It’s a question on many of our minds since Billy Graham died: What now?
This iconic moment for American evangelicalism paints a clear picture of what has weighed heavy on the heart of Christians, even before the passing of Billy Graham: who will carry the gospel into the next generation? The conversation has a tinge of hopelessness, as millennials flood out of the church at an increasing rate. “America’s pastor” is dead. Will the church in America die with him? It almost looks like it will.
I don’t believe this. Not for a moment. And, I know who will take up his mantle. I’d bet my life on it. In fact, I kind of have. I’ll tell you: It’s not who you think it is, and it is coming from a place you never thought to look. If it did, you would have already found it.
Who is going to preach the gospel to America now that Billy Graham has died?
I firmly believe, as we move into the future, the most effective conduits of the gospel will be a host of creative Christians who can articulate the good news in channels that already exercise the vast majority of influence today: film, music, art, and culture.
The average American adult typically consumes 10 ½ hours of media per day. That’s an average adult! Think about what this means for younger adults and teens. The platforms have shifted, and the prophets must (and will) speak in the common tongue. The church has always adapted to the times for the Gospel to spread. The gospel is the same today as it ever was, but the means of its spread are undeniably different. Singers and songwriters already profoundly shape our heart and mind. If this isn’t the case for you personally, consider the young people in your life.
If you’re older than 45 and this sounds like a washed-up last resort for the church, think again. Explaining the truth in creative ways is 1) biblically mandated and 2) historically practiced by the church, and 3) more needed now than ever.
Are you afraid of trusting the gospel to the hands of artists? Maybe you should consider how God consistently did this in the Scriptures. Look at the Old Testament. Most of it is stories, songs, and poetry. When God decided to leave us His Word, these are the forms He left it in. But can art really convert someone from unbelief? The psalmist David said quite explicitly:
“He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.” (Ps. 40:3)
Even when Jesus Himself came, he “spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable” (Matt. 13:34). Jesus’ preaching (and what we have recorded from it) was almost exclusively short fictional narratives. If you’re thinking to yourself “Okay, we’ll insert stories into our sermons,” that’s not what I’m saying. If you’re going to reach anyone outside of your church, it has to be a completely different platform. God didn’t seem to mind this when he included songs, story, and poetry in the Bible.
Historically, the church has been at the forefront of art-making! Some of the most highly respected music, paintings, architecture, and stories have been made by Christians. This shouldn’t surprise us: we are made in God’s image. The very first verse of the entire Bible is “In the beginning, God created…” Being made in God’s image demands that we encourage the creative drive in and among us. When dedicated Christians make excellent art, their worldview and theology will shine through, and the effects are often life-changing and world-shaping. Speaking truth through art is an old Christian practice. It’s hardly a new “that’s just what young people want” thing.
Artists who are dedicated to their craft and to their faith are crucial today more than ever. With the advent of the internet and smartphones, humans are consuming an unprecedented amount of art and entertainment, and frankly the church doesn’t even have a seat at the table. Sure, we make some films, and we have worship radio. But these mainly attract a self-consciously Christian audience, and their purpose is usually to affirm the status quo, not challenge or “preach” the truth to a church that needs reviving.
At large, we don’t have penetrating content that speaks to the hearts of Christians and non-christians alike. And until we do, longing for the days of Billy Graham will only lose the church time it could be investing in creative Christians who are eager to embody the truth through beautiful and excellent stories, songs, and art.
Want to hear more? Check out the Renew the Arts podcast “Who Will Replace Billy Graham?”:
Have questions? Please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also check out the work we’ve already been doing at www.RenewtheArts.org/projects.