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Guest Writer

No apologetic label needed

Art & Christianity
by Ed Higgins

find myself mildly nervous whenever Christians try to ramp up any art category with a sacramentalizing intensifier: Christian Music, Christian Novel, Christian Poetry, Christian Painting, Christian Aerobics, Christian Whatever Else.

Now, I understand this need – I think – to lay special claim to Christian this-or-that in opposition to Secular this-or-that (all those rampaging demons going to and fro in our culture looking to devour us unwary sons/daughters of the True Aerobics). But I’m still nervously heading for the door. Or, barring escape, making ready to hold my nose against the wafting odor of cheesy-to-trite theology, rampant sentimentalism and likely disregard for any recognized essentials of craft in whatever the hallow intensified art.

Christian Aerobics aside, we Christians seldom find it necessary to integrate with sacramental upgrading other noteworthy but apparently overlooked art forms: say, Christian Surgery, Christian Snowboarding, Christian Orchid Growing, Christian Bull Riding, Christian Kayaking, Christian Barbecuing, Christian Scrapbooking, Christian Dog Grooming ... OK, OK, infinite-art-forms-point over made.

I could be wrong on some of this. Maybe there is a supporting theology for Christian Snowboarding or other art category in need of spiritualizing. Who's to say? A defending of the faith, an apologetic reflex.

I was once at a rodeo in Texas where they invoked Jesus to protect the bull riders – not exactly Christian Cowboying, but since this was Texas the linkage was unmistakably there. Then, too, there was the Inquisition's auto-da-fé, a kind of artful integration of faith and barbecuing. I suppose the cultural and historical precedents are longstanding.

But don't get me wrong, we Christians hardly need embrace (or create) art, which is antithetical to our faith. And, obviously, individual Christians have and do make various kinds of art, even highly regarded religious-themed art. Yet if we are to interpret and evaluate the world in light (as Light?) of our Christian faith we must be willing to struggle with the thought, value and aesthetic patterns of our day, and willing to interact with those forms and modes of artistic expression speaking to our contemporaries – even if and when our ultimate points of reference differ.

For the Christian practitioner of whatever kind of art, integration should never be a reductive veneer of the conventionally sacred.

Art may not be redemptive, but for those who insist it at least try hard to point in the direction of Truth, art is an endeavor in which the thoroughly honest search for values ought to avoid the easy answers or stock assumptions that can pre-digest and sully Truth with shoddiness.

Christian shoddy is still shoddy.

Clearly, all designated Christian art isn't shoddy or necessarily super-sized with spiritual cheesy. Still, I remain nervous. I prefer the latent over the explicit. Any directly apologetic work needs to show me the difficulties we are up against.

Like faith itself, art ought to struggle. Maybe more so if produced by a Christian.

We don't need superficially Christian Art. We need art by Christians that requires no apologetic label to be recognized as genuine aesthetic and spiritual Truth.

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