How bad theology yields bad Christian art

Tony Woodlief at Image (an important journal on Christianity & the Arts) argues for a connection between bad Christian art and bad theology. His points are usefully specific and pointed:

I’m convinced that bad art derives, like bad literary theory, from bad theology. To know God falsely is to write and paint and sculpt and cook and dance Him falsely. Perhaps it’s not poor artistic skill that yields bad Christian art, in other words, but poor Christianity.

Consider, for example, some common sins of the Christian writer:

Neat resolution: You can find it on the shelves of your local Christian bookstore: the wayward son comes to Christ, the villain is shamed, love (which deftly avoids pre-marital sex) blossoms, and the right people praise God in the end. Perhaps best of all, we learn Why This All Happened.

Many of us are familiar, likewise, with that tendency among some Christians to view life as a sitcom, with God steadily revealing how the troubles in our lives yield more good than ill.  . . .

Sometimes we suffer and often we fail, and there is no clear answer why, no cosmic math that redeems, in our broken hearts, this sadness. The worst Christian novels seem to forget Oswald Chambers’s insightful observation, which is that God promises deliverance in suffering, not deliverance from suffering. And so they lie about the world and about God and about the quiet, enduring faith of our brethren in anguish.

One-dimensional characters: In many Christian novels there are only three kinds of characters: the good, the evil, and the not-so-evil ones who are about to get themselves saved. And perhaps this saved/not saved dichotomy—more a product of American evangelicalism than Christian orthodoxy—accounts for the problem.

I think we might craft better characters if we accept that every one of us is journeying the path between heaven and hell, and losing his way, and rushing headlong one direction before abruptly changing course to dash in the other, and hearing rumors about what lies ahead, and hoping and dreading in his heart what lies each way, and grabbing hold of someone by the arm or by the hair and dragging, sometimes from love and sometimes from hate and sometimes from both.

Sentimentality: Like pornography, sentimentality corrupts the sight and the soul, because it is passion unearned. Whether it is Xerxes weeping at the morality of his unknown minions assembled at the Hellespont, or me being tempted to well up as the protagonist in Facing the Giants grips his Bible and whimpers in a glen, the rightful rejoinder is the same: you didn’t earn this emotion.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s warning against cheap grace comes to mind, a recognition that our redemption was bought with a price, as redemption always is. The writer who gives us sentimentality is akin to the painter Thomas Kinkade, who explicitly aims to paint the world without the Fall, which is not really the world at all, but a cheap, maudlin, knock-off of the world, a world without suffering and desperate faith and Christ Himself, which is not really a world worth painting, or writing about, or redeeming.

Cleanliness: I confess that the best way to deter me from watching a movie is to tell me it’s “wholesome.” This is because that word applied to art is a lie on its face, because insofar as art is stripped of the world’s sin and suffering it is not really whole at all.

This seems to be a failing—on the part of artist and consumer alike—in what my Orthodox friends call theosis, or walk, as my evangelical friends say. In short, if Christian novels and movies and blogs and speeches must be stripped of profanity and sensuality and critical questions, all for the sake of sparing us scandal, then we have to wonder what has happened that such a wide swath of Christendom has failed to graduate from milk to meat.

And if we remember that theology is the knowing of God, we have to ask in turn why so many Christians know God so weakly that they need such wholesomeness in order for their faith to be preserved.

This, finally, is what especially worries me, that bad Christian art is a problem of demand rather than supply. What if a reinvigorated Church were to embed genuine faith in the artist’s psyche and soul, such that he need no longer wear it on his sleeve, such that he bear to see and tell the world in its brokenness and beauty? Would Christian audiences embrace or despise the result?

HT:  Stewart Lundy

Life as a sitcom!  Good guys vs. bad guys, and we are the good guys!  Tear-jerking sentimentality!  Positive messages!  Of course, these are also features of pop culture entertainment.  Could it be that pop culture is influencing contemporary Christianity, which, in turn, is trying to turn out its own versions of pop culture?

The actual heritage of Christianity in the arts is in the realm of high culture; that is, the creation of serious, complex, creative-rather-than-conventional works of art.  Christianity has produced Dante, Spenser, Milton, Rembrandt, Bach, Donne; also wildly creative innovators such as Herbert, Hopkins, Eliot, and Rouault. Even the seemingly less-sophisticated  Christian author John Bunyan wrote a rich, complex masterpiece that falls into none of the above traps.  And these are just some explicitly theological writers.  Christianity has also profoundly shaped the works of authors and artists who specialized in seemingly “secular” works, such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Swift, Coleridge, and on and on, including modern authors such as Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Flannery O’Connor, John Updike, and more.   There are even great Christian movies–have any of you seen the works of the Danish filmmaker Carl Dreyer?–but they too are complicated, like Christianity and like life.  I suspect that there are indeed Christian artists trying to emulate these kinds of artists, but will other Christians support them and become their patrons?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Pete

    “Many of us are familiar, likewise, with that tendency among some Christians to view life as a sitcom, with God steadily revealing how the troubles in our lives yield more good than ill. . . .”

    Very interesting piece. The quote above highlights our self-centeredness – our delight in considering ourselves and our own troubles. “Curving inward” as the reformers put it. I don’t have a problem with life being viewed as a sitcom, but the real issue is not God revealing how my troubles yield more good than ill but how Christ’s troubles yielded more good than ill – and not for Him, but for us.
    Not to mention, I can scarcely contain my delight that there’s someone else out there willing to take a poke at “Facing the Giants.”

  • Pete

    “Many of us are familiar, likewise, with that tendency among some Christians to view life as a sitcom, with God steadily revealing how the troubles in our lives yield more good than ill. . . .”

    Very interesting piece. The quote above highlights our self-centeredness – our delight in considering ourselves and our own troubles. “Curving inward” as the reformers put it. I don’t have a problem with life being viewed as a sitcom, but the real issue is not God revealing how my troubles yield more good than ill but how Christ’s troubles yielded more good than ill – and not for Him, but for us.
    Not to mention, I can scarcely contain my delight that there’s someone else out there willing to take a poke at “Facing the Giants.”

  • Michael Lynch

    I would have liked some examples of good Christian art (movies, art, lit) from Woodlief. I love the examples given by Veith, but is there any good contempory Christian work? Especially in literature, which seems to influence the other arts so much. I have a hard time finding anything newer than C. S. Lewis that I can recommend!

  • Michael Lynch

    I would have liked some examples of good Christian art (movies, art, lit) from Woodlief. I love the examples given by Veith, but is there any good contempory Christian work? Especially in literature, which seems to influence the other arts so much. I have a hard time finding anything newer than C. S. Lewis that I can recommend!

  • Jeremy

    I often see a connection between what you would consider “good” theology and bad art. Have you ever seen any of the movies produced at the fundamentalist San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival? They generally make movies seen on Mystery Science Theater 3000 look Oscar-worthy.

  • Jeremy

    I often see a connection between what you would consider “good” theology and bad art. Have you ever seen any of the movies produced at the fundamentalist San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival? They generally make movies seen on Mystery Science Theater 3000 look Oscar-worthy.

  • Michael Lynch

    I also don’t think bad theology necessarily yields bad art. There is technically good art created by unbelievers and there is bad art created by those who hold to sound doctrine.

  • Michael Lynch

    I also don’t think bad theology necessarily yields bad art. There is technically good art created by unbelievers and there is bad art created by those who hold to sound doctrine.

  • Mary Jack

    Jeremy, Do you know that Lutherans aren’t fundamentalists? That our “fundamentals” are literally not the same as general Protestantism? Pointing to a fundamentalist film festival suggests to me that you aren’t yet recognizing what “we” would consider good theology.

  • Mary Jack

    Jeremy, Do you know that Lutherans aren’t fundamentalists? That our “fundamentals” are literally not the same as general Protestantism? Pointing to a fundamentalist film festival suggests to me that you aren’t yet recognizing what “we” would consider good theology.

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Phil Spomer

    I’m so happy to see this post on Cranach. I encountered it the other day (through a link from, of all places, Andrew Sullivan). I thought it would be perfect for Dr. Vieth’s post, but I couldn’t find a way to e-mail him.
    Woodliefs points are valid. I think that most Protestant art (and in this context, I don’t regard Lutherans as Protestants) lacks a sense of the tragic. It’s as though to admit that, in this world, a Christian will not only encounter pain, but even be defeated by it, would invalidate the Gospel. But the truth is, as Christ said, ‘In this world you have trouble’.
    My favorite work of Christian art is Grunewald’s Crucifixion. In movies? There I can only think of parts of movies, not their entirety, and then the Christian element is indirect, more a reference than a statement. The death of Roy Batty in Blade Runner is good (notice that Batty saves Decker from falling by grabbing his with his nail pierced hand.)
    Even when Christianity is depicted, it’s almost always the Law. Which can be good, but then, never completely Christian.

