The market is becoming saturated with a sort of “undercover” Christian artist. While this position isn’t completely void of reason, there is still a critical problem with this approach.
In the music industry – particularly in alternative and independent segments of the market – it is not uncommon to hear that a certain band with positive lyrics and a positive image happens to consist of Christian members. Their lyrics are good, but there is a layer of obscurity regarding any form of spirituality. If asked about their faith, this hypothetical band will give a response to the effect of, “Well, yeah, we’re Christians, but we don’t like to be called a Christian band.” You realize that, if it weren’t for this reluctant profession, you probably wouldn’t even know that the musicians were followers of Christ. They’re just some nice guys/gals who give off some “good vibes,” even some that can be specifically applied to a Christian faith.
There are a few reasons why many Christian artists have chosen to take this path. One of these reasons is that Christians have a bit of a bad name in the arts. While it could be said that the market hates art made by Christians simply because of its spiritual affiliations, this is not always the case. In fact, it is rarely the case nowadays. Christian music, movies, books, and television are being criticized on completely legitimate artistic terms. Our aesthetics on the whole are bad. We needn’t be discredited for our faith because our means of communication alone already give us a bad rapport with the market. I don’t blame an artist for not wanting to be associated with a group known for producing bad art, especially if that artist is talented and would probably be constricted by the constituents and preconceived notions of what “Christian art” should be.
Another reason that a Christian artist may choose to shroud their work is spiritual obscurity is because an oft-repeated criticism against Christian-made art is that is “too preachy.” Many have understood this criticism in a way that allows for one solution: a total divorce of the arts and overt spirituality. This is wrong. Art is an inherently spiritual exercise; it uncovers the existing beauty of what God has created and ordained. Trying to remove spirituality from the arts leaves only a hollow shell of true art. This hollowness can be clearly seen in the world’s mainstream art, though many artists have discovered ways to cover it up.
At this point, the question of whether or not the “preachiness” criticism is legitimate. In a sense it is indeed legitimate, but in another sense it is not legitimate at all.
Our Great Commission as Christians is to preach the Gospel. We’re going to be “preachy” if we’re following God’s will in our life. People will always look down on this calling and be repelled by our work because of uncomfortable conviction aroused by our message. But I don’t believe that this is why Christian-made art is regarded as preachy. It is regarded as preachy because the “message” in our art is so removed from the context and constructs of reality that it can’t be seen as Good News. The message we carry is reality itself. When we represent the Gospel in aesthetically shallow vessels that distort reality, we kill our own message. No one living wants to take possession of a dead thing; those things belong in the dirt and the ash.
The God we serve certainly can work beyond our shallowness. The message we carry divides soul and spirit. We’re a much smaller piece of the puzzle. But God has given us a free will, and he has appointed us as his hands and feet in this earthly life. If you were to look at the majority of Christian-made art, it seems like we’re not doing a very good job promoting God’s kingdom and sharing his Gospel in that department. Therefore, maybe it would be better to branch away from that mainstream. Maybe it would be better to have a quiet revolution. Maybe that influence will spread and become the new mainstream.
This is where many talented Christians take the wide road. We’re not called to conform to the pattern of this world; but in an ironic twist, we conform to their pattern by our “non-conformity.” The world’s pattern is to abandon perseverance and an imperfect system for a “better way.” While we should never be closed to progress and the renewing of our minds, we cannot divide our own house. We need to stay united as a body, even when the other parts look broken. Continuing with the body analogy, if one bone decided to detach when we broke another bone, we could not function effectively. We would fall apart.
An artist removing himself from a “Christian” label is not unlike this somewhat absurd image. It is damaging to his Christian brethren and to himself. If an artist goes “undercover” and creates aesthetically good art with “positive themes,” he is doing nothing to restore the church and its message to a good position. In doing this, he only elevates his own name and abilities rather than the name of Christ and his body, the church.
What the church needs are highly skilled artists who are unashamed of being labeled a Christian and who are unafraid of initial rejection to restore Christ’s good name in the arts. Few will actually accept this art in the beginning. However, after consistent pursuit of God’s way in the arts and constant sharpening of artistic skill, a shift will occur in Christian-made art and in its effect in the mainstream market. While the world will continue to decry Christian-made art after this shift, one thing will remain undeniable: the fierce beauty of our Lord and Savior.
This is absolutely brilliant EJ. I love it. If only these artists knew that God is bigger than any label people place on them. If the Lord wants people to hear their music, He will make a way, all they need to do is trust Him. Mom has been saying the same for my own art. If it’s His will, He will lead people to read, and it will be people He wants, not the audience we want. As a Christian, I will always write about the Gospel, Christ is my identity, writing another message in order to win over the mainstream is not just who I am. And here is where my concern with these artists lie. What is their identity? Is it in Christ, in the mainstream audience, or is it in themselves? It’s not to say every song an artist writes has to be a worship song, but if a person can listen to a band and not know they’re Christian by the time the album is over, to quote Blimey Cow, “Then you’re doing it wrong.” 😀
God bless you EJ 🙂
Thanks for reading and commenting, Lucas. I’m glad we can have a conversation about this topic. I’m going to put together a response to the comments I’ve received on this post. I think that this is a discussion worth continuing.
Hey EJ, great article! As an artist myself though (visual, not musical art), I have to disagree a little bit. I think the title “Undercover Christian Artist” sums up the misconception I feel is pretty common about this topic. Art is not something that should be divided between “Christian” and “secular”. Sure, some people may feel called to create art for the chuch, which is great, but that does not mean every Christian artist has a duty to do so.
Think of it as if they were plumbers. Do Christian plumbers need to tell every client about God? No, they need to do a good job fixing toilets. If the conversation comes up, then great. Same goes for artists. Perhaps some are just called create good art, and their ministry happens in their personal lives. An artist is more than the sum of their art.
So those that are Christians and avoid that label aren’t necessarily “conforming to this world” or “being ashamed”. Maybe they are, but that’s between them and God. 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 backs up my point here pretty well I believe. It’s often our daily life that matters, and that’s what we should focus on more. We shouldn’t expect a bunch of musicians (or pastors, or filmmakers) to do the job that we should be doing anyway with the people we know.
What if every Christian artist ever decided to be extremely outspoken about their faith? Often want people to be like that so we can say, “Yeah, he’s on our team!”. But there is no team. It’s not a game of us vs. them. God’s kingdom is so much more than that. I do believe that the church should be creating better art than it currently is, don’t get me wrong. I really dislike most Christian movies as much as the next guy. But it’s not our job to sit on the sidelines and dictate who should be doing or saying what. That’s God’s job to deal with on an individual basis. We can’t forget that these are people working through their own faith. The pressure on these guys to think and act how we think they should is unreal. (There’s a whole lot of members of Christian bands that are not Christian because of this. Great podcast, they have guests like this on all the time: https://soundcloud.com/bcpod ). It’s way better for them to be honest then to pretend in order to make Christians feel good.
Bottom line: you have a passion for there to be good music made for the church? Then go make it.
Sorry to be so long and nit-picky; I really do agree on most things you say. Cheers 🙂
Thanks for reading and commenting, Jonathan. I’m glad we can have a conversation about this topic. I’m going to put together a response to the comments I’ve received on this post. I think that this is a discussion worth continuing.