My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"

06 January 2006

an observation

As I'm preparing a workshop for next weekend on Christ being King of the arts, here's something I've noticed fleetingly in the past, but now am taking a closer look at: over at Christianitytoday.com (the website of the evangelical magazine), they have a "media guide" section. As I peruse this section, I see they talk about both music and movies. What I find fascinating is that the section on movies deals with a wide variety of movies, supposedly critiquing them from a Christian worldview. Good. Dandy, even.

Now, if you glance over to the "music" section, you'll see that they deal almost exclusively with "Christian music"; to get included in this section, you either must be blatantly/explicitly Jesus-centered in your music or you must have a well-known tie to Christianity (for the second category, see Johnny Cash, Scott Stapp & Sufjan Stephens). I have poked around and can find no reviews of albums or any interviews with musicians who aren't somehow connected to Christ. Obviously I have no issue with Christ-centered music or Christ-centered anything. But...

Why the disparity between movie-watching and music-listening? Why is Christianity Today willing to explore "wordly" movies from a Christian worldview but unwilling/unable to do the same for music? I believe the answer points to some of the things that are wrong with the way we approach the arts & worship, myself included. Two thoughts, only one original:

1. The evangelical church has radically compromised the worship of God, focusing on entertainment rather than the Word & the means of grace. By including musical instruments in worship and by chasing after the next big fad in worshiptainment, we have been part of the birth of Christian contemporary music (not a good thing - not because it's Christian but because it's generally very poor). By focusing so much more on music in worship, we have fostered an attitude that for music to be honoring to Christ or even worth listening to, it must be worship music. Since movies haven't become as big a part of worship (yet), we haven't consumed them into the worship culture (yet).

2. From Steve Turner's Imagine: a Vision for Christians in the Arts:
One of the great hindrances to the development of biblically informed mainstream art has been the perception that Christians should make "Christian art" and that "Christian art" is always explicitly religious. Understood this way, "Christian art" is not distinguished by a regenerated outlook on the whole of life but by a narrow focus on Bible stories, saints, martyrs and the individual's relationship with God. "Christian art" in this sense is usually either an aid to worship or a means of evangelism.
Hmm.


8 comments:

Alicia said...

That's an interesting observation about modern Christianity, music and worship.

Per the quote you inserted at the end, it's like our conversations. Our conversations can be glorifying to God without explicitly mentioning Him. Also, I can honor God through hospitality/cooking without cooking religious-themed meals.

Tamara said...

I am not discussing the whole how to worship God. This is more evangelistic. Don't you think we can use more secular music to reach non-believers. Like switchfoot and others. Not worship but evangelism? I am just curious what you think. I ask because there aren't a lot of teenagers that will be converted by the Psalms. Not many care for religion anymore. Sad, but true. :(

JBlogger said...

First of all, how are you? It's been awhile since we've had a chance to chat. Hope everything's going well.

A couple of thoughts on the music issue:

Many contemporary evangelicals have developed an almost fetishistic relationship to the power of text. In part, this certainly comes from the perceived comfort of textual stability---believing that texts are always the same and unaffected by social change (all evidence to the contrary). But, in the capitalist kitsch of American evangelical consumerism, it tends to reflect as a kind of "magical" appeal to the power of text to "Christianize" objects.

We can buy a poster of a mountain, or we can by a "Christian" poster of a mountain, which adds a Bible verse to the image. The same thing happens with t-shirts, coffee mugs, tie clips, and music. We take the same song styles and treat them with a few choice words to make them worship or praise songs.

I'm not quite cynical enough to believe this is done only to maintain a grip on a particular niche market, although, undoubtedly, one of the reasons Christianity Today exclusively reviews Christian music is that there are acually viable CCM companies out there, working to turn a profit. If there were parallels in the movie industry, maybe evangelical magazines would stick to reviewing these Christian movies. In any case, I find it difficult not to remember Jesus's condemnation of the moneychangers in the temple. If the "temple of God" is no longer a building but the body of Christ, then surely there's something not quite right about the international, multimillion-dollar corporations that exist solely to slap God's name on products to be bought and sold in the Christian marketplace.

Someone once said that there are no Christian objects, only Christian people. That's a bit simplistic, but certainly it seems as though a fundamental problem in contemporary Christianity is the belief that we can somehow sacrify objects, without yielding anything to God. One of the biggest conceits of modernity is the belief that we subsume every discourse to science. In Christianity, this gets translated into a belief that we can use a modernist conception of textual stability to somehow "speak" God in the language of the secular public without losing any of the God's unspeakableness.

When Christians try to approach their faith in this way, they inevitably end up subsuming voice of God under the discourse of contemporary culture. This leads, for example, to the problem of Charles Hodge, who conflates the Bible with nature in order to do a "scientific" reading of Scripture. It leads to the problem of Phillip Johnson, who, in arguing that his Intelligent Design program is based on "scientific evidence rather than on the book of Genesis" obscures the fact that it is not the same science as that taught in the biology classroom.

Ironically enough, this also leads evangelicals to make the same mistake as the Marxist theorists of the early 20th century. Images are rejected and the text is put forward as a necessary corrective that can only barely keep these uncontrollable and dangerous images from spilling out and taking over. As long as Christians believe God only exists in a text that they can control (and even market), then we will never reach a place where we can even begin to effectively critique the culture. By trying to unproblematically "speak about that which is beyond language" (to borrow a line from James K. A. Smith), we end up reducing God to the level of our own egos.

In short, these attempts to legitimize Christian discourse through, rather than against, the modernist public results in work that has no power to explain or persuade, but only to complain. If nothing else, it seems as though CCM and the marketplace of Christian products as a whole is coming dangerously close to misusing the name of God.

[This is a much longer note than I had intended to write, and I'm not sure that it really stayed on topic. But, I'd welcome any responses you have. I'm putting a copy on my own blog if you would rather respond to it there.

Peace,
Jon

Josh said...

Jared,

I'm so happy that you are looking into this subject. I read Steve Turner's book a few months ago and found it both enlightening and encouraging. Next time we get together we should discuss the Christian's role in the arts more at length.

Tamara Rose said...

hey this is random but i'm assuming that your not comming down for out going away party? Its fine if you can't or don't or what every i was just wondering? Ok well some one told me that my comments are to long :) so i'm making this one short.
God Bless

Sam DeSocio said...

I found a magazine called Relevant (yeah might not be the best source for theology) that examines secular music. I've heard their podcast, and it seemed pretty cool.

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