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Phil Spomer

    I’m so happy to see this post on Cranach. I encountered it the other day (through a link from, of all places, Andrew Sullivan). I thought it would be perfect for Dr. Vieth’s post, but I couldn’t find a way to e-mail him.
    Woodliefs points are valid. I think that most Protestant art (and in this context, I don’t regard Lutherans as Protestants) lacks a sense of the tragic. It’s as though to admit that, in this world, a Christian will not only encounter pain, but even be defeated by it, would invalidate the Gospel. But the truth is, as Christ said, ‘In this world you have trouble’.
    My favorite work of Christian art is Grunewald’s Crucifixion. In movies? There I can only think of parts of movies, not their entirety, and then the Christian element is indirect, more a reference than a statement. The death of Roy Batty in Blade Runner is good (notice that Batty saves Decker from falling by grabbing his with his nail pierced hand.)
    Even when Christianity is depicted, it’s almost always the Law. Which can be good, but then, never completely Christian.

  • Hannah Lashbrook

    Wow, insightful stuff. And a question to think deeply about before giving verdict, but I am inclined to agree with this argument. If our theology does not make up the whole of our artistic committment, it must make up for at least a part of it: modern Christians are so focused on on how love only matters, and the fact that love covers a multitude of sins, which would apparently include that of poor (and sometimes downright dreadful) art, that they forget that our God is a sovereign God of righteousness, order and beatuy, and that He deserves our excellence in all that we do. How can we exemplify that glory of Christ to the world through our art, when our art is of such a meiocre hue that is too pale and wan to reflect anything?

    Also, could our modern age be a case of not only bad theology, but practically no theology at all?

  • Hannah Lashbrook

    Wow, insightful stuff. And a question to think deeply about before giving verdict, but I am inclined to agree with this argument. If our theology does not make up the whole of our artistic committment, it must make up for at least a part of it: modern Christians are so focused on on how love only matters, and the fact that love covers a multitude of sins, which would apparently include that of poor (and sometimes downright dreadful) art, that they forget that our God is a sovereign God of righteousness, order and beatuy, and that He deserves our excellence in all that we do. How can we exemplify that glory of Christ to the world through our art, when our art is of such a meiocre hue that is too pale and wan to reflect anything?

    Also, could our modern age be a case of not only bad theology, but practically no theology at all?

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Phil Spomer

    Wait! I just thought of two others. Requiem for a Heavyweight by Rod Serling where one charictor sacrifices his dignity for his undeserving friend. Here’s how Wikipedia summarizes the climax,

    “To pay off Maish’s gambling debts, Mountain agrees to perform as Native American wrestling persona “Big Chief Mountain Rivera.” Just prior to entering the ring for his first match, an overwhelming tide of humiliation sweeps over Mountain, causing him to change his mind. Maish blurts out that he bet against Mountain in the fight against Clay, and as Rivera attempts to leave the locker room, “Ma” Greeny and her thugs enter, threatening Maish. However, Mountain changes his mind and agrees to wrestle, thereby allowing “Ma” to be paid and saving Maish’s life. In the epic final scene of the film, Mountain enters the ring amidst jeering ridicule to face “Haystacks Calhoun,” a grappler from Arkansas billed at 601 lbs.”

    There’s a similar scene in a movie starring Jimmy Cagney, where Cagney goes to the electric chair pretending that he is a coward so that the boys back in the hood don’t follow his life of crime. I can’t recall the movie’s title.
    Wait! Yet one more. The Mission, starring DeNero. And you can include all of Eno Marconi’s music!

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Phil Spomer

    Wait! I just thought of two others. Requiem for a Heavyweight by Rod Serling where one charictor sacrifices his dignity for his undeserving friend. Here’s how Wikipedia summarizes the climax,

    “To pay off Maish’s gambling debts, Mountain agrees to perform as Native American wrestling persona “Big Chief Mountain Rivera.” Just prior to entering the ring for his first match, an overwhelming tide of humiliation sweeps over Mountain, causing him to change his mind. Maish blurts out that he bet against Mountain in the fight against Clay, and as Rivera attempts to leave the locker room, “Ma” Greeny and her thugs enter, threatening Maish. However, Mountain changes his mind and agrees to wrestle, thereby allowing “Ma” to be paid and saving Maish’s life. In the epic final scene of the film, Mountain enters the ring amidst jeering ridicule to face “Haystacks Calhoun,” a grappler from Arkansas billed at 601 lbs.”

    There’s a similar scene in a movie starring Jimmy Cagney, where Cagney goes to the electric chair pretending that he is a coward so that the boys back in the hood don’t follow his life of crime. I can’t recall the movie’s title.
    Wait! Yet one more. The Mission, starring DeNero. And you can include all of Eno Marconi’s music!

  • Richard

    Michael Lynch,

    Read the fiction works of Marilynne Robinson–they are some powerful and well-crafted stories with some rich Christian imagery (“Gilead” is superb and won a Pulitzer). Her non-fiction works are excellent, as well. Her favorite author is . . . John Calvin.

  • Richard

    Michael Lynch,

    Read the fiction works of Marilynne Robinson–they are some powerful and well-crafted stories with some rich Christian imagery (“Gilead” is superb and won a Pulitzer). Her non-fiction works are excellent, as well. Her favorite author is . . . John Calvin.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    This is excellent.

  • http://www.redeemedrambling.blogspot.com/ John

    This is excellent.

  • Steve Billingsley

    I am reminded of G.K. Chesterton’s “Defense of the Penny Dreadfuls”, in which he defends the low-grade children’s fiction of his day with one-dimensional characters, implausible plots and over the top moralizing.

    I actually know an author who writes in this “Christian Romance” genre (she is the mom of a friend I grew up with in church). While the writing is not my cup of tea – I find much it quite preferable to Woodlief’s “above it all” whining about the “state of Christian Art”. If you don’t like the works that are being produced, don’t buy them.

    Are we sure that this isn’t a Christianized version of F.R. Leavis style criticism which is more about creating an “Inner Ring” of those who truly know and discern what is truly art and what truly isn’t than about real concern over the art itself?

    It is much easier to stand apart and criticize than to actually produce something. Are we so certain that the “Facing the Giants” and “Christian Romance” type of art doesn’t actually bear some sort of genuine witness and meet some sort of genuine longing? Or are we simply trying to avoid the sneers of those who know better? There is a place in the world for “penny dreadfuls” and they serve a much more important purpose than we might want to admit.

    (C.S. Lewis’s – “An Experiment in Criticism” makes basically the same points).

  • Steve Billingsley

    I am reminded of G.K. Chesterton’s “Defense of the Penny Dreadfuls”, in which he defends the low-grade children’s fiction of his day with one-dimensional characters, implausible plots and over the top moralizing.

    I actually know an author who writes in this “Christian Romance” genre (she is the mom of a friend I grew up with in church). While the writing is not my cup of tea – I find much it quite preferable to Woodlief’s “above it all” whining about the “state of Christian Art”. If you don’t like the works that are being produced, don’t buy them.

    Are we sure that this isn’t a Christianized version of F.R. Leavis style criticism which is more about creating an “Inner Ring” of those who truly know and discern what is truly art and what truly isn’t than about real concern over the art itself?

    It is much easier to stand apart and criticize than to actually produce something. Are we so certain that the “Facing the Giants” and “Christian Romance” type of art doesn’t actually bear some sort of genuine witness and meet some sort of genuine longing? Or are we simply trying to avoid the sneers of those who know better? There is a place in the world for “penny dreadfuls” and they serve a much more important purpose than we might want to admit.

    (C.S. Lewis’s – “An Experiment in Criticism” makes basically the same points).

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Phil Spomer

    Some art has Christian value through what they are not. Christ is absent, but conspicuously so. As though the artist were drawing a line around the outside (or inside) parameter of God without placing anything within. The novel Moby Dick is the best example, where God’s presence if excruciatingly felt through His absence. I would also include the movie, No Country for Old Men.

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Phil Spomer

    Some art has Christian value through what they are not. Christ is absent, but conspicuously so. As though the artist were drawing a line around the outside (or inside) parameter of God without placing anything within. The novel Moby Dick is the best example, where God’s presence if excruciatingly felt through His absence. I would also include the movie, No Country for Old Men.

  • http://www.wordoflifelbc.org Pastor Ed

    I hate movies and books that end with a neat little bow of resolution at the end. It doesn’t smell like the truth. So much of what comes out as “Christian” cinema and literature has the stench of fantasy (and not the good Tolkien/Lewis kind). This may explain why there is no cross over audience for these mediums. They are made for church people by church people who realized that they could make money selling sentimentality and morality. Sounds a lot like the sermons I heard as a kid.
    What’s really tragic is when the narratives of scripture are twisted in order to turn them into morality plays! The stories of the OT become sanitized and neutered in churches when they are ripped out of the context of salvation history and rewritten to make them more wholesome and less complex. In the process, they not only make the stories less interesting but they lose the One that the stories are all pointing to.
    That’s what’s missing from most “church” art (not Christian art), there is no cross and therefore no Jesus.

