Why Christians Should Engage 'Non-Christian' Art

Good, "secular" art can help point us to God.

I can remember the day I first heard the word “secular.”

I was in a van, headed to Christian camp with six other 13-year-old girls and two leaders.  

About an hour into the drive, a couple of the girls broke out in song—a sappy R&B hit that had been playing everywhere that summer.

In the midst of our fun, I saw the two leaders swap a look from the front seat—a look I had never seen before, but would grow all too accustomed to in the coming years. After they exchanged the look, one of them spoke up.
 
“We need to not sing that song,” she said, eyeing us from the rearview mirror.
 
“Why?” asked one of my friends, who had only recently joined the youth group.
 
“Because it is secular,” the leader said. “Secular things do not honor God.”
 

I have come to believe that God loves art. And art that makes us happy or makes us think is glorifying to Him.

I wasn’t sure what “secular” meant, but by the way she said it, it sounded very bad. No further explanation was provided. We were silenced under the premise of the song being secular, and we sung no longer.
  
This small moment marked the beginning of an era for me, in which I sought out solely Christian music in order to honor God. By that age, I had already been introduced to the Beatles, folk music and Broadway tunes, so I found it pretty painful to switch to the stuff the contemporary Christian music industry was churning out in the early 2000s. While I never did fully reform my taste in music, I was very careful to only play my Christian stuff around church leaders.

I even had a handy chart that was intended to help teens purge their secular music collection:

If you like: Eminem / Then try: DC Talk
If you like: Ben Folds Five / Then try: Plus One
If you like: Pearl Jam / Then try: Sonic Flood
If you like: Celine Dion / Then try: Jaci Velasquez

I took that chart to the Christian bookstore dozens of times, hoping to grow in holiness with each CD I purchased. Sometimes I’d throw in a Christian novel too.

I could write for days on my decade-long journey toward grace. But I’ll keep it short for now: After letting the labels “Christian” and “secular” pollute my mind for many years, I’ve finally found freedom to love art.

Here is what I have come to believe: God loves art—music included. And art that makes us happy or makes us think is glorifying to Him.

For many years now, I’ve known that I’m not dishonoring God by listening to beautiful music, even if the lyrics don’t explicitly worship Him. They don’t need to. When instruments dance and mingle, hanging poetry by a melody, that is worship.

I think most of us would agree that secular art isn’t “bad.” But I want to take that thought one step further. Permission to engage in secular art—and I hate even using that term—isn’t enough. I believe we are actually honoring to God when we do engage.

Art plays an important part in a life well lived.

When we shy away from “non-Christian” art thinking we are godlier for it, we are closing ourselves off to the depths and heights of the human experience God intends us to live.

A skilled painting, sculpture or photograph can make us uncomfortable and challenge our assumptions. Film can inspire us. Good literature can give us empathy for others outside our own limited realm and shed light on the triumph and destitution of the human condition. Great art points us to grace.

To be completely honest, The Grapes of Wrath spoke to me more than most Christian books I have read.

Who are we to say what is God’s and what is not?

I can hear the angry comments now. For the record, I’m not talking about “art” that perpetuates sexual violence or objectifies women—you know, that latest hit by what’s-his-name about conquering giant booty. I don’t need to give you a list. You are all intelligent enough to know the difference between art and trash.

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But when we shy away from “non-Christian” art thinking we are godlier for it, we are closing ourselves off to the depths and heights of the human experience God intends us to live. We are closing ourselves off to others.

The Church is called to be set apart from the world, yes. But maybe that set apartness is supposed to be more in the way we show grace for people we dislike, or the way we treat others, not in what aspects of modern culture we eschew.

So I allow art to enrich my life. I read books about fascinating people and ideas, even ideas I disagree with. I watch films that challenge my thinking. I read The New Yorker (or at least pretend to, if I’m all caught up reading everything on the Internet). I admire murals and watercolor paintings and photography. I listen to the Avett Brothers and bluegrass and Celtic hymns. I thoroughly enjoy all of these artistic expressions, these slices of life as seen by hurting and healing people who are made in the image of love.

And I believe they all point to God.

Top Comments

Luke Siebert

1

Luke Siebert commented…

Yes we should engage the art of our world, but as Christians we should prayerfully be considering what we are entering into before we do get involved. To say that God loves art is absolutely true, He Himself is the ultimate story-telling artist & creator, but to say "art that makes us happy or makes us think is glorifying to Him." is not wholly true.

Does God want us happy? Yes. The Bible even says in Psalm 37:4 that "He shall give you the desires of your heart." What's also interesting is the beginning of that verse says, "Delight yourself also in the Lord." God wants us to lay everything before Him, even what we enjoy here on earth. Just because it makes me happy to watch Hilter get shot and burned alive in Inglorious Basterds does not mean that art is glorifying to God. Yes He is a righteous and just God, "but the one who loves violence His soul hates." (Psalms 11:5 NKJV) 

If I shy away from certain “non-Christian” art, I am in no way godlier for it, but rather it's that the God of this universe is holier, and I'd rather not watch His name be blasphemed over and over on top of other course language, nudity, sex, and violence. 

