How Christian should my artistic expression be?

I don’t often spend a lot of time reading Relevant, the trendy online magazine for the modern day Christian. It’s not that I have anything against what the magazine is trying to accomplish, it’s just that I am completely burned out by the word “Relevant” when it applies to faith.

But never mind me and the strange things that turn me off. Last week there was a worthwhile article about artistic expression and the Christian: “Why Christians Should Create.”  The author, a fellow by the name of Zachary Perkins, follows the basic idea that when Christian artists – be they painters, sculptors, writers, musicians, whatever – create something as an expression of their deeply held beliefs, they should not be afraid to be fully expressive. That is, they should not be bound by a making their art fit a certain predefined style in order to be properly “Christian.” For example, a painter may find Cubism to be his preferred style, and Perkins would argue that he should not attempt to adopt an Impressionist style just to be more clearly Christian.

In terms of writing, this applies to something we’ve discussed on this blog before, namely that a Christian does not necessarily need to write a story that preaches the Gospel in order to be an expression of his/her faith. Nor does that writer need to conform to the style most popular under the Fiction heading in the Christian bookstore (that style, of course, being Pioneer Romance). But at what point does the writer’s writing need to be a reflection of the writer’s beliefs? Or more to the point, at what point would the writer’s beliefs be compromised?

That’s a more difficult question to answer. I have a problem with using the Lord’s name in vain. Which, you know, makes sense, with the whole second commandment thing. But I personally find it more offensive than vulgarities like the “F word.” Yet, I know that if I wrote a story and it contained a foul-mouthed atheist throwing F-bombs left and right, chances are good I would be accused of stepping over the line. But there is a point where censoring from my writing anything that might be offensive to the sensibilities of any Christian is going to not only limit my artistic expression, it might actually curtail my ability to express my beliefs clearly through my medium.

So there’s a balancing act. My favorite thought from Perkins’ article was this:

Our art usually ends up as an expression of what we perceive as the main conviction in our lives. As Christians, this doesn’t limit our subject matter because the Gospel applies to every part of life. And, at times, this means our art may not be censored because it’s coming from an unfiltered part of our being. David certainly didn’t censor his thoughts in the Psalms, and the author of Song of Songs didn’t either.

Sometimes one of the most frustrating things I see Christians do is compartmentalize their lives into “things that have to do with faith” and “everything else,” lumping into the second category things like job, entertainment choices, and hobbies. It isn’t that they go out and pursue wickedness in those things, necessarily. But if your coworkers don’t know you’re a Christian, and the way you prefer to spend your free time doesn’t reflect your confessions, it raises questions. The same applies in artistic expression. While you don’t need to craft your work to fit a predefined “Christian mold,” your devotion to the Gospel should shine through what you’re creating in some way, right?

So, you can write that Zombie Amish Space Opera or that Werewolf Apocalypse Mystery or that Steampunk Time-Traveling Romance and still call yourself a Christian Writer. Just don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, or I’ll sic my tentacled robot dogs on you.

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