  • http://www.wordoflifelbc.org Pastor Ed

    I hate movies and books that end with a neat little bow of resolution at the end. It doesn’t smell like the truth. So much of what comes out as “Christian” cinema and literature has the stench of fantasy (and not the good Tolkien/Lewis kind). This may explain why there is no cross over audience for these mediums. They are made for church people by church people who realized that they could make money selling sentimentality and morality. Sounds a lot like the sermons I heard as a kid.
    What’s really tragic is when the narratives of scripture are twisted in order to turn them into morality plays! The stories of the OT become sanitized and neutered in churches when they are ripped out of the context of salvation history and rewritten to make them more wholesome and less complex. In the process, they not only make the stories less interesting but they lose the One that the stories are all pointing to.
    That’s what’s missing from most “church” art (not Christian art), there is no cross and therefore no Jesus.

  • helen

    Several years ago Library Journal had a cover story, “Should Christian literature be allowed in the public library?”
    My response was, “Yes, on the same terms as agnostic literature (or anti-Christian lit, of which there is no lack). Is it well written?”

    My private thought was, “If you substituted, “gay”, “Jewish”, “Black”, “Hispanic”, etc for “Christian”, would you put the question on your cover?

  • helen

    Several years ago Library Journal had a cover story, “Should Christian literature be allowed in the public library?”
    My response was, “Yes, on the same terms as agnostic literature (or anti-Christian lit, of which there is no lack). Is it well written?”

    My private thought was, “If you substituted, “gay”, “Jewish”, “Black”, “Hispanic”, etc for “Christian”, would you put the question on your cover?

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    As an author myself, I need to jump in on this.

    I agree with the article-to a point. There certainly is a lot of flatness in Christian art. I too am turned off by caricatured characters, oversimplified plots, and sentimentality glorified. The Christian community in many ways has mimicked the pop culture of the world instead of attempting to make innovative works of art. And that’s terrible.

    Having said that, let me say this: Christian art needs to be deep. It needs to be creative. It needs to engage the intellect, engage it even more so than the emotion. But it also needs to point back to Christ. I’m not saying it needs to be a sermon, per se. But if it’s pointing back to the world, and pointing in such a way as to look no different in its interpretive conclusion than the athestic and paganistic counterparts, then the artist has lost the understanding of what it means to “do all things as to the Lord, and not to men.” (Col. 3:23)

    Yes, Christian art needs to be well done. I agree wholeheartedly with that. What passes for Christian film today is mostly over-formulated and simplistic. I’d take the movie A River Runs Through It (a very pro-Christian movie, even though it was not primarily intended to be so) over a lot of the other dribble that’s churned out today. Same with television. You want to see a good treatment of Christianity from a non-Christian source? Check out the TV series Firefly. Even though the show is not Christian, the preacher portrayed in that series is better portrayed than clergy in some Christian fiction I’ve seen and read!

    Reality must intersect with art, and both must be subject to sound doctrine. Yet while remaining subject, Reality must remain ugly, and art must remain beautiful. That’s what hits home to people when they see art.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    As an author myself, I need to jump in on this.

    I agree with the article-to a point. There certainly is a lot of flatness in Christian art. I too am turned off by caricatured characters, oversimplified plots, and sentimentality glorified. The Christian community in many ways has mimicked the pop culture of the world instead of attempting to make innovative works of art. And that’s terrible.

    Having said that, let me say this: Christian art needs to be deep. It needs to be creative. It needs to engage the intellect, engage it even more so than the emotion. But it also needs to point back to Christ. I’m not saying it needs to be a sermon, per se. But if it’s pointing back to the world, and pointing in such a way as to look no different in its interpretive conclusion than the athestic and paganistic counterparts, then the artist has lost the understanding of what it means to “do all things as to the Lord, and not to men.” (Col. 3:23)

    Yes, Christian art needs to be well done. I agree wholeheartedly with that. What passes for Christian film today is mostly over-formulated and simplistic. I’d take the movie A River Runs Through It (a very pro-Christian movie, even though it was not primarily intended to be so) over a lot of the other dribble that’s churned out today. Same with television. You want to see a good treatment of Christianity from a non-Christian source? Check out the TV series Firefly. Even though the show is not Christian, the preacher portrayed in that series is better portrayed than clergy in some Christian fiction I’ve seen and read!

    Reality must intersect with art, and both must be subject to sound doctrine. Yet while remaining subject, Reality must remain ugly, and art must remain beautiful. That’s what hits home to people when they see art.

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Spomer

    Something that must be said is that good art involves paradox, and Christianity is the religion of paradox. Kierkegaard wrote that a writer without paradox is like a lover without passion. A fundamental flaw in much Christian art is that it bears no paradox. I’d even go as far to say that it fears paradox, because paradox is seen as an enemy of clarity. When you’re trying to save people, you want your message clear, and unambiguous. Perhaps these artist need to trust the Holy Spirit more, raise questions more than answers and let God do the rest. It worked for Socrates.

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Spomer

    Something that must be said is that good art involves paradox, and Christianity is the religion of paradox. Kierkegaard wrote that a writer without paradox is like a lover without passion. A fundamental flaw in much Christian art is that it bears no paradox. I’d even go as far to say that it fears paradox, because paradox is seen as an enemy of clarity. When you’re trying to save people, you want your message clear, and unambiguous. Perhaps these artist need to trust the Holy Spirit more, raise questions more than answers and let God do the rest. It worked for Socrates.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Great post. Does he attack precious moments in his peace at all?

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Great post. Does he attack precious moments in his peace at all?

  • DonS

    The author makes some good points, to be sure. And, there is no question that modern American culture substantially ignores and fails to appreciate the higher and enduring art forms. But that’s not to say that there is not a place for common or entertainment art, which has always been the predominant art form in every cultural era. The entertainment art form typically ties stories up in neat little bows and happy endings, because that’s what the audience likes. They’re trying to get away from real life a little bit.

    This piece is a bit pretentious for my taste. Too much criticism, too little creativity. Instead of criticizing other artists, create your own art. Fill the void. We’re becoming a nation of critics and cynics, rather than doers.

  • DonS

    The author makes some good points, to be sure. And, there is no question that modern American culture substantially ignores and fails to appreciate the higher and enduring art forms. But that’s not to say that there is not a place for common or entertainment art, which has always been the predominant art form in every cultural era. The entertainment art form typically ties stories up in neat little bows and happy endings, because that’s what the audience likes. They’re trying to get away from real life a little bit.

    This piece is a bit pretentious for my taste. Too much criticism, too little creativity. Instead of criticizing other artists, create your own art. Fill the void. We’re becoming a nation of critics and cynics, rather than doers.

  • http://lastdanceofthejackalope.blogspot.com JD Loofbourrow

    I wonder if there will be good art in heaven. I mean if there is no evil, and everything is clean, how interesting could it be? I guess if I get bored maybe I can just watch the people in hell living in futility and judgment. It would be nostalgic if nothing else.

  • http://lastdanceofthejackalope.blogspot.com JD Loofbourrow

    I wonder if there will be good art in heaven. I mean if there is no evil, and everything is clean, how interesting could it be? I guess if I get bored maybe I can just watch the people in hell living in futility and judgment. It would be nostalgic if nothing else.

  • http://lastdanceofthejackalope.blogspot.com JD Loofbourrow

    J Dean @ 15

    I agree. I think you make the point very eloquently.

  • http://lastdanceofthejackalope.blogspot.com JD Loofbourrow

    J Dean @ 15

    I agree. I think you make the point very eloquently.

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Spomer

    “Great post. Does he attack precious moments in his peace at all?”

    Did they ever make a Preccious Moments crucifix?

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Spomer

    “Great post. Does he attack precious moments in his peace at all?”

    Did they ever make a Preccious Moments crucifix?

  • http://www.wordoflifelbc.org Pastor Ed

    JD, it’s not that art needs to be ugly or sinful to be a reflection of reality, to the absence of beauty and joy. But even in heaven Jesus is presented at the “Lamb of God who was slain”. The beauty and love of Jesus is most evident in the cross; the ugliest and most magnificent symbol in the world. A glory theology only recognizes God’s activity in victory and joy. While God is certainly there in those things, it is when God meets us in our defeats and brokeness that we need Him most and that He meets us in the most profound and meaningful ways. The vast majority of Christian media stays in the shallow end of the pool, dealing strictly with glory and never gets to the deep end where the cross really matters.

  • http://www.wordoflifelbc.org Pastor Ed

    JD, it’s not that art needs to be ugly or sinful to be a reflection of reality, to the absence of beauty and joy. But even in heaven Jesus is presented at the “Lamb of God who was slain”. The beauty and love of Jesus is most evident in the cross; the ugliest and most magnificent symbol in the world. A glory theology only recognizes God’s activity in victory and joy. While God is certainly there in those things, it is when God meets us in our defeats and brokeness that we need Him most and that He meets us in the most profound and meaningful ways. The vast majority of Christian media stays in the shallow end of the pool, dealing strictly with glory and never gets to the deep end where the cross really matters.

