Christians: Is It Time to Cut Artists Some Slack?

It’s fascinating to me that God chose to introduce Himself to us in the first chapter of Genesis as a “creator.” But even though we are made in his image, so many Christians literally fear creativity.

Pastor,  filmmaker, and author or The Artisan SoulErwin McManus says, “Fear is the shadow of creativity.” For so many, we grow up and exchange our God-given creativity for what we think are discipline and maturity. We assume that God is weak and desperately needs us to police other people’s theology and doctrine. We spend our time as “theology cops” for everyone else rather than creators in the image of God.

When that happens, every creative act must end in an altar call. Every filmmaker, writer, musician or other artist must live a perfect life or they can’t be published, distributed, or funded. If there’s no ROI, then it shouldn’t be done. But that’s such a far cry from the artists, designers, and craftsmen Solomon hired to create Israel’s temple. And look at God’s view of musicians – He thought so highly of them that in ancient Israel, they led His armies into Battle! God has called artists just as He’s called pastors, evangelists, teachers, and others. To diminish that calling is to cripple the Body of Christ and to fall short of what the Church is called to become. But we have to remember that it’s not the same job as pastors, evangelists, or teachers.

Novelist Flannery O’Connor said it well: “Saint Thomas Aquinas says that art does not require rectitude of the appetite, that it is wholly concerned with the good of that which is made. He says that a work of art is good in itself, & this is a truth that the modern world has largely forgotten. We are not content to stay within our limitations & make something that is simply a good in & of itself. Now we want to make something that will have some utilitarian value. Yet what is good in itself glorifies God because it reflects God. The artist has his hands full & does his duty if he attends to his art. He can safely leave evangelizing to the evangelists.”

I serve a mighty and powerful God who revels in the imagination and creativity of artists working in His service. Rather than criticizing and condemning their efforts – or worse – forcing them into a box with limitations – perhaps it’s time to take God’s view – let them run with the vision, and see what happens.

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  1. I agree one hundred percent. Why so many Christians feel the need to defend God in this way and act as “theo pigs” is completely beyond me.

    Now if some of you reading this comment want to become Christians, just stand and come to the front…

    1. “We assume God is weak…”. Exactly. Isn’t that the key presupposition behind so much that Christians do in America today?

      Preach it, Phil. Well said.

  2. Well said sir!

    I *get* why we *want* to hold artists to such a high standard, we want to protect God’s word. And, to a point, that is good.

    But I feel that the modern church would rip Jesus a new one if he was telling his stories (parables) today!

    God as a woman? GODDESS WORSHIP!

    God as a chicken? ANIMAL WORSHIP!

    But yes, God is like the woman who looked everywhere for the coin. It was valuable to her and we are valuable to Him.

    And yes, God is like (or Jesus wanted to be like) a mother hen gathering and protecting her chickens.

    They are good stories – good visuals – to teach us a little bit about God.

    And, modern story tellers are no different…

    Again, excellent insight sir!

  3. Agree…

    Though I thought you were going to go a different route. I thought the “Cut them some slack” was going to be in stop putting down and making fun of artists who are unashamedly Christian and get slammed all the time… by us… Christians.

    All my Christian friends complain and make fun of the KLOVE esque songs and Kirk Cameron movies and lament why we can’t have more Kanye type artists. I say there is room for all… Why do we constantly put ourselves down? My Mother-in-law may still like Steve Green… is that so wrong either?

    I admire and respect the late Thomas Kinkade and can hang out at MoMa all day long.

  4. There’s a significant difference between art and agitprop … or are we prepared to adorn Goebbels with the title of artists.

    I haunt art galleries and am a photographer … but Mapplethorpe’s The Perfect Moment was not art … unless we’re prepared to define Hustler as an art catalog.

    You’ve offered straw men (kindly serving them a helping a red herring lest they hunger) in place of reasoned dialogue.

    People of faith are no less nuanced or intelligent for pointing out the obvious and egregious flaws in the film … or for electing to inform Hollywood (by refusing to fund such efforts) that they’ll need to do much, much better than this if they wish to cash in on the bible.

    Aronofsky’s free to offer such films to the audience he might attract.and I’m equally free to take issue with such a feckless treatment of scripture.

    Make a good film … and I’ll watch it. I rarely watch “Christian” films because of the clunky dialogue and poor acting … but those filmmakers have located an audience.

    I’m not out to shut them down. But, I’d go see a well made movie if they chose to make one. Meanwhile, I’ll spend my own money on efforts which reflect a commitment good story telling … and which don’t so thoroughly offend.

    Frankly, it strikes me as absurd to stumble over myself in an effort not to offend Hollywood lest they turn their attention away from biblical narratives. If this is a best effort then, please, turn your attention elsewhere.

