How Bad Theology Yields Bad Christian Art

I have to admit, the fastest way to get me to not watch a movie or read a book is to slap the words family friendly or even Christian on it.  Not because I have anything against Christian, obviously, but because 98% of the books, music, or movies with that label are just plain bad theologically and artistically.  Today, I came across an interesting article posing the question it may not be a question of talent but a question of bad theology.

Tony Woodlief at Image (an important journal on Christianity & the Arts) writes,

I’m convinced that bad art derives, like bad literary theory, from bad theology. To know God falsely is to write and paint and sculpt and cook and dance Him falsely. Perhaps it’s not poor artistic skill that yields bad Christian art, in other words, but poor Christianity.
Consider, for example, some common sins of the Christian writer:
Neat resolution: You can find it on the shelves of your local Christian bookstore: the wayward son comes to Christ, the villain is shamed, love (which deftly avoids pre-marital sex) blossoms, and the right people praise God in the end. Perhaps best of all, we learn Why This All Happened.
Many of us are familiar, likewise, with that tendency among some Christians to view life as a sitcom, with God steadily revealing how the troubles in our lives yield more good than ill.  . . .
Sometimes we suffer and often we fail, and there is no clear answer why, no cosmic math that redeems, in our broken hearts, this sadness. The worst Christian novels seem to forget Oswald Chambers’s insightful observation, which is that God promises deliverance in suffering, not deliverance from suffering. And so they lie about the world and about God and about the quiet, enduring faith of our brethren in anguish.
One-dimensional characters: In many Christian novels there are only three kinds of characters: the good, the evil, and the not-so-evil ones who are about to get themselves saved. And perhaps this saved/not saved dichotomy—more a product of American evangelicalism than Christian orthodoxy—accounts for the problem.
I think we might craft better characters if we accept that every one of us is journeying the path between heaven and hell, and losing his way, and rushing headlong one direction before abruptly changing course to dash in the other, and hearing rumors about what lies ahead, and hoping and dreading in his heart what lies each way, and grabbing hold of someone by the arm or by the hair and dragging, sometimes from love and sometimes from hate and sometimes from both.
Sentimentality: Like pornography, sentimentality corrupts the sight and the soul, because it is passion unearned. Whether it is Xerxes weeping at the morality of his unknown minions assembled at the Hellespont, or me being tempted to well up as the protagonist in Facing the Giants grips his Bible and whimpers in a glen, the rightful rejoinder is the same: you didn’t earn this emotion.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s warning against cheap grace comes to mind, a recognition that our redemption was bought with a price, as redemption always is. The writer who gives us sentimentality is akin to the painter Thomas Kinkade, who explicitly aims to paint the world without the Fall, which is not really the world at all, but a cheap, maudlin, knock-off of the world, a world without suffering and desperate faith and Christ Himself, which is not really a world worth painting, or writing about, or redeeming.
Cleanliness: I confess that the best way to deter me from watching a movie is to tell me it’s “wholesome.” This is because that word applied to art is a lie on its face, because insofar as art is stripped of the world’s sin and suffering it is not really whole at all.
This seems to be a failing—on the part of artist and consumer alike—in what my Orthodox friends call theosis, or walk, as my evangelical friends say. In short, if Christian novels and movies and blogs and speeches must be stripped of profanity and sensuality and critical questions, all for the sake of sparing us scandal, then we have to wonder what has happened that such a wide swath of Christendom has failed to graduate from milk to meat.
And if we remember that theology is the knowing of God, we have to ask in turn why so many Christians know God so weakly that they need such wholesomeness in order for their faith to be preserved.
This, finally, is what especially worries me, that bad Christian art is a problem of demand rather than supply. What if a reinvigorated Church were to embed genuine faith in the artist’s psyche and soul, such that he need no longer wear it on his sleeve, such that he bear to see and tell the world in its brokenness and beauty? Would Christian audiences embrace or despise the result?

HT: Gene Veith


How About Some Good Christian Artwork or Literature?

I thought I would offer my own counterpoint and post some Christian works that I really like.

In no particular order

“The Year of the Warrior” by Lars Walker – Father Aillill is a character we can identify with,  he is real, he has flaws, I mean he out right lies about being a priest to save his skin when captured by Vikings.  It isn’t neat and it isn’t tidy, but it is a story worth telling with characters worth following.

“West Overseas” by Lars Walker  – This is the continuation of the saga of Father Aillill.

