November 26, 2020

Surprise! God Does Art

In my previous essay we looked at the culture of Jesus junk. I tried to say things in a nice way–maybe I was too nice. I still have many friends in publishing, in broadcasting, in music production and distribution. Many friends who seek to follow the Lord from their hearts, yet sometimes have to hold their noses and put out a product they would not want in their own homes due to the possibility of extreme embarrassment. I have been there myself. Now, I just can no longer participate in the death of true art.

That is a powerful statement. The death of true art. Yet that is what so much of Christian entertainment is: the death of art. When I taught at a university in the 1980s, I required students in one of my upper division courses to read Frank Schaeffer’s Addicted to Mediocrity: Contemporary Christians and the Arts. Is that how our generation will be remembered? As the ones who took art from beauty that glorifies God to being simply mediocre? Or will the memory of our contributions be even seen that kindly?

(The art selected for this essay is titled Death Of Art. The artist? Marilyn Manson.)

The greatest contribution in our day the church as made to the arts has been a negative one, something that has driven thousands of Christians from the arts. Or driven them from the church into the arts with no ties to enterprise Christianity. This contribution is spoken of everyday in most any area of art or entertainment. This contribution consists of two simple words: “Christian” and “secular.”

The word “secular” has its roots in the Latin for “of the age.” As God is outside of time, this designation was meant to distinguish what was eternal from what was temporal. I do not think that the earliest users of “secular” ever envisioned using the term to distinguish songs written for one’s girlfriend from songs written for Jesus–but sounding just like Jesus was one’s girlfriend.

“Is that a Christian book or a secular book?” Just how does one answer that?  I don’t recommend giving the answer I usually give. “I didn’t know a book could be either” gets me branded as a, well, something about the intelligence of my backside. I hate the use of the words as they have come to be used in our day. “Christian” is a word applied to some of the earliest followers of Jesus—and it was not necessarily a positive term. “They look and act like Jesus” was an insult. Now we apply this word to products that are “safe” or “family-friendly,” neither of which truly describes Jesus. (Back off, Dobsonites. One day I will write on how Jesus came to turn families upside-down … but that day is not today.)

And we use the word “secular” to label products good Christians should avoid, or at least approach with the utmost caution. So a follower of Jesus who is a writer is shuttled into writing Christian, not secular, literature. And there are further restrictions and requirements this writer must meet. She cannot have her characters do anything real, like sin. No alcohol may be consumed. No sex outside of marriage. No cussing. Violence is to be off-screen; we only get to see the effects, not the act itself. What is so ironic is that this leads to trying to introduce the reader to the God of the Real through totally unreal circumstances. What is the reader to believe?

Is that song Christian or secular?

That artist must have gone secular.

I only watch Christian movies.

It’s phrases like these that are keeping Christians from making great art. Those who follow Jesus and create lasting art seldom make their Christianity known, and for good reason. The hostility they will face from the church is unbelievable. And that is to our utter shame.

Yet God has always worked through art and will continue to do so. It’s just that he now shows up in surprising ways. We see the Gospel revealed, not in “Christian” art, but in art made in this age, within the temporal. In other words, secular art shows us God in a greater way than Christian art. (Ok, commenters, start throwing the tomatoes my way.) God surprises me all the time, popping up and waving at me in movies, books, music, dance, theater, and many other works of arts where I never expected to see him. Now, I expect to see him everywhere. I get disappointed if I come out of a movie not having seen him in some way. (Recently I came out of the movie, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and the person I saw it with looked at me and said, “Don’t tell me how you saw Jesus in that movie. It will just ruin it for me.” So I didn’t say, but I did see.)

If you have eyes to see and ears to hear, God will reveal himself in just about any work of art. I find it so much fun to be on the lookout for God wherever I go, whatever I’m listening to or reading or watching. Sometimes he presents himself in an undeniable way, a presentation of the Gospel that cannot be mistaken for anything else. At other times, he sneaks in a word or phrase or glimpse of him that is really just for me and just for this specific time.

I asked our other iMonk writers to share some works of art in the fields of music, movies and books where they have seen God revealed. Of course, I didn’t ask until late last night. Thus not all were able to share their insights. But know that all of our writers are artists, and they all see God in places outside of the enterprise of Christianity. You may be scandalized by some of the suggestions below. That’s ok. It will make you think through why you are scandalized and perhaps that process alone will begin to free you from the “Christian art box” you have been stuck in for too long.

So here are suggested movies, musical groups and books/authors you will not find in most Christian bookstores, but that we feel will help you get to know our incredibly artistic God in a greater and deeper way. (Note: AP is Adam Palmer; LD is Lisa Dye; JD is me.)

Movies
The Fountain (Widescreen Edition) (2006)  A treatise on the nature of life and the inevitability of death that always leaves me thinking. (AP)

Saving Private Ryan (Special Limited Edition) (1998)  I personally connect with the (seeming) insanity of the mission placed before these guys, and am floored that they go through with it anyway. That is a pretty accurate metaphor for my walk with Christ. (AP)

Wall-E (Single-Disc Edition) (2008)  The most profitable art film ever made, it asks the age-old question: “What makes us human?” And for me, it always reinforces my need, as a creation, for interaction with my Creator. (AP) And the portrayal of life aboard the spaceship/lifeboat is a great picture of the church in the West today. (JD)

Children of Men (Widescreen Edition) (2006)  Yes, it’s brutal and violent and packed with, as Ralphie Parker would put it, “The F-dash-dash-dash word.” Set in a world where no child has been born for 18 years, the film, at the end (spoiler alert!), finally ushers in a baby. This baby is the hope of mankind, and all the different political factions want to use it for their own gain. But there is a sequence toward the end of the film where everyone gets quiet, stops their fighting, and, quite simply, pauses because of the baby. There is no agenda, there is no policy–it is just the baby. It always reminds me that we must offer simply Christ, with no strings attached, no agendas, no moneymaking schemes. Just Jesus. (AP)

No Country for Old Men (2007) Evil is relentless and the devil will stop at nothing to destroy us. But my favorite Godly reminder comes in an off-hand conversation the main character Ed Tom has with his uncle. Ed Tom is feeling like God is against him, and his uncle, swimming upstream against our culture’s narcissism tells him, “What you got ain’t nothin’ new. It ain’t all dependin’ on you. That’s vanity.” So much truth in this film. And violence, too. (But mostly truth.) (AP and LD)

Gran Torino (Widescreen Edition) (2008) Clint Eastwood as he neared 80 found he could still glare and growl. He could also show the sacrificial nature of Jesus, giving himself for someone who had tried to steal something very precious from Clint. Yes, a lot of profanity. Well, that isn’t even close. If you took out all of the profanity, I’m pretty sure this would be reduced to a silent movie. But the last scene is one of the most memorable from all movies I have seen. (LD and JD)

Spanglish (2005) The love of a mother to protect her daughter from the seduction of wealth, materialism and popularity is another portrayal of Christ’s covering of us. (LD)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (30th Anniversary Ultimate Edition) [Blu-ray](1977) The power of a call on one’s life and the cost to the person called. Plus some really good special effects–for a 33 year old movie. (JD)

Harvey(1950) Jimmy Stewart is the only person who can see Harvey, a 6 foot, 1 1/2 inch tall rabbit. Yes, Stewart’s character is a drunk. But he has a heart as big as a Buick. “My mother told me, ‘In this life, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.’ For years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.” Is Harvey the Holy Spirit that only those with eyes to see can see? (JD)

The Shawshank Redemption (Single Disc Edition)(1994) Prisoners who have served their time are set free. But after years of the security of their prison walls, freedom is too much. They long to return to their Egypt. A great portrayal of not only the Israelites in the midst of the exodus, but those of us who are offered freedom through the blood of Christ today. Will we accept, or will we turn back? (JD)

