Of late, I have been taking an interest in Sojourn Community Church here in Louisville. I have been quite taken by the artistic thrust which the church puts forward. This emphasis has not only caught my attention, but the whole city! As I was inviting my barber to church the other day, she had heard of Sojourn’s artistic bent as well. She was dying to see what was going on there! However, it seems that not everyone shares my excitement on the issue of art. After my visit, I came home and recounted the experience to my roommate. Given that we are both wanna-be theologians who have no dates, we spent the evening in a theological discussion over the matter.
The position which I maintain is that art is not simply a cosmetic luxury for the church, but a necessary avenue of worship (for the community and not for the artist alone) and a testimony of the Gospel. My roommate’s position is not that art is wrong, but that spending resources and time on art rather than on preaching and missions is wrong. My roommate, who in fairness should be allowed to present his argument (open invitation), holds that all the endeavors of the Church should find their end in Gospel proclamation. I completely agree with this last point, but I hold that the avenues in which we proclaim the Gospel should not be restricted to the pulpit and the tongue, not that these avenues should be abated by any means (I hate that Francis of Assissi quote which everyone seems to be convinced is canon). Art influences the mind and sparks the tongue into discussion. If you disagree with me, let us view the effect of movies on culture.
Dostoevsky pointed out that at first art reflects and mimics life, but eventually life will reflect and mimic art. The cycle closes out with life deriving its very meaning for existence from art. Observe this pattern in the role Hollywood played in the normalization of homosexuality. Homosexuality was once whispered in movies. Before long it was winked at in jokes and spoofs, and now it is celebrated openly. Here’s a scary thought – the last year’s movies have introduced a new moral low to maintain something of the shock value (beastiality, child rape, etc.) which can no longer be achieved through blatant homosexual overtones. If the end result of humanism is depression and nihilism (as per Francis Schaeffer), is it any wonder that recent movies have come to this conclusion before our culture has (i.e. No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, The Dark Night)?
Art is not only paintings, sculptures, and songs but also the architecture, writings, and furniture of a given culture or community. Art conveys the views and the message of the Church. Frankie Schaeffer claimed that the lack of ornate architecture and the presence of “vomit colored carpet” served as his reasons for leaving the Protestant Church. According to Schaeffer, these shortcomings are reflective of shallow theology and an overemphasis upon the immanence of God. Touche’!
What are your views of Art and the Gospel? More to come on this one in the future…