Faith and the Arts

Art Impacting Culture

It’s easy to see God in Michelangelo’s painting or hear Him in Beethoven’s symphonies, but what about the latest Blockbuster film? Or where is God in a dark comedy? This post will explore the value of the arts with respect to theology and challenge the Church to embrace the powerful witness of film, music, and visual art. Michael Cosper, Gregory Thornbury, and Scotty Smith are all a part of the Gospel Coalition and sat down to discuss the intersections of faith, culture, and art.

Michael Cosper is an author, producer, and Pastor of Worship and Arts at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky. Gregory Thornbury is the president of The King’s College in New York City and speaks and writes regularly on philosophy, theology, music, spirituality, public thought, and the arts. Scotty Smith is Teacher in Residence at West End Community Church, Nashville. 

Mike references some Gospel Coalition blog posts that discuss culture, faith, and the arts. The comments received from the posts are very divided: either people affirm that all they see and experience in the arts and culture is good and right, or they reacted in fear and say none of it is. Faith should simply be about the gospel. The two extremes present a problem for pastors when they want to embrace the arts as meaningful ways for human beings to express themselves, worship, and live out their God-given purposes.  

What are some things in culture you can easily name as “bad” or harmful? Do you ever worry that if any of these things came into your church, it would be “doomed”? Why or why not?
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Mike, Gregory, and Scotty spent a few minutes talking about fear. They say Christians tend to fear that the influence of artists, musicians, and filmmakers will shape culture more than the Church will. Church leaders in particular are afraid their ministry will be “replaced” by cultural influences that may or may not be theologically sound. 

How do you think artists impact culture?
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Do you think the religious impact of art threatens the Church at all? In other words, are you at all worried or fearful? Why or why not?
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Scotty, Mike, and Gregory all seem to value artists and their influence in culture and the Church. Scotty affirms that the kingdom of God isn’t limited to the Church; it is a larger narrative that has believers working in every sphere of society and culture. He also asserts that many non-believing artists, because they are made in the image of God, produce great beauty.  

What is some beauty you see in the world around you that has nothing to do with Church? In what ways does that beauty inspire you or even grow your faith in a good and loving God?
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Beauty in Brokenness

Because beauty can be often associated with God, Mike, Scotty, and Gregory all want beauty to be a part of church life and experience. Listen as they criticize some bad art. Whether not aesthetically pleasing or because it doesn’t tell the truth about God and humanity, bad art—paintings, music, or a picture-perfect romantic comedy—can be misleading and end up hurting our Christian witness. 

Wow! These leaders have a pretty harsh critique of beauty in art. What are your thoughts on Thomas Kinkade’s paintings? And do you think there could have been anything beautiful about the song that Scotty rejected?
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Mike criticizes Thomas Kinkade’s work because it paints pictures of an ideal that doesn’t exist. (And if you read a little bit about Thomas Kinkade, you’ll see his real life was anything but ideal.) When the Church paints similar pictures of smiles, morality, and perfection, Mike says, we ignore the reality of people’s suffering and brokenness. 

Do you resonate more with stories and pictures of hope in church or illustrations of brokenness? Why?
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Mike says the facade of beauty and perfection stretches far beyond the Church. We are all, in a sense, victims of the whole advertising culture, which flatters us, entices us to buy certain things, and makes false promises of happiness and satisfaction. 

What is one way you are enticed by the advertising culture at large?
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Romans 8:20-22 (ESV)

20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.22For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Glimmers of beauty, promises of success, and hopes for fulfillment are part of the human story. In many ways, all people are groaning for things to just get better in life. Romans 8:20-22 talks about this kind of frustration and unrealized expectation. If we pursue some kind of ideal in life, though, we will always be disappointed. Our lives are often full of pain, our marriages fall apart, we are sick and injured, desperate for attention, etc. Mike says film does a good job illustrating the reality of human life and hurt. 

What is one movie you’ve seen that’s resonated with your human condition?
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How did the medium of film speak to you in a way a sermon maybe couldn’t have?
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Mike, Gregory, and Scotty agree that one of the beautiful things about Scripture is that it is a piece of art that tells the true story of broken human beings. It also tells the truth about God: sometimes He doesn’t respond to our prayers right away, sometimes He doesn’t resolve things in our lives very easily. Rather than offering us easy answers all of the time, the Church can learn from the arts to communicate this kind of truth and beauty.  

Have you ever thought of the Bible as R rated? Why or why not?
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Where do you see God working in suffering and brokenness in Scripture? What about in the world around you?
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It’s easy to try to oversimplify our faith or to see God in only one kind of way. The beauty of art, though, is that it shows the complexities of the human experience and how we relate to a God far greater than other mediums can. At the end of the day, Christians are able to rejoice because God is with us in our brokenness, and He wants to use us to bring about healing and restoration in the lives of others.  

To close this session, take a look at Kristen’s story. Kristen saw women in the world who were hurting and mistreated, so she used her art to bring about redemption, help, and healing. 

Art isn’t just paintings or sculptures. It can be music or writing or, like for Kristen, jewelry. All of these artistic mediums can be used to bring God glory inside and outside the Church. And all artists—Christian or non-Christian—have value in the kingdom of God. We are all created in the image of God and loved and redeemed by Christ. When we claim that identity and allow God into our brokenness, we can discover anew the joy, hope, and peace of the gospel.  

Consider finding a piece of art this week (a movie, book, painting, etc.) that illustrates how you currently feel about God and His work in your life.