Copyright 2016 by Gabriel Connor Salter
Two years ago, I was talking with a fellow community college student who was an atheist. We didn’t have much time to chat, but he laid out one of the main reasons why he chose atheism; he had gotten frustrated with Christians who said it was totally immoral to drink alcohol even though some Scripture verses (such as Amos 9:14) said it was permissible.
I never got the chance to tell him this, but the thing I find interesting is he was basically saying he didn’t believe in God because he didn’t like God’s salesmen. Someone had given him a message, gotten it garbled, and then instead of blaming the messenger for why the message didn’t settle he threw the message out.
This of course happens a lot. Most of us probably know someone who’s been turned off Christianity by shallow or legalistic Christians, and sadly it’s especially happening to a lot with writers and other artists.
The way things seem to stand, based on my own research of both sides of the anti-Christian entertainment/pro-Christian entertainment debate, is that most evangelical Christians are very supportive to writers and artists who make explicitly Christian art (worship music, “Christian films,” Christian fiction novels). Personally, I think that’s a good thing. I see no problem with the fact we have a great entertainment network (Christian artists making art for Christian entertainment companies to distribute right to Christian consumers, and then getting attention in Christian publications) in place so artists like Chris Tomlin can get their work out there and right to the people it’s meant to impact. There is a legitimate place for this kind of art.
But there’s no room in this network for Christian artists whose faith is subtly shown in their art. Some people may wonder what makes art Christian if it isn’t obviously showing Christian ideas, and I’ll discuss that in my next post; for now, let’s assume it is morally alright to be a Christian who makes subtly Christian art. If you fit this category – if you’re a writer who identifies more with J.R.R. Tolkien than C.S. Lewis or a musician who identifies more with Bono than with Chris Tomlin – your work probably won’t be promoted in Christian circles. There are some exceptions, but multiple books and articles have shown they are not the general trend (I’ve talked about this a little in a previous post).
In fact, these kinds of artists are often being criticized for not making explicitly Christian art. As David Kinnaman, president of well-known research firm the Barna Group, put it in his book You Lost Me:
“Many of the church’s brightest talents have been asked to confine their gifts to the service of the Christian community…. As a consequence, many young creatives have headed for the hills; it’s no small coincidence that many of today’s hottest entertainers and artists left behind a churchgoing heritage.”
So, many of us are shooting the message instead of the messenger. Where does that leave us, then?
As much as I identify with artists who’ve gotten sick of being told their work isn’t legitimate and choose to hit the road, I honestly don’t believe that’s the right thing to do. I empathize with novelist Anne Rice for example, who reconverted to Catholicism but now wants nothing to do with organized Christianity because she doesn’t believe in being anti-gay, anti-feminist or anti-science. But I honestly believe it is possible to follow Jesus and live in a Christian community without being any of those things.
It’s hard, certainly; it means you have to spend time around people who have different opinions about how to follow God and you have to see past the differences. But that’s really been true ever since the church was founded. As a whole, the church has never been perfect. Of the nine letters Paul wrote to churches which are collected in the New Testament, at least two of them (Galatians, 1 Corinthians) are him speaking to churches that are out of line and telling them to shape up. Even a basic study of Christian history shows it’s been filled with believers making mistakes and then reforming, then making new mistakes and reforming again. And so on, and on, and on.
If our motives are to find the one group of Christians who’ve finally gotten everything exactly right, we’ll never be satisfied. This is why Paul exhorts believers in 1 Corinthians 1:10 to “be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (NIV). It’s also why the biggest thing I’ve learned growing up with missionary parents and from doing short-term missions work is that community is more important than minor individual differences. As Christian scholar and author Os Guiness put it, true discipleship is individual but every disciple is part of Christ’s body; it follows that true discipleship also has to communal and collective (Guinness 142).
Dare to commune with people who don’t see things your way, and even judge you. Dare to be God’s hands and feet even when it’s painful. In short, dare to love as Jesus loved.
Guinness, Os. Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What to Do About It. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1994. Print.
Kinnaman, David and Hawkins, Aly. You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church… and Rethinking Faith. Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2011. Ebook.
Cover image source: