“Sometimes I don’t want to listen to the new Steven Curtis Chatman song, I’d rather just hear some Moody Blues,” my father-in-law admitted to me. As if disclosing a mortal sin to a priest, it appeared that this statement liberated him. Why is it that many Christians, especially those in more conservative-evangelical circles, feel compelled to keep these types of statements a secret?
At the core of this debate is the question, what makes art Christian?
When I listen to pop-Christian radio often I hear remixes of secular songs. When a Christian remakes a song (with the same lyrics mind you) it becomes acceptable to the youth group leaders of the world. So it’s not so much the lyrics of the song that matter, but the heart of the artist … right?
What if the heart of the artist is following God, yet they continue to produce their music in a secular society? For example, Bono: He clearly follows the ways of the prophets by making people mad by pointing out social injustice and speaking about how the world could be better. Yet I have never heard a U2 song on Christian radio unless a “Christian” band redoes it. So maybe it’s not the heart of the artist.
This issue actually goes back much further than radio stations, Christian bubbles and well before the time of Jesus.
“In the beginning God created …” Genesis 1:1
Rabbis have this idea called the principle of first mention. When a word is mentioned in the Tanach (Old Testament) a rabbi will recall when this word is first mentioned. That first concept becomes sort of a springboard for all further discussions. Using this idea, let’s examine this first use of the word “created.”
“Created” is actually the Hebrew word Bara. Bara means: to create, bring about and do. As well, it can mean to cut, engrave, carve or a new creative act. David uses this word when he says to God, “Create in me a pure heart, O God …” in Psalm 51:10. When the Lord creates smoke and fire in Isaiah 4:5, He chooses to use this word to describe this creativity.
So at God’s core is a creative nature that makes new and wonderful things out of nothing.
“So God created human beings in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” Genesis 1:27 (TNIV).
So we are created in His image with His tendencies and desires; we are not exactly the same, but we are similar to Him. The author of Hebrews goes further to say that Jesus was “an exact representation of His being” (Hebrews 1:3). The word for “exact representation” is charakter in the Greek. This word was used for engraving, cutting or making in an exact image. It’s the only time this word is used in the whole Greek Testament! Think of the impact of this on first century Hebrews, who knew the principle of first mention. The writer is essentially using the Greek equivalent of bara, but then goes a step further to say that Jesus was not just the image of God, but He was exactly the same in His being as well, at His core. He was not just a creation, but actually The Creator.
If God has this creative nature that made an amazing creation and we are made in this same image, as we pursue the being of Christ, we will want to surround ourselves by great art. Our desire will be to witness creation as Jesus witnessed it. We will crave tapping into new techniques, new songs, new styles of painting, new ways of dancing and new ways of expressing the Creator that lives within us.
On another side, as we desire amazing art, we will feel frustrated when we see replication, copying and forgery. When we see others that do not fulfill the God-given desire to create, it will make us feel frustrated because we were made for more. We were made to experience creation as Jesus did. We will long for the day that there is the most amazing creation ever.
After God creates a New Jerusalem and the saints are a part of this new artistic endeavor, something that we have craved will finally be made complete. God will create the most holistic art ever. He will touch on what humans have longed for since the beginning of time, experiencing an amazing artistic wonder. When this happens, John tells us in Revelation that Jesus also leaves all those that are false out of this new art.
“Outside are the dogs, those who practice magical arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” Revelation 22:15
God’s art will be established here on earth, and we will experience it. So when we have this desire to see something new and wonderful, those cravings come from the very beginning of time. We are tapping into the Creator when we create. In fact, it raises all sorts of other questions.
When does art become “Christian”? What if a non-Christian taps into the creative nature of God, could that honor God without that person knowing it? If Christians copy and do not fulfill their potential, do they insult God by not tapping into His creative nature? Who knows, maybe someday these questions will be answered in a concert for my father-in-law in heaven.