What Is “Christian” Art Anyway?

24 07 2011

The past couple of days I’ve been reading two books that have really been blessing me. One is called “The Reason for God” by Tim Keller. It’s kind of like a contemporary version of Mere Christianity, for those of you who are familiar with C. S. Lewis. The other one is called “Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts” by Steve Turner. This book not only tackles the sticky relationship that Christians have with the arts, but it is hitting my struggles with my artistic expression right on the head. I’ve been chewing on this quote from the book all day:

A key issue in the strained relationship between Christianity and the arts is the perceived division between secular and sacred. Christians have found it hard to appreciate art that deals with daily living, especially if it doesn’t supply an obviously spiritual conclusion.

This quote so perfectly describes my struggle with my art and with the church. Turner argues that while some Christian artists are called to minister within the church walls (i.e. worship leaders, Christian musicians), others are called to infiltrate culture, to be excellent in their craft, out in the world but not of it. Well what if you’re an artist who is called to create for those within the church walls, but the art that you create doesn’t fit the mold of what is considered “Christian” art, for the very reason that Turner mentions in the quote above?

I recently joined a LinkedIn group page for Christian filmmakers. The past couple months the topic of discussion has been responses to one particular poster’s outrage over a “Christian” film script that had a curse word in it. I know of several Christians who are filmmakers who don’t want to label or identify themselves as Christian filmmakers, mainly because such films are often poorly made. As for me, I don’t so much mind the label of Christian filmmaker, after all, I am Christian and I am a filmmaker. I accept the title as much as I do the label of Black filmmaker or Female filmmaker. All of these labels actually do make up my voice as a filmmaker. But reading the comments on the LinkedIn page helped me see a broader issue in Christendom in that, for some reason, Christians love to hide in the ideals of what our life here on earth should be, rather than explore and wrestle with the way it really is.

Not that there’s inherently anything wrong with the former. I just think there’s a problem with Christians becoming so self-righteous that we cannot see both sides of the coin. Am I wrong for sharing a true story of how a guy once called me a skinny b*tch and I had to fight back my own urges for revenge amidst a need to forgive? And as much as we like to believe that all Christian singles are perfect little angels who are patiently waiting until marriage to have sex, am I wrong for telling my story and the story of countless other women whose flesh got the best of them and did not wait, only to still see God’s glory in the end?

Throughout my years of being a filmmaker, I constantly seek Christian venues and festivals to showcase my work. But what is disturbing to me is that almost all of these festivals have guidelines that prohibit just about everything that deals with real human emotion. In other words, many festivals won’t say it, but they expect family friendly films. (One exception to this has been the HolyWood Film Festival, in which my film, Defining Moments, screened in April and won the Courageous Filmmaker Award).

None of the films I’ve made have ever been family friendly. They’re adult films that deal with the harsh realities that come with living life as a believer. They are films that hopefully make you think. Films that make you deal with the reality that even as Christians we are broken human beings who often do the wrong thing. But unfortunately, all too often that’s not the story that Christians want to hear. Yet ultimately it’s the very story that has brought us to the cross and that keeps us there.

I guess the folks on the LinkedIn page have the right to not want curse words to be in a “Christian” film. So then maybe that screenwriter/filmmaker should just stop calling their film Christian. So where does that leave me? Should I drop the very title that defines part of who I am? Or sell out my voice and give the people what they want–wholesome, unrealistic films that are “safe for the whole family?”

Things to ponder…




One response

25 07 2011

Awesome article. I agree with you 100%. Your last comment, drop the title and sell out my voice, give the people what they want? That’s the main problem with the “church” vs the “kingdom”…the religious folks of the day wanted Jesus to avoid the messy situations altogether and become who they wanted him to become vs. who God called and empowered him to be, a reconciler….keep doing ya thing, run to the mess like Christ and be a light in messy (dark) places. They need us….with you, it’s like a big scene from Transformers 3–those that don’t understand the BIG picture, work against our efforts.


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