Today we look at the objection, “isn’t Christianity culturally rigid and opposed to artistic freedom and creativity?” I am going to say yes and no.
Tim Keller is often asked how Redeemer Church in NYC has grown to more than 5000 in Manhattan without being “cutting edge” or “liberal”? Keller responds, “The answer is that Christianity has done in New York City what it has done in all the other places that it has grown. It has adapted significantly and positively to the surrounding culture without compromising its main tenets.”
But it isn’t just in secular NYC that Christianity has grown and culturally adapted. In 1900, Christians comprised 9% of the African population and were outnumbered by Muslims four to one. Today Christians comprise 44% of the population and passed Muslims in number in 1960. Christianity is forecasted to constitute 30% of the Chinese population within this next generation. In other words, it isn’t a western phenomenon.
While Christianity is growing in different cultures without watering its central message down, Christians are no longer leaders in the arts as they once were. Films, television and music are now almost solely secular or Christian with the latter more influenced by the former than the other way around.
Part of the reason is that we tend to celebrate mediocrity and refuse to be innovative. A number of blogs snarkily list these as examples of Christian culture:
This is what “Christian culture” means to many outside the church! Yikes!
Why is the church so artistically backward? Professor William D. Romanowski at Calvin College argues in his work Pop Culture Wars that the church adopted the high culture of the 18th and 19th century as “appropriate culture” as part of the post-millennial movement (i.e., we have become so smart and civilized that we can create heaven on earth). Church leaders approved of culture they believed created civilized gentlemen and ladies and rejected all else. When we adopted the high culture of that time and place, we became stuck and quit leading the charge.
It isn’t that Christians aren’t producing “art” but it isn’t influencing anyone outside of the evangelical subculture. Let’s face it, Hollywood was not so blown away by Courageous or the latest Toby Mac CD that they felt compelled to copy it.
Once, Christians produced, or at least influenced, truly great music (Bach’s Mass in B Minor or John Coletrane’s Love Supreme) and great literature (Lord of the Rings) and great films (Ben Hur and Chariots of Fire). We did so by committing ourselves to excellence and to breaking new ground.
So, while Christianity isn’t culturally stifling it hasn’t been artistically innovative in some time and that needs to change.
By rediscovering the simple message of the Gospel, seeing all truth as God’s truth, moving out of the evangelical bubble and engaging disciplines like science, philosophy and deep theology with our artistic gifts.
So, what about the objection that Christianity is responsible for so much violence and injustice?
We will tackle that issue tomorrow.
Until then, grace and peace.