    Want to make a story about Noah? Great! Just don’t create a wholly other character and story and expect me to glibly sing your praises. I find God’s word to essential a document to do such violence to it. Especially in the name of art.

    1. He’s back! How are you, “nowis1234”? Have you actually seen the Noah film yet? I still haven’t, so I am still reserving judgement.

      1. No … I have reviewed more material, as well as a nicely done video produced by Phil though.

        I remain of the same mind as of yet, having seen and read nothing to persuade me otherwise.

        Aronofsky is, apparently an atheist who found in the story of Noah a compelling vehicle for his cause … “global warming”.

        Underscoring his indifference to the actual, biblical narrative he said simply that Noah is “the least biblical biblical film ever made”.

        Again, if he wishes to make such a film and can convince a studio to fund it … fine. My beef is with those who now wish to pretend this is a film about Noah … and worse, belittle (as philistines … provincial hayseeds) those who find reason to refuse to make such a grotesque revision of the biblical narrative profitable.

        Indeed, I wonder if the boobs aren’t those who are shilling for this effort in bait and switch.

        I don’t need to fund that effort before knowing I do not wish to view it … given the enormous amount of material made available by those who, in fact, viewed the film.

        1. Actually Nowis1234, that is a misquote. It’s from a New Yorker article and Darren said it’s the “least Biblical movie ever” meaning it would break expectations, not be typical, and be different from all the “sword and sandal” epics so many Biblical movies have been. That’s quite a distortion, and worth clarifying.

        2. Just for the record “nowis1234”, I have no problem with people who don’t want to see the film, for whatever reasons. I have a problem with those actively telling others not to in spite of the fact that they haven’t seen it themselves. If you are going to recommend/not recommend something that should at least be done from a place of authority.

          1. Also – also for the record – in relative terms, your position is actually quite moderate compared with some who have commented here, and I wish to credit you for that. Obviously if you don’t want to see the film because people you trust have said you wouldn’t like it, then fair enough I suppose.

  5. Phil makes a great point – just enjoy the film and appreciate the artistic license these guys get. Its still a MOVIE. 😉

  6. Well written. Those Youtube videos with the dark and solemn music that portray Christian artists and Pastors in a dark and demonic light, but proclaim they are merely exposing the truth, are the worst!!!! We should be role models, we should watch our influence, but to attack our own kind is something that I can not bear to see.

    I was reflecting this morning on the kind of person I was before I made a decision for Christ. Yeah I was pretty messed up, had absolutely no self control, no self esteem, I made very poor decisions for myself as well as practiced very careless and self destructive behaviors. Allowing Christ into my life changed me for sure and I will never be the same. However, I naively had this really “sinful” habit of accepting “”as they were”” !! Shocking I know.

    Religion, as if anybody really cares for my opinion, has taught me how to hate, how to judge, how to criticize, how to be self righteous, and how to self exalt. I used to love going to church at Lakewood church but I am so sick of people sending me that dang Larry King clip as if that one moment in time says everything that needs to be said about my Pastor.

    I know Christ, my trust and my faith is based on something solid as I have had personal encounters that I can not deny were the power of God. Thankfully! However, I am at a point to where I want nothing to do with religion anymore. At the same time, I don’t want to move too far away from that fellowship. I have no idea how to deal with that imbalance.

    So to Christians who think they are helping by “exposing the truth” you are not helping you are making things worse. Christ said you either scatter or you gather.

  7. Good art forces people to think, and a good evangelist uses that opening to point their thoughts toward God.
    We don’t need more orthodox artists, we need smarter evangelists.

  8. I think it’s time for each side to cut each other some slack. Those Christians that stand against the movie have strong feelings that it’s a representation that doesn’t capture the nature of who God is and actually harms it for someone who is lost. On the other side stands those who argue for its artistic license. We all look like a family that can’t get along with each other, not very appealing to the unsaved.

  9. Nowis1234 – One thing I’ve learned from your posts is that you’ll hold your pre-conceived ideas regardless of the truth. So I don’t think there’s any point in taking it further.

    1. Phil, I trust you note the irony in your remark. I could as easily say the same of you. That’s would be an unhelpful and misleading conclusion though.

      Digging into the substance of reasoned arguments yield far more productive insights than that flippant “observation”.

      I reviewed the video you recently made, as well as the articles written by those who’ve viewed the films … and reviewed the trailers once again.

      I’ve come away with the same conclusions.

      I’ve spent the better part of my adult life in both ministry and business. I’ve interacted with and ministered to

          1. Phil … what a disappointing response. You apparently find ad hominem attacks preferable to tackling my actual argument. Not compelling, not convincing … not appropriate.

            Communications is your strong suit … why not apply the principles you urge others toward.

