If you've never been exposed to Francis Schaeffer, you're missing out. There's no other way to say it. Schaeffer, with wondrous prose and careful thought, sheds light on so much that Christians have often missed speaking towards, especially the arts and culture.
Hat tip to Nathaniel Miller for loaning me his copy of Schaeffer's book Art & The Bible. In short, Schaeffer points out that much of what Christians contribute to the arts is "romanticized Sunday School art." I'm not going to use this to air my grievances with poorly made Christian films, though you can read others' comments here, here, here, here, and here. I'll never forget leaving one and talking with the friend I went with to see it and saying "I mean, I know I'm supposed to like it because we're all Christians, but that was awful."
How is it that we, who have tasted redemption, who have been freed from chains of sin and despair, who have experienced the greatest and highest of joys, reduced our expression of that to Thomas Kinkade paintings and feature length sermon illustrations? Where have we missed the point? Schaeffer brings all of this to bear, by writing at length about the role of art, how God used artistry for beauty's sake in the Bible, and how Creation itself bears witness to the artistry of God.
So what are the takeaways for pastors and ministry leaders?
1. Pursue excellence - Just because it's for Jesus doesn't mean we should be content to say "well, they tried." We should desire excellence for excellence's sake, because Jesus redeemed our production to be done well. We shouldn't settle for mediocrity in our preaching, in our worship, in our outreach, our programming/events, and more.
2. Don't sanitize - Life doesn't work like it does in the Kinkade painting or lame movie. Sometimes pains don't go away. Sometimes the atheist professor flunks the Christian student. The Bible itself often leaves us with an unsanitized view of life. But what it does give us is the never-ending presence of God, it gives us the surrounding hope of community to bear our pain with us, and it shows us that only in the return of Christ will our tears be wiped away.
3. Embrace creatives - We're very formulaic in much of our expressions of worship or embrace of the arts. It has to fit in a nice neat box. But creatives don't work with that side of their brain. The spreadsheets don't have to be all clean and neat. They say things like "heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss." They're not heretics, they just think differently and look at the world differently than you and I do. That's ok.
4. Stop trying to copy the world - I get so annoyed with pastors who rip off whatever TV show or movie is big at the moment. Stop it. Stop trying to be too clever or cute. I'd extend the same to Judgment Houses that try to be cheap copies of haunted houses. We don't need to copy the world. We have something much greater than anything they can offer or entertain us with. Schaeffer said "The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars." Let's not settle for cheap copies, let's offer something far greater, the wonderful drama and narrative of Scripture.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.