The arts should matter to Christians. For one thing, art is all around us, and the way we interact with what is around us is important. In addition to that, the arts give us insight into what our culture cares about. And yesterday I argued that the arts give us an opportunity to test God’s truth in the real world. Today I will add a simple point: The arts establish points of contact with the unbelieving world.
Let’s be honest, many Christians have a tendency to withdraw from the culture around them. In many ways, this impulse is understandable. Without a doubt, our culture produces many things that are indisputably evil. Even those cultural productions that aren’t outright wicked often contain destructive, deceptive, and desensitizing elements. So it makes sense that Christians want to avoid being exposed to these things.
While this is a serious concern (one I dealt with a while ago in two posts on “good” movies and “bad” movies), the answer can’t be to simply run from culture. On the one hand, you can’t escape culture—it is an unavoidable byproduct of human interaction. Even those that try to escape from culture (e.g., the Amish) end up creating their own culture. But there’s another important reason not to run from culture. As Calvin Seerveld put it: any arena from which Christians withdraw simply goes to hell. Or to put it positively:
“If Christians are to be a force in shaping the contours of their society and evangelizing people in it, they will have to come to grips with the culture in which they inevitably live and move and have their being.” (Leland Ryken, The Liberated Imagination, 11)
In part 2, I mentioned the fact that the arts are a helpful catalog of the way that human beings feel about their existence. As Christians, we can gain insight into the way the unbelieving world views the world, including the way it views us as Christians:
“Christians, especially those called to preach or share the word, should take a special interest when those ‘outside’ the faith are drawn to deal with its mysteries and should listen closely when they tell us what our orthodoxy has sounded like to them.” (Malcom Guite in Beholding the Glory, ed. Jeremy Begbie, 30)
Add to that the fact that the arts give us opportunities to connect with people. We all know that we need to be evangelizing, but we tend to approach evangelism through an awkward encounter where we try to convince our non-Christian friends to care about some point of Christian doctrine that matters to us, but doesn’t matter to them. As I’ve said before, this is not all bad. But what if we had the opportunity to bring the truth of God’s word to bear on the things that our friends and neighbors already think and care about?
I contend that this is exactly the opportunity the arts give us. When my friends listen to Death Cab for Cutie singing about what comes (or doesn’t come) after death, I get an opportunity to engage them in a conversation on eternity. When a runaway bestseller raises the issue of who human beings are at the core (whether that bestseller is written as fiction or nonfiction), we get the opportunity to bring a biblical worldview into a discussion that our friends and coworkers are already interested in.
By avoiding the arts, we are passing up these opportunities. I think that is a mistake. It doesn’t mean that we should listen to, watch, or read everything on the market. But if your friends are interested in some form of art or culture, take the time to check it out. You might be surprised at how easy it is to talk about God’s truth in the context of the things that people are already thinking through.