Pause Production! Part 1

Christians need to stop making Christian art. 

Or at the very least pause production.

Instead, Christian artists should focus on making good art. Once we have mastered making excellent art, then we worry about conveying specific messages. I know many will disagree with me on this, but, if you'll humor me, here is one of my reasons for feeling this way.

Martin Luther

Being a good, reformed-raised, Christian woman, I feel that I can do no wrong in quoting Martin Luther. Like all Christians, he had many faults, but I appreciate his call to excellence.

Ghost of Christmas Future from the 2015 production of "A Christmas Carol"with a cross photoshopped in.

Ghost of Christmas Future from the 2015 production of "A Christmas Carol"with a cross photoshopped in.

I get into the discussion of how prevalent the Christian message in art must be with believers on a frequent basis. For some reasons, the Church at large has stopped viewing art as art and has confused it with a sermon. The study of homiletics have replaced a study of proper technique. Message has become more important than medium.

I appeal to Martin Luther. If Christian Shoemakers are supposed to be good at their craft then so should Christian artists. 

But many in the Church don't give artists such an easy pass. Even though we are fulfilling a calling and using our God given gifts, we have an added pressure that shoemakers, civil engineers, interior decorators, and plastic surgeons do not. Our work must be about Jesus in some way. It's not enough for our work to be done to the glory of God, it must be about God. This requirement need only be vigilantly applied to ministry workers. Martin Luther took care of shoes, but let's consider how absurd this would be in some of these other fields:

*Prepare for sarcasm

Christian Civil Engineers: 

When designing a building or bridge are duty bound to incorporate a cross into the structure so that those who see it will think about Jesus. This is especially important when designing a bridge as it must serve both as a means to convey people over water and as a symbol of how Jesus is the bridge between us and God. Come to think of it, all Christian civil engineers should design cross bridges.

Christian Interior Decorators:

Regardless of clients beliefs or whether it will work well in the design, Christian Interior Decorators are duty bound to incorporate crosses, scripture, and a verse from Amazing Grace (preferably the Chris Tomlin version) throughout the house. Do not rely on the fact that well designed colors, textures, and form speak about God's nature as a creator. That is not obvious enough. The message that every house should follow the Lord must be written on the walls, just as the hand of God wrote a message on the walls of the Babylonian king.

Christian Plastic Surgeons:

When stitching up a patient, Christian Plastic Surgeons are duty bound to make sure the scar forms a cross so that their patients know that they need Jesus.

For all the above careers: You cannot be an worker who happens to be a Christian. You must be a Christian *fill in the job title.

Obviously, or at least I hope it's obvious, this would be absurd; however, this is much of the rhetoric that I have faced as a Christian artist who views herself more as an artist who is a Christian. There is an enormous amount of pressure to make sure that I am preaching the clear and complete gospel in every piece of art I create, whether that be on stage or on a page. 

From an artistic perspective that is very difficult, especially in theatre when you are working with a text that didn't start out as a sermon. For instance, when we performed "A Little Princess" back in 2011 we could not have turned it into an alter call without rewriting the story. As with all of our plays, there is an element of gospel truth in "A Little Princess" but it wasn't written as the Gospel of John, so it doesn't give all the answers or even mention Jesus. Does that mean Christians can't perform it?

At Players of the Stage we stay away from straight up Christian work. One of the main reasons is because so much of it is bad quality. But another is because we a theatre of artists and not a church of pastors and evangelists. That doesn't mean truth isn't important to us. On the contrary, the pursuit and portrayal of truth is behind every show that we perform, but the medium is primary and the message is secondary. Not because art is more important than the gospel, but because excellently crafted art is a more powerful conveyor of truth than a didactic message with a veneer of art brushed over it.

Consider "A Christmas Carol". We perform this piece every five years and it is one of the more "Christian" plays that we do. Because Dickens wrote it in a time when most professed Christ and the Bible was well known, his story is very much influenced by Jesus. But it doesn't tell the whole gospel story. Are we then duty bound to throw a cross into our productions of it as I did via pixlr into that graveyard picture?

I don't think so.

Consider how in the creation of the tabernacle, God ordered skilled craftsmen to embroider blue pomegranates on the curtains. I may be wrong, but I don't believe blue pomegranates are a thing, nor do they particularly scream "You need a Savior" like a cross does. So what was the point of those pomegranates? I cannot speak for God, but I would guess - beauty and glory. Those who had the privilege of seeing the tabernacle got a powerful display of the beauty of creation which speaks to a Creator. It wasn't the whole message, but that is why God gave us His word. Well-crafted, beautiful art, regardless of whether it has a prominent message, no message, or subtle message about God, can be used to create a longing in the soul for meaning, which God can use to direct people to His word for the full story.

This isn't to say that art should never be about God. In my play Rifton Diner three of the main characters discuss faith. It's not central to the play, but it is there, and God is discussed. But it doesn't give the gospel, and there is no conversion in the play. In fact, the protagonist proclaims she doesn't believe in God before the play ends. But my goal with writing Rifton Diner was to craft an excellent play, not to put crosses on my shoes.

There is so much to say about this topic that I am going to have to make this a several part I will close for now, with one last statement:

There are Christian artists who do excellent work that is about God. It is possible, it is being done, but I still think the most of the Christian art community should pause production on explicitly Christian work and focus first on learning their craft.