  • Louis

    If writers and artists and musicians that happen to be Christians would start concentrating on creating good art, instead of creating Christian art, they might get somewhere.

    michael @ 2 – try Michael Flynn, contemporary Catholic author, and especially his very unusual sci-fi work, Eifelheim. Strong Christian elements shine through.

  • Louis

    If writers and artists and musicians that happen to be Christians would start concentrating on creating good art, instead of creating Christian art, they might get somewhere.

    michael @ 2 – try Michael Flynn, contemporary Catholic author, and especially his very unusual sci-fi work, Eifelheim. Strong Christian elements shine through.

  • Steve Billingsley

    DonS @ 18

    I am glad someone else picked up on the pretense. We are certainly prone to be critics.

  • Steve Billingsley

    DonS @ 18

    I am glad someone else picked up on the pretense. We are certainly prone to be critics.

  • mendicus

    Perhaps the critique is a bit pretentious, but the connection between bad theology and insipid Christian art is an important one. Pastor Ed is spot on — theologies of glory lie at the heart of the problem.

  • mendicus

    Perhaps the critique is a bit pretentious, but the connection between bad theology and insipid Christian art is an important one. Pastor Ed is spot on — theologies of glory lie at the heart of the problem.

  • Pete

    Anyone else out there seen “Gran Torino” by Clint Eastwood? Interesting in a couple of ways: first, organized religion is represented in the movie by a young but wise Roman Catholic priest who is not at all the stereotypical priest/preacher meathead. And Eastwood’s character dies a redemptive death and dies at the end, bloody, with arms outstretched. Great movie!

  • Pete

    Anyone else out there seen “Gran Torino” by Clint Eastwood? Interesting in a couple of ways: first, organized religion is represented in the movie by a young but wise Roman Catholic priest who is not at all the stereotypical priest/preacher meathead. And Eastwood’s character dies a redemptive death and dies at the end, bloody, with arms outstretched. Great movie!

  • Joanne

    When I encounter the subject of Christian art, I instantly focus on those things I see and hear in church, or on the building itself. I would not normally think of novels and movies, but I see that everyone here, including the quoted critic, does. I’m a tad alarmed that works of fiction based on what, imagination, are seen as Christian art. Would this be similar to the Christian poetry that Bach used for his arias? A literature based on Christian beliefs taken from scripture, but not copies of scripture texts?
    I can make better sense of this if we use the very common term Christian Fiction for the vast literature in that genre. It is an established art form and well accounted for in the critical literature. And it is what it is. People read vast quantities or none. I try not to read fiction at all as I’ve noticed that over the years I can sometime mistake a lesson learned from fiction for a lesson I’ve learned from life.
    But back to our question of good art and bad. A library great once said that every reader should have his book and that every book should have its reader. Those who spend library money buying books believe such ideas and that’s why you see so much strange stuff in a library. But that’s why almost every public library has a whole section of Chistian Fiction and why new sections of graphic novels are building. Are they great art? Are they the best of books? Does somebody want to read them?
    Now, is Christian Fiction good theology? When I began reading Mr. Woodlief above, I instantly thought this whole converation would be about modern, non-figurative art in stain-glass windows of churches, or near. When we veered off into novels and movies, I thought, looking for love in all the wrong places. Who’s going to look for good theology in a novel, in fiction?
    Or is Mr. Woodlief saying that I’d write a better novel if my theology is good? Izzat what makes the Tolkein stuff so much fun? Was his theology good? Ingmar Bergman’s theology was awful, so is that what made is movies so dark and dreadful? He was so angry with his father. Sometime, late at night, sitting through another of those black and white hate-the-pastor movies, I yell out at the tv, hey just go out and dig up your sorry ass dad and beat his bones with a stick and get over it. Bergman was relentless, every movie trashed the father. Sigh.
    But, I digress.

  • Joanne

    When I encounter the subject of Christian art, I instantly focus on those things I see and hear in church, or on the building itself. I would not normally think of novels and movies, but I see that everyone here, including the quoted critic, does. I’m a tad alarmed that works of fiction based on what, imagination, are seen as Christian art. Would this be similar to the Christian poetry that Bach used for his arias? A literature based on Christian beliefs taken from scripture, but not copies of scripture texts?
    I can make better sense of this if we use the very common term Christian Fiction for the vast literature in that genre. It is an established art form and well accounted for in the critical literature. And it is what it is. People read vast quantities or none. I try not to read fiction at all as I’ve noticed that over the years I can sometime mistake a lesson learned from fiction for a lesson I’ve learned from life.
    But back to our question of good art and bad. A library great once said that every reader should have his book and that every book should have its reader. Those who spend library money buying books believe such ideas and that’s why you see so much strange stuff in a library. But that’s why almost every public library has a whole section of Chistian Fiction and why new sections of graphic novels are building. Are they great art? Are they the best of books? Does somebody want to read them?
    Now, is Christian Fiction good theology? When I began reading Mr. Woodlief above, I instantly thought this whole converation would be about modern, non-figurative art in stain-glass windows of churches, or near. When we veered off into novels and movies, I thought, looking for love in all the wrong places. Who’s going to look for good theology in a novel, in fiction?
    Or is Mr. Woodlief saying that I’d write a better novel if my theology is good? Izzat what makes the Tolkein stuff so much fun? Was his theology good? Ingmar Bergman’s theology was awful, so is that what made is movies so dark and dreadful? He was so angry with his father. Sometime, late at night, sitting through another of those black and white hate-the-pastor movies, I yell out at the tv, hey just go out and dig up your sorry ass dad and beat his bones with a stick and get over it. Bergman was relentless, every movie trashed the father. Sigh.
    But, I digress.

  • Steve

    Great post. But here’s a key element: Bad Christian art/literature is so ubiquitous because it sells. People in the marketplace find something that they like in melodramatic, oversentimentalized plots, cliched characters, and “wrapped-up-with-a-neat-pink-bow” conclusions.

    But how is that different from secular entertainment? Last time I checked, “Two and a Half Men” and “The Jersey Shore” are wildly popular television shows, and deeper, more intellectual and artsy titles often struggle to find mainstream acceptance. Art–Christian or secular–is often shallow because the people who consume it are, well, often shallow.

  • Steve

    Great post. But here’s a key element: Bad Christian art/literature is so ubiquitous because it sells. People in the marketplace find something that they like in melodramatic, oversentimentalized plots, cliched characters, and “wrapped-up-with-a-neat-pink-bow” conclusions.

    But how is that different from secular entertainment? Last time I checked, “Two and a Half Men” and “The Jersey Shore” are wildly popular television shows, and deeper, more intellectual and artsy titles often struggle to find mainstream acceptance. Art–Christian or secular–is often shallow because the people who consume it are, well, often shallow.

  • Richard

    Pete is right: “Gran Torino” was excellent; redemption was all over the movie.

  • Richard

    Pete is right: “Gran Torino” was excellent; redemption was all over the movie.

  • Joanne

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/This_Is_the_Life_(TV_series)

    But is it art? Is it good art? It is good theology. It’s supposed to be LC-MS approved theology.
    I’m speaking about that old tv series “This is the life.” I’d almost forgotten and it’s a great example of just what Mr. Woodlief wrote about. One dimentional characters? Neatly tied up in half an hour. Corny, but I think it’s well developed and it unfolds well toward it denoument. I loved the catechism table blessing and devotions after dinner. Sentimentalism galore. Sniff.

  • Joanne

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/This_Is_the_Life_(TV_series)

    But is it art? Is it good art? It is good theology. It’s supposed to be LC-MS approved theology.
    I’m speaking about that old tv series “This is the life.” I’d almost forgotten and it’s a great example of just what Mr. Woodlief wrote about. One dimentional characters? Neatly tied up in half an hour. Corny, but I think it’s well developed and it unfolds well toward it denoument. I loved the catechism table blessing and devotions after dinner. Sentimentalism galore. Sniff.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    A note to all the anti-criticism people out there: do make sure your comments here aren’t merely counter-criticisms, or you might open yourself to labels you won’t like. I also find that charges of elitism (and similar labels) are often in danger of being little more than elitism in defense of populism (i.e. “We good normal folk are way better than you high-falutin’ city-talker types!”).

    Of course, I liked the article. My wife and I watch TBN*. I know what’s being referred to. There’s some true dreck out there, and if I can’t say that, then I’m not sure what anyone can say about art.

    I understand the desire for escapism, to a point. We long for a better world, quite naturally, since one exists. It’s just not here, not right now. And artwork that attempts to provide an escapist outlet by portraying this complex, sin-soaked world as something other than what it is, well, just doesn’t satisfy. Doesn’t ring true.

    So much “Christian” art is the equivalent of making a meal out of Halloween candy. It’s too sweet, too one-note, and, after a time, too boring and pretty horrible for your well-being. Am I an elitist for saying so? If so, am I also an elitist for suggesting that you should eat more than Halloween candy — in fact, that Halloween candy should be eaten sparingly? That there are more complex flavors in the world than can be provided by high fructose corn syrup and citric acid?

