The Arts and the Church

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There are about five different drafts sitting in my “Dashboard” for this blog around this idea I’m about to discuss. Chances are this will be an unintentional series. It is a deep subject and covers lots of temporal geography. There are two problems the Church faces today, both related to art. One problem is similar to what the art world faces, the issue of relevance or lack there of. The other problem is with art itself. Both problems, I believe, are firmly rooted in the same cause.

A writer for then

Francis Schaeffer was one of the many writers I turned to a long time ago when I had my crisis of aesthetic faith. In the best way he knew how and as a man of the times in which he lived, he discussed how western worldviews, through philosophy, art, music, general culture, and theology, had broken our essence in two. There is the rational and the irrational, reason and emotion, or more accurately in Schaeffer’s language, the upper story (immaterial, faith) and the lower story (logic, scientific method, quantifiable). This is reflected in the Church as the “sacred/secular” divide.

A writer for today

Nancy Pearcey, I think, does an admirable job continuing his framework through today in several of her own books. These authors, especially Pearcey, do a Herculean task of laying out how each worldview has evolved throughout history and the affect of those worldviews in our day to day lives. Any and every thinking Christian and artist would do well to read these books. At the risk of being too reductionist, I am going to focus on art and religion.

Strange bedfellows, indeed!

Both religion and art, since they deal with immaterial nature, unquantifiable qualities and subjective matters, since at least the Enlightenment, are irremovably placed in the upper story. Later, Kandinsky in his book, Concerning the Spiritual in art, buys into this bifurcation hook, line, and sinker when he proclaims that the immaterial is the domain of art. This subjugation of art to the subjective and the artists’ willingness to oblige has resulted in the troubles art faces today in the earliest of the 21st century in both declining interest and support. There is more to plumb there, but that suffices for now. Art is irrational and inessential, therefor, it is easily sacrificed, such as in education and government support. (Please know I do not agree with this sentiment. But it does, in a simple way, illustrate the issue facing the art world today.)

It is in this cultural environment that art shares many of the same cultural and epistemological issues with religion. And for our purposes, especially Christianity and the Church. I would take the Church’s problem one step further and say it isn’t just about what is truth and how we know it. It is further what do we do with it when (we think) we’ve found it. If the Church ever held any influence or authority with regards to Truth, we have long since squandered our position. Both the art world and the Church suffer with problems of our own making.

But then again…

At the same time, this cultural framework where art resides is also carried through in the Church. There are only two acceptable, sacred uses for art in the church—church service and evangelism (and that usually of the most literal sort). Every other art is secular and thus inessential. In this regard the Church is mirroring and emulating a view of art that has as its origin the same worldview that seeks to subjugate religion. Kind of ironic, that one. There is more to plumb here, too. And we will. Why do you think art is so readily seen as inessential, either in culture at large or within the Church? Why have we collectively decided that this part of us that reflects the Creator most directly is deemed so unimportant?

Thanks for reading. Please write me with your own thoughts. Also, please let me know if I have permission to publish your thoughts.

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