Up (Single Disc Widescreen)(2009) A great look at the harm of holding onto the past. Also, the first ten minutes are perhaps the greatest ten minutes of cinema ever. (JD)

Music
Lisa recommends Over The Rhine, U2 (especially How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb), Jakob Dylan in the Wallflowers (Red Letter Days), Seventh Day Slumber, Evanescence (Fallen).
Adam had trouble narrowing this down, but suggests checking out these groups.
Sigur Ros: Yes, they sing in Icelandic, so it’s lyrically tough to connect with, but musically these guys move me, especially their albums entitled “()” and “Takk…” The video for their song “Glosoli” remains the best six-minute artistic representation of following Christ I’ve ever seen.
U2: These guys have always had a spiritual bent in their music, but it’s getting more pronounced the older they get. “Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady.”
Steve Reich: This guy is a minimalist composer of Jewish descent who writes incredible, mesmerizing music. He has the wildest ideas, but he pulls them off! Creating a 30-minute vocal composition based on verses from Psalms 19, 34, 18, and 150, in their original Hebrew? Why not! Compose for “string quartet and tape,” the “tape” in question being interviews with Americans and Europeans, including Holocaust survivors? Makes perfect sense! Compose a piece for a cello octet and have all parts played by Maya Beiser, one of our generation’s greatest cellists? Of course! I have lived my professional life to Steve’s music, and it never fails to seek out that part of my soul that craves invention and delight in the audacity of grace. Oh, and those pieces are “Tehillim,” “Different Trains,” and “Cello Counterpoint,” respectively.
The Innocence Mission: Simple, heartfelt music from a band that sounds exactly like what their name indicates. I never miss an album.
Mumford & Sons: This one’s new to me, but I can already tell this band will be in heavy rotation for the rest of my life. They speak difficult truth, but it’s heartwarming, Gospel truth.
The Polyphonic Spree: This band always makes me happy, and I think that’s their mission in life. It’s just a circus of different musicians and vocalists singing/playing with zeal about how great life is. Always makes me smile and realize how blessed I am to be drawing breath.
Vigilantes of Love: Such incredible lyrics that always trim the fat and hit me straight in the heart. Directly and to the point. A sample: “Why is joy something I must steal? A starving skeleton looking for a meal? But out in the graveyard the church bells peal: ‘Earth has no sorrow Heaven can’t heal.'” There’s a hard-lived, gnarled intelligence there. These songs are written by a man who knows suffering, but who also knows healing in the midst of it.
I would add a few artists to these already mentioned: Neko Case, Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson (of the Beach Boys), Gillian Welch, Leonard Cohen, and–if you are really daring, Warren Zevon and Tom Waits.
Books
Lisa says, “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke is the first one that comes to mind. Mr. Norrell, the fussy traditionalist who wanted to practice magic only by the books in his jealously-guarded library, represents (to me) Christian addiction to law. Jonathan Strange was raised up as a magician under Norrell’s tutelage, but broke away when a crisis demanded it. He was a Luther of sorts, running into dangerous places, forsaking the books (law), but confident in the magic. JS&MN is a book that needs to be read many times.
Brideshead Revisited (Movie Tie-in Edition) (Everyman’s Library (Cloth) by Evelyn Waugh for its examination of Catholicism, legalism, alcoholism and friendship.
“Two children’s books that are so much fun, but touching as well are A Long Way From Chicago (Puffin Modern Classics) and A Year Down Yonder, both by Richard Peck. The time period is the Great Depression, the setting is a rural Illinois town and the main character is a tough, battle axe of a grandma (described through the eyes of her visiting grandchildren) who creates adventure, dishes out shocking justice to the annoying folks in her small town and true kindness to those who need it most.”
Adam agrees with Lisa on her first choice of JSMN. Other books he recommends in order to see God revealed include The Complete Calvin and Hobbes (Calvin & Hobbes) (v. 1, 2, 3), Bill Watterson. (“Bill Watterson managed to do something that I don’t think had ever been done–turn his art into a pop culture phenomenon and RETAIN HIS ARTISTRY. I introduced my eight-year-old son to “Calvin & Hobbes” a couple of years ago, and it brought me back to the sheer joy of Watterson’s illustrations, drunk on the delight of whimsy and invention, and the breathtaking way he captures the beauty and simplicity of God’s creation.”)
Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae, Steven Pressfield. (“Forget that nonsense that masqueraded as a historic telling of the Battle of Thermopylae that called itself “300.” Ugh. This is the real deal, and though it’s packed with viscera and real-life military talk—as imagined in the ancient world—this remains the bloodiest reminder of my need for community. The way Pressfield describes the purpose of the phalanx warfare the Spartans use is a spot-on metaphor for the way Christians need to engage with one another.”)
As for me?  JSMN is the best work of fiction I have ever read. Is the author a Christian? I have no idea beyond having read the book and thus concluding that she know Jesus in a very real way. I love Flannery O’Connor’s works. Yes, she was a Christian, but did not publish “Christian fiction.” Douglas Adams was one of the best crafters of the English language I have ever read. Even though he claimed to be an atheist, I believe the Christian roots of his childhood were stronger than he imagined.
These are but the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to books, music and movies where we have seen God revealed to us. Works that are not typically thought of as “Christian.” When we as followers of Jesus can get past the Christian/secular divide, we can begin to approach God in a real way. Which, of course, is the only way he allows us to approach him.

Comments

  1. Jonathan says

    https://internetmonk.com/archive/has-grace-made-me-gracious

    Zahl’s book, Grace in Practice, likewise has plenty of examples of God and grace revealed in contemporary books and movies. I found the book by reading IMonk’s review, linked above.

    It’s worth noting that in one week the writers of this blog have observed the sad fact that modern Christians have effectively separated themselves from excellence in the arts and the sciences.

  2. I just got done watching The Book of Eli.

    This more spiritual/Christian than any Christian movie I have ever seen. Puts Fireproof to shame.
    When Denzel Washington prays over his food (when his last meal was hairless cat) it is unexpected, poignant, and chilling. The fact that the book everyone is after is the last Bible, and the ending is amazing, makes this a must see.

    • This whole film is an amazing Christian message without being a “Christian” film. Against the desolate backdrop of sin, a lone warrior who is quite capable of doing harm to others brings a word that can be used to rule people or set them free.

      That’s as Jesus as it gets, brother.

  3. Denise Spencer says

    Bravo, Jeff. I know what you mean; so often glimmers of God turn up in the most unexpected places, and it’s so much fun when that happens.

    A movie that recently surprised me was “I Am Legend.” Completely depraved humans destroying everything in their path — sin at its worst. They got that way because a cure for cancer went horribly wrong — evil is always a perversion of something good. There’s the obvious faith of the girl who shows up saying God spoke to her and told her to come. But beyond that, Neville sacrifices his life to save the un-infected people who remain. And the cure he at last discovers? His own blood. A “secular” Christ figure if ever I saw one.

    • What’s interesting is how different the ending was from the originally intended ending (which I honestly like more).

      • Rick Ro. says

        I couldn’t stand the original ending. I felt the script was setting something up good with the zombie woman, only to let the idea drop in a flurry of explosions. In my opinion, this alternative ending is more in line with “good script writing” (thanks for sharing it, Jason), but still falls short. In fact, I remember my disappointment with the script as the movie progressed, feeling the writer(s) were letting good moments of spiritual reflection get lost in the noise of a big-budget movie.

    • Yes, but is it more magic bookism?

  4. Good call on Mumford & Sons. I just discovered them myself and became an instant fan — even before I realized the spirituality in their lyrics. Great fusion music: bluegrass, rock, and folk. They are slowly becoming my new favorite band. I’d love to see them live.