    Of course, it would help if we all agreed on what, exactly, constitutes “Christian” art. Is it any art that makes an explicit nod to “God”, “Jesus”, capital-Y “You”, etc.? Or is it an artwork that causes us to ponder God’s Truths, even if the allusions are not perfectly overt (e.g. Gran Torino, apparently, not that I’ve seen it)?

    But even if we excuse a vast percentage of “Christian” art by giving it the “escapist” exception — no worse than a network sitcom, which the people enjoy even if the critics don’t, right? — there’s still the point that so much of that “Christian” art is of lesser quality than its secular counterpart.

    I suppose it might be comforting for the Christian seeking to play the victim to assume that the only reason secular audiences look down their noses at, for example, Facing the Giants (yes, I caught half of it one evening on, yes, TBN) is because it’s “Christian”. But I think it’s just because it’s bad. Bad acting. Cliche-riddled plots (come on, did anyone not think Mr. Wheelchair was going to stand up on his feet at the crucial moment, like he was at a Benny Hinn crusade?). Et cetera.

    *Ironically. It’s a failing. We don’t have cable.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    A note to all the anti-criticism people out there: do make sure your comments here aren’t merely counter-criticisms, or you might open yourself to labels you won’t like. I also find that charges of elitism (and similar labels) are often in danger of being little more than elitism in defense of populism (i.e. “We good normal folk are way better than you high-falutin’ city-talker types!”).

    Of course, I liked the article. My wife and I watch TBN*. I know what’s being referred to. There’s some true dreck out there, and if I can’t say that, then I’m not sure what anyone can say about art.

    I understand the desire for escapism, to a point. We long for a better world, quite naturally, since one exists. It’s just not here, not right now. And artwork that attempts to provide an escapist outlet by portraying this complex, sin-soaked world as something other than what it is, well, just doesn’t satisfy. Doesn’t ring true.

    So much “Christian” art is the equivalent of making a meal out of Halloween candy. It’s too sweet, too one-note, and, after a time, too boring and pretty horrible for your well-being. Am I an elitist for saying so? If so, am I also an elitist for suggesting that you should eat more than Halloween candy — in fact, that Halloween candy should be eaten sparingly? That there are more complex flavors in the world than can be provided by high fructose corn syrup and citric acid?

    Of course, it would help if we all agreed on what, exactly, constitutes “Christian” art. Is it any art that makes an explicit nod to “God”, “Jesus”, capital-Y “You”, etc.? Or is it an artwork that causes us to ponder God’s Truths, even if the allusions are not perfectly overt (e.g. Gran Torino, apparently, not that I’ve seen it)?

    But even if we excuse a vast percentage of “Christian” art by giving it the “escapist” exception — no worse than a network sitcom, which the people enjoy even if the critics don’t, right? — there’s still the point that so much of that “Christian” art is of lesser quality than its secular counterpart.

    I suppose it might be comforting for the Christian seeking to play the victim to assume that the only reason secular audiences look down their noses at, for example, Facing the Giants (yes, I caught half of it one evening on, yes, TBN) is because it’s “Christian”. But I think it’s just because it’s bad. Bad acting. Cliche-riddled plots (come on, did anyone not think Mr. Wheelchair was going to stand up on his feet at the crucial moment, like he was at a Benny Hinn crusade?). Et cetera.

    *Ironically. It’s a failing. We don’t have cable.

  • Steve Billingsley

    Sorry Todd @ 31…I don’t buy it.

    I am not accusing people of elitism….but of “me-too” ism. A lot of art is produced in the world, some of it Christian, some of it … well, not-Christian. Some of it is good and some of it is awful. A precious few works of art are “truly great” but most of it is somewhere in between. If you didn’t like “Facing the Giants”, fine. But the point of Chesterton’s (and Lewis’s) pieces that I referenced isn’t that bad art is good. It is that the reader (or viewer or listener) has the right to enjoy the art that they choose without the critic acting as some sort of cultural gatekeeper.
    When I see a piece like Woodlief’s, I see the Christian equivalent of the high school kid who likes some Top 40 tune being berated by the “cool kids” because “that music sucks”. It is way too easy to dismiss something because of popularity.
    Chesterton’s further point in his essay is that the “penny dreadfuls” play a genuine cultural role. Even hackneyed moralism is better than a-moralism (which is what his culture and ours serve up in plenty). Life is certainly complex and easy answers and neatly tied-up plots are hard to come by in the real world. But “complexity” can just as often be a cop-out as a plot device as easy answers are. No easy answers is not the same thing as no answers at all. Life doesn’t tie up neatly, but good outcomes do happen in life and there is nothing wrong with celebrating them or even just hoping for them.
    Finally, equating sentimentality to pornography is an outright howler. “Facing the Giants” = “Debbie does Dallas”? Really? That’s not over the top at all.
    Elitism is that is earned is actually to be applauded. Pretense that is is judgmental, not so much.

  • Steve Billingsley

    Sorry Todd @ 31…I don’t buy it.

    I am not accusing people of elitism….but of “me-too” ism. A lot of art is produced in the world, some of it Christian, some of it … well, not-Christian. Some of it is good and some of it is awful. A precious few works of art are “truly great” but most of it is somewhere in between. If you didn’t like “Facing the Giants”, fine. But the point of Chesterton’s (and Lewis’s) pieces that I referenced isn’t that bad art is good. It is that the reader (or viewer or listener) has the right to enjoy the art that they choose without the critic acting as some sort of cultural gatekeeper.
    When I see a piece like Woodlief’s, I see the Christian equivalent of the high school kid who likes some Top 40 tune being berated by the “cool kids” because “that music sucks”. It is way too easy to dismiss something because of popularity.
    Chesterton’s further point in his essay is that the “penny dreadfuls” play a genuine cultural role. Even hackneyed moralism is better than a-moralism (which is what his culture and ours serve up in plenty). Life is certainly complex and easy answers and neatly tied-up plots are hard to come by in the real world. But “complexity” can just as often be a cop-out as a plot device as easy answers are. No easy answers is not the same thing as no answers at all. Life doesn’t tie up neatly, but good outcomes do happen in life and there is nothing wrong with celebrating them or even just hoping for them.
    Finally, equating sentimentality to pornography is an outright howler. “Facing the Giants” = “Debbie does Dallas”? Really? That’s not over the top at all.
    Elitism is that is earned is actually to be applauded. Pretense that is is judgmental, not so much.

  • Bruce Gee

    Metaphor and paradox. Humor, and… um…epiphany. Of course, beauty. Give me that in my art.
    I don’t pay much attention to overtly “Christian” art. Do you pay attention to overtly “Christian” plumbing? Knitting? Business administration?
    Make something beautiful, put on it somewhere in small print “Soli deo gloria,” and send it out into the world. However, Christian art in the context of Christian worship is about the only appropriate, specific use I can think of for the genre. The rest is left-hand kingdom stuff. Isn’t it?
    Art in the context of worship is the only real way to evaluate Christian art. Lex orandi, lex credendi, and the works of art reflect how we pray and believe. Consider Bezalel.

  • Bruce Gee

    Metaphor and paradox. Humor, and… um…epiphany. Of course, beauty. Give me that in my art.
    I don’t pay much attention to overtly “Christian” art. Do you pay attention to overtly “Christian” plumbing? Knitting? Business administration?
    Make something beautiful, put on it somewhere in small print “Soli deo gloria,” and send it out into the world. However, Christian art in the context of Christian worship is about the only appropriate, specific use I can think of for the genre. The rest is left-hand kingdom stuff. Isn’t it?
    Art in the context of worship is the only real way to evaluate Christian art. Lex orandi, lex credendi, and the works of art reflect how we pray and believe. Consider Bezalel.

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Phil Spomer

    What do you think about Robert Duval’s Apostle in this context? Overtly Christian, good acting, the protagonist goes to prison in the end.

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Phil Spomer

    What do you think about Robert Duval’s Apostle in this context? Overtly Christian, good acting, the protagonist goes to prison in the end.

  • Bruce Gee

    I liked his TENDER MERCIES better. But hey, nice movie. I guess it’s art. But here’s the thing: a lot of us see a lot of movies and find Christian themes in them although they aren’t telling a Christian story. I think in some ways that is more powerful “art”.
    A lot of efforts at portraying, apologetically, Christian themes do more harm than good, IMO. What exactly does it mean to witness to a world that does not want to hear what you have to say? Or…am I straying too far from the topic?
    BTW, the comments attached to the cited article are rather interesting and worth reading.

  • Bruce Gee

    I liked his TENDER MERCIES better. But hey, nice movie. I guess it’s art. But here’s the thing: a lot of us see a lot of movies and find Christian themes in them although they aren’t telling a Christian story. I think in some ways that is more powerful “art”.
    A lot of efforts at portraying, apologetically, Christian themes do more harm than good, IMO. What exactly does it mean to witness to a world that does not want to hear what you have to say? Or…am I straying too far from the topic?
    BTW, the comments attached to the cited article are rather interesting and worth reading.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Steve (@32), it’s okay, I don’t buy bad art, either. :)

    Anyhow, you said:

    I am not accusing people of elitism….but of “me-too” ism.

