After launching the Renew the Arts podcast, we started getting lots of feedback. All of it was encouraging, and a lot of it contained (even from some of our most supportive fans) some skepticism about the amount of emphasis we place on arts in the church. The arts might be important, but are they actually essential in any way to the work of the church? Sure, we like them, but can’t we actually do without them in the church and still be okay? Is it really that big of a deal?
Are the arts really that central to the life and work of the church?
If you are like most Christians, you have probably been led to believe two things about yourself when it comes to poetry:
- You don’t get it.
- You don’t like it.
In all likelihood, neither of these things is actually true. But believing them to be true hinders both your willingness to read and your capacity to understand and enjoy poetry.
In Part 1 of this two-parter (you can read it here), I talked about how the overwhelming majority of the pages in the Bible are devoted to showing the truth through narrative and poetry, over against telling the truth in expository teaching. There are two questions that arise from this—is it possible that God endorses different kinds of preachers and preaching than what we have become accustomed to in the contemporary church? And if so, what does that mean for the importance of the arts in, for, and from the church?
How Will They Hear Without a Preacher?
What does it mean to preach? Our first thought when we hear “preacher” is of someone behind a pulpit explaining some biblical truth. But is that the only way to preach? Again, going back to the Bible, it becomes clear that the biblical prophets and preachers employed a variety of methods in a variety of venues to deliver God’s message. Some of these methods seem quite unorthodox to the contemporary Christian: marrying a prostitute (Hosea 1:2), preaching naked (Isaiah 20:2), naming children (Isa. 7:3; 8:1–3), building a 450 ft. boat (Gen. 6:13ff; 2 Pet. 2:5), eating bread cooked over dung (Ezek. 4:12f), and various other acts of sacramental symbolism and prophetic theater.
“Why should I give money to support the arts? Why not give money to preachers or missionaries instead? After all, the most important Gospel work is preaching, isn’t it? As Paul says in Romans 10:14, ‘How will they hear without a preacher? It never says, ‘How will they hear without an artist?’ does it?”
During the Nehemiah Foundation’s nearly decade-long effort to renew the arts within the church, I have regularly heard some version of this objection. At first blush, it seems true and obvious, doesn’t it? If the Word of God is primary and fundamental to the work of the Gospel, then preaching the Word of God and explaining it in sermons must be fundamental and primary to the work of the church. Most people in the church believe that it’s okay to have the arts as an adornment for a Gospel message or as a harmless amusement, but they believe the real bulk of the church’s emphasis and resources should go to spreading Gospel sermons far and wide. They think explaining the Gospel in sermons is the most effective way to evangelize the world and edify the church, and “preaching” is therefore the most important and primary work of God’s people.
My friend Jimmy used to play guitar for the musical worship team at his church. One Sunday, after the service was over, a man approached Jimmy and said, “I don’t think you should put distortion on your guitar. It’s evil. It’s Satanic.”
Jimmy, being a well-humored and quick-thinking guy, turned the distortion down to 0% and strummed a few chords. “So this is okay? This is not evil?” he asked. The man replied, “Yeah. That sounds good.” Jimmy proceeded to incrementally increase the degree of distortion, play a few notes, and ask again at intervals, “So what about this? Is this evil?”
According to one study, 64% of Christian men and 15% of Christian women look at porn at least once a month. Those numbers aren’t all that different from the statistics of non-Christians. Is it at all strange to you that pornography is so popular? It’s singularly one of the most tacky things on the planet. It’s garish, badly acted, badly shot, badly directed, badly “written,” completely unbelievable, contrived, mindless, and absurd.
How do we normally condemn pornography? By calling it immoral, abusive, socially destructive, and shameful (all of which are certainly true). But shouldn’t it be enough that pornography is mind-numbingly tasteless? Somehow that isn’t enough. Which makes me think sin is very much connected to horribly bad taste. Let me explain.