Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Andy Whitman

Evangelicals and the Arts

Recommended Posts

"Marilynne Robinson and Leif Enger, are writing from a decidedly evangelical perspective. Enger's Peace Like a River was named the 2002 Book of the Year in the L.A. Times, and was lauded in almost every review. Robinson's latest novel Gilead won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005. This does not suck. And when you add in contemporaries such as Frederick Buechner, Annie Dillard, John Updike, and Anne Lamott, who really don't fit into either the High Church or the Evangelical categories, it seems fairly clear to me that non-liturgical, non-High Church Christians have as much of an impact on literature as their High Church contemporaries, and maybe more."

--Maybe they're "non-High Church," but can these writers aptly be described as Evangelicals? Most are mainstream Protestants of a decidedly liberal theological stripe, I think.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yeah, I don't think any of the writers Andy mentions would fit the Touchstone author's definition of "evangelical," and I'm not even sure Bono and Sufjan would either. They both have evangelical backgrounds, but I'm not sure either one has been handing out checklisted doctrinal statements of late.

From what you've said here and elsewhere about your church, Andy, I'd have no problem calling it "evangelical," but it's highly unusual for one church of any kind to have such a high percentage of working artists.

Be sure to forward the Touchstone article to Norm Weiss at Remonstrans.net. It'll make his day.

Edited by mrmando

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
"Marilynne Robinson and Leif Enger, are writing from a decidedly evangelical perspective. Enger's Peace Like a River was named the 2002 Book of the Year in the L.A. Times, and was lauded in almost every review. Robinson's latest novel Gilead won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005. This does not suck. And when you add in contemporaries such as Frederick Buechner, Annie Dillard, John Updike, and Anne Lamott, who really don't fit into either the High Church or the Evangelical categories, it seems fairly clear to me that non-liturgical, non-High Church Christians have as much of an impact on literature as their High Church contemporaries, and maybe more."

--Maybe they're "non-High Church," but can these writers aptly be described as Evangelicals? Most are mainstream Protestants of a decidedly liberal theological stripe, I think.

Right. That's why I wrote that they don't fit either the High Church or the Evangelical categories. But Marilynne Robinson's Gilead is written from the perspective of the pastor of a conservative, small-town Presbyterian church. And since the author of the Touchstone piece specifically lamented the absence of conservative Presbyterians in the literary mix, I think it's fair to point to the recent Pulitzer Prize winner. And Leif Enger's book deals with non-denominational Pentecostalism, about as far removed from High Church liturgy as a Christian writer can get. Again, it's not that the High Church writers haven't contributed in very significant ways. They have. But it's simply not true that they have a monopoly on insightful and beautiful Christian writing.

Edited by Andy Whitman

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I also don
Edited by anglicanbeachparty

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Marilynne Robinson's Gilead is written from the perspective of the pastor of a conservative, small-town Presbyterian church. And since the author of the Touchstone piece specifically lamented the absence of conservative Presbyterians in the literary mix, I think it's fair to point to the recent Pulitzer Prize winner.

Point of clarification: The book is written from the perspective of a congregationalist, whose best friend is a Presbyterian pastor. Gilead does give a nice picture of Presbyterianism, but through the eyes of someone not directly affiliated with Presbyterianism.

Edited by Christian

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't have the time or energy to dig up the numbers for western culture at large just now, but it seems that just on percentages, evangelicals would likely be less common among artist populations. I remember looking at some demographic information for my city a decade or so ago that indicated that about half the population was nominally "Christian" -- but well over half of that (IIRC) was from the largest few denominations; the evangelical churches represented a small fraction of the whole. (I think there were in the range of 10,000 Baptists and/or Pentacostals compared with over 200K Catholics, for example.)

So, maybe evangelicals are making a reasonable contribution in spite of their smaller numbers??

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Alan Thomas wrote:

: Compounding all of this is the insidious Christian "ghetto" / marketplace that rubberstamps labels on musicians and artists considered 'safe' for ghetto consumption. Try buying Paste or Sojourners in your typical Zonderstore. Or U2 or Sufjan for that matter.