    • Same story here – a friend recommended them a few months ago and I now listen to them all the time. Incredible music and such deep truth in their lyrics. I can’t emphasize enough how GOOD they are. And yes, I hear their live shows are wonderful.

      With so much Christian symbolism, one almost must believe they’re closet Christians. There has been talk on the interwebz that they have some connections with the Vineyard church in England.

  5. Schaeffer turned me on to art for the first time. I spent many of nights up at the LAbri house watching (so-called secular) movies and enjoying them deeper than I ever had and understanding them better than ever.

    I’ve tried to reproduce those movie and discussion groups on my island and their is great resistance by the Christian community. They only want to watch old Disney movies or Old Billy Graham films. They just don’t get it.

    Also, Thomas Kincaid (the favorite art of Christians) is a sad reflection of what Christians consider art.

    I’ve spent many wonderful hours in art museums with my kids and I’m so thankful Schaeffer taught me that.

    Speaking of which, one of the best commentaries on the Christian view of art was Franky’s book “Sham Pearls Before Real Swine.”

  6. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    My bailiwick is SF & Fantasy. And what I have observed in Official Christian (TM) SF & Fantasy (i.e. “Just like Tolkien, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”) is Utter Failure of Imagination. In a set of genres where Imagination is the prime requisite.

    (Recently I came out of the movie, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and the person I saw it with looked at me and said, “Don’t tell me how you saw Jesus in that movie. It will just ruin it for me.” So I didn’t say, but I did see.)

    OK. I’ll bite. What’s your take on Fantastic Mr Fox?

  7. Thank you for this. As a writer and aspiring novelist, I’ve been struggling lately with this question, and my husband and I were discussing it just the other night, about whether my writing honors God, and what that means. I don’t write safe, sanitized “Christian” fiction, I simply write what comes to me. I veer toward fantasy and romance, escapist stories where good conquers evil and love conquers all. My characters aren’t always saved, and they behave realistically, but my stories usually have underlying Christian theme driving them. We’ve been discussing whether I should abandon this route, and try to write stories that are more explicitly “Christian,” if that would be more honoring to God. And frankly, the idea of having to write what passes as “Christian” romance or literature these days makes my skin crawl. I’m a life-long Christian, and I can’t stand to read any of that stuff. You’ve helped to persuade me that the best way I can honor God with the talent he’s given me is to use it to make the best art that I can, and allow Him to reveal himself in my work in whichever way He sees fit.

    • Rick Ro. says

      I’m with you, Jean B.! I’m writing a sci-fi novel with Christian/spiritual undertones, but it certainly isn’t safe/sanitized. And, like you, not all my characters will end up saved. Some are, some are still debating, some will reject Him. Kinda like real life.

      If you’re like me, your prayer is that your work will point people toward God/Christ even if it isn’t what some Christians would want to read. If you want my vote, write the way you write and don’t write stuff that would make your skin crawl and you wouldn’t want to read. Explicitly “Christian” stuff can be preachy and off-putting to the non-believer.

  8. Songs for the Broken says

    Good post. I plan an checking out a few of the ones on the list I haven’t read yet.

    I have a few recommendations of my own. I strongly suggest “Naruto,” a serial manga/anime now approaching (in the manga) episode 500. Although the author, Kishimoto Masashi, is an athiest, the parallels to Christianity and the gospel are strong enough I am certain he drew on Christian concepts in writing it.

    Also, the music of Nick Cave. Definitely in the Cohen/Waits camp for sure.

    • Songs for the Broken says

      Oh, bookwise: Stephen Donaldson for sci-fi and fantasy. The Gap saga and the “Chronicles of Thomas Covenant” both have stories that depict extreme evil, but also have realistic depictions of the effects of sin and very very strong redemptive themes. Extremely dark however. Not for everyone.

    • Strongly seconding Nick Cave.

      Books – Terry Prachett’s “Carpe Jugulum” and “Small Gods” and “Monstrous Regiment”. Yes, it’s humourous fantasy, a genre I usually find less enjoyable than having my eyes gouged out, but that’s because all other practitioners just aren’t funny (Jasper fForde, I’m sorry, puns are the lowest form of wit). Yes, he’s an agnostic.

      But he treats religion – even when he thinks it’s on the more nuts side – with respect. And Sam Vimes is one of the greatest characters in modern literature.

      Everyone has their favourites: I would recommend the witches’ books of the Discworld series (yeah, I know everyone loves Rincewind, but as a character he just doesn’t do it for me). The early ones are too heavy on the humour, trying too hard to be funny!!! but as the series develops, it gets more serious. Not less funny, but more serious.

      Oh, and as a side note: “Lords and Ladies”. As an Irishwoman, I can’t tell you how annoying the fluffy fairy-dust, butterfly wing version of fairies is – Shakespeare, how could you in “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”? – but PTerry gets it in this one, the real traditional view of why the fairies are feckin’ scary. Read it and never again will you think fairies at the bottom of your garden are suitable for little girls.

      • thanks for the reading tips , Martha; I need to up my quotient of fiction and come down off my self-help and theology once in awhile. Some well written fantasy is probably what the Dr. ordered.

      • Yes yes yes! Pratchett is both funny and profound, though not always “right.” I may like “Jingo” and “The Fifth Elephant” the best.

      • Lukas db says

        The Tiffany Aching books are brilliant. My personal favorites. But Carpe Jugulum was great too.

    • Lukas db says

      ‘Naruto’ is endless, and goes nowhere. I don’t think the author has any real overarching point to the series except to make a lot of badass fight scenes. Decent characters though.

      In a very different vein, I my favorite show happens to be an anime: Kanon (the 2006 remake). A beautiful exploration of the realities of life, contrasted with the miraculous and the divine. If you aren’t freaked out by the (very stylized) character designs. But who watching anime isn’t?
      Clannad is really good too.

  9. conanthepunctual says

    I’ve been a follower of Jesus since I was five (I’m now thirty-five). I love fantasy, sci-fi, and yes, horror. Horror books and horror films. This tends to make many other believers very uncomfortable. That being said, the film Excorcist: The Beginning has such a blatantly pro-God message I would not be surprised to find that someone (or many someones) have gone to or returned to church after seeing it. Fair warning: it’s still a graphic horror film.

    • conanthepunctual says

      For that matter, I was a fan of Anne Rice when she was writing vampire novels and I’m still a fan now that’s she’s not. Memnoch the Devil has one of the most beautiful descriptions of Heaven I’ve ever read.

      • Me too regarding Anne Rice. It was kind of interesting watching her perspective change in her later vampire novels. I had a feeling her heart was changing.

  10. Good call on The Innocence Mission! I really wish they had more exposure — “Birds of My Neighborhood” is one of the most perfect albums around.

    And if you’ve never watched a Joss Whedon series, start watching Buffy The Vampire Slayer already. This is pre-angsty, sparkly, vampires and the girl who is off to kill them. The first three seasons are the strongest. If you’re up for something more out-there, his “Dollhouse” series about humans with imprinted personalities morphed into something great about a quarter of the way in.

    Speaking of Vampires, if you can find “The Addiction,” rent it. It’s a grainy B/W film from the mid 90s about a woman who realizes she can’t control her new passions as the undead. It’s got sin, redemption, the problem of evil, communion, and even RC Sproul quotes in there somewhere.

    And since Songs for the Broken mentioned anime, I’ll throw out strong recommendations for Haibane Renmei and Boogiepop Phantom — both works of art in their on way. The former is a story of redemption and sin, the latter is about putting away childish things.

    Oh, and if you’ve avoided Harry Potter for the last 10+ years, get on that. Yes, it’s a “kids” series with some pacing issues, but that shouldn’t stop you from reading the greater story inside.

    • You beat me to Harry Potter. In my opinion, Potter has some very intricate morality points. There are times that I really wish (some) Christians would read BEFORE they criticize.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Especially since while they were denouncing and book-burning Harry Potter, Golden Compass et al sailed right into their schoolrooms and school libraries — even their Christian school libraries.

