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?

Tim Pawlenty’s economic plan

GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, laid out an ambitious and unusually specific plan to get the economy going again:

“Growing at 5 percent a year rather than the current level of 1.8 percent would net us millions of new jobs, trillions of dollars in new wealth, put us on a path to saving our entitlement programs,” Pawlenty said in his first detailed speech on economic policy since he formally declared his White House ambitions a little over two weeks ago.

The economy averaged 4.9 percent growth between 1983 and 1987, and grew at a 4.7 percent rate between 1996 and 1999. A sustained annual growth of 5 percent for a decade would be unprecedented in modern times. . . .

Pawlenty said such growth eventually would translate to $3.8 trillion in new tax revenue that would reduce the deficit by 40 percent.

Pawlenty’s plan also would simplify individual tax rates to just three options and cut taxes on business by more than half. His cuts go further than House Republicans’ recent proposal, which the Tax Policy Center said would cost about $2.9 trillion over the next decade. . . .

In a speech heavy on specifics, Pawlenty proposed a three-tier income tax system:

• The estimated 45 percent of U.S. households that did not pay income taxes in 2010 would see no change in their tax rates.

• Individuals would pay 10 percent tax on the first $50,000 of income. Couples earning $100,000 would also pay that rate.

• “Everything above that would be taxed at 25 percent,” Pawlenty said.

He said he wants to cut business taxes from the current rate from 35 percent to 15 percent, and he called for dismantling vast pieces of the government.

“We can start by applying what I call the Google Test,” he said. “If you can find a service or a good on Google or the Internet then the federal government probably doesn’t need to be doing that good or service. The post office, the government printing office, Amtrak, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were all built for a different time in our country and a different chapter in our economy when the private sector did not adequately provide those services. That’s no longer the case.”

via Pawlenty’s economic plan aims for 5 pct. growth – Yahoo! News.

Democrats are savaging the plan, calling it “ridiculous.”  But what do you think?

30% of health plans to be dropped under Obamacare

Another reason the new national health care bill will have a hard time working:

Once provisions of the Affordable Care Act start to kick in during 2014, at least three of every 10 employers will probably stop offering health coverage, a survey released Monday shows.

While only 7% of employees will be forced to switch to subsidized-exchange programs, at least 30% of companies say they will “definitely or probably” stop offering employer-sponsored coverage, according to the study published in McKinsey Quarterly.

The survey of 1,300 employers says those who are keenly aware of the health-reform measure probably are more likely to consider an alternative to employer-sponsored plans, with 50% to 60% in this group expected to make a change. It also found that for some, it makes more sense to switch.

“At least 30% of employers would gain economically from dropping coverage, even if they completely compensated employees for the change through other benefit offerings or higher salaries,” the study says.

It goes on to add: “Contrary to what employers assume, more than 85% of employees would remain at their jobs even if their employers stopped offering [employer-sponsored insurance], although about 60% would expect increased compensation.”

via Firms to cut health plans as reform starts: survey – MarketWatch.

So if that happens, the Democrats will have no choice but to nationalize the whole thing, if they can.  Or would it be worth it to be paid more money and buy one’s own health insurance, especially if the government makes it cheap?

10,000 Adams and Eves

Thus far the main controversy between Christianity and mainline scientists has been over evolution.  Many Christians have tried to resolve that dilemma by embracing “theistic evolution,” the notion that God did create every living thing, but that He used evolution to do it.  (Never mind that Darwin’s theory of evolution specifically insists on the randomness of mutations and of natural selection.  Believing that evolution is directed is beyond the pale of actual Darwinism and is just another form of Intelligent Design, despite what the theistic evolutionists claim.)  Anyway, theistic evolutionists often still affirmed the historical existence of some kind of Adam and Eve, the first humans however they evolved, who, in some way, fell from their paradisal state and transmitted original sin to their descendants, who were redeemed by Christ, the Second Adam.

But now a new front in the battle has opened up, which, according to Christianity Today, is raising new questions and opening up a new level of controversy.  According to recent genetic evidence, the human race did not begin with two people.  Rather, it must have begun with a population of around 10,000.  Otherwise, according to the geneticists, there is no way to account for the genetic diversity that we can currently observe.  See The Search for the Historical Adam | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

It’s hard to imagine how 10,000 creatures could, at the same, evolve into the same species.  I can’t help but wonder where they came from.  Who were their parents?  (Can anyone explain how the geneticists answer that?)

An accompanying editorial in Christianity Today says that without an historical Adam and Eve, the whole Gospel comes apart, since there would be no original sin and no “Second Adam” who could redeem us.  Does that take it too far?   Could “Adam,” which means literally “man,” refer to human beings in a collective way, all of whom have re-enacted the Fall in their own lives,whereupon Christ, in His Incarnation, did indeed become “man” and thus “Adam,” to redeem the human race.  Some are arguing that a story can be true in its meaning, even if it does not recount literal historical events.  Should Christians be seeking an interpretation like that?  Or reject the genetic findings?  Or just not jump to conclusions, since scientific findings are never complete and are themselves always being re-interpreted?

At any rate, I suppose this evidence should bother me or shake my faith in the Bible, but, strangely, it does not.  How about you?

The Honorable Anthony Weiner

So Congressional Representative Anthony Weiner, D-NY, now admits that he twittered the lewd photo and has been lying about it.  And now it turns out the congressman has been sexting and exposing himself to other women.

See Anthony Weiner admits he sent photo, but won’t resign – The Fix – The Washington Post.

I refuse to make any of the obvious jokes and bawdy wordplay.  I find the whole episode repellant, but it seems telling for the degradation of our politicians and the way our brilliant technology is being used for such base, degrading purposes.

I don’t have anything else to say about this.  If you do, go ahead.  But don’t be base and degrading yourself.

And now an atheist college

So how will this be different from regular colleges?

Famed atheist Richard Dawkins will be among a group of British academic elites who will launch a new college that will rival top British universities like Oxford.

The New College of the Humanities in central London will offer degrees in English, philosophy, history, economics and law starting from fall 2012.

The private college is founded by 14 professors. Richard Dawkins, author of the bestseller The God Delusion, will teach evolutionary biology and a required course on science literacy.

Other academics include historians Sir David Cannadine and Niall Ferguson, former Oxford professor of poetry Sir Christopher Ricks and psychologist Steven Pinker.

AC Grayling, a well-known British humanist and atheist, will serve as the college’s first master. He is the author of The Good Book: The Humanist Bible, a manifesto for secular humanists that was published in March 2011.

“Our priorities at the college will be excellent teaching quality, excellent ratios of teachers to students, and a strongly supportive and responsive learning environment,” said Grayling.

“Our students will be challenged to develop as skilled, informed and reflective thinkers, and will receive an education to match that aspiration.”

Creators of the new institution say it offers a “new concept” in university education.

Students at New College will take core courses in three areas: Science Literacy, Logic and Critical Thinking, and Applied Ethics. In addition to receiving an undergraduate degree in their area of study, students will be granted a Diploma of New College.

via Atheist Richard Dawkins Helps Launch New Humanities College in London, Christian News.

It appears from the website that the college will be affiliated with the University of London.  I don’t see an atheist version of a statement of faith or any reference to an ideological agenda.  But check out the faculty.  Peter Singer will teach the Applied Ethics course!   The faculty is exceedingly thin–one literature professor and they will offer an English major?  I don’t see how they could pass an American accreditation visit, let alone “rival” Oxford, which, while currently hospitable to atheists, at least has a bigger view of the humanities than is evident here.  An atheist version of the humanities would leave out just about every great writer, artist, and thinker.


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