            Perhaps if I explained that my effort was one in literary art … you would have cut me more slack, eh?

            To suggest that i know nothing of the film isn’t just a convenient out … its either unthinking or just plain dishonest.

            I’ve explained, in no little detail, what I ;earned about the film. Are you suggesting that these things aren’t so?

            If that’s the case, please set the record straight … and please, don’t spare details.

            If not, then simply acknowledge that you don’t find the issues I’ve cited as egregious as I do.

            That would be honest. That would be constructive.

            But to have fallen back on such tired and questionable logical fallacies as you have here achieves little beyond satisfying a petty urge to vent.

            BTW, I’ve already explained why I do not use my name … this is the internet and crazies abound.

            Tell me though Phil, just how does the absence of my name disprove my reasoning? Tsk, tsk.

          2. Uh oh … Time’s seen it too. Here’s their blurb …

            “In an audacious retelling that makes its hero a survivalist and the flood a climate-change warning, the director of Black Swan creates a challenging, enthralling, very modern parable”

          3. Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn if the film has an environmentalist bend on it. I don’t understand why it necessarily matters. Again, I am reserving judgement until I see the film (probably in a week or so). I prefer to make up my own mind rather than necessarily swallow what the critics say hook, line and sinker. That applies doubly for “Christian leaders” (regardless of whether they are pro or anti). Also, for the record, I thought The Passion of the Christ as phenomenal.

          4. I don’t intend on rewarding bad efforts with the purchase of a ticket.

            Attempts at retrofitting Noah (primarily via spin) in order to persuade the Christian community to view the film (not like it … just buy a ticket) make me doubly determined not to reward such a dreadful film.

            My efforts are bent toward sending a message, namely … “want my money? Then don’t rewrite the bible to comport with your sensibilities … while utterly insulting my own”:

            By purchasing a ticket … I reward their efforts … even if later I decide the film was badly made.

            I would prefer that they limp away from the box office having learned a lesson.

            If they return again with a biblical epic … they’ll try harder to get it right … starting with the script … before the first frame has ever been shot.

            Not after the fact, after focus group efforts suggest you’ve got a dud on your hands.

            You, meanwhile, in Pavlaovian fashion … will give them precisely what they want … an opening weekend victory. Whether you decide it was a poor film or not … your vote will have already been cast.

            They are relying on such silly notions of broadmindedness.

          5. My reasons for seeing the film have naff-all to do with any of the frankly ridiculous argument going on in this blog. As someone with a serious interest in cinema I go at least once per week. Seeing a film like Noah, which has a maverick director I admire enormously at the helm, is a no-brainer.

            Certainly I wouldn’t ever see a film because Christian leaders said I should (I didn’t see Son of God, because I didn’t much like the Bible TV series), nor would I see one because I gave a monkeys about giving something a good opening weekend or “sending a message”. I see films because I love cinema.

            I really, really, really couldn’t care less if Darren Aronofsky has an environmentalist, atheist, frog-worshipping agenda. Perhaps I’ll hate the film. Who knows? But at least I will have actually seen it instead of jumping on the hysterical lemming bandwagon.

            Here’s another (secondary) reason I am seeing this: As someone interested in writing fiction, all films (and books, plays, TV dramas) are a fertile ground for education, especially failures. Bad films are never a waste of time for me, as the study of failure is illuminating. Granted this has nothing to do with the discussion on this blog, but I just thought I’d let you know that even if the film is as bad as you seem to think it is, I certainly won’t consider seeing it a waste of time or money.

          6. I see. This about you. To hell with anyone who may find the gross error in this film all the reason they need to continue on their way … a way which may NOT lead to life.

            OK. I’m clear on that now. Thanks for enlightening me.

          7. Just to be clear – are you implying that me going to see this film makes me responsible/culpable for a person’s eternal damnation????

          8. “Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men” (Acts 20:26)

            Ponder that for a bit …

          9. Blimey – you really are saying that. Scary stuff.

            There I was thinking that verse was about making sure you following the prompting of the spirit to preach the gospel, but now you’ve set me straight.

            Perhaps I shouldn’t go to the cinema at all, just to be on the safe side. I can’t be certain, but I think someone may have inadvertently caused some people to convert to New Age environmentalism when I saw Bambi as a child, and increased it’s box office gross…

      1. I think this community isn’t for you Nowis1234. You demean and criticize things you’ve never seen and don’t know anything about, when I point out misquotes, you ignore them, and most importantly, you hide behind a fake name. Maybe you should write your own blog for people who prefer the safety of pontificating from inside the bubble. Stay at the shallow end of the pool. That way you don’t have to risk, and you can always make yourself sound triumphant.
        In that endeavor, I wish you the best of luck. I won’t be engaging you further. I and my readers have much bigger fish to fry.

  10. I was going to