        Phil Pullman has actually thanked J.K.Rowling for drawing all the heat from his trilogy and giving his Anti-Narnia clear sailing.

    • I second the Whedon recs. The last few seasons of Buffy are pretty controversial, but I found a lot of unintentional Bible class in Spike’s redemption arc.

      I’d also add “especially Firefly/Serenity”, but that might just send everyone into a blind rage over its early cancellation.

  11. I felt the choice of art for this post was very interesting. It’s a great watercolor from an unexpected source.

    Being a follower of Jesus, I clearly don’t agree with the lifestyle and religious beliefs of Marilyn Manson. However, I do believe in the importance of art in our culture. Manson clearly appreciates this and it reflects greatly in his art. I can support that at the and still love Jesus.

    I often find myself defending artists like Manson from the vitriol of the modern Church. I believe in the freedom we have in America to express ourselves as we see fit. We are able to choose good and evil. This is both a gift and a burden given to us by God. It is one that I cherish.

    The fact that I choose to attempt to emulate the life of Christ makes the relationship I have with my creator very special. Let us not forget that it is Christ who has given us the ability to create art and to appreciate art. He was the first artist!

    Thanks for this great article!

  12. When I was an agnostic Philip K. Dick’s novels helped me understand Christianity. Admittedly he wasn’t exactly orthodox (he often leaned towards Gnosticism) but he was wonderful at writing about struggling with faith and grief. The VALIS “trilogy” and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch come to mind in particular. That man may have been nuts but he was brilliant.

    Philip Pullman’s notorious “Dark Materials” trilogy actually helped push me towards God; in the end their was just something kind of absurd and petulant about their rebelliousness.

    • Philip K. Dick is brilliant!

      Listening to Phillip Pullman discuss religion is like listening to Ayn Rand discuss socialism. :p

  13. Madeleine L’Engle says something similar about the “Christian Artist” in her most excellent Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. Worth a read if you are interested in this subject.

    Galaxy Quest, Spirited Away, and Stranger Than Fiction are my favorite movies with deep truth.

    • Rick Ro. says

      I mentioned Stranger Than Fiction later in this string of posts. Glad to see someone else caught the deep message in it. Funny, because when I first saw it, I thought, “Good movie, funny parts, poignant parts,” but kinda missed the God/Christ relationship between Emma Thompson and Will Ferrell’s characters. The second time I watched it, I almost fell over thinking, “How did I miss all this deep spiritual stuff the first time around???”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Galaxy Quest,
      AKA
      “The Best Star Trek Movie Ever Made.”

  14. Oh! We are really enthralled with The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I got chills reading his world’s version of the Creation, Fall, and Salvation.

  15. Good call on “Saving Private Ryan”! I first saw this with a good friend, who grew up old-order Mennonite; her dad and uncles did alternate service during WW II; her first statement when we came out, once she had stopped crying enough to speak, was “I never really understand how much our freedom cost” (i.e., as Americans); this led to us talking about what it cost God/Jesus to offer us salvation/spiritual freedom. After our second viewing, we probably talked at least 2 hours about all the spiritual messages we found in this incredible movie. One of my favorites: there is a point about mid-way when one of the men wants out of this stupid, insane rescue mission because the captain made a bad call and one of their men (the medic) got killed. He and the 2nd in command get in a big fight, almost ending in another death, when the captain shares his heart- he had previously been tight-lipped about his past, refusing to say what he’d done before the war, really anything personal; theguys had a pool going, betting on who could get the captain to tell his story. Well, at the crucial point, where #2 guy is threatening to shoot the rebel who wants to leave, the captain starts telling the guys who he really is, what he’s about, what matters to him, his hunger to go back home and be with his wife and just be a high school English teacher and part time coach again, and he’s humble, and he tells the rebel he can leave if he wants, and the rebel just picks up his gear and re-joins the group, and I really, really get how a rag-tag bunch of fishermen could follow after the son of God, even though the mission seemed to be ridiculous and impossible. And there’s a lot more in that movie, so much more than any so-called Christian movie I’ve ever seen. Two more I keep re-watching, learning from and being challenged by: The Color Purple and Fried Green Tomatoes. Neither would get the Good Christian Seal of Approval, both will grip you and make you think about values and choices and friendship and loyalty.

    • ahhh yes, Fried Green Tomatoes…the secret is in the sauce :-_

      Greg R

    • Rick Ro. says

      More regarding “Saving Private Ryan”…

      I look at the squad of men who is sent to find Private Ryan as “Christ.” They are sent on a mission to save this guy they don’t know, at the risk of their own lives. The squad embodies Christ. One of the things that would’ve made the film REALLY soar spiritually is if, when they find Ryan, he had turned out to be a total schmuck/loser. It could’ve been one of those “We came to save THIS GUY?” moments. A guy totally unworthy of the sacrifce, yet sacrifice to save him they did.

      There’s a moment at the end of the movie that I’m sure Spielberg had no idea comes almost straight from the New Testament. As Hanks’ character dies, he whispers to Ryan, “Earn this.” Earn what? Earn the sacrifice of the men who died to save him.

      That moment just leapt out at me, how much it related to Ephesians 4:1:
      “…I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Paraphrased slightly, I read that as, “Earn Christ’s sacrifice!”

  16. Thought-provoking stuff, JD. And I love reading about others’ choices for “secular” art that contains Godly themes of beauty, struggle, faith and redemption.

    My personal choices–

    Books:
    Hemingway, “The sun also rises”
    Fitzgerald, “The great Gatsby”

    Movies (“Shawshank Redemption” was probably first on my list, but JD beat me to it):
    “Unforgiven”
    “Midnight Cowboy”

    Music:
    Bruce Cockburn, “The charity of night”
    Chris Whitley, “Soft, dangerous shores”

  17. The distinction between “sacred” and “secular” is often more difficult to delineate than many people imagine. “Christian” music can often function in quite unintentional ways. I was surprised to learn last semester in a graduate level music philosophy class that certain Christian pop music had developed something of a cult following in some homosexual communities, because “where else can you find a man singing a love song to another man?” Lyrics, powerful in their resonance relating to acceptance, forgiveness, and redemption have been reinterpreted as an expression of the gay experience. By the same token, as a Christian I can take works of “secular” art and see resonant depictions of human experience which illuminate our struggle to understand oth our own experiences and the transcendent…regardless an indifidual’s lifestyle or religious background, their art can have deep and lasting value (just think of Bernstein, Tchaikowsky, Copland, Corigliano, Telemann, Barber, and so many others just in my field of classical music). Our shared humanity as creatures created by God is the basis of all art, and I am happy to see this disucssion take place as I have also felt the tension of being a so-called “Christian” musician versus just being a musician.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I was surprised to learn last semester in a graduate level music philosophy class that certain Christian pop music had developed something of a cult following in some homosexual communities, because “where else can you find a man singing a love song to another man?”

      South Park‘s CCM episode. The Gift of Prophecy.

      Believe me, a LOT of bubblegum CCM goes out of its way to unintentionally make that impression. Just like the Canonical Unintentional Slashfic Setups sprinkled all through Left Behind, or Ray Comfort and his YEC Banana proof.

      Whatever you write, somebody’s gonna slashfic it. Why do they insist on making it so easy for the Slashies?