I'm sure people will disagree with me as I do for the most part with you, but I am interested to see the dialogue. We all have different convictions, so we do need to be careful what we tell our brothers and sisters what or what not to watch, listen, read, etc. 

"Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him."(Romans 14:3 ESV)

I'm an actor. After God and my family is film. Yet lately, my heart hurts when I start an Oscar nominated movie and immediately there is a sex scene filled with nudity. I don't want to see that, I don't believe God wants me to see. The question is, do I need to sit longer to get to the great story and characters after this "short" 5 minute scene? I don't believe so.

"And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." (Ephesians 4:30 NKJV)

Vien Villagarcia

2

Vien Villagarcia commented…

As an amateur theater performer and full time worshiper of God, it has been a struggle for me to align artistic inclinations with the teachings of the bible. I agree that everything in His creation (including art) that points us to Him is actually good. However, we should also be reminded that the enemy is so powerful and deceitful that even what we thought as "good" art can actually lead us into something else. Intelligence and artistic taste isn't enough. Thus, we should always ask the Holy Spirit for guidance, even in considering art. This may sound too spiritual but I think it's one of the most fundamental parts of being a Christian - to live by the Spirit (Galatians 5:25).

35 Comments

Tomás González

10

Tomás González commented…

There's a fine line between saying that being secular doesn't mean a work of art is nocive, and saying that all art is good because it is God who enables us to create. I agree with the first, but disagree on the latter. Also, it is rather misleading to imply that all inmoral art is not art. I loved the topic, and agree on the basic statement, but the actual arguments are off.

Carol  Nike

1

Carol Nike commented…

Thank you I have always agreed with this as a Christian choral conductor, voice teacher and singer, I LOVE ALL expressions of good art.

Margaret C.

11

Margaret C. commented…

"...when we shy away from “non-Christian” art thinking we are godlier for it, we are closing ourselves off to the depths and heights of the human experience God intends us to live." Been struggling to put this into words for a while now. Thank you!!

Lars Josias Hofstetter

2

Lars Josias Hofstetter commented…

You write "You are all intelligent enough to know the difference between art and trash."
Is it really that easy? New Art usually pushes somewhere we get uncomfortable. It is fast that we say this is trash.

An example: in my eyes the people that are really creative in music right now are people like travis scott or diplo for example (check them out if you dont know them). But for example travis is a rapper with sometimes lyrics that are "trash". Does this mean you wouldnt listen to him? I do listen because right now he inspires me more than most others. You can also take kanye west as an example.. Very inspiring but also controversial.. I was at a concert of him a few years ago where he had naked women on the stage (of course in a "artsy" way).
Would love a reply!

Christopher Head

1

Christopher Head commented…

This argument has made me want to turn away from God and Christianity. In fact i am growing to hate God because I feel so guilty over liking seculat music and not wanting to live on egg shells by filtering through every single lyric.
I used to listen to nothing but Christian music because I was told it was better for me spiritually. As a so called spirit filled christian being in the so called spirit filled realm I was taught about the spirit behind the music and most importantly the LYRICS. I was told I actually am moved by the lyrics more than I know, ect. So out of my desire to love and please God I gave up secular punk for Christian punk(never mind about the appearance of evil) and I listened to nothing but worship songs.
I felt afraid and guilty for finding myself liking a secular song because a lyric here or there was sinful on content.
But after moving to Alaska where I found some of the most gracious and loving Christians who were solid bible believers listening to secular music I flipped my beliefs. It toon a while, nut eventually I came down from holy piety of the christian sub culture. I made more unbelieving friends that I could share the truth in love with. And I was actually a lot happier and healthy as a person. Because I wasn't living in fear of sinning. I became free to live. Free to breathe. I eventually could even listen to secular punk from time to time without it affecting me in the same way it did when I was still unregenerate. I fell in love with creation because I saw it through the eyes of a redeemed person. I saw the beauty of music and life amd art and other cultures through the lens of Christ. God never meant for sameness. If so same sex attraction would be used to reproduce and make life, but it doesn't. So neither does the sameness I find within CCM. Ccm is a gridlock of words and lyric driven art which quenches talent. In fact I have heard people say they things in a way that made me feel guilty for jamming with my instrument saying I was getting haughty. Just because I played more than the basic GCD.
Then I meet a christian brother who wantrd to convince me that was in error and sin again. Going as far as to say the closer I get to God the less I will listen to secular music. And this has brought great distress to me. It is easy to make me feel guilty for not living like I am in a perpetual church service. Which after coming closer to God by the grace I have found to enjoy life without taking Satans place in heaven by singing lip service and only listening to worship music it makes me feel like I am in sin.
Why is this?

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