Deconstructing “Christian Drama”

Joe peered across the coffee table at me, a spark in his eyes revealing his eagerness.  He leaned into his next question.  “So.  What did you think?  I really want to know,”  he asked between sips of his latte.  “And don’t hold back either.  I want to get some good feedback that I can take with me.”

It was three weeks earlier that Joe had first contacted me about a play he was producing at a local church.  He had written and produced it over the last three years, and fancied himself a serious writer and craftsman.  Passionate and energetic, it was obvious that he was driven to produce this play, and was personally attached to it at many levels.  And so he sought out people in the area, “influential” people I suspect, to help further his production and gain credibility.

But it was just one week earlier that I actually sat through his play.  I cringed at the stilted dialogue that hung in the air like a boring lecture.  I lamented over the one-dimensional characterizations, a hodge-podge of stereotyped caricatures (does the anti-Christian antagonist actually have to be dressed like a Nazi?).  And I puzzled over the dystopian story arc, what little there was, which seemed simply to exist only for the purpose of asserting Christian dogma upon the audience.  It was preachy, condescending, long-winded and poorly acted.

Sitting there in a darkened church auditorium, I witnessed everything that was wrong with so-called “Christian drama.”

Something happens when art is used to serve primarily as a vehicle for a message.  Francis Schaeffer, in his book Art and the Bible, says that in this view:

“Art is only an embodiment of a message, a vehicle for the propagation of a particular message about the world or the artist or man or whatever…but, as I have said, this view reduces art to an intellectual statement and the work of art as a work of art disappears.”

In this view, art is simplly a medium upon which truth is revealed, a vehicle for a message.  And in it’s worst form, art becomes simply propaganda.

But there is a larger view of art.  When the Christian artist strives toward great art, his or her Christian worldview will inescapably shine from it.  Because art should reflect the artist in some way—what he believes, what he has experienced, what he has placed his faith in, how he uniquely sees the world.  In other words, the Christian artist should not strive to create “Christian art,” but rather, strive toward honest art.  And in that honesty, their art will somewhow reflect the creativity of the Abba Father, the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  I believe that this holds true whether you are a playwright, songwriter, choreographer, moviemaker, or poet.

All of these thoughts collided in my mind like the opening stroke in a game of billiards.  And as I sat in front of Joe, fidgeting with my coffee, I took a deep breath—and then I slowly and tenderly, and as lovingly as I could, told him what I thought of his play.

To his credit, Joe accepted my opinions with grace and humility.  He took mental notes of specific things I mentioned, and agreed that there were things he could do improve the artistic integrity of his play and make it more sensitive to unbelievers.  We ended up talking for quite a while about it all.  And at the end of our conversation, at the end of the coffee, we parted as friends.

I don’t know if Joe will do anything with what I said. I don’t know if this will change anything he does now or in the future.

But I tried to be honest and grace-filled with him.  And as artists, that is always what we must strive for.

3 thoughts on “Deconstructing “Christian Drama”

  1. I’ve faced this in my own life and in the art of Christians around me. In my 20s I was sick of seeing Christian musicians trying to be attain popularity at the expense of integrity. But I ran too far the other way, and embraced the ‘art is only a vehicle for the message’ approach. I wrote a play during that period and I’ve spent more than a decade weeding out that attitude from the writing.
    Art can be the message, and the message can be the message, and the messenger can be the message. We need a holistic approach in Christian art, where who we are is as important as what we say is as important as how we say it is as important as what we create. There is no Jew or Greek in Christ: all is reconciled.
    This is why I’ve concluded that the only way to make “good Christian art” is to make mature Christians who are mature artists. No set of rules will ever fuse with creativity to alloy a marriage of holiness and passion. But in the presence of God passion and holiness are already fused, like a grand unified theory of living. We can only get that kind of living water in one source.

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