  18. I once gave a guy a nose-bleed over this… yeah.
    YEARS ago I was involved in summer-time inner-city day camps in Philly. After camps the counselors would return to the house for a lunch culled from the left-overs of from the Gummint-supplied free lunches for the kids. It was bad.
    One afternoon the conversation turned to the subject of today’s post. Somehow I got to expressing my appreciation for Pink Floyd’s THE WALL and said the something to the effect that “there is a lot of truth in that.” A very conservative fellow (Steve, let’s say) was sitting across from me and replied, “Oh yeah… just God’s perfect truth!” Well, I wasn’t really expecting that, but thought for a moment, then answered, “Yes, I think you could say that.”
    Steve got up from the table to tend to one of the nose-bleeds he got occasionally, so I never had (or made) the opportunity to explain what I meant. I doubt I need to here.
    I’d love to go on about the interplay of shadow and light (meant metaphorically mostly) and how the shadows always betray the direction of the (even unseen) light, but a moon-lit walk would make a far better teacher. The moon is still big tonight.

    • oh, now I get ya… thot you and your fellow counselor had a row over Pink Floyd and one thing led to another…. I guess that would have been like “Sunday, Bloody Sunday”……

  19. The question is, does the movie/book/painting capture truth? About God, about us, about our world – but still, truth. The Greeks caught at a truth in their statue to ‘the unknown god’, and Paul praised them for that.

    So you have truth in the Godfather movies. You have it in the movie ‘I Like it Like That’ – basically a tale of infidelity/counter-infidelity/fumbling reconciliation, and also the best depiction of inner-city life I’ve seen. You have it in the pencil sketches of Prisoner 432 of Auschwitz. (Look them up. They’re very much worth it. Walking through the room housing them was like walking through Hell – but that was what Auschwitz was.) You even find it in, heaven forbid, “steampunk” webcomics – and, if you’ll excuse me, the latest page of Girl Genius should be published to the Net by now… 🙂

  20. Also on the art front: check out Vladimir Kush, a modern Russian surrealist; a lot of his work can be found online. No idea if he’s Christian – he did grow up in Communist Russia, etc – but that hasn’t stopped him from creating really transcendant artwork.

  21. Good thoughts and good recommends. I would beg to differ on “the Fountain”. I was torn between whether I was having an acid flashback or was actually hoping there is a rapture and that it would before I would have to endure any more of the movie!

    I’m a Netflix guy and have found a wealth of excellent Indy films, and especially foreign films that speak deeply to the human condition and biblical themes from the Middle East, Eastern Europe, even France!

  22. sarahmorgan says

    Attempts to divide music into “Christian” vs. “secular” drive me crazy.

    Many years ago when I was still a worship leader, my band and I called the organizer of a multi-church Saturday night fun event (in which live music was part of the fun), asking if we could participate. The organizer (who was familiar with our ahead-of-its-time modern worship service, and knew I was the praise band leader) paused and asked me, “Will you be playing Christian music?” I, knowing our band loved playing tunes by U2, Edwin McCain, and the like, asked politely in return, “What do you mean by ‘Christian music’?” You would’ve thought I’d turned into the devil himself with that question….the organizer had a serious sputtering conniption fit and immediately scheduled a face-to-face meeting. I went to the meeting and discovered it really was an interrogation by the organizer and two other members of her church to find out if I was really a “real” Christian. When presented with inarguable evidence that I was indeed a worship leader and that our service really was a Christian service, she laughed and told me that when I asked my previous question, all she could think of was former President Clinton waffling about the meaning of the word “is”. She then stated with finality that her definition of “Christian music” meant it must have been recorded on a Christian label. I declined the opportunity to explain to her that all record labels are (by her definition) secular, and got out of there, thankful that I had a copy of the CD “In The Name Of Love: Artists United for Africa” (in which various Christian artists cover U2 songs, on the Sparrow label).

    Around the same time, I bought the newest (at the time) self-titled album by the band Audioslave. I wrote the lyrics for the song “Light My Way” on a piece of paper without attribution and handed it to a member of the praise band, saying I wanted him to learn it and sing it one Sunday. He read it and said, “What is this? The newest Third Day song?” 😀

  23. One thing I have always appreciated about internet monk is the way he directs our attention to culture that reflects Jesus as opposed to “Christian” culture. I have been turned on to so many outstanding musicians, books, and movies that I may not have otherwise been exposed to, and my life has been greatly enriched as a result. Thanks for continuing that tradition: you guys haven’t missed a beat. I continue to value the writings here as contributing so much to my spiritual walk and resourcing me in so many ways (since I’m both a music and a youth pastor).

    I just finished the imonk book, and he plugs a few very deserving musicians there. One of them specifically is echoed here: Bill Malonee and the Vigilantes of Love (I think they made the book). I heard one song from them several years ago on a 7-ball sampler and to this day it has left an impression on my soul. Thanks for reminding me of first rate sources for deeply honest inspiration.

    These essays really say it well. And I love when all the imonk writers do a panel: Their perspectives seem to me even deeper when they are all combined.

    Time to start pinching a few more pennies for some record puchases!

  24. Cedric Klein says

    I’m not an art critic. I enjoy a lot of classical music & a lot of pop, black & white silent or foreign films full of symbolism & atmosphers and Adam Sandler movies. I don’t like snobbery & that is what we can easily fall into when critiquing some Christian music, movies, art. I’m just as guilty. But I can’t sing or play instruments nearly as well as anyone who gets regularly played on K-LOVE. I don’t know if I could film anything as well as a TBN movie (I do think I could write better). I sure can’t paint as well as Thomas Kinkade. Btw, while the man has a lot of personality problems & unsound business ethics, even long before those came to light there was a lot of nigh-pathological Kinkade-hatred from intelligent artistically-aware Christians. What’s with that? Just because his work isn’t dark & brooding & challenging but instead gives a happy comforting feeling of warmth and light?

    And I saw this as a David Lynch fan & someone who’s written an unstaged play on Mary Magdalene that could best be described as “Jesus Vs. Hellraiser”!

    • Cedric Klein says

      I do need to take one cheap swipe- Franky Schaeffer wrote ADDICTED TO MEDIOCRITY, got some funding to do a movie & his first product- a stupid & bizarre mishmash of DEATH WISH and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE called WIRED TO KILL. What…Evah!

  25. For me, I find God in, of all things, the Godfather.

    Here is the Patriarch of a family, a father who is powerful, fear and respected, who is quite capable of violence and yet is merciful. He values family and loyalty and though he is quite capable of violence, withholds (“I mean, we’re not murderers, in spite of what this undertaker thinks.”) This father suffers heartache when the evil of the world arises and violence engulfs his children even as he works to move his family away from a life of violence and crime. Santino is killed and Michael becomes the very thing he wanted to escape.

    As for books, I am still pretty stoked over the Christology in Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

  26. *sigh* I am so torn. There’s the part of me that agrees completely with everything that has been said here, and then there’s the part of me that is tied straight back by blood and theology to the people who wrote the Schleitheim Confession in all it’s “stark, apocalyptic dualism.” So here are my questions:

    Is there any place for “separation from the world”? Is there anything which contains truth, but which we as Christians cannot view/listen to because it contains too much “trash”? Are we supposed to be engaged with “the world’s” art to find truth, or are we supposed to draw them in with the Truth that we have? Both/and? Either/or? I need some outside perspective here!

    • I think the point is not whether or not a Christian “should” view it…that’s within the boundaries of the Holy Spirit’s direction to the individual. The point is more that ANY and all good art express the glory of God, and don’t need to be set to canned religious themes. And that the themes of Cross and Resurrection, Creation and Fall, naturally work their way into composition because they are the reality in which we live. Aware artists are in touch with that reality, and are letting it pour through themselves. There’ s no need for a Christian category. That’s simply some bright capitalist’s method of tapping the financial well of Chrisians’ consumption preferences, and simply doesn’t, at least intrinsically, glorify God because it has “Christian themes”. Which is the assumption that needs to be combatted- that “Christian-themed” art is necessarily of quality, or glorifying to God.

      • I do agree with that. I hope I didn’t come across as advocating a separate category of “Christian” art. And well said on the Holy Spirit.

