I recently participated in the Christian Musicians Summit at Overlake (Seattle area). During this two-day conference, I shared concepts on the arts and faith from my book to scores of artists—musicians, painters, actors, dancers, and technical artists. It was a blast.
One of the things I look forward to as I speak more in this context is watching the imaginary light bulbs that start to switch on over people’s heads. This time, there was a definite corporate “aah!” moment as I shared the idea that we don’t have to be message-oriented in our art. Christian evangelicals in particular operate under the paradigm that the arts are to be used as a vehicle for a message, and of course, the message is “the Gospel,” however you may define it. (Note: I originally derived this concept from Francis Schaeffer in his seminal book, Art and the Bible.)
To explain myself, I used the analogy of refrigerator art—the idea that we take the crayon art of our children and hang it on our fridge doors. “Why do we do that?” I asked the participants. The answer, of course, is that we love our children, and we love the fact that they are creating, expressing themselves in their unique and individual ways. And in that expression, we are moved and touched by it. We derive pleasure from it. And so it is with our Abba, our Daddy God. He is moved by the honest and real expression of ourselves through our art, and it is this expression that puts a smile on His face.
So we don’t have to be message-oriented in our art. We don’t have to embed the four spiritual laws in our screenplays. We don’t have to paint doves and crosses on our canvases. We don’t have to sing lyrics about Jesus in our songs (unless it is worship music of course). We need only be authentic and artistic in the expression of ourselves, as we live in communion with and submission to Christ. There really is no other requisite in order to glorify God through our art.
The other important concept from this analogy is that, like our children toward us, God is not impressed by our art. Really, there is nothing we can do that will impress God. But that isn’t the point. The pleasure he derives from us has more to do with who we are, who we are becoming, and how we are expressing it.
There was one particular moment when a young man in the back of the room asked in so many words, “Don’t we have to tell people about Jesus?” And I agreed. “Yes, we do,” I replied. But then I asked him, “Have you ever looked at the stars on a cloudless night?” The simple extravagant beauty of God’s universe points people to God, and preaches a message far greater than mere words can express. “That’s what I am talking about,” I explained. “That is what we should be shooting for, as artists who follow Christ.”
Psalm 19 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands. They have no speech, they use no words…Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
Like I said, there were light bulbs turning on over people’s heads that weekend. A little bit like the stars on a cloudless night.