Ah, so Paste IS a "Christian magazine"!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Alan Thomas wrote:

: Compounding all of this is the insidious Christian "ghetto" / marketplace that rubberstamps labels on musicians and artists considered 'safe' for ghetto consumption. Try buying Paste or Sojourners in your typical Zonderstore. Or U2 or Sufjan for that matter.

Ah, so Paste IS a "Christian magazine"!

It is. We have a special deal for Youth Pastors and Worship Ministers; buy a one year subscription, get a This Blood's For You t-shirt absolutely free. Please specify size (L, X-L, XX-L or XXX-L).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Alan Thomas wrote:

: Compounding all of this is the insidious Christian "ghetto" / marketplace that rubberstamps labels on musicians and artists considered 'safe' for ghetto consumption. Try buying Paste or Sojourners in your typical Zonderstore. Or U2 or Sufjan for that matter.

Ah, so Paste IS a "Christian magazine"!

Somewhat tangential to the discussion, but I once worked in a Christian bookstore that carried, in addition to the kitty posters and Precious Moments figurines that paid the bills, the works of Dorothy Sayers and Charles Williams and Annie Dillard and Walker Percy, along with albums by Bruce Cockburn and T Bone Burnett and Tonio K. I miss that place. Naturally, it went out of business.

Edited by Andy Whitman

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Alan Thomas wrote:

: Compounding all of this is the insidious Christian "ghetto" / marketplace that rubberstamps labels on musicians and artists considered 'safe' for ghetto consumption. Try buying Paste or Sojourners in your typical Zonderstore. Or U2 or Sufjan for that matter.

Ah, so Paste IS a "Christian magazine"!

Somewhat tangential to the discussion, but I once worked in a Christian bookstore that carried, in addition to the kitty posters and Precious Moments figurines that paid the bills, the works of Dorothy Sayers and Charles Williams and Annie Dillard and Walker Percy, along with albums by Bruce Cockburn and T Bone Burnett and Tonio K. I miss that place. Naturally, it went out of business.

Furthering the tangent, was the bookstore in Columbus between 1993-1997? Maybe I shopped there!

Back on topic--how much of the art world works through connections? What I mean is, it seems to me as an outsider to the arts scene, that much of art in any environment is put on public display which is enabled by network and connections--there's not much out there that seems to filter to the top unaided in any sense. (Ie., on Tony Watkins' Man Booker long list, which of those novelists submitted their first unpublished manuscripts to a house unsolicited? None, right? All were helped by connections that they made through work or school, right?)

Given the inherent difficulties in getting published, printed, screened, etc, isn't it natural to the artist to make some compromise to the industry by focusing in on 1) a smaller market, 2) a niche market, 3) personal networks? By compromise, which unfortunately is not exactly what I mean, the artist includes content that makes it a more natural connection for 1-3 above.

So, when we go back to the evangelical ghetto at the start of the thread, how much of this is people making the effort required to get published, etc, and part of that is providing a product that will sell? Or, I guess, another way to ask this is, what pays Philip Roth's bills?

Tying this back to Tim's point of representation by a small sample, without proper distribution of quality art (which is not very profitable until you're dead usually), how can academia actually lament the quality of evangelical art? Doesn't all commercial art suck, per the academy, regardless of religious persuasion?

Edited by Buckeye Jones

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

i wonder what the doctrinal (liturgical/ evangelical) make-up is of the CIVA membership? hmmm...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The label "evangelical" seems to lend itself to a kind of utilitarian outlook on everything, I'm afraid. In this Club, winning souls and fulfilling the great commission are paramount-- art, along with everything else, is viewed strictly in terms of how it furthers that objective. Pardon my ignorance, but aint that part of what originally distinguished evangelicals from other christian streams, i.e. the strong emphasis on proselytizing?

From my vantage, the Touchstone article pokes at what is still a majority view in American evangelicalism.

As an artist who was firmly entrenched in evangelicalism and it's various sub-ghettos for 20 years, I can tell you that as soon as I pursued certain streams of artistic expression and thought, I was ostracized by the Club. By that I mean, the public speaking/ teaching opportunities and performance gigs amongst Club Members dried up-- overnight. Silence. My theology hadn't changed. I didnt get any tattoos or body piercings. But i was met with very firm and often vocal resistance.