    Sorry, but that doesn’t seem to square with what you wrote above:

    Are we sure that this isn’t a Christianized version of F.R. Leavis style criticism which is more about creating an “Inner Ring” of those who truly know and discern what is truly art and what truly isn’t than about real concern over the art itself? (@11)

    I am glad someone else picked up on the pretense. (@24)

    Sure sounds like you’re accusing others — others, mind you — of elitism. And hey, if you are, you are. But if you aren’t, well, I’m clearly misreading what you wrote. I mean, honestly, an “Inner Ring”?

    But then we get to the crux of your response:

    The reader (or viewer or listener) has the right to enjoy the art that they choose without the critic acting as some sort of cultural gatekeeper.

    And what you’ve done here is make a straw man out of most art criticism — or at least the article Veith links to — and then attack it. But, well, what would you quote me from Woodlief’s article to convince me that he wishes to be your “cultural gatekeeper”?

    And what’s more, you appear to have asserted some mythical right not to have your aesthetic value or personal preferences judged. Sorry, but that’s not the world we live in. If your enjoyment is contingent on others’ not criticizing that which you’re enjoying, then, well, you’re enjoying it wrong. You’re making your experience dependent on others’ opinions. And, along the way, you apparently fall prey to the very thing you criticize: “me-too”-ism. The crowd must validate your choices, it would seem, or they are elitists and bullies.

    But then, you seem to be equating an intelligent and well-informed with a mob of high-school “cool kids”, which, frankly, is baffling. Tony Woodlief, whom I’ve never heard of, writing in Image, a journal I’ve never heard of, is the proverbial prom king, is he? The comparison is painfully strained, don’t you think? If anything, he’s that weird guy in English class who always read more than what was assigned, and can’t believe you don’t actually enjoy John Donne. Trust me, that guy was not considered “cool” back then.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Steve (@32), it’s okay, I don’t buy bad art, either. :)

    Anyhow, you said:

    I am not accusing people of elitism….but of “me-too” ism.

    Sorry, but that doesn’t seem to square with what you wrote above:

    Are we sure that this isn’t a Christianized version of F.R. Leavis style criticism which is more about creating an “Inner Ring” of those who truly know and discern what is truly art and what truly isn’t than about real concern over the art itself? (@11)

    I am glad someone else picked up on the pretense. (@24)

    Sure sounds like you’re accusing others — others, mind you — of elitism. And hey, if you are, you are. But if you aren’t, well, I’m clearly misreading what you wrote. I mean, honestly, an “Inner Ring”?

    But then we get to the crux of your response:

    The reader (or viewer or listener) has the right to enjoy the art that they choose without the critic acting as some sort of cultural gatekeeper.

    And what you’ve done here is make a straw man out of most art criticism — or at least the article Veith links to — and then attack it. But, well, what would you quote me from Woodlief’s article to convince me that he wishes to be your “cultural gatekeeper”?

    And what’s more, you appear to have asserted some mythical right not to have your aesthetic value or personal preferences judged. Sorry, but that’s not the world we live in. If your enjoyment is contingent on others’ not criticizing that which you’re enjoying, then, well, you’re enjoying it wrong. You’re making your experience dependent on others’ opinions. And, along the way, you apparently fall prey to the very thing you criticize: “me-too”-ism. The crowd must validate your choices, it would seem, or they are elitists and bullies.

    But then, you seem to be equating an intelligent and well-informed with a mob of high-school “cool kids”, which, frankly, is baffling. Tony Woodlief, whom I’ve never heard of, writing in Image, a journal I’ve never heard of, is the proverbial prom king, is he? The comparison is painfully strained, don’t you think? If anything, he’s that weird guy in English class who always read more than what was assigned, and can’t believe you don’t actually enjoy John Donne. Trust me, that guy was not considered “cool” back then.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    To continue with your comment, Steve (@32):

    Even hackneyed moralism is better than a-moralism.

    I disagree. As I understand the term, moralism is a sermon on how to live right. It is, at its heart, works righteousness — especially when the work in question depicts a character deciding to live right and subsquently reaping the rewards from God. Compared to that, a dark film that shows, over and over, man’s depravity is much more in line with Scripture. It won’t offer the answer, but it at least points to the correct problem.

    And you continue with your straw men interpretations of this article:

    “Facing the Giants” = “Debbie does Dallas”? Really? That’s not over the top at all.

    Really? Equals? That’s what you got from the article? Don’t you think your reading lacks just a wee bit of nuance? Woodlief actually said, “Like pornography, sentimentality corrupts the sight and the soul, because it is passion unearned.”

    Come on, Facing the Giants was every bit as predictable and ham-fisted as any porno (though, please note, not literally as pornographic). Oh, the team wins? Marital problems solved? Wheelchair guy stands up? Scrappy player makes contribution and is outcast no more? Pregnancy difficulties resolved? To be surprised at that is to be surprised that, by the end of the porno, people had sex. I mean, who saw that coming?

    As far as “passion unearned” goes, that certainly describes a porno well. Why are these people having sex? Is it because of some interesting character development we learned about? No, it’s because they’re in a porno. He’s, like, the pool boy or something. Or he’s here to fix the cable. In a rip-off uniform. But the same minimal pretense to heights of emotional passion is found in most moralistic films. Why is that guy crying/jubilant? Because he’s in a “Christian” film.

    Meh.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    To continue with your comment, Steve (@32):

    Even hackneyed moralism is better than a-moralism.

    I disagree. As I understand the term, moralism is a sermon on how to live right. It is, at its heart, works righteousness — especially when the work in question depicts a character deciding to live right and subsquently reaping the rewards from God. Compared to that, a dark film that shows, over and over, man’s depravity is much more in line with Scripture. It won’t offer the answer, but it at least points to the correct problem.

    And you continue with your straw men interpretations of this article:

    “Facing the Giants” = “Debbie does Dallas”? Really? That’s not over the top at all.

    Really? Equals? That’s what you got from the article? Don’t you think your reading lacks just a wee bit of nuance? Woodlief actually said, “Like pornography, sentimentality corrupts the sight and the soul, because it is passion unearned.”

    Come on, Facing the Giants was every bit as predictable and ham-fisted as any porno (though, please note, not literally as pornographic). Oh, the team wins? Marital problems solved? Wheelchair guy stands up? Scrappy player makes contribution and is outcast no more? Pregnancy difficulties resolved? To be surprised at that is to be surprised that, by the end of the porno, people had sex. I mean, who saw that coming?

    As far as “passion unearned” goes, that certainly describes a porno well. Why are these people having sex? Is it because of some interesting character development we learned about? No, it’s because they’re in a porno. He’s, like, the pool boy or something. Or he’s here to fix the cable. In a rip-off uniform. But the same minimal pretense to heights of emotional passion is found in most moralistic films. Why is that guy crying/jubilant? Because he’s in a “Christian” film.

    Meh.

  • Steve Billingsley

    “sentimentality, like pornography”
    Sorry, but where I studied English grammar, that is a simile, which is a direct comparison….that isn’t a straw man, just taking the man at his word.
    And as far as “unearned passion” is concerned, I guess I missed the day at Art Appreciation class where they taught how to calculate the Earned Passion quotient (TM).
    Again, you don’t like “Facing the Giants”? Great, criticize away. But that doesn’t mean people that like it are necessarily guilty of bad theology. That just means they liked the movie. And to assert that sentimentality is just as damaging is pornography is just wrong.

    BTW Pastor Phil @ 34 – I think “The Apostle” is a great movie. I don’t think that “Christian Art” means a happy ending any more than “Christian Art” means a sad ending.

    A couple of other things….not that I have any particular dog in the “Facing the Giants” hunt, but the fact that a local church had a couple of pastors write a screenplay, raise the funds to make the movie, bought or rented (I don’t know which) the equipment and used a bunch of volunteers as actors and turned out a product that found a decent sized audience to me is admirable at a lot of levels. Instead of spending all their time griping about “evil Hollywood” not telling the kind of stories that they thought should be told they actually produced something themselves.
    I mentioned earlier that I knew a woman who wrote in the “Christian Romance” genre. I know her story pretty well. She is a wonderful Christian woman who, along with her husband, raised a couple of wonderful kids while always dreaming of being a writer. She worked on her craft for years, submitted proposals and manuscripts and finally got published. The stories, as I said before, aren’t my cup of tea but she was gracious enough to ask my opinion on some of her writing and I gave her my feedback and encouragement. At last count she has published 4 or 5 novels (which is 4 or 5 more books of any kind than I have published) and I am happy for her success. When I read articles like this, I think of her and think the criticism is pretty unjustified. I happen to think her theology is just fine.
    P.S. “The Inner Ring” is the name of an essay adapted from a commencement address given by C.S. Lewis at King’s College, London. It was published in “The Weight of Glory”. It is a great essay.

