The Controversy of Christian Art

Converge Magazine, a Vancouver-based Christian magazine, currently has a series about Christian art. I find this fascinating as it brings up numerous questions – about art, about faith, and about myself.

I’m a writer. I’m a Christian.

When I tell people I’m a writer they often ask what I write about. If I say that I write fiction, they generally press for more. I understand why people ask this – I would probably ask the same – but I kind of hate the question.There’s a quote I once heard/read to the effect that you can only find out what a story is about by reading it. (I want to say the quote is by Flannery O’Connor or Alice Munro but I can’t find it anywhere. If you know this quote, please tell me because it’s really bugging me now!)

In the past year, since I’ve begun really devoting myself to this writing thing, I’ve started giving people the full answer. I want to write fiction that is about faith and Christian and real people and that isn’t for Christians. I want to write fiction about Christianity that non-Christians might want to read.

I have two strong opinions about Christian fiction today:

1) It doesn’t match up to the standard of good literature.

2) There’s no reason a non-Christian would ever read current Christian fiction.

I realize these are very broad generalizations. Feel free to disagree with me. Feel free to recommend your favourite Christian novel to me. I might read it and I might like it. I don’t generally read Christian fiction because what I have read, I haven’t enjoyed. I don’t find that it’s as well-written or compelling as so much other fiction out there. I have a personally policy that life is too short to read bad books. This includes books with bad content and books that are badly written.

As Christians, why do we support art that isn’t very good, simply because it’s Christian? Why do we sit in our “Christian culture” bubble and pat each other on the back and create so-called art that has no meaning to the world at large?

When I was in my first year at university I read a Christian novel (that will remain nameless) about a young Christian girl who was in her first year in university. Her problems were nothing like mine, her relationships were nothing like mine. In fact, she was such a “good Christian girl” that the book made me feel terrible about my own spiritual struggles. The message I got from that novel was that Christians don’t struggle with doubt or fear or anxiety. Through my own life experiences and the experiences of my friends I know flat-out that isn’t true.

My desire through my own writing is to express the real, honest, heartbreaking struggles of faith. I don’t wake up every morning praising God. I wish I did. I don’t sit down with my Bible every day, delighted to read God’s word. Sometimes I sit down with my Bible, begrudgingly because I think I should. Sometimes I let my Bible gather dust on my bedside table. I don’t praise God when sorrow comes into my life. I have wept and raged at the Lord and told Him over and over again that I don’t understand what He’s doing.

I am a sinner. I am unkind to my friends. I am not patient with my husband. I get annoyed with people in grocery stores. I hold grudges against people. I am also a Christian. I’m a Christian because of the amazing redemption of Jesus Christ, not because I am at all a good person.

I think what’s amazing about art – be it music or sculpture or poetry – is its power for honesty, its ability to reveal that which is deepest and most hidden inside of us. Art has the power to rip you apart, to tell you something about yourself that you didn’t know before. Good art takes your breath away. It expresses something that you were previously unable to express. It leaves you thinking, “I didn’t know anyone else felt that way.” Most Christian fiction has left me thinking, “Christians sure are self-righteous. I guess no other Christians struggle with the things I struggle with.” (Or it leaves me thinking, “I wish I could edit this book.”) Fortunately, I’ve been blessed over my life with amazing Christian communities and friends who are honest and open and vulnerable and so I know that I am not alone.

Let’s use art to show the world who we really are. Let’s use art to say, “We Christians are flawed and terrible and we have doubts and sometimes we pray and it feels like we’re speaking in an empty room.” Let’s use art to say, “The room isn’t empty. Jesus loves me. And He loves you too.” Let’s use art to say, “The church is a place for terrible people.”

This is something I’m passionate about and something I’d like to explore more. I’m definitely still learning how to act this all out and how to create art that is both enjoyable and that honours God. I believe (though sometimes I forget) that any gift I might have was given to me by the God who created me and so I have to use it to the best of my ability. God created a beautiful world and He wants us to create beautiful things – whether that’s a painting or a perfectly crafted sentence.

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