Artistic expression is just not encouraged out there, friends. Of course, there are exceptions. But if you look at the three largest evangelical groups/denoms in the country, I think you will see a shared philosophy with regard to the arts. Like it or not, Family Bookstores and their inventory of trinkets and bumper stickers exist (and are usually successful) because they represent the evangelical mainstream. That mainstream only encourages "art" as defined by the Club. Not exactly fertile soil for true, creative enterprises IMO and probably never will be.

So yeah the Touchstone piece makes the same argument we've been hearing for 20 or 30 years. Old hat, i suppose, but still true.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

coltrane wrote:

: Pardon my ignorance, but aint that part of what originally distinguished evangelicals from other christian streams, i.e. the strong emphasis on proselytizing?

That, and political activism (witness the abolition of slavery, the prohibition of liquor, etc., etc.).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
From my vantage, the Touchstone article pokes at what is still a majority view in American evangelicalism.

Artistic expression is just not encouraged out there, friends. Of course, there are exceptions. But if you look at the three largest evangelical groups/denoms in the country, I think you will see a shared philosophy with regard to the arts. Like it or not, Family Bookstores and their inventory of trinkets and bumper stickers exist (and are usually successful) because they represent the evangelical mainstream. That mainstream only encourages "art" as defined by the Club. Not exactly fertile soil for true, creative enterprises IMO and probably never will be.

So yeah the Touchstone piece makes the same argument we've been hearing for 20 or 30 years. Old hat, i suppose, but still true.

Thank you! I agree very strongly with what you've said here.

As you mention, there are exceptions, where none of this is true. For those blessed to belong to such exceptional groups, I think it is quite easy to imagine that a sweeping, large-scale change has been effected in the Evangelical world at large, when in actuality it has not.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
From my vantage, the Touchstone article pokes at what is still a majority view in American evangelicalism.

Artistic expression is just not encouraged out there, friends. Of course, there are exceptions. But if you look at the three largest evangelical groups/denoms in the country, I think you will see a shared philosophy with regard to the arts. Like it or not, Family Bookstores and their inventory of trinkets and bumper stickers exist (and are usually successful) because they represent the evangelical mainstream. That mainstream only encourages "art" as defined by the Club. Not exactly fertile soil for true, creative enterprises IMO and probably never will be.

So yeah the Touchstone piece makes the same argument we've been hearing for 20 or 30 years. Old hat, i suppose, but still true.

Thank you! I agree very strongly with what you've said here.

As you mention, there are exceptions, where none of this is true. For those blessed to belong to such exceptional groups, I think it is quite easy to imagine that a sweeping, large-scale change has been effected in the Evangelical world at large, when in actuality it has not.

But is this a specifically "evangelical" characteristic? If I go to B&N, it sure looks an awful lot like a Zondervan. Seems to me its an American corporate business model + utilitarian populace (Walmart effect?) that also plays out in our subcultures as well. What do Christian bookstores look like in Europe? (Sorry Canada, don't mean to ignore you, but well, you're Canada).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Somewhat tangential to the discussion, but I once worked in a Christian bookstore that carried, in addition to the kitty posters and Precious Moments figurines that paid the bills, the works of Dorothy Sayers and Charles Williams and Annie Dillard and Walker Percy, along with albums by Bruce Cockburn and T Bone Burnett and Tonio K. I miss that place. Naturally, it went out of business.

Furthering the tangent, was the bookstore in Columbus between 1993-1997? Maybe I shopped there!

Logos Bookstore, at the corner of Woodruff and High St., across from THE Ohio State University. I worked there when I was in grad school in the early '80s. I don't know if it was still around when the intersection of Buckeye Jones and Buckeye Land occurred, although I see the former store owner fairly frequently. I can ask if you're interested.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
But is this a specifically "evangelical" characteristic? If I go to B&N, it sure looks an awful lot like a Zondervan. Seems to me its an American corporate business model + utilitarian populace (Walmart effect?) that also plays out in our subcultures as well.
Bookstores aren't libraries, they exist to make money not raise the cultural bar. I'm cool with that. I imagine bookstores in Europe and Canada mostly cater to the mainstream tastes of their respective cultures, as well they should. (Although I assume the European "mainstream" is several ticks above the US)

I guess my point is, Zondervan or Family Bookstores are neither right nor wrong for carrying an inventory full of utter crap. They simply stock what sells. My lament for evangelicals, is over why they consistently, historically gravitate to drek with regard to art-- and I dont think there's any arguing the fact that they STILL DO.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
(Sorry Canada, don't mean to ignore you, but well, you're Canada).