  • Steve Billingsley

    “sentimentality, like pornography”
    Sorry, but where I studied English grammar, that is a simile, which is a direct comparison….that isn’t a straw man, just taking the man at his word.
    And as far as “unearned passion” is concerned, I guess I missed the day at Art Appreciation class where they taught how to calculate the Earned Passion quotient (TM).
    Again, you don’t like “Facing the Giants”? Great, criticize away. But that doesn’t mean people that like it are necessarily guilty of bad theology. That just means they liked the movie. And to assert that sentimentality is just as damaging is pornography is just wrong.

    BTW Pastor Phil @ 34 – I think “The Apostle” is a great movie. I don’t think that “Christian Art” means a happy ending any more than “Christian Art” means a sad ending.

    A couple of other things….not that I have any particular dog in the “Facing the Giants” hunt, but the fact that a local church had a couple of pastors write a screenplay, raise the funds to make the movie, bought or rented (I don’t know which) the equipment and used a bunch of volunteers as actors and turned out a product that found a decent sized audience to me is admirable at a lot of levels. Instead of spending all their time griping about “evil Hollywood” not telling the kind of stories that they thought should be told they actually produced something themselves.
    I mentioned earlier that I knew a woman who wrote in the “Christian Romance” genre. I know her story pretty well. She is a wonderful Christian woman who, along with her husband, raised a couple of wonderful kids while always dreaming of being a writer. She worked on her craft for years, submitted proposals and manuscripts and finally got published. The stories, as I said before, aren’t my cup of tea but she was gracious enough to ask my opinion on some of her writing and I gave her my feedback and encouragement. At last count she has published 4 or 5 novels (which is 4 or 5 more books of any kind than I have published) and I am happy for her success. When I read articles like this, I think of her and think the criticism is pretty unjustified. I happen to think her theology is just fine.
    P.S. “The Inner Ring” is the name of an essay adapted from a commencement address given by C.S. Lewis at King’s College, London. It was published in “The Weight of Glory”. It is a great essay.

  • BW

    It’s a very interesting analysis on art and culture in the Christian “realm.”

    As others have said, endings where everything works out happily are nice, but I think if there’s too much of that and we risk being stripped of our ability to respond on real life when things don’t work out well. It is a messy, dirty world we live in, full of dying sinners. Showing the world for what it is, good and bad, and a Christianity that survives in it, is a more robust option.

    Like the aforementioned Gran Torino, where the racist auto worker, Korean war vet in Clint Eastwood, helps (in more ways than one) a group of people he doesn’t particularly like and who don’t particularly like him, for the most part.

  • BW

    It’s a very interesting analysis on art and culture in the Christian “realm.”

    As others have said, endings where everything works out happily are nice, but I think if there’s too much of that and we risk being stripped of our ability to respond on real life when things don’t work out well. It is a messy, dirty world we live in, full of dying sinners. Showing the world for what it is, good and bad, and a Christianity that survives in it, is a more robust option.

    Like the aforementioned Gran Torino, where the racist auto worker, Korean war vet in Clint Eastwood, helps (in more ways than one) a group of people he doesn’t particularly like and who don’t particularly like him, for the most part.

  • Richard

    Interesting that some of this discussion is turning into one about whether all art is equal. Ken Myers has a great book on the subject, “All God’s Children and Blue-Sued Shoes.” There IS a difference between high culture and pop culture; and it’s not elitist to point this out. If we are told to “think” about things which are “commendable, lovely, and excellent” we are talking about objective categories.

  • Richard

    Interesting that some of this discussion is turning into one about whether all art is equal. Ken Myers has a great book on the subject, “All God’s Children and Blue-Sued Shoes.” There IS a difference between high culture and pop culture; and it’s not elitist to point this out. If we are told to “think” about things which are “commendable, lovely, and excellent” we are talking about objective categories.

  • Louis

    Richard @ 40 – I used to buy into that, but not so much anymore. There is good art and bad art. And in-between art. High-culture is often just yesteryears’ pop culture. I love history, and old things , but as soon as someone assumes that the days of yon were better than the days of now, I back – off. That is again just sentimentality dressed up for the parade.

    And I totally agree with Todd’s points about “Christian Art”.

  • Louis

    Richard @ 40 – I used to buy into that, but not so much anymore. There is good art and bad art. And in-between art. High-culture is often just yesteryears’ pop culture. I love history, and old things , but as soon as someone assumes that the days of yon were better than the days of now, I back – off. That is again just sentimentality dressed up for the parade.

    And I totally agree with Todd’s points about “Christian Art”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/markweilnau Mark Weilnau

    I have to agree with the article in general and many of the points made in agreement with it. I tend to avoid reading popular Christian novels for this very reason. Contemporary Christian music also suffers from similar maladies. People all too often want to surround themselves with stories, music, art, etc. that makes them feel happier and disguises the fact of suffering in the world. They also tend to fall into the trap of Job’s so called friends and blame any suffering on some secret sin being punished.

    This past May I published a book through Crossbooks titled “The Long Embrace,” that speaks of a life of both joys and sorrows, one in which one character is forced to suffer the loss of more loved one’s than most. However the point of the story is how Jesus Christ is there with the main character throughout his suffering, holding him in His arms even in his darkest times. As someone here put it so well, “He brought deliverance in suffering, not deliverance from suffering.

    What is unfortunate is many people who have read the book comment on how they enjoyed the read but that, “It was so sad!” These comments lead me to believe they missed the point of the book. A point that I thought was already reinforced by the title.

  • http://www.facebook.com/markweilnau Mark Weilnau

    I have to agree with the article in general and many of the points made in agreement with it. I tend to avoid reading popular Christian novels for this very reason. Contemporary Christian music also suffers from similar maladies. People all too often want to surround themselves with stories, music, art, etc. that makes them feel happier and disguises the fact of suffering in the world. They also tend to fall into the trap of Job’s so called friends and blame any suffering on some secret sin being punished.

    This past May I published a book through Crossbooks titled “The Long Embrace,” that speaks of a life of both joys and sorrows, one in which one character is forced to suffer the loss of more loved one’s than most. However the point of the story is how Jesus Christ is there with the main character throughout his suffering, holding him in His arms even in his darkest times. As someone here put it so well, “He brought deliverance in suffering, not deliverance from suffering.

    What is unfortunate is many people who have read the book comment on how they enjoyed the read but that, “It was so sad!” These comments lead me to believe they missed the point of the book. A point that I thought was already reinforced by the title.

  • simonetta

    I just didn’t get the part about “passion unearned.” How do you earn a passion?

  • simonetta

    I just didn’t get the part about “passion unearned.” How do you earn a passion?

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  • Deborah

    # 8, Pastor Spomer, the Cagney movie you’re referring to is “Angels with Dirty Faces”. Great film. I also consider Robert Duval’s “The Apostle” a modern re-telling of the life of David. Love it. Someone else mentioned Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino”. Powerful movie. I was smashed in the face (so to speak) with the redemptive act of love depicted.

  • Deborah

    # 8, Pastor Spomer, the Cagney movie you’re referring to is “Angels with Dirty Faces”. Great film. I also consider Robert Duval’s “The Apostle” a modern re-telling of the life of David. Love it. Someone else mentioned Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino”. Powerful movie. I was smashed in the face (so to speak) with the redemptive act of love depicted.

  • LB

    I know I’m late to the party, but I’m just now reading this post and had to comment. I used to try to read contemporary Christian fiction, because I thought I was supposed to, but I don’t anymore. I find it insulting, and frankly, it’s so sweet it makes my teeth hurt. I enjoy reading contemporary Southern fiction and one of my favorite authors is Joshilyn Jackson. She is socially liberal, and I know we do not share the same theology (she jokingly refers to her church as the Communist Presbyterian Church, because they have a community garden) but I really enjoy her books. They are messy and full of things such as racism, sex and abuse, but also redemption, forgiveness and love. I hesitate telling other Christians about her work for fear they would be offended by the “real world” aspects of her books. The first line in the book, “gods in Alabama,” which is one of my favorites, would be enough to upset many Christians I know, “There are gods in Alabama: Jack Daniel’s, high school quarter-backs, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus…” But this book has redemption written all throughout and examines topics such as loving racist family members inspite of their beliefs, which challenges me to think about my faith much more than reading what boils down to an altar call…

  • LB

    I know I’m late to the party, but I’m just now reading this post and had to comment. I used to try to read contemporary Christian fiction, because I thought I was supposed to, but I don’t anymore. I find it insulting, and frankly, it’s so sweet it makes my teeth hurt. I enjoy reading contemporary Southern fiction and one of my favorite authors is Joshilyn Jackson. She is socially liberal, and I know we do not share the same theology (she jokingly refers to her church as the Communist Presbyterian Church, because they have a community garden) but I really enjoy her books. They are messy and full of things such as racism, sex and abuse, but also redemption, forgiveness and love. I hesitate telling other Christians about her work for fear they would be offended by the “real world” aspects of her books. The first line in the book, “gods in Alabama,” which is one of my favorites, would be enough to upset many Christians I know, “There are gods in Alabama: Jack Daniel’s, high school quarter-backs, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus…” But this book has redemption written all throughout and examines topics such as loving racist family members inspite of their beliefs, which challenges me to think about my faith much more than reading what boils down to an altar call…

  • Bruce Gee

    Big tits? She mentions big tits? I’ll check her out.

