If you’ve read a significant number of my posts, you’ll notice that I talk a lot about unhealthy attitudes which many American evangelicals (Evangelical= mainstream Protestant, in this context) have toward artists, art, and the secular world in general. I’ve cited research from various books to back this up, and since I believe it’s important to do your own research and read sources for yourself, below is a list of some of the books I’ve cited or that talk about these issues.
1.Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
Primarily a story about the author’s own struggles and spiritual growth, Miller talks a little about the sheltered, “real Christians have to go to church, do all the right things and vote Republican” attitude that many conservative evangelicals have and how it leads toward legalism. In one chapter he hints – for a very brief moment – at how rare it is to find churches that wholeheartedly support Christian artists.
2. The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist by Larry Alex Taunton
Christians apologist Larry Alex Taunton talks about his friendship with well-known atheist Christopher Hitchens (author of god is Not Great) and argues that being salt and light in the world means Christians must interact with non-Christians. As I briefly mentioned in my review of this book for the Evangelical Church Library Association, this book isn’t particularly easy to get through, but it has great insights into why it’s important for Christians to relate to secular people.
3.Blankets by Craig Thompson
Easily the saddest, darkest book on this list, Blankets is a graphic novel where writer and artist Craig Thompson narrates his early life in a fundamentalist Christian family and his path away from Christianity. Some of the content is dark and suggestive, but the book provides some great insights into how Christians sometimes discredit artistic people and give them reasons to leave the faith.
For further information on Thompson, see this interview with Mother Jones.
4. Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2 by Steve Stockman
Originally published in 1983, Presbyterian pastor Steve Stockman (who spoke at my college in April 2016) discusses how Bono, The Edge and Larry Mullen, Jr. – three Christians in a mainstream rock band – integrate Christian symbolism and metaphors into their music. You almost certainly won’t enjoy this book if you aren’t a U2 fan or like books which analyze music, and Stockman’s views are very opinionated. Still, he accurately pinpoints some unhealthy ways evangelical Christians respond to art they don’t understand or exists outside their sheltered bubble of influence. Where books like Blue Like Jazz and Blankets hint at these things, Stockman asserts them. An interesting book about struggling between faith and art and dealing with rejection from the Christian community.
5. Fit Bodies, Fat Minds by Os Guinness
Guinness builds a strong case that evangelical Christians tend to be anti-intellectual – not willing to ask hard questions about faith and stunting believer’s growth in the process – and describes some of the inaccurate attitudes which created this problem. Not only does this book make many points which explain where evangelicalism has veered off course, one chapter discusses how artists have become “the least understood and most alienated single group of people in the evangelical churches” (Guinness 62).
6. Futureville by Skye Jethani
Jethani argues that two philosophical ideas about the future – that we can create a better one with perpetual progress (so ONLY full-time ministry work is important), and that the End Times would happen within a few decades (so why care about this world at all?) – have motivated Christians to become isolated from the real world. Jethani puts forward an interesting new perspective on how to view the future as a Christian, whether you agree with it or not he still gives many accurate insights into how these two ideas have isolated many Christian artists and how Christians can be in the world but not of the world.
7. Apologetics For a New Generation edited by Sean McDowell
This book is a treasure trove of essays by various Christian leaders – including Sean McDowell’s famous father – about how to connect with skeptical Millennials and defend the Christian faith. Two chapters – one by art director Craig J. Hazen and one by screenwriter Brian Godawa – discuss how creativity and art play a part in that endeavor, advocating for well-made art that is relevant and points people back to God.
8. You Lost Me by David Kinnaman and Aly Hawkins
I would recommend that everyone read this study by the Barna Group on why so many young people in America are leaving Christianity. It uses reputable research to show certain areas where American Christians (not simply evangelicals, Christians as a whole) have gotten off track and motivated younger people to leave – including, as chapter five describes, many creative and artistic Christians. On several occasions, Kinnaman and Hawkins talk about the same things Stockman asserted in Walk On, but with strong data to back it up.
9. Imagine: A Vision for Christians In the Arts By Steve Turner
The author of multiple books on musicians (including the official Johnny Cash biography), a poet, and a student of Francis Schaeffer in the 1970’s, Turner talks about the inner struggles of Christian entertainment as someone who’s watched it develop. More definitive than the previous books on this list, it not only talks about the issues in the Christian art world, it also offers solutions based on research and decades of experience. Probably the one book I would recommend every Christian artist start with.
10. Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer
Quite simply, this book was prophetic. Schaeffer addresses and refutes some misconceptions about Christian art – that art is unbiblical, that it has to be like a Gospel tract – at least a decade before any other writers on this list mentioned those and other misconceptions.
A strong Biblical case that God approves of art, and that Christian artists aren’t as limited as they may think they are in terms of what art they can make.