Why, yes, we are! Thanks for noticing! (Sorry to interrupt.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

From across the street, the Christian bookstore in Victoria, B.C. (it was up around Yates and Quadra, if memory serves) looks dangerously similar to your basic FCS/Zondertrap in the States. Or at least it did last weekend.

But at least Veggie Tales is available in translation (Are You My Neighbour?).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

mrmando wrote:

: From across the street, the Christian bookstore in Victoria, B.C. (it was up around Yates and Quadra, if memory serves) looks dangerously similar to your basic FCS/Zondertrap in the States. Or at least it did last weekend.

I don't go to Christian bookstores much, and I haven't been to one in the States in years. But I do know it weirded me out, years ago, to see our stores give prominent placement to books by Oliver North and others that placed "America" or "American" so prominently on their covers.

OTOH, Tony Campolo's Is Jesus a Republican or a Democrat? was released in Canada with a completely different title: Was Jesus a Moderate?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The label "evangelical" seems to lend itself to a kind of utilitarian outlook on everything, I'm afraid. In this Club, winning souls and fulfilling the great commission are paramount-- art, along with everything else, is viewed strictly in terms of how it furthers that objective. Pardon my ignorance, but aint that part of what originally distinguished evangelicals from other christian streams, i.e. the strong emphasis on proselytizing?

From my vantage, the Touchstone article pokes at what is still a majority view in American evangelicalism.

The author of the article in Touchstone defined Evangelicalism this way:

I define an Evangelical as a person committed to Nicene and Chalcedonian orthodoxy, a high view of the authority of Scripture, the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone, and the necessity of personal faith in Christ (and therefore the importance for most people of a personal conversion experience, as long as we do not stereotype it) for salvation.

I'll buy that, both as a decent definition of Evangelicalism and as a succinct encapsulation of my particular brand of Christianity. But there's nothing in that definition that would preclude a high view of the arts.

As an artist who was firmly entrenched in evangelicalism and it's various sub-ghettos for 20 years, I can tell you that as soon as I pursued certain streams of artistic expression and thought, I was ostracized by the Club. By that I mean, the public speaking/ teaching opportunities and performance gigs amongst Club Members dried up-- overnight. Silence. My theology hadn't changed. I didnt get any tattoos or body piercings. But i was met with very firm and often vocal resistance.

Artistic expression is just not encouraged out there, friends. Of course, there are exceptions. But if you look at the three largest evangelical groups/denoms in the country, I think you will see a shared philosophy with regard to the arts. Like it or not, Family Bookstores and their inventory of trinkets and bumper stickers exist (and are usually successful) because they represent the evangelical mainstream. That mainstream only encourages "art" as defined by the Club. Not exactly fertile soil for true, creative enterprises IMO and probably never will be.

So yeah the Touchstone piece makes the same argument we've been hearing for 20 or 30 years. Old hat, i suppose, but still true.

I'm saddened to read about your experiences in the evangelical church, Coltrane. I believe you, and I know your experience can be echoed by many others. But it hasn't been my experience. I was weaned on Francis Schaeffer and L'Abri, and most of my Christian life has been formed by churches that have been profoundly influenced by a man who wrote a book called Art Needs No Justification. These are churches that have taken that idea seriously, and have taught that art has an important place in the Kingdom of God.

Is Columbus, Ohio really that much of an anomaly? Really? Columbus, Ohio? I know of at least five evangelical churches in Columbus that host arts conferences, invite musicians to perform regularly, encourage visual artists to display their works in the church building, and invite artists of all kinds to speak about the importance of art and its integration with the Christian faith. They host writer's groups, poetry slams, open mic nights, concerts. All of them, in one way or another, have come out of house churches full of hippies living communally and talking about Francis Scheffer and L'Abri. Now the hippies are all grown up and have become pastors. I can't believe that there aren't similar groups elsewhere. If nothing else, the conferences I've attended at places like Calvin College and Messiah College tell me that there are similarly minded people all over. So does the very existence of the Arts and Faith community. I've got to believe that things are changing, and for the better.