  • Bruce Gee

    Big tits? She mentions big tits? I’ll check her out.

  • http://www.radicalgraceradio.com Matthew Pancake

    What do you think the writer meant by ” you didn’t earn this emotion”. I understand sentimentality, which in the craft is simply taking common themes and hammering on those till your audience is balling or screaming with joy or anger. However, that has little to do with “earning” an emotion. In fact, I’d say that the commonality is that nearly all people have already “earned” these emotions and authors play on them accordingly.

    The greatest authors literally take their readers on a journey that, in essence, “earns” the reader (or even viewer in the case of visual media) the emotions in question. That’s what the best stuff always does. I’d say the writer quoted in your blog post has some sort of issue they need to work on if they think they have to “earn” an emotion.

  • http://www.radicalgraceradio.com Matthew Pancake

    What do you think the writer meant by ” you didn’t earn this emotion”. I understand sentimentality, which in the craft is simply taking common themes and hammering on those till your audience is balling or screaming with joy or anger. However, that has little to do with “earning” an emotion. In fact, I’d say that the commonality is that nearly all people have already “earned” these emotions and authors play on them accordingly.

    The greatest authors literally take their readers on a journey that, in essence, “earns” the reader (or even viewer in the case of visual media) the emotions in question. That’s what the best stuff always does. I’d say the writer quoted in your blog post has some sort of issue they need to work on if they think they have to “earn” an emotion.

  • simonetta

    Yes, Matthew, that was my point exactly. The author makes some good points, but some (such as this) are unclear, and others seem to be broad generalizations. For example, Roman Catholics have poor theology, but have produced great art, music, and literature. Perhaps the issue is not bad theology as rather the restrictions that are posed by that theology (or ideology for that matter). Interestingly, a friend of mine told me it’s the same in the new-spirituality community where he lives – there is a tendency to impose a message to most forms of art, and whenever art is used as a communication of a message, it changes in nature.

  • simonetta

    Yes, Matthew, that was my point exactly. The author makes some good points, but some (such as this) are unclear, and others seem to be broad generalizations. For example, Roman Catholics have poor theology, but have produced great art, music, and literature. Perhaps the issue is not bad theology as rather the restrictions that are posed by that theology (or ideology for that matter). Interestingly, a friend of mine told me it’s the same in the new-spirituality community where he lives – there is a tendency to impose a message to most forms of art, and whenever art is used as a communication of a message, it changes in nature.

  • http://www.sally-apokedak.com/whispers_of_dawn/ Sally Apokedak

    In case you subscribed to comments, Simonetta and Matthew…

    To say a character has not earned the emotion or the passion he’s expressing is to say that nothing sad enough happened to him to make him cry, or nothing pleasant enough happened to him to make him feel so happy.

    I don’t remember Facing the Giants well, so I have no idea whether I agree with the Woodlief or not about this (I disagree on just about every other point he makes). I’m just saying this is what I think he meant: The guy whimpering in the glen was a crybaby, crying over something that Mr. Woodlief didn’t find very sad.

  • http://www.sally-apokedak.com/whispers_of_dawn/ Sally Apokedak

    In case you subscribed to comments, Simonetta and Matthew…

    To say a character has not earned the emotion or the passion he’s expressing is to say that nothing sad enough happened to him to make him cry, or nothing pleasant enough happened to him to make him feel so happy.

    I don’t remember Facing the Giants well, so I have no idea whether I agree with the Woodlief or not about this (I disagree on just about every other point he makes). I’m just saying this is what I think he meant: The guy whimpering in the glen was a crybaby, crying over something that Mr. Woodlief didn’t find very sad.

  • simonetta

    It was just a strange comparison – sentimentality compared to pornography on the basis of passions “earned”? It’s a very long stretch. But you gave a good explanation, Sally.

  • simonetta

    It was just a strange comparison – sentimentality compared to pornography on the basis of passions “earned”? It’s a very long stretch. But you gave a good explanation, Sally.

  • Carol Roberts Booth

    I have painted posies for a living for years, never trying to express my faith. A man in India was fixing my computer from India and looked at my paintings (with my permission). After a while, he asked, “Do you have anything meaningful? I am a Christian and even though your work is beautiful, it doesn’t impact me!” I quit painting. Now as I am about to go at it again with purpose, your insights (all of you) have helped me so much. Wonderfully, the inspirations I have had are not obvious, but covert and even the titles are not scriptural. I suppose considering that this is an unchurched generation some of the pablum may be needed, but I consider true art these masterpieces: The height of man’s arrogance–Rodin’s Balzac; a bas relief on some medieval church of the devil starring at a content Christ; Sleep of Reason by Goya; Liar, Liar, Liar by Peter A. Cerreta; Blessing the Water on Epiphany by Boris Kustodiev; Victor Higgins’ Winter Funeral; Ordet (The Word) a film by Danish director, Karl Theodor Dreyer; and Burnt by the Sun by Nikita Mikhalkov. Thank you for your help.

  • Carol Roberts Booth

    I have painted posies for a living for years, never trying to express my faith. A man in India was fixing my computer from India and looked at my paintings (with my permission). After a while, he asked, “Do you have anything meaningful? I am a Christian and even though your work is beautiful, it doesn’t impact me!” I quit painting. Now as I am about to go at it again with purpose, your insights (all of you) have helped me so much. Wonderfully, the inspirations I have had are not obvious, but covert and even the titles are not scriptural. I suppose considering that this is an unchurched generation some of the pablum may be needed, but I consider true art these masterpieces: The height of man’s arrogance–Rodin’s Balzac; a bas relief on some medieval church of the devil starring at a content Christ; Sleep of Reason by Goya; Liar, Liar, Liar by Peter A. Cerreta; Blessing the Water on Epiphany by Boris Kustodiev; Victor Higgins’ Winter Funeral; Ordet (The Word) a film by Danish director, Karl Theodor Dreyer; and Burnt by the Sun by Nikita Mikhalkov. Thank you for your help.

  • Cynthia

    Steve Billingsley wrote: “…a local church had a couple of pastors write a screenplay, raise the funds to make the movie, bought or rented (I don’t know which) the equipment and used a bunch of volunteers as actors and turned out a product that found a decent sized audience to me is admirable at a lot of levels.”

    Yes, it’s admirable. Just like it’s admirable when other, non-church based independent movie makers write screenplays, raise funds, rent equipment, and use volunteer actors to get their vision on screen. However, most independent movie makers don’t expect to get a pass on critical reviews, no matter how small or poorly funded they are; neither should Sherwood Pictures.

    Sherwood Pictures can ignore the critical reviews (No-one HAS to read reviews: I find it funny to peruse comments on movie review websites critisizing the criticism). Indeed, the Sherwoods’ current targeted audience of insular fundamentalist church goers seems to primarily care that the right message is delivered. However, should the Sherwoods seek to promote their films among more “worldly” Christians or even secular audiences, they’ll need to start listening to that criticism.

    There’s growing competition out there for value-laden and faith-based films; indeed, all of the major Hollywood motion picture companies now have such movie divisions. And, in opposition to Sherwood Baptist Church, they won’t insist on a strict test of faith from everyone involved in the production. They’ll use the talents and expertise of people of all different backgrounds to make emotionally uplifting and/or faith-inspired films. If Sherwood wants to expand its reach beyond fundamentalist, church-associated audiences, it will need to compete against the new values-targeting behemoths of “Hollywood.”

  • Cynthia

    Steve Billingsley wrote: “…a local church had a couple of pastors write a screenplay, raise the funds to make the movie, bought or rented (I don’t know which) the equipment and used a bunch of volunteers as actors and turned out a product that found a decent sized audience to me is admirable at a lot of levels.”

    Yes, it’s admirable. Just like it’s admirable when other, non-church based independent movie makers write screenplays, raise funds, rent equipment, and use volunteer actors to get their vision on screen. However, most independent movie makers don’t expect to get a pass on critical reviews, no matter how small or poorly funded they are; neither should Sherwood Pictures.

    Sherwood Pictures can ignore the critical reviews (No-one HAS to read reviews: I find it funny to peruse comments on movie review websites critisizing the criticism). Indeed, the Sherwoods’ current targeted audience of insular fundamentalist church goers seems to primarily care that the right message is delivered. However, should the Sherwoods seek to promote their films among more “worldly” Christians or even secular audiences, they’ll need to start listening to that criticism.

    There’s growing competition out there for value-laden and faith-based films; indeed, all of the major Hollywood motion picture companies now have such movie divisions. And, in opposition to Sherwood Baptist Church, they won’t insist on a strict test of faith from everyone involved in the production. They’ll use the talents and expertise of people of all different backgrounds to make emotionally uplifting and/or faith-inspired films. If Sherwood wants to expand its reach beyond fundamentalist, church-associated audiences, it will need to compete against the new values-targeting behemoths of “Hollywood.”

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