This book by Frankie (son of Francis) Schaffer isn’t a new one, and it isn’t new to me. But I went back and reread it a little while ago.
It makes some very good and very interesting points. Frankie isn’t the thinker his father is, but who is? His main point is that Christians are ghetto-izing (that neologism is mine, so don’t blame him) themselves in the arts. Christians are creating subgenres of almost every art form by prepending the word “Christian” to it. And the entries in these subgenres aren’t very good. “Christian movies” (a subgenre close to his heart, as he is a movie maker himself) for example, have lower production values and the acting is worse than in their mainstream counterparts. And worse, the writing and plotting are stale.
Can his premises be argued with?
About the only market right now where I think he may be demonstrably wrong is in Christian music, which seems to me to be as rich and vibrant an area as mainstream music, though not a few artists have found it confining, even so. Christian movies and Christian fiction (with the possible exception of Frank Paretti in the last category) all are, let’s face facts, rather hackneyed and cliched. Several other words come to mind, but none of them are “creative”.
What’s the cause? We’ve recently (say in the last century or two) acquired a dichotomy between the secular and the spiritual that shouldn’t exist. It seems to me to border on the old Gnostic heresy that, despite the efforts of the apostle John in his Gospel, has hung on through the years and has even been picking up steam as of late. Schaeffer’s point is that we’ve divorced sprirtuality from “real life.” Being spiritual became something we did in addition to, but separate from, our daily life. God, Christianity, and religion had no real bearing on our lives outside of their compartment.
At the same time as this was developing, a utilitarian view of the arts and even each other began to appear, which Schaeffer credits to the advance of Darwinism.
The result of the first was that God, Who should be seen as the creator of the whole person and Christ as the Redeemer of the whole person, became limited to just the spirit portion. (This is what I said harkens back to the old Gnostic heresies which maintained that Christ could not have actually been human, because all material things are evil, and only non-substantial things could be good. John effectively demolished this rather absurd view in his Gospel, but no one has paid much attention ot him, it appears.)
The result of the second is that a tree, for example, ceases to be valued as what God created it to be, i.e., a tree, but instead becomes valued only for what it can do for us, from supply shade to building materials. The value of a person wasn’t intrinsic to the person, as God’s unique creation, but rather the value was derived from the works of the person, what they contributed.
Both of these attitudes are unscriptural. God looked at all he had created and pronounced it Good. No mention of any sort of utilitarian riders or codicils. Not conditional upon the measure of productivity. No strings attached. Nothing held back.
Christianity, if practiced the way the Bible clearly shows it should be practiced, isn’t tucked away in a corner of your life. Christ was buried with criminals and after being raised from the dead he ate breakfast. We are full beings, and Christianity is for the complete person, not just for a a part of us.
This is the way God designed the world to work. There is no such thing as a religious truth. Either truth is, or it isn’t. And if it is, it affects life on every level, not just a part of it. We all hope to do something worthwhile in our lives, but whether we manage to succeed in that or not, our worth is securely founded on the fact we are each a unique creation of God, made in His image. That’s not conditional.
Schaeffer points to the absurdity of phrases such as “full-time Christian service.” Every Christian, no matter what they are doing, from sweeping floors to programming computers, to preaching in the sanctuary to serving food in a soup kitchen, is involved in full-time Christian service. Every creative work of beauty glorifies God and celebrates His gift to the artist.
In the physical world the absurdity is obvious. If the man who repaired your car or built your house did a bad job, but offered lots of Christian platitudes, you’d still not employ him again. (I can speak personally to that point, because there is a roofing company in town who wears Christ on their sleeve, yet I had to call them out twice and even after the second trip they still did not perform the job I was paying them to do. I haven’t, and won’t, call them again to a job. It’s not that I don’t think they believe in God, or that they really aren’t Chrisitans. It’s just they don’t do the job, and at the end of the day that’s what they should be doing.)
But we are inundated with mediocrity in the arts, and the justification is that “someone might be saved” by encountering it. Someone might be saved after contemplating the fate of a frozen homeless person as well; does that mean we should actively create more homeless pepople so more can freeze to death on our streets? Of course not. But people accept excuses for the arts they would never in a million years accept in other areas. The fact that God can bring good out of evil does not mean we should not oppose evil. It only means God is powerful.
We need to remember that God is glorified by quality, not quantity. If 100 formula-written books come out, how does that glorify God. Can we really believe that a mountain of medocrity means anything special to God? Martin Luther observed that a cobbler glorifies God when he makes a good pair of shoes.
When you do what you do with excellence, with all your skill, when you bring to bear all of your God-given talents to produce something, it glorifies God. “Whatever you do, do as if you do it for Christ, not man.”
There are, of course limits to this idea. An artistic murder is still a murder. But when we create, we have a duty to God to create excellence, not mediocrity. We are showing God to the world. When the world sees us, the reaction should always be “I want what he has,” and never, “If being a Christian means I have to settle for writing what he’s writing, I don’t want to be one.”