Edited by Andy Whitman

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I was weaned on Francis Schaeffer and L'Abri, and most of my Christian life has been formed by churches that have been profoundly influenced by a man who wrote a book called Art Needs No Justification. These are churches that have taken that idea seriously, and have taught that art has an important place in the Kingdom of God.

Is Columbus, Ohio really that much of an anomaly? Really? Columbus, Ohio? I know of at least five evangelical churches in Columbus that host arts conferences, invite musicians to perform regularly, encourage visual artists to display their works in the church building, and invite artists of all kinds to speak about the importance of art and its integration with the Christian faith. They host writer's groups, poetry slams, open mic nights, concerts. All of them, in one way or another, have come out of house churches full of hippies living communally and talking about Francis Scheffer and L'Abri.

Thanks for the words, Andy. I think it's very encouraging that you and others on this board live in areas of the country where these kind of churches can flourish. I wish I lived in a place like Columbus, like 15 or 20 years ago. I did live in nashville for three years, back in the 90's, and our Calvary Chapel always encouraged the arts as did many other churches in the area. Miami is the kind of huge metropolitan city that you think would be home to many of these kind of forward-thinking evangelical churches, but I assure you it aint. That may have to do with the cultural make-up of the city itself-- nearly 65% hispanic. Hispanic churches here tend to be either Catholic, very conservative evangelical or neo-pentecostal.

I have a friend who pastors a pretty laid-back Calvary-style church near my house and he encourages the arts to some degree in his congregation. But even HE, would probably be troubled by the "open" view of the arts espoused here on this board, never mind my own more liberal stands on music and movies. I feel like I have to carefully censor myself whenever we talk. I've been doing that for a long time in the evangelical church and i'm tired now.

As to what the national "climate" is in the evangelical church regarding the arts, I think the Family Bookstores are a fair barometer. Hate on them all you want, I think the evangelical spokesmen, like Dobson and others (Baehr? Gasp!), are also an accurate reflection of where evangelicals stand on the issue.

Again, my experiences over the last 20 years were anything but art-affirming. That doesnt mean that all my experiences were neagtive. Far from it. It just means that in order to create and cultivate my artistic endeavors, I felt it absolutely necessary to walk away. Life for me in the evangelical church was not conducive to THAT type of growth.

[EDIT] I dont want to give the impression that my issues with the church are isolated to artistic considerations. In all fairness, my problems with evangelicalism are pretty big and I feel the divide growing every year; art probably being toward the bottom of the gripe list.

Edited by coltrane

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I, personally, think evangelicals are probably ahead of mainstream, middle-class America on the arts.
8O In what way? Seeing that evangelicals are merely a restrictive sub-set of middle-class America, I don't see how that is possible.

But the concern really isnt, who has better taste in music or literature, us or them? The question is, does this enlightened faction of christendom encourage or discourage true artistic expression among its own? My view is that evangelicals love art only if they see it directly promoting their agenda, which is preaching the Gospel to the whole world. And that rigid agenda usually has stylistic stipulations as well. So if the artist isnt creating something with an embedded religious message and it isnt couched in the list of approved styles, evangelicals have very little use for it.

I hope this is changing. But our local christian radio station tells me it is not.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Andy Whitman wrote:

: The author of the article in Touchstone defined Evangelicalism this way:

: I define an Evangelical as a person committed to Nicene and Chalcedonian orthodoxy, a high view of the authority of Scripture . . .

Wow, he placed scripture after Jesus and the Trinity (for that is what Nicene and Chalcedon were all about). That's a surprise, since I have seen many, many evangelical statements of faith that put the Bible at #1 and put God and Jesus down at #2 or below on their list of things they believe in.

: I was weaned on Francis Schaeffer and L'Abri, and most of my Christian life has been formed by churches that have been profoundly influenced by a man who wrote a book called Art Needs No Justification.

I have a feeling I have made the point here before (and by "here" I mean at A&F) that any book with a title like Art Needs No Justification was obviously written for an audience and/or a community whose default position was probably that, yeah, art DID need justification.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...