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Christian Engagement with the Arts

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Drama masksFilmmakers, screenwriters, artists, poets, and writers shape the thinking and values of a generation. Shakespeare recognized the transformational power of entertainment when he wrote “The play’s the thing, wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king” (Hamlet, act 2, scene 2). 

How would arts and entertainment be different if more missional believers were encouraged to pursue excellence and express kingdom values in the public square through the domain of arts and entertainment?” - Swanson and Williams, To Transform a City

I recently read an article by Dan Haseltine of Jars of Clay about the possibility of offensive Christian art. It struck a cord with me because as much as I agree with Swanson and Williams about the transforming power of the arts, too often “Christian” arts feel far from transformational. The critique that Christian music, art, and film is often detached from the realities of life is an old one, but it persists because it is true in many cases. In other words, there is a reason that Flannery O'Connor is so very unlike your typical novelist that gets a “Christian” label.

As Dan puts it “Our art describes the world where we live. We don’t spend enough time with prostitutes and outlaws, drunks and addicts. We don’t write about lust and fear and greed and obesity and broken things. We relegate our art to the way we wish the world should be and not how the world actually is. We are only offended because we forget the kinds of depravity we could reach if not for God’s grace.”

What do you think? Is that a fair critique? If so, what should Christian participation in the arts look like, and how could it be a truly transformative way to shape the culture around us?

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