A Skeleton in God’s Closet – Dr Paul Maier –  This book kept me up at night.  Honestly, this is what “Da Vinci Code” should have been.  Again, a real character with real flaws and it is coupled with a gut wrenching thriller style story.  I couldn’t stop reading, mostly because I had to find out just how does he resolve the dilemma.

Lucas Cranach –  I could have tossed up Thomas Kincaid, I do like his paintings, but Cranach did more theologically themed paintings.

Koine – The Church Band – They don’t do any originals, but they have fantastic rearrangements.



Did you ever consider how rich you are?  You are credited 86,400 dollars every morning!  That’s crazy, you say?  Well, you have 86,400 seconds each day to spend, as you see fit and every one is more important than dollars!.  Every night-time writes off as lost whatever you have failed to invest to good purpose. Time carries over no balance; it allows no overdraft – each day is a new account!  You can make more money; but you can’t make more time!  Treasure every moment.  You can’t save time, you can only invest it.  Invest wisely.  God gives us all our resources; he requires us to manage them.   Manage your time sensibly and Enjoy your time – Celebrate life, live each moment to the fullest, it is a gift from God!

What is valuable in life?  Spending your time on something that will outlast it.  What outlasts your life?  The life of others, for one.  One hundred years from now, it won’t matter what car you drove, what kind of house you lived in, how much you had in the bank; nor what your clothes looked like.  The world may be a little better place because you were important in the life of a child.  Well, you say, all my kids are grown – or I don’t have any kids.  Yes you do – they are called the Our Savior Church family!  Take the time to know them!

Ecclesiastes 3 says:   He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men… 12 I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. 13 That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.’  Godliness is the result of a disciplined spiritual life. But at the heart of a disciplined spiritual life is the disciplined use of time.  Ephesians 5:15-16, paraphrased in The Message –   “So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times!”



I like February – February has my holiday – Valentines Day!  My middle name is Valentine!  No, seriously, my middle name IS Valentine – Robert Valentine Harringer Jr. – that’s me.  My dad was born on Valentine’s day in 1922; he’s Senior; I’m Junior.  Some of the guys in college used to call me ‘Valentine’ as a nickname.  I didn’t mind it, although I think their motives were less than sincere!

While the history of St. Valentine is shrouded in mystery, it has come to be a celebration of love; commercialized with sentimental cards and copious amounts of candy.  When we were kids, we used to give Valentine cards to all our classmates and teachers – it was a nice; if somewhat corny tradition.  We’re all familiar with the classic rhyme, ‘Roses are Red; Violets are Blue; Sugar is Sweet and so are you.’  Here’s one of the more sillier rhymes: ‘Chocolate is brown, hearts are red – if you won’t be my Valentine, I’ll ask another  instead!’

Valentine’s day ought to be a reminder of God’s unfailing love for us!  God’s ultimate Valentine was becoming a sacrifice for us.  There is no greater love than this!  It’s a love that has produced a priceless salvation available to all mankind!  John 3:16 is really the best Valentine’s verse that anyone could ever receive:  ‘For God so loved YOU that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life!’  Or, think about it this way:  If God had a refrigerator; YOUR picture would be on it!


Spectator Sports

Do you know what spectator sports are?  They are sports that generally have people watching them being played.  Spectator sports usually require a venue in which the watchers can view the event.  Many times the venue is a stadium.  Baseball is a spectator sport, NASCAR is a spectator sport.  If television is involved, it is a spectator sport.

Worship is not a spectator sport, and yet, all too often, we attend services in the capacity of a spectator, not a participant.  What is worship – it’s an ‘act’ of religious devotion -it means to do somethingWorship is a participant-event  that requires us to act!  What are act’s of worship?  Here are some I can think of:  Confession/contrition/repentance; prayer; singing/praising; giving; hearing/active listening to the Word; testifying .  The following are not my words, but are worth repeating:  ‘Too often worship has become a place of safety and complacency, a narrowly private experience in which solitary individuals only express their personal adoration. Even when we gather corporately, we often close our eyes (and our voices) to those around us, focusing on God but ignoring our neighbor. But true biblical worship does not merely point us upward–it should turn us outward as well.  Psalm 100: ‘Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands. Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing.’

In our world today, too many people are not singing God’s praises, but only sitting on His premises!  Remember that idea the next time you are at worship, inspire those around you!   II Samuel 6:  ‘David…danced before the LORD with all his might…’  I Chronicles 16:  Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done.  Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.  Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.’  II Chronicles 5:  The trumpeters and singers joined in unison, as with one voice, to give praise and thanks to the LORD. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, they raised their voices in praise to the LORD and sang:  “He is good; his love endures forever.”