    • Rick Ro. says

      Certainly there are some things that have no spiritual value in them at all, but I think what I find is that you can find God and Christ in almost anything, if you look deep enough. If God and Christ are creators of this world and humans, then they are IN creation, no matter what the “source.” It’s why spiritual things can be found in many forms of art, created by people who had no idea God and Christ could be seen in it.

      I look for God and Christ all the time, in the most mundane of things. They’re there, if you look hard enough.

  27. Movies:
    I, Robot

    Music:
    Marvin Gay. His music expresses the human condition so poignantly. When you listen to his voice, you know what’s in his soul.

    Books:
    Gifts of the Jews by Thomas Cahill.

    • Start with Cahill’s How The Irish Saved Civilization…

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I second Gifts of the Jews. When I read the ziggurat scene set in pre-Torah Sumeria — with all the two-legged animals howling in rut on the steps of the ziggurat — I realized one of God’s purposes in Torah (and by extension in Christ).

      The same theme that animates a lot of my fantasy/furry fiction:
      TRANSCEND THE ANIMAL.

  28. The Guy from Knoxville says

    I think the biggest struggle I have with art is having been raised in a chruch backgound that did just what has been talked about all through the post and comments – they suppressed it, criticized it, made fun of it etc. It’s not a suprise that both the churches that I attended from 1963 (my birth year) through April 2009 were both culture warrish to some degree or another and I used to be a culture war junkie – Dobson, Christian Coalition, state Christian Coalition, voter guides – the works and I was a “piece of work” if you know what I mean! Thank God I saw the error of my ways and got out of all that and I don’t miss any aspect of it!

    Because of the above listed background I was not exposed to good art – only saw the pretty angel watching over the childern walking across a bridge, the Jesus at the door painting and the Kincaid work – the usual suspects. Never was much of a reader but what was given, recommended etc is most of the watered down stuff, again, mentioned in the post and coments. My big interest was (still is) SciFi and horror films and the same with books and on the music side I’ve stayed pretty much on, for lack of a better term, the traditional. I’m an orgainst – love the instrument and its music whether written for church or for the concert stage. Love sacred choral music and classic music and while I’ve listened to more modern music I just found very little about that that had any appeal to me. Of the christian artists the one I remember most and liked most in a more modern approach was Rich Mullins – A Liturgy, A Legacy and a Ragamuffin Band was my favorite and that probably because of the way he tied in the great liturgical tradition of the church with more modern music and he has been one of the few more contemporary christian artists that I ever listened to and liked – do wish he was still with us…… really miss his, to me, fresh approach to worship in modern times while still maintaining the link to the great history and heritage of the church.

    Well that’s my take for the moment on this subject – might have more to add later. Great post and responses. Jeff, you and Chaplin Mike are really doing a great job carrying on the legacy of Michael in I-Monk and in a style and approach that he would find very much to his liking I believe. Keep it up!

  29. The Guy from Knoxville says

    Additionally, after reading brilliantvapor’s comment – particularly the last paragraph:

    “Is there any place for “separation from the world”? Is there anything which contains truth, but which we as Christians cannot view/listen to because it contains too much “trash”? Are we supposed to be engaged with “the world’s” art to find truth, or are we supposed to draw them in with the Truth that we have? Both/and? Either/or? I need some outside perspective here!”

    Well stated and that is a struggle that I still have with the arts even though my church background currently does not have the suppression etc that I mentioned in my previous comment. Should have put this struggle in the previous comment somewhere because, while I’ve gotten past some of my issues, there are still others that remain – guess it’s a how far is to far and still keep perspective and still some separation which I think we all need to some degree or another…… if that even makes sense. Thanks brilliantvapor…… very interesting last paragraph to/for me.

    • Good to know that I’m not the only one rolling these questions around in my mind. 🙂 I’m into your style of music, by the way – I love classical and church music, and adore the organ from a distance.

  30. Christians are proud to feel maudlin and mediocre; nothing gives you a better sense of closeness to God than repeatedly doing something you have every right to be ashamed of.

    I think modern Christians like our art to suck, because for people who refuse to give up treasure, pleasure, or leisure, wackness is the only mortification we can contemplate submitting ourselves to – we always keep that option on crappy art and bad thinking with the full knowledge that if really just let ourselves worldly, we’d probably be pretty good at it. And happier. So we commit to sucking for God. And we brag about it.

    The end?

    • I agree, but want to take it a few steps further.

      Either all “art” is Christian art, or there is no such thing as Christian art. This is my quandry.

      Here’s how I see it: all art is an attempt on the part of the artist to reclaim the creative spirit that is rightly God’s. This is why you hear so many people say that art is a way of achieving immortality. It is creative in a way that is almost a-human, and the product outlives its maker. In this way, it is immortal, and therefore, Godlike. In all my years of studying art as a student and professionally and then teaching literature to kids, I’ve felt that all art is about our struggle to know God. Most artists seem to struggle with the idea of whether there is a God/are gods, if so, how do we relate to Him/them, and can we achieve as a human the same heights of creative fancy as the Gods do (The Iliad comes to mind as a very basic example, but nearly all art follows this line of thinking…think Moby Dick and Faulkner and King Lear, and the poetry of Coleridge, just to name a few that pop up in my mind immediately from various periods of literary production).

      The difference between the artist who operates in this way, and the “Christian artist,” is that the Christian does not believe that they can subvert the creativity of God, match His creativity, or become God-like through the creation of art. They make art that is largely devotional to a higher power– God. Art that is devotional at its core is humble at its core. It is hemmed in by certain constraints– like the ones the OP lists– and therefore cannot truly have enough chaos inherent to be true art. True art thrives on chaos, subtlety, ambiguity. Art that is reassured of its position relative to God always seems small in comparison to Him.

      So, is Christian Art really Art at all?

      Does any of that make sense at all?

  31. seems to me that anywhere there is even a hint of truth there is a hint of Jesus. one movie left out so far, “I am Legend” (formerly known as”Omega Man”), my favorite easter movie of all time.

  32. Two movies I’m surprised haven’t been mentioned yet:

    1. Miss Potter — a biopic about children’s author Beatrix Potter (played delightfully by Renee Zellweger) and her struggle to make her own way in the world, often against the will of her subculture. A great story about following one’s calling. Also, no nudity, sex or cussing, so I was able to watch it with my 8-year-old without her asking a lot of awkward questions.

    2. What About Bob? — a semi-slapstick comedy with Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss as a psychiatric patient and his reluctant counselor. The first time I saw it (at a friend’s house, with three other Christians), I made a comment about how the film is an excellent allegory on pride and humility, how the mighty are humbled and the humble are exalted. Dead silence … followed by one of my friends saying, “you’re deep, man.” Only “think of the kids” moments are some cussing from an old woman (whose dream house was stolen by Dreyfuss’s character) and Bob doing an imitation of a Tourette’s patient.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Fantastic Mr Fox = Beatrix Potter Caper Movie. With a lot more depth than you’d expect.

      (But then, I’m collecting rejection slips on a short that can only be described as “The Green Mile as done by Beatrix Potter.”)

  33. Hooray for all the shout-outs for Shawshank….we wear uniforms where I work and call ourselves “shawshankers”….. now where’s that poster for my cell ??

    favorite war movie (after Saving Private Ryan) ?? I’d go for “On a Midnight Clear”, but I’ll warn ya’ , it will tear your heart out and serve it back to you as a C-ration. I’d say “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is beyond awesome (the book, that is) and the movie is not bad either, though I would never have picked Jack N. to play the lead (I don’t know, maybe Robin Williams or somebody that can do an Irishman…… Martha, any suggestions ????)

