Note: Although the article following article was originally published in the Renewanation Magazine, I’m reprinting it here because Christian arts education is one of my passions. If you’d like to learn more on the subject, I’m giving a talk on the subject next month at Wellspring Presbyterian Church on January 13th at 7pm.
Renewanation is a Christian organization working to transform culture by giving children a Christian worldview. If you’d like to learn more, check out renewanation.org.
The fact that you’re reading the Renewanation Magazine means you probably know that the mission of this organization is to “Secure a bright future for America and the world by instilling a Christian worldview in the hearts and minds of children.” You probably also know that Renewanation’s primary method of accomplishing that mission is to help children receive a full-time Christian education. We passionately desire to educate the minds and the hearts of our young people so that they, in turn, can change culture.
However, while Christian schools tend to greatly exceed their secular alternatives in academic matters, the Christian community has failed to fully embrace a complete understanding of what it means to educate the heart. For the most part, we’ve perceived this to simply entail moral education. Unfortunately, we understand that simply knowing right from wrong rarely succeeds in producing desirable behavior. Real change comes from inspiration and inspiration is the realm of the arts.
If Christians seriously desire to change culture, doing so will require a much greater appreciation and investment in the artistic development of our children.
How can art transform culture? The answer to this question may be answered in both ideological and practical terms. First of all, the arts may and should glorify God. Men are made in the image of God: God is the Creator and like Him, men also create. It is not a question if men create: they will and do. The apropos question is “What will we create?” Francis Schaeffer notes, “The arts…do have a place in the Christian life-they are not peripheral… The Lordship of Christ should include and interest in the arts… An artwork can be a doxology in itself” (377). Do we want to train our young people to worship God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength? Then we must teach them how to do so with the creativity with which God endowed them.
Secondly, the arts have practical application. Francis Bacon, the celebrated scientist and devout Anglican, wrote, “Man by the fall fell at the same time from his state of innocence and from his dominion over nature. Both of these losses, however, can even in this life be in some part repaired; the former by religion and faith, the latter by the arts and sciences” (qtd. in Schaeffer 377). In short, Bacon understood what few of Christians seem to comprehend: the arts serve a pragmatic purpose for the Christian.
The arts are a valuable tool available to the Christian working to subdue all of creation to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The television shows about which Christians disapprove were made by artists. The books on The New York Times Bestsellers List were written by artists. The music we don’t want our young people to hear was made by artists. Andy Crouch, in his book “Culture Making” rightly explains that “…the only way cultures truly change is through the introduction of new cultural goods” (190). So, if Christians truly desire to change culture, ranting and raving over the latest cultural “no-no” simply won’t do the trick. We need must create.
When it comes to art, Christian standards have simply been pathetically low. Although alternatives to secular art exists in certain genres (most notably music), the real goal isn’t the creation of a long list of Christian alternatives. Instead, we want and the world needs Christians who create so compellingly that their good works saturate culture, becoming the standard rather than simply secondary alternatives.
Our cookie-cutter fiction, our predictable film, and homogenous music won’t do the trick. To raise the bar, consider Dante’s “Inferno”, Handel’s “Messiah”, or Michelangelo’s “David.” This is originality; this is culture changing; this is true Christian art. Although my examples are centuries old, my point still holds: we want authentic art with lasting cultural value, not fleeting, commercial stand-ins.
How can we encourage culture changing creativity in our young people? Several methods come to mind.
- Own your artistic biases. When the church imposes extra-biblical values on creative freedom by approving and rejecting certain genres or styles, we relinquish the opportunity to impact culture. Sadly, many young artists fail to reach creative maturity within the church because the church fails to value individual diversity. We present them with a false dichotomy: deny yourself or deny the church. Is it any wonder that many young artists leave the church and pursue more accepting environments? Gospel, rock, classical, and reggae music all have the capacity to honor God. Poetry, fiction, and prose may all change culture. Both abstract and realistic art have their place. In short, the Christian community must learn to protect and foster artistic freedom.
- Insist on technical excellence. There is a grammar (a set of rules) to every skill but too often modern artistic training ignores those rules in the interest of “fun” and “creativity.” Mature creative excellence stands firmly on the foundational knowledge of its predecessors. Christian artistic training should insist that artists master the grammar of their genre. Beware of “mushy, feel good” training that bypasses basic skill development.
- Provide artistic inspiration. If your child has artistic leanings you should make it a priority to encourage those inclinations. For example, many times the arts flourish in community. Perhaps you could find or even initiate a Christian artistic community in your area. In the absence of a physical community online options are available. Beyond that, invest in books and classes. Visit museums. Attend the theatre. Enjoy a concert. Read a book with your student and discuss it. Join a book club. Don’t let cost deter you: many low cost and free choices can be found. The local library is a great resource!
- Consider how you can help your local Christian school or homeschool community develop a robust arts program. Unfortunately, funding issues prevent many Christian schools from investing in the wide-ranging creative capacity of its students. This problem can be remedied when parents, concerned individuals, and the Christian community as a whole begins to see the value of artistic education. Sponsor a contest. Hold a fundraiser. Provide public opportunities for creative expression. Encourage high standards. Mentor a young artist. I’m sure you can think of more ideas to foster creativity in your school!
As I close this article, I want to challenge you to consider what it would mean for culture if high-caliber artists possessing a Christian worldview became the norm. Consider how you feel when enveloped in the beauty of God’s creation. Perhaps you’ve walked on the ocean’s edge or stood in the forest, high on a majestic mountain.
God’s creation fills us with joy and wonder, doesn’t it? It enriches and ennobles us. We feel whole in its presence. And although man will never rival God’s work, we can emulate Him. We are made in His image. We have the culture changing power to erase the ugliness of destructive, sinful art. If we invest in the creative capacity of our young people, we can fill the world with beauty and goodness.
Michael Medved, the American journalist and political commentator, said, “Savvy observers occasionally note television’s resemblance to the weather: Everybody loves to complain about it, but nobody can fix it” (Michael Medved Quotes). Fortunately, while some might say the same for all types of creative endeavors, we know that Medved and those who concur with him are wrong: by God’s grace, we can do something about it. The only question is, “Will you?”
Crouch, Andy. Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling. Downer’s Grove: IVP Books, 2008. Print.
Schaeffer, Francis A. “Art and the Bible.” A Christian View of the Bible as Truth. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1982. Print.
“Michael Medved Quotes.” Brainy Quote. Web. 4 January 2014.