Christians need to engage culture through the arts

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]y Facebook newsfeed quickly filled Sunday night and into Monday with the wild escapades of Miley Cyrus. The now adult formerly-known-alternately-as Hannah Montana and the daughter of Billy Ray Cyrus gyrated and shook body parts all over the stage at MTV’s Video Music Awards. When that was not enough she took of most of her clothes.

At some point in the proceedings she donned a foam hand with index finger extended–the kind you see at almost every football game. When she was not mimicking male sex organ with it she was touching her own or nearly so.

This morning the web is crawling with open letters and blog posts exploring every facet. I have yet to read any of them, but I hope they are calling out Robin Thicke, too. Cyrus played the role of a stripper/prostitute but not without the willing assistance of Robin Thicke. In fact her grinding against his groin while he feigned total disinterest is a portrayal of power in a way that demeans women. “Honey, you can throw yourself at me all you can, but nothing happens until I say it does.”

If Cyrus denigrated herself, Thicke encouraged it and denigrated all women by implication.

Perhaps, in light of our manifold critique we should ask whether critique all we have to offer? Our best play is defense until someone acts outrageous then call them out? The God of all creation should not be relegated to first responder status.

This received a surprising amount of approval yesterday on Twitter and Facebook:

Followers of Christ need to engage culture through the arts. The more we do not make good music, good films, good art, good books and good plays the greater the void will be filled by many who ignore God or deny Him. Those of us who are not gifted creatively should strongly support those who are.

Here are a few quotes from believers on art culture, culture and creativity. Hopefully they will encourage you as much as they did me.

“My faith is not what I write about or what I paint about, but it is the light by which I see.” Flannery O’Connor

Skate with color. [Image source]

Skate with color. [Image source]

“If our lives are truly ‘hid with Christ in God,’ the astounding thing is that this hiddenness is revealed in all that we do and say and write. What we are is going to be visible in our art, no matter how secular (on the surface) the subject may be.” Madeleine L’Engle

“The artist must prophesy not in the sense that he foretells things to come, but in the sense that he tells his audience, at the risk of their displeasure, the secrets of their own hearts.” R.G. Collingwood

“One of the ways apathy showed itself was in a lack of creativity in the arts…The elite abandoned their intellectual pursuits for social life. Officially sponsored art was decadent, and music was increasingly bombastic. Even the portraits on the coins became of poor quality. All of life was marked by the predominant apathy.” Francis Schaeffer

“I think really, that as in all other fields, we must be Christian. That is essentially what a Christian has to do. There are some Christians who I have met in the media and their influence has been out of proportion to what it might seem to be, just because they were Christians and were known to be Christians. I don’t think that a Christian has to be a particular type of Christian to be a diplomat, or a particular sort of Christian to be a doctor, or a particular sort of Christian to be a laborer. He has, in all circumstances, to be a Christian.” Malcolm Muggeridge

“It is in Christianity that our arts have developed; it is in Christianity that the laws of Europe–until recently–have been rooted. It is against a background of Christianity that all of our thought has significance. An individual European may not believe that the Christian faith is true, and yet what he says, and makes, and does will all spring out of his heritage of Christian culture and depend upon that culture for its meaning…I do not believe that culture of Europe could survive the complete disappearance of the Christian faith. And I am convinced of that, not merely because I am a Christian myself, but as a student of social biology. If Christianity goes, the whole culture goes.” T.S. Eliot

“A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God, not just as tracts, mind you, but as things of beauty to the praise of God. An art work can be a doxology in itself.” Francis Schaeffer

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

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  • Guest

    Found this the other day… barking up the same tree

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  • Mr.Wootton

    Marty, one more for you:

    “We can make people (often) attend to the Christian point of view for half an hour or so; but the moment they have gone away from our lecture or laid down our article, they are plunged back into a world where the opposite position is taken for granted. As long as that situation exists, widespread success is simply impossible. We must attack the enemy’s line of communication. What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects—with their Christianity ‘latent’.” – C.S. Lewis (from God in the Dock)

    It’s in exactly this spirit that I’m writing and publishing the Fayborn fantasy novel series for young adults. Using fairies as a kind of thought experiment, I’ve been able to address modernist/materialist assumptions without directly raising the topic of religious faith or Christianity at all. It’s my attempt, through fiction, to meet culture where it’s at – swept up the materialist dogma implicit in education and prevailing scientific thought, dogma deeply felt but shallowly considered.

    As the main character, Petra, moves from home and high school and begins to encounter the wider, “real” world, she struggles to accept what she’s being told about her new and, at times, frightening experiences – that she belongs to another world, she is from a place she’s never been, and has a destiny she can choose to fulfill, which involves helping to free an exiled people. Much depends on her response to this calling, as only she – as the direct heir of Robin Goodfellow, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream – is equipped to perform this task. And much is left up to her to work out herself, with the aid of friends and family – some believing (in fairies, that is), some unbelieving.

    My inspiration for this approach to fiction, and specifically the use of fairytales, finds its source here:

    1) Lewis has written that he regarded George MacDonald as his ‘master’, and that MacDonald’s fairy tales “baptized his imagination” as a child, laying the foundation for his later conversation to Christianity.

    2) G. K. Chesterton implied a similar development in his life in a number of his essays, writing in Orthodoxy, for example, about fairytales in general that his “first and last philosophy, that which I believe with unbroken certainty, I learnt in the nursery… an ethic and philosophy [that] come[s] from being fed on fairy tales. …that this world is a wild and startling place, which might have been quite different, but which is quite delightful; …that the proper [reaction] to it is some from of humility and restraint: we should thank God for beer and Burgundy by not drinking too much of them. …and all this time I had not even thought of Christian theology.” (from The Ethics of Elfland)

    3) Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, in his Nobel lecture, argued that in this age where the old ideas of “truth” and “goodness” were generally doubted and attacked by relativism, beauty, through art, retains the power to transcend cultural barriers and awaken and provoke humanity towards community with one another, communicating truth that bypasses the cynical intellect but is still felt in the spirit.

    (I’d be happy develop this further into a full article for Kingdom in the Midst, if you’re interested.)

    The Fayborn novels are available through my website,, and wherever books are sold online.