The Fragile Friendship Between Faith and the Arts

Ken Fong
Ken Fong
Churchgoers are willing to embrace fine art, but artists don’t know if they want to claim the church.

Twenty years ago, a healthier relationship between Christianity and the fine arts seemed to be on the horizon. Image Journal and CT sister magazine Books & Culture had launched. In 1999, I traveled to Austin on behalf of another magazine, re:generation (which I then edited), to profile a young man named David Taylor, the “arts pastor” at Hope Chapel. He was the first person I had ever met with that title.

Since then, I have met more and more arts pastors. Image and Books & Culture are, thankfully, with us still (re:generation is not). Considerably more Christians are arts-literate, and eager to support and engage artists, than two decades ago. Some of the efforts sponsored by Christians have reached impressive scale, like the annual citywide ArtPrize project in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

There is also more support today for artists whose work goes beyond explicitly Christian themes. Makoto Fujimura’s abstract expressionism commands ever higher prices from collectors, including many Christians, and he has recently taken a position at Fuller Theological Seminary alongside Taylor. Charlie Peacock founded Art House America and has mentored a generation of Christian musicians and other artists with his wife, Andi Ashworth. Much of his early work (including with Amy Grant) was radio-ready. But in 2005 he released a free jazz album, Love Press Ex-Curio, and has produced records that cross all genres.

Yet even as churches are more willing to engage the arts, artists who work at the highest levels of craft are engaging the church less readily. This may be because, broadly speaking, Christians continue to vote with their dollars for popular entertainment. The God’s Not Dead franchise has grossed more than $70 million to date. Producers of heartfelt but musically unchallenging worship music are making more money than any church musician in history. Paradoxically, the success and visibility of “Christian” entertainment may actually be making it harder for serious artists to identify publicly as Christians.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Andy Crouch