    WONDERFUL post and suggestions one and all..
    Greg R

    • PS: two more fav. war movies

      Schindler’s List (save your sermon about the nudity for someone with NO BRAIN: it’s about the death camps, people, don’t you dare airbrush clothes on people headed to the gas chamber)

      Roberto Benigni’s “Life Is Beautiful” (and save your sermon that this is somehow antisemitic because he was able to find hope within the camps ……. God and hope are everywhere)

      end of review/rant… for now

      • I’m with you on all these choices. First time watching Schindler’s List, in the theatre, there seemed to be a “holy hush” at the end, with the audience reluctant to get up and leave. I know I was stunned and affected deeply. Here was a man making money any way he could, including meeting customers for his black market goods in the church, and somehow he becomes a rescuer of Jews and at the end is weeping because he did not save more. Why did he make that choice(to do what was right, no matter the cost), and so many others did not? “Life is Beautiful”: the father somehow protects his son, turning the son’s hiding into a game, and continues nurturing the son’s ability to dream and hope even as he (the father) is marching off to his own certain death. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: the most enduring lesson for me was the indelible image of nurse Ratchett; there are people like her in every profession (those who can seem to believe and act as if they are only doing what’s best for others, but are really relishing their power over others) and when I worked in the mental health field , jokingly referring to a co-worker as “Nurse Ratchett” was one of the worst accusations you could make.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Nowadays the “Nurse Ratchetts” have become “Kyle’s Moms”.

    • And how about “Hart’s War?” Sacrifice, justice, love — and the dark side of all of them. Billiant movie.

  34. cpilgrim says

    I agree with everything you’ve said, except that I actually took a class in Medieval Literature from a professor who was a member of Vigilantes of Love and he was the most avowed Lutheran I’ve ever met. At the time I was an atheist and found it quite repulsive. FYI, he’s also the biggest Tolkien nut I’ve ever encountered. So that band is certainly on the quiet side of Christian-influenced.

    Also, Waugh was a pretty avowed Christian (Catholic of course).

    My favorite book right now to read for Christian reasons is, ironically, The Aeneid. I think reading about pagan gods puts my relationship with God in amazing perspective. How wonderful to be delivered from the brutality of paganism!

    Also TS Eliot is wonderful to read from a Christian perspective especially to see his journey from seeker to Christian.

    And the poetry and sermons of John Donne have no equal….in fact, I think one safe thing for Christians to do is to move backwards in literary history until the point where it was not verboten to be both a devoted Christian and an artist. There you may find something valuable to be read. Milton, of course, and Dante.

    And of course, it is still valuable to read Melville, Shakespeare, Faulkner…if only to get a taste of the depravity that is human existence if God is not there as our mediator (the reverse pieta in King Lear, my favorite Shakespeare, comes to mind immediately)

    The hardest book I’ve ever encountered as a Christian is Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. It really put my Christian ethics to the test and had me sweating for days over the ethics of hiding Jim from his former owners. It is a classic, and in my opinion necessary reading for the Christian; it puts the idea of “sinning to spite the devil” in a whole new context. And there’s a whole subtext there about fate that is interesting.

    The fact of the matter is that all art at its core grapples with the existence of, and our relationship with, God. It is the base material from which all art springs, without it art would not exist. The artistic impulse is, at its basic, an impulse to either subvert or reclaim the creative powers of God for human purposes. Many have said that all stories are just the Christ story re-told. Now, of course, various artists come down in different ways on whether or not we have a relationship with God, or if we do not. But if you think of art in that way, as a centuries-long discussion of our relationship with our Creator, then you have to know that all art is valuable for the Christian to consume, if only so that she can engage with these ideas and be stronger for it. I know there are some exceptions to be made for those people who are brought to sin by certain art (ie, nudity), but I think that is a matter of Christian freedom so to each their own when it comes to that.

    (is it clear yet I had an MA in English before I ever considered myself saved?)

    • oh my…I’d clear forgotten about Mark Twain…. may a river rat bite me on my razza-muhtazz. OK: how about “Innocents Abroad”: not really a book but an anthology of lectures, but deliciously on target, from a man who knew human nature like few others. Yes, and oh so FUNNY.

  35. Fabulous topic and posts today: Very much in keeping with the Creation discussions throughout the week.

    With the earlier topic, the YE and literal Gen 1 creation advocates have for decades sought to divorce science from God’s creative processes. By teaching our children that scientists are evil secularists, and by not encouraging Christian young people to pursue scientific careers, is it any wonder these same advocates complain about their being so few Christians in the medical and scientific research fields?

    Here, with the decline in art that we want to call Christian, we see the payback for our unwillingness to study, appreciate, endorse, seek out and demand (with our pocketbooks) quality art. Instead we accept and produce cheesy crap art that sells, and convince ourselves that it is “good”. This must help to reinforce the fantasy of an uncomplicated world, I suspect.

    I was excited to see recognition of the film “Children of Men” in the opening post. I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of fellow believers I talk to who don’t see the faith parallels in that wonderful film. Together with the extraordinary “Midnight Clear”, noted by another commenter, and the appropriate caveat about its painfully beautiful tenor notwithstanding, these are wonderful Christmas movies.

    For more of Holy minimalist music, the compositions by the contemporary classical composer, Arvo Part, are extraordinary.

    Tom

    • I agree that, strangely enough, the issues of YEC and the problem of creating Christian art are very strongly linked. The YEC posits that “power” in the sense of being able to bring things into existence within a proscribed and brief period of time is a primary attribute of God which trumps the idea of creative process, as if conceptualizing process artistry as part of God’s character is somehow sacreligious. It’s almost a form of instant gratification: BAM! there it is. Good art requires time and reflection as a part of the aesthetic experience. Subpar Christian “art” (or mediocre art of any stripe) appeals to a spirit of instant gratification. A narrowly literalist mindset is the antithesis of creativy, and it should not be a surprise that it bears little in the way of creative fruit.

  36. I do have to ask how far Christians should go in considering what is art. Is Piss Christ art? What about art depicting Virginia Mary from feces? The metal band Slayer released cover art for Christ Illusion depicting Jesus as dirty drug addict. Can art mock and malign God and still be a good thing?

    Are there things are unacceptable and is there a different between art and plain perversion?

    • Art, but certainly not truth.

    • Yes, there is a difference. Art may require us to learn to recognize what is beautiful; perversion requires us to unlearn what is beautiful and to desensitize ourselves to our natural aversions.

  37. Jim Park says

    I am infamous for making a list of the movies I plan to see and then never seeing any of them. Saw some mentioned here, though, that I think I’ll take in. Thanks for the tips! Music is another story …

    As a refugee from traditional Christian broadcasting where I couldn’t play jazz because it’s the devil’s music or I couldn’t play THAT artist because she has a “catholic agenda”, I have found a good many independent artists who have so much to offer.

    I think of Chris Rice, Steve Bell, Carolyn Arends, Michael Card, Danielle Rose, Paul Clark, Phil Keaggy, Fernando Ortega, Andrew Peterson and others. They do stunning work and effectively project a powerful Christian message while not kow-tow-ing to the Christian music industry.

    I do consider God to be the author of all creativity and to exercise any creative gift in an excellent way serves to glorify Him and speaks volumes to those who don’t know Him.

    Jeff, we are “kindred spirits.”

  38. Rick Ro. says

    Great timing for this! I was thinking of beginning a Film and Theology group, and some of these movies will be great. I was already planning on using Saving Private Ryan, Gran Torino and Book of Eli.

    Another great one is Stranger than Fiction with Will Ferrell. Some excellent theological stuff going on in that movie, like being called to a higher purpose, the sacrificing of one’s life…heck, even the watch in the movie has a “Holy Spirit” element to it!

  39. I am so glad you guys put Shawshank Redemption on this list. It is a beautiful and awesome movie. The Israelite analogy is an interesting one, yet I think there is an even more potent and obvious analogy in the film. Andy Duframe is an obvious Christ figure. He is accused of a crime he did not commit. The warden and prison guards play the part of the Pharisees and Chief Priests.

