I am constantly challenged to discover creative and effective ways in which to communicate the Christian interpretation of reality or worldview into contemporary culture. This is after all a central aim of every Christian—to communicate the “good news” that there is a God who has revealed Himself, who explains where we have come from and what has gone wrong with the world, a loving personal Being who has done something in response to evil and in so doing has provided the only effective remedy to the world and humanity’s condition.
Often our attempts to communicate this good news or Gospel are direct and straightforward and at times effective. But more and more, cultural conditions are such that this approach may not proceed as far as we hope because many today may immediately become defensive and unwilling to listen.
This is where alternative, even subversive, mediums can prove helpful, mediums that have been employed by thoughtful Christians in the past and, I think, are once again necessary.
Historically, the Arts have provided a powerful prophetic medium through which Christian truth has been persuasively communicated. Consider the works of Shakespeare, Milton or Dante that accurately convey the themes of sin, the nature of man, the Fall, and redemption. These have endured for centuries and continue to find contemporary expression.
Furthermore, the Arts contribute to the formation of culture, either Christian or anti-Christian, which is why Christians must be involved in the Arts. In fact, the Arts may be one of the most influential mediums for cultural formation. This is certainly evident in our time when so much of contemporary art is anti-Christian, deconstructive, or nihilistic. The resulting “culture” then becomes a formidable obstacle to the reception of the true interpretation of reality or Gospel.
Unfortunately, today many Christians find themselves only opposing culture—an understandable reaction to the often decadent and narcissistic culture that now confronts us. To be sure, Christians must engage culture with righteous judgment and offer critique wherever it undermines God’s moral truth and authority.
However, we must also realize that the Dominion Mandate calls upon the faithful to create culture for the glory and honor of Christ. As T.M. Moore points out in his excellent book Culture Matters:
The institutions, artifacts, and conventions that make up any culture are not neutral instruments only designed to enhance survival or the enjoyment of life. They are part and parcel of a worldview that, in the antithesis between the kingdoms of light and darkness, cannot possibly occupy some middle ground. Either culture will be consciously employed for the advancement of the kingdom of God, or it will fall into the hands of those who seek nothing more than the fuller realization of the next human agenda or scheme. Indifference to culture therefore is tantamount to abandoning the high ground to the adversary. Avoidance of it is impossible. Narrow selectivity in the creation of a distinctively Christian culture leaves the most powerful aspects of culture in the hands of God’s enemies.
“Narrow selectivity” is unfortunately where I think we find much of our Christian cultural expression today. In other words: the Christian sub-culture, certainly not of the world but neither in the world, and therefore of little or no consequence.
A recent and likely unexpected expression of art as prophetic proclamation can be found in the film I Am Legend starring Will Smith. Contrary to the narrow interpretation typical of the Christian sub-culture, it is not always necessary to communicate Christian themes in overtly religious terms in order to convey Christian truth. Such is the case with I Am Legend. While the plan of salvation is never directly offered, Will Smith’s character is the clear messianic figure whose blood holds the hope of humanity.
This is a classic theme found throughout Western literature and its presence is no mere accident but the product of the Christian worldview. Some may argue, “Yes, but such a subtle conveyance of ‘truth’ is inadequate.” This, I would argue, reveals a modern misunderstanding of the Arts and their role in prophetic proclamation.
It is the role of the Church to preach the gospel. What the Arts provide is a medium for cultural formation that can promote the plausibility of the gospel story. Literature and film, in particular, shape the stories of our culture and our stories help shape our conceptions of reality. If our literary traditions are dominated by nihilistic hopelessness then society becomes less hopeful. If however, our literature includes themes of redemption and messianic saviors then the story of the true Messiah rings true.
This is one reason why thoughtful Christian involvement in the Arts is so important. The other is that art influenced by the Christian interpretation of reality connects with and points to the true, the good and beautiful.
As for my own contribution, I would invite you to reflect upon my first work in the area of the poetic arts. You can read a selection of my poems addressing the themes of origins, ethics, and mortality HERE. I hope you enjoy them and perhaps find your own inspiration to contribute to the formation of culture by means of the Arts.
© 2008 by S. Michael Craven, Center for Christ & Culture, Truth in Culture weekly commentaries, January 7, 2008