One of the ideas I’ve grappled with over the years is, What is Christian art? I mean, what makes an artistic expression like music or drama or dance uniquely Christian? What does that term mean anyway? And I’ve come to the conclusion that it isn’t necessarily anything that has Christian symbolism or religious themes or doves and crosses. More than anything, Christian art must begin to reflect the overarching story of God, the Meta-Narrative, that our Triune God is in the process of redeeming that which has fallen, that which He had created, that which He loves.
The story of all that is, is the story of God. He takes His pen in hand to write this story: Creation, Fall, Redemption. All of history, all of the Bible, all of what was and is and will be, reflects this three act play of Creation, Fall, and Redemption that God is writing in the universe.
But that’s not all. He writes this story in our souls as well. For all of us have our own stories, our own vignettes of how God’s grace has saved us, changes us. And our stories enter into His larger story of the redemption of the universe.
And this distinction can be subtle or overt. It certainly need not be forced or made formulaic. But it must affect us as artists. It must affect our art. Hilary Brand and Adrienne Chaplin contend in their essential book, Art and Soul: Signposts for Christians in the Arts:
“In working through the most central plot of the Bible’s “grand story”—creation, fall and redemption—we have put in place the beginnings of a worldview. Through these spectacles we can begin to view and perhaps question the many assumptions that are tossed in our direction. Questioning assumptions is, of course, very much in the spirit of the post-modern age, but it is also the spirit of Christ.”
We stand in the shadows of differing worldviews—a mosaic of religions, philosophies, mindsets, and historical eras. And in one way or another, art has been an expression for all of these co-existing yet unaligned worldviews. And we also live in a broken world. Because of the fallen nature of this earthly existence, we are thrust into unintended complexity—the universe has been invaded by sin, and as a result, we have disorder, distortion, disease, dysfunction. The universe does not operate as it was intended. We as Christians share the worldview that God created the world and in spite of the world’s broken nature, He is in the business of rescuing it and redeeming it. And in one way or another, our art should be an expression of that. This is what Christian art should be, honest in the brutal and complex realities of this world but also revelatory in the redemption of it.
So when we compose songs or choreograph dance or edit film or write a book, God’s story is told in some small way. Creation, Fall and Redemption. When you can see your art in this way, then I think you can begin to frame what it is to make Christian art.
7 thoughts on “What is Christian Art anyway?”
I see Christian art as the difference between “my” art lived out through my experience ie. art that reflects my inner turmoil, my joys, my fears, my trials etc. without Christ and “my” art expressed through my relationship with Christ. My art is still reflecting my inner turmoil, my joys, my fears, and my trials etc. but is now expressed by the sometimes indescribable sanctification transformation process of my soul. My desire is now to express myself in that new position giving God the glory and thus now producing Christian art. Gal 2:20
The more I think about this question, what makes Christian art, the fewer answers I have.
I think this definition (quoted above) may work as long as we’re willing to look at large sections of someone’s art; maybe even their life’s work as a whole. Not every artwork can, or should, encompass a clear redemptive theme. For that matter, many portions of the Bible hardly sound ‘Christian’ when taken out of context! Two photographers, one Christian and one not, might take identical World-Vision-style photos of malnourished children. Is one photo more or less Christian than the other? Is it any less Christian, because it doesn’t conclude on a redemptive note?
To me, the communication of truth in a way that is emotionally engaging and, ideally, spiritually impacting, is an important hallmark of good art. I use the word ‘truth’ in a fairly generous light here: truth can encompass things-as-they-ought-to-be as well as things-as-they-are, and I think there’s plenty of room for imaginative, symbolic, or mythological representations.
As a Christian I’ve often thought that my work is not ‘Christian art’, only art done by a Christian. The themes of my work may or may not obviously relate to Christian themes and topics. In fact I never really cared as long as I was being true to my vision. A caveat is that I rarely consider my work for anyone else except for me and quite possibly God. Sometimes more specifically and sadly NOT for God and ONLY for me,…. in my brokenness. Sometimes I’m not even sure my art is really “true art”(whatever that means) or even valid? ??? Anyway these days I want to be more pointed, perhaps in more obvious ways, that my art does reflect God primarily, or perhaps what He wants me to make or do or create. It still has to flow from my creative zone. I’m coming to call that zone the ‘Spirit’ zone. So because I’m more pointed than ever in knowing God in my spirit I want to work out of that flow. God has always used a plethora of creative works to speak to me and my spirit, most of which were never intended as ‘Christian art”. God’s cool like that, He can use anything really. Bottom line is I can’t not create, I just have to be about it somehow and someway.
“We as Christians share the worldview that God created the world and in spite of the world’s broken nature, He is in the business of rescuing it and redeeming it. And in one way or another, our art should be an expression of that. This is what Christian art should be, honest in the brutal and complex realities of this world but also revelatory in the redemption of it.”
Absolutely. Well said.
I am a christian artist.I use my talent to worship God. I try to speak to people through my work to move them emotionally, to catch their attention, long enough for God to speak into their hearts. There is so much nasty stuff that we see if we are not careful. I think it damages us, we absorb the wrong kind of images because of the world we live in. I hope to refresh people with art that is positive, uplifting and full of hope love and faith.
I just finished reading through Francis Schaeffer’s “Art and the Bible,” and the way you termed what Christian art should be:
“…honest in the brutal and complex realities of this world but also revelatory in the redemption of it.”
reminds me of what Schaeffer calls the “major and minor themes” of art. Art from a Biblical perspective will recognize the bitter reality of one (minor theme) and point to the redemptive hope of the other (major theme).
Your post is full of truth and valuable insight. Thank you ~
Christian art speaks the message and love of Christ – his parables, his teachings, his life – and communicates the message to the lost so that when they view it, they are touched by Christ who leads them to salvation.
The style can be contemporary or reflect the ancient world of the Israelites, but either way it is meant for the lost to come away with a desire to know Jesus and to repent of his evil ways.