come to see. No one else was allowed in while inside we waited for 2 hours for this artist to come on.

    Needless to say the artist we were all there to see was incredible, the crowd feasted off every beat, lyric and melody for the duration of the performance. We danced, sung along and lost ourselves in the atmosphere we were apart of.

    When it came to the end of their set, and they played their current single and most popular song to date, i found myself suddenly in awe and in worship, not of the artist i was there to see, but the God who created beats, melodies and the language we speak. It was kinda wierd, but while many people around me were obviously tripping on whatever party drug they could get their hands on, I was thanking God for the gift of music and creativity, the enjoyment it gives us as his people, the way God uses it to show us himself, and in doing this we gain a deeper understanding of him and are able to draw closer in relationship to him.

    I have listened to countless christian artists since Christ Saved me in early highschool, but never before had their music given me this revelation of christ that i experienced that afternoon at the dance music festival.

  4. Thanks man, needs to be recognised. I love King David’s philosophy; that he would not bring an offering that cost him nothing. He was an excellent artist with a vast body of songs and I’ve only read his lyrics… would loved to have heard them.

    I guess there is something to be said for an artist and how much their art costs them to realise.

  5. Great post Matt. I feel much the same about the Christian music scene. There are certainly some great artists out there who really try and make something new and fresh, but there is a heck of a lot of junk out there that as you said is full of ” uncreative composition, tired chord progressions, cliched and unthoughtful lyrics, woeful theology, sterile production.”

    Before I became a Christian several years ago, Id grown up in a house where my Dad was a musician and as a result listened to a heck of a lot of music from all sorts of genres. When I became a Christian and I was being taught I needed to honour God with everything in my life including the music I listened to, I really felt like I’d been ripped off and my only choice for music for the rest of my life would be hillsong united and chris tomlin (not that they are bad, but they are hardly groundbreaking or original).

    You’re right in saying that “In these works of art I often find myself most drawn to God. Not because the artist is required to be Christian to compose something spiritually uplifting, but because God is present in such beauty regardless of the author.”

    Thanks for posting such a great post on this issue. Good to know there are people out there who think that the current state of Christian arts (specifically music) is in dire need of some originality and creativity.

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