Renew the Arts Roundtable is a continuing series of discussions between members and friends of Renew the Arts concerning (mostly) recent happenings in the intersecting worlds of faith, art, and popular culture. In this first installment, three staff members talk about Ambient Church, the implications this movement has for the relationship between the Church and the Arts, and how Christian art can be liberated by analyzing this issue.
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?
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.
A lot of people ask me what I think is causing the general mediocrity and cultural irrelevance of Christian art today. I usually answer, “It’s complicated.” With a problem this systemic, a single error usually doesn’t deserve all the blame. That being said, I can pinpoint at least one particular error that deserves a very healthy helping of blame: Christian Platonism.
What is Christian Platonism? Put simply, it is the belief that reality is separated into two realms—the physical and the spiritual. This belief is usually accompanied by a denigration of the physical realm, but the separation itself is the definitive marker of Christian Platonism—and its main error. This separation is not a biblical concept. In biblical terms, the physical and the spiritual overlap, and in paradise, they will be fitted perfectly together again. God makes a distinction between them (in the same way he makes a distinction between a man and a wife), but he never intended for them to be separate. Hebrews 11:3 makes it clear: