What are Christian Artists?May 10, 2005
In a recent post, I mentioned the names of some of today’s best Christian Novelists. Several people took me to task for mentioning names of writers who do not publish “Christian” books. Their characters do not get saved or do street-witnessing, the Lord doesn’t return in their plots, and no one disappears from the cockpits of planes while flying. John Grisham and Madeleine L’Engle are examples of novelists who have a relationship with Jesus, but who choose to write good stories where the questions they ask and the answers they give are not as biblically cut and dry as some people would like.
So that just begs the question: What is a Christian Artist?
Intriguingly, there are two different definition categories. The first definition sees the Christian Artist as a Billy Graham of Creativity. Their primary goal is to present Gospel Truth or some facsimile of Scriptural relevance. If you can’t make a video of their book that could be shown in church, or if the Pastor could not quote your song right before giving the Altar Call, then you can’t be labeled a “Christian Artist”. There are a thousand variations of this categorical label, but they boil down to an “in-your-face” presentation of Bible Truth.
The other category focuses more on the artist and how they relate God to their art. Or perhaps, how they relate their Art to the Human Condition which is overseen and interacted with by God. This viewpoint sees validity in producing art that is infused with truth, layered with Biblical Truth and fashioned with pointers toward God. But, at no point in time is a Gospel presentation given, no one gets saved openly (although a few characters may wrestle with their own mortality and the meaning of Eternity), and certainly the Rapture never interrupts the angst of the moment. Characters do not “fly away” from their problems; they have to face up to every single one of them.
In a recent article in CCM magazine, a young person wrote and asked if the musical group Lifehouse can be considered a “Christian” band. Her Youth Pastor didn’t think they should be, except for a song like “Everything” (which the band’s leader, Jason Wade, wrote for a worship service). Perhaps the Youth Pastor objected to the band’s Love songs and songs about dealing with loneliness that pervade their albums.
But look at these lyrics off their first album, self-titled “Lifehouse”:
desperate for changing
starving for truth
closer to where I started
chasing after you
I’m falling even more in love with you
letting go of all I’ve held onto
I’m standing here until you make me move
I’m hanging by a moment here with you
forgetting all I’m lacking
I’ll take your invitation
you take all of me now
As you read the words of this, you are left with a question: Who is the writer addressing the song to? It may be to God…but it could also be a close friend, a parent, or a lover. There is no way of knowing, is there? But look at some of the phrasings of the song. “I’m standing here until you make me move”. There aren’t many people in the world who can make us move. God is the one who truly moves us. “I’ll take your invitation you take all of me now” is as “altar-callish” as you can get without drawing a picture of a tent meeting. Yet, you have to be looking for it to see it. If you are pre-Christian in your mindset, then you may not notice the God-message. Nonetheless,even a pre-Christian will be left with an overarching sense that surrender is not a bad idea in life.
Surrender, being the opposite of Rebellion, is hardly ever immortalized in song. You certainly don’t find it in mainstream Pop, Grundge or Rap. Interestingly, it is a concept which makes its way into the lives of the children in Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time”, and C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia”, and Hester Prynne’s life in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter”. It is as biblical a concept as any Gospel presentation, but it doesn’t have the Four Spiritual Laws attached to it. The value in presenting Truth through Art is that it is Truth; and all Truth is God’s Truth. Truth is the intinsic power to challenge lies, especially those deeply held within the memes of a culture. American culture doesn’t explicitely say it all the time, but we teach one another to “Look out for number one” and “Get all you can” and “Second Place is the first Loser”. We see the “Donald” firing the latest Apprentice, or a soloist wannabe voted off American Idiot and the hearts of a nation thinks “I have to be the best or I am nothing. Submitting to anyone would only mean I’m a loser”.
I seriously doubt any pre-Christian will bother to listen to any music that is overtly “preachy”; whereas the words of Lifehouse quoted above are part of a song that became the most listened to song of 2001 on American radio stations (“Hanging By a Moment”).
Two of Lifehouse’s founding members are missionary kids. Almost in spite of this, they also have a great understanding of the depression and loneliness that many of their generation have grown up with. One of the band’s members faced the hardships of a broken home, even though his parents were believers and church attenders. Listen to his comments in this interview:
“My parents split when I was 12, and on some level I’m still dealing with it. I can face it now in a way I couldn’t then. Sometimes I wonder if I’m ever gonna stop writing about stuff like that, but your scars become part of you.”
Having read that part of the interview, listen now to the lyrics from his song “Blind” (an excellent song musically also):
I was young but I wasn’t naive
I watched helpless as he turned around to leave
And still I have the pain I have to carry
A past so deep that even you could not bury if you tried
After all this time
I never thought we’d be here
Never thought we’d be here
When my love for you was blind
But I couldn’t make you see it
Couldn’t make you see it
That I loved you more than you’ll ever know
A part of me died when I let you go
Lifehouse’s generation is the generation that has had to deal the most with divorced parents. As they listen to this song, with its focus on coping with the pain and the hurt, it draws 20-somethings who feel that hurt into the world of Lifehouse’s influence. From that influence comes understanding and mutual appreciation. Out of that appreciation comes the vantage point for Lifehouse to call out other truths.
Christian Artists are those whose lives are grounded in God’s Truth and who describe the world through some part of that viewpoint.