Saturday, October 30, 2010

Communication, the Communicator and the Church (Why Art Matters to You) (Originally published 4/4/06)

C. S. Lewis once said that “All that is not eternal is eternally out of date.” That is to say that if, when all is said and done, what we’ve said or done hasn’t had much of an effect on what goes on in Heaven or Hell, then we haven’t had much of an effect at all. This is true of course, but unfortunately the Church has taken this kind of teaching and drawn from it some dangerous conclusions concerning the role of the artist in the Kingdom of God.

One conclusion that the Church has reached is that time spent absorbing a work of art is time wasted. For example, I once heard a pastor preach on the dangers of wasting time, using the Disney/Pixar movie, Finding Nemo as an example of a time-waster. He had enjoyed the movie very much, he said, but he felt guilty watching it, thinking of the things he could have been doing in the meanwhile that would have counted for eternity. He could have been praying for people or witnessing, and instead he was watching a movie.

One other view the Church seems to have is that art crafted by Christians has only two possible purposes: It should be used either to stir a Christian’s emotions about Jesus or other Christians, or as a witnessing tool. Beyond this limited range, the Church tells us, Christian art has no place in the Kingdom of God, and its creator is, like Nero, simply fiddling as the world turns to burning rubble around him.

Now it might seem to some in the Church that the task of trying (as I am in this paper) to discern whether or not these ideologies are true is a frivolous one. They wonder what good it is for the Church to debate the merits of plays or paintings while such issues as hunger, war and poverty need to be addressed. The concerns of such people or are legitimate, and I agree wholeheartedly that the Church is not in a position to waste time, but such apathy towards the question of art on the part of the Church is deadly. What of those believers who feel that they have been called to the life of an artist? For these brothers and sisters the issue is not mere philosophical hairsplitting; it is, on the contrary, of gravest importance. The Church must help her artists to know whether what they’re doing is really meaningless or not. And as the Church is given an opportunity to instruct, she must consider carefully before teaching her artists that God’s only intent for art was that it be used as evangelical propaganda. Why? Because there is, I suspect, more to art than that. Art is communication, and good communication goes beyond propaganda cutting straight to the message which is at the heart of all things.

To explore this issue fully, let us go back before the fall, before the creation of man or the garden or angels. Even before the creation of time itself. Before all of this, was God; God as he was expressed in the Trinity. Take special note of that word: Trinity. (The Bible is so eager to promote this idea of God-as-Trinity, that the first time God is referenced in Scripture - Genesis 1:1 - he is referred to in plural form.) The Trinity displays that which I will be upholding throughout this essay as an example of perfect communication. (Though, I guess also you could also say, of perfect communion - I’m choosing to use the word “communication” because of the direction I intend to take this essay).

The communication that existed within the Trinity was perfect in that there was a message that was being communicated without any tinge of falsehood. The communication of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit was and is unadulterated by lies, by contradictions, or by masking, untinged by even a hint of posturing or posing.

Aside from this element that the message was communicated purely is the element that the message itself was pure, for the message was (in a sense) God. How could he communicate anything else? For God cannot worship anything other than himself, and communicating something goes hand in hand with worshiping it - what we worship we communicate, what we communicate we worship (if you don’t believe me, simply spend a few hours with a Trekkie and you’ll see its true). God is the ultimate message; everything that exists screams of God, and even God communicate himself for there is no higher thing to communicate.

In summery we see that the communication within the Trinity was and is perfect in that (1) the message that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were communicating with each other was communicated flawlessly, without any deceits or half-truths, and (2) the message itself was not a half-truth, the message was the only Whole-Truth there is, God himself.

In response to the perfection within the Trinity, I would say to the Church, let us no longer pressure our artists to communicate Christ in a way that feels false, so as to keep from communicating that God is fake. Let us instead seek to grasp this idea of the way things were meant to be, and, with it in mind, let us nurture and encourage our artists to glorify God by becoming like Christ, the greatest communicator of all.


Amanda said...

What would say to the idea that we should remember that God is a creator and we are made in the image of God and so therefore when we create we are expressing the image of God in us...

Foolish Knight said...

I think that's definitely a valid idea, though I think it's more powerful if taken a step or two further:

I would say God is the Great Communicator (a word that encompasses creating - and more). He is in the business of communicating Himself ("making His glory known" is another way of putting it).

He created us to the same end — we are to communicate Him.

Thus, when we communicate (and everything we do communicates), we are either fulfilling our destiny or denying it.

This approach not only encompasses *what* we do (create), but also *to what end* (we are here to communicate "God-ness").

Does that answer your question? I think the statement you point to is absolutely true, I just think there are truths it doesn't get to.

Thanks for commenting!

Melissa said...

I am facinated by your testimony. YOu are a wonderful writer. Out of curiosity, what faith are you? Are others in your church like you, with your perspective

Foolish Knight said...


Thank you for your kind words.

To answer your first question, I am a Christian. As for your second, none of these thoughts are original with me. I am deeply influence by a host of wonderful thinkers, writers and artists, many of whom also claim the Christian faith.

Three books that express this line of thought much better than I are:

Walking On Water, by Madeleine L'Engle,
Culture Making, Andy Crouch
Through a Screen Darkly, by Jeffrey Overstreet

Thanks for reading!