    (Spoiler Alert!) And when Duframe escapes, he has to pass through a dark hole, nearly suffocate in sewage, and emerge victorious on the other side – a reference to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. The point is driven home when he emerges from the sewer – a crucifixion pose, head raised toward the heavens, as the rain washes the crap off his body.

    Great stuff.

  40. I am not a DVD buyer but when I saw Fifty First Dates for the first time I had to have it. To me Adam Sandler’s pursuit of the Drew Berrymore is an amazing picture of God’s pursuit of his children. Everyday Sandler’s character got up and won over Berrymore’s character and even more than that he committed to doing it every day for the rest of his life. Isn’t that what God does for us? He has committed to pursuing us and winning us over every day, regardless of whether or not we remember him. Amazing!

    • Rick Ro. says

      That’s a good one, too! One of the rare Sandler movies with an underlying spiritual tone!

  41. One movie I watched a few years ago that caught me off guard by how loud it spoke of sacrificial loving community was “Lars and The Real Girl”. Such a great piece of art that literally had me laying in bed after it was over sobbing, I kept laughing and apologizing to my wife about how hard I was crying, although she was some too, but obviously God was grabbing hold of our hearts on the beauty of His Church fully alive and living in His power. I highly recommend this movie for great God truths, and it is a great story too.

    • Something about your post reminded me of yet another tender, redemptive movie:

      Babette’s Feast. Wonderful story of grace and ridiculous generosity….we could use some of that over here in the states. Nice to be reminded that HOSPITALITY is a spirit driven thing.

      • Rick Ro. says

        Agree with both Ryan and greg r. “Lars and the Real Girl” is a strange movie, but the sacrificial love of the community around Lars was cool. And Babette’s Feast…awesome story!

  42. conanthepunctual says

    One of y personal convictions for appropriate or not is blasphemy. If the author/director/painter/etc is clearly only trying to flip off God, I put it down, turn it off, or walk away. For instance, using that standard, I turned off The Invention of Lying.

    However, I gladly sit through Goodfellas, thorougly absorbed in understanding a life so radically different from mine. I think that’s part of the key too: Seeing and appreciating stories different from our own and then asking, “Is God present there?” More often than not I find He is. I think that’s because people who aren’t yet on a path of following Jesus are most often still spiritually hungry and therefore ask compelling questions and that naturally comes through in their art.

  43. Jim Park says

    Interesting how folks are zeroing in on movies, for the most part. I must be out of the loop! Is there any other viable art form left? Does anyone paint of sculpt or compose anymore? Does architecture count? Poetry? Good Christian poetry is tough to find, most of it qualifying only as fodder for greeting cards. What am I missing here?

    • Rick Ro. says

      I’ve written Christian poetry, though I don’t know that I’d define it as “good.” 😉

    • Good question, Jim. A subject that needs more exploration. (I know I need to return your call. I just got back from a retreat. We will talk soon!)

      • Jim Park says

        In the Marine Corps, we never used the term “retreat”. It was termed, rather, a “retrograde action”. :>) I hope yours was a rich experience.

        Looking forward to hearing from you.

  44. I do remember Evanescence and the flap they created back in 2003 when they–rather publicly, as I recall–dissociated themselves from CCM. Everyone at my church who talked about it said that they had “gone secular” and “renounced their faith” and other such things.

    One of my favorite books that I would add to this list is Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”. Though Ayn Rand is an avowed atheist, there are many elements of this story which are consistent with the Christian message. One of these is the idea of the strikers who live in their own kingdom–in the world but not part of it. This is analogous to the Christian idea of two kingdoms, the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God, existing side by side in this world; the kingdom of this world is perishing and the kingdom of God will supplant it when it has passed away.

    • Re the Evanescence flap, they repudiated their CCM identity right after their label had made a big deal about getting them into the Christian market. I have no idea where any of them stand on the faith now, but I do know that I love their music & I think Amy Lee is smoking hot, which is, after all, the most important thing. *L*

      Another ATLAS SHRUGGED lover here, also!

    • Jim Park says

      I just reread “Atlas Shrugged” after having read it as a college freshman in the 60’s. I am amazed now to look back and see how profoundly that book influenced my life. The book is filled with types of a Christian eschatology …not only the world vs. the Kingdom, but also the notion of a rapture, the tribulation, and even the sacrifice of the sinless for the benefit of the sinner. The only problem is that John Galt is much too small a God.

      Ayn Rand was raised in Russia during the early Bolshevik period. It is no wonder that she rants against socialism/communism, even borrowing from socialist rhetoric of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. The book also glorifies the flight of intellectuals to the woods that took place during the 30’s in rebellion against the “establishment”.

      I think the most significant lesson to draw from the book is that the good guys never acted within the system to oppose the evil that was happening in plain sight. Perhaps, if over the generations, they had engaged the evil it might have been defeated. Rand’s fears for the future have relevance to the things going on around the world today, except the bad guys are much more subtle and sophisticated these days …and maybe more deadly. Christians should not desert the field.

  45. Protestantism – the adroit castrator
    Of art; the bitter negation
    Of song and dance and the heart’s innocent joy –
    You have botched our flesh and left us only the soul’s
    Terrible impotence in a warm world.
    -R. S. Thomas

  46. Thank you so much for beautifully expressing how I have come to feel about art and Christianity. I grew up in a home that banned “secular” music. Thankfully, my husband has introduced me to many beautiful types of music in our marriage. I still cry when I hear “secular” songs that move me because I feel like I was robbed of so much beauty. The saddest part was that I grew up believing that God required that of me. I am so grateful to see the world in a new light. As a creative person myself, I abstained from expression for many years because I didn’t know how to reconcile how I would be perceived. I am learning to be free. Thank you for a beautiful post!

  47. Random drive by recommendation: Carrie Newcomer, a Quaker artist responsible for some excellent folk music.

  48. Great article, even though I’ve heard a number of the points in other places over the past ten years. One question though: Why don’t you talk about the plastic arts in your “suggested” sections? They are the arts that get the least attention of all within the church, in my experience.

    (From someone who wishes he had time to be a regular reader of the iMonk.)

  49. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

    I have been “preaching” this same message since I read Francis and Edith Schaeffer and Hans Rookmaaker back in the ’80s…

    May I add my takes on your list?

    Movie: _Road to Perdition_, Tom Hanks. It’s all about what a Father will do to vouchsafe his son, and, in the process, find his own redemption.

    Music: Joni Mitchell. Always. Along with Johann Sebastian Bach.

    Books: _Up A Road Slowly_, Irene Hunt; pre-teen fiction about a Girl’s growing up after her Mum dies. And _The Clowns of God_ by Morris L West. Yes.

    Vermeer…Dale Chihuly…El Greco…Ansel Adams…Andrew Wyeth…

    All Truth is God’s Truth.

    Thanks! Keep it coming…

  50. Myles Connolly in “Mister Blue” offers an idea for a movie plot based on the end of the world, where the last remaining Catholic priest brings about the return of Christ by celebrating the Eucharist. It seemed pretty fantastic, until I saw “The Book of Eli”. It seems like a protestant version of the same plot.

    • An Orthodox priest once told me that if every bible were destroyed, the entire contents of the bible could be re-created by the church. At the time, this seemed outlandish to me and other protestants who heard him say this, but in this movie, one man is called upon to do this, and evangelicals love this stuff. We can’t stand the idea of a Pope, but…huh?

      I guess the hard part of contemporary attempts at evangelical art is that it reveals how confused, contradictory, shallow, and blatantly hypocritical we truly are. Drama, action, and violence can’t cover this up. I don’t think we can make good art before we once again have good theology and philosophy.

      There are some good quotes in the movie which should make theo-cons and moralists grind their teeth. Here’s hopin’.