Press "Enter" to skip to content

Bad Christian Art

There’s a great post over on Image Journal addressing the concerns of “bad christian art”. Author Tony Woodlief is clearly fed up with movies and books that pander to “good Christian people who judge art by criteria like message and wholesomeness and theological purity.”

Bad art derives, he says, from bad theology:

To know God falsely is to write and paint and sculpt and cook and dance Him falsely. Perhaps it’s not poor artistic skill that yields bad Christian art, in other words, but poor Christianity.

He goes on to address Christian books specifically, noting “common sins” including “neat resolution”, one-dimensional characters, sentimentality, and cleanliness. (In my opinion: any reader of books marketed as “Christian fiction” will immediately recognize these issues with pretty much any such novel.)

He brings it home with some piercing questions about how the proliferation of bad Christian art reflects on the state of the evangelical church that embraces and consumes it:

In short, if Christian novels and movies and blogs and speeches must be stripped of profanity and sensuality and critical questions, all for the sake of sparing us scandal, then we have to wonder what has happened that such a wide swath of Christendom has failed to graduate from milk to meat.

And if we remember that theology is the knowing of God, we have to ask in turn why so many Christians know God so weakly that they need such wholesomeness in order for their faith to be preserved.

My friend (and talented songwriter) Andy Osenga often talks about two approaches to songwriting as a Christian (and I’m sure this isn’t original to him, but I heard it from him): you can either write about the light, or you can look out at the world and write about what the light shows you.

What strikes me is that the art that Woodlief is talking about here doesn’t fall into either of those categories. The purveyors of this particular flavor of Christian art have rather chosen to ignore the reality of what the light shows them. Instead, they paint an unrealistic fantasy world that reflects what they hope might be.

We, and all of creation, are broken, and in need of redemption. If we pretend through our art that this Christian life is neat and tidy and that all the threads resolve by page 350, not only do our stories ring hollow, but we fail to acknowledge the greatness of the work of redemption that Jesus Christ is doing in the world. Christians must do better.

Postscript: after passing along a rant like this, I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend the work of Christians I know who are creating good art. Hit up The Rabbit Room to find excellent art, books, and music that may not always be “safe” but will always be good.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.