The Disconnect: Why Evangelicals Make Bad Art (Part 1)

Son Bucks? Really? Bad Christian Art, BadAmerica and most of the Western world of the early twenty-first century A.D. embody cultures largely driven by the quest for self-fulfillment, affluence, and pleasure (as opposed to things like survival or self-consciously transcendent goals such as serving God’s Will as a society). American society (which influences much of the rest of the world) is largely a cultural product of the secularization of a logical extension of Evangelicalism (a succinct and informative account of this can be found in Michael Horton’s excellent book, Made In America). The quest for pleasure in America is largely expressed by seeking entertainment through the experience of the Arts, through the varied mediums such as television, film, popular music, fashion, home decoration, sports (oh yes, Virginia, sports in modern America are also an entertainment art), and so forth.

Scattered throughout America, many millions strong (some demographers estimate between a fifth and a fourth of the population), is the Evangelical wing of the Church, which is comprised not only of the explicitly Evangelical denominations (such as the Baptists, Evangelical Free Churches, and Assemblies of God), but also of millions of other believing Evangelicals who are members of the so-called “mainstream” denominations, as well (such as the Methodists, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians).

Evangelicals, despite their varied denominational status, are united in their belief that a personal encounter with Christ, Who has died for the sins of mankind, is necessary to salvation, and that this encounter will change the individual who experiences such an encounter, enabling him to be obedient to God’s Will, especially as His Will is revealed through the writings in the Bible, God’s Written Revelation.

We Evangelicals (and I am an Evangelical) believe that the Gospel message can change the world (as it is doing today in Africa, South America, and Asia). Not terribly long ago, historically speaking, it changed the West. Yet today the West self-consciously is moving farther and farther from the Biblical concepts which ruled the formation of our culture for centuries. How can this be, in a society riddled with millions of Evangelicals who profess to hold to a message which is life- and world-changing? Why the pagan-ward drift?

More to the point of this article is a related question, an important one for Evangelicals in a society which is moving away from its Christian heritage while idolizing art and beauty: Why, considering the large number of Evangelicals in America, is so little good art being produced by them? Why is most Evangelical-produced art so shoddy?

I recognize that there is some mature, excellent, effective, world-class art coming out of our branch of the Church (in fact, it appears to me that the production of good art by Evangelicals is growing); nonetheless, in comparison with the huge number of extant Evangelicals, the amount of truly well-done art, percentage-wise, is comparatively very low. Why is this? Evangelicals profess to know and love the Creator-God of all beauty, the Triune God Who is Himself Beauty; how then can so much of our art not reflect this deeply and realistically?

This is a question with a very complex answer, and, Lord willing, we will examine some of the answers to this question in issues to come. At the core of this question, though, is the issue of our knowledge and understanding of Scripture. Evangelicals believe that the Bible is God’s Written Word, inspired by God’s Own Spirit (2 Peter 2:19-21), given to light our way (Psalm 119:105), and to equip the believer for “every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17), which would include the art produced by those Christians called to be artists.

Scripture is revelation from God Himself, providing a lens to correct our sin-distorted vision, and a map to allow us to negotiate Reality as God wants us to. The Bible tells us what life is, as directed by the One Who made and sustains life, the only One Who sees clearly the Reality He has made in all its facets.

Most Evangelicals own at least one Bible (many have several). Yet most Evangelicals neither know nor understand their Scriptures, which drastically effects their ability to produce meaningful, deep art. Why don’t most Evangelicals know their Bibles? There are two basic reasons: laziness and bad theology. To these, Lord willing, we turn next issue.

©Kemper Crabb

2 thoughts on “The Disconnect: Why Evangelicals Make Bad Art (Part 1)”

  1. Could it be that most Evangelicals do not come from elegant, aesthic worship traditions like yours and are simply one or two generations removed from fundamentalism which rejected anything iconic, Catholic and overly intellectual? Robert Webber covers this well in his book, Younger Evangelicals.

    In addition, there is hope. Mako Fujimura and the International Arts Movement have been encouraging good art making for years. Let’s hope it takes.

  2. I haven’t read this (I intend to later) so it’s dangerous to comment, but here goes: I became a Christian in the pre-Charismatic 1970s, and there seemed to be an underlying though never explicitly stated idea that everything we did as Christians – art included – was for the purpose of evanglism. For music that was seen as a way of getting unconverted people within range of the preacher who would then “give them the Word”. With such a utilitarian view of art it’s never going to be any good. I’m so glad we’ve moved on from there, but sad there have been so many casualties along the way. I shall look forward to reading your series of blogs.

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