Art that doesn’t give easy answers.
Art that may not have happy endings.
Art that talks about tough or obscure theological ideas rather than focusing on being inspirational.
The question is how can I justify this kind of art when it falls outside what many people consider “normal Christian art” (Christian film, Contemporary Christian Music, and so forth)?
There are several ways to answer that question, but the best may be as follows:
I believe the Bible can and should guide what kind of art Christians make. If the art addresses questions or themes the Bible talks about or examines other questions in a way that fits a Biblical framework, then there’s nothing un-Christian about it.
Now, some sections of the Bible are purely inspirational (particularly some of the psalms), which seems to be what “normal Christian art” emulates.
Some books of the Bible don’t even talk much about redemption. Job never gets “redeemed” because he didn’t sin, nor does he ever learn why his suffering happened. Ecclesiastes focuses on how essentially meaningless many things in life are. Many psalms practically scream at God, asking why the world is the way it is.
But just because parts of the Bible are hard doesn’t make them less helpful. They help us understand sides of reality that purely inspirational passages don’t address.
Austin Fischer argues in his book Faith in the Shadows that the Bible collects books that each present a slightly different side of God, but together they overlap to present a coherent, multi-layered view of God and of reality. You don’t get a fully developed theology unless you have all of them, but each one is gives something valid and helpful.
So, if it’s fair to say the Bible is the best guideline for what art can be, it’s fair to say that art can be Christian and yet difficult. It can also be thought-provoking, intellectual, and doesn’t necessarily have to focus on redemption as its key theme.
In fact, if we believe art can open us up to understand theological ideas, then we desperately need this kind of variety.
If we decide art doesn’t actually have that much effect on how people think then we don’t have to worry about Christian art having variety. In fact, we can’t even advocate for things like “wholesome entertainment” at all if we make that choice, because we’ve said art is just irrelevant entertainment.
But if we believe art changes people’s perceptions of the world and of God, then we need to advocate for art that has variety. Otherwise, the art Christians make becomes like a Bible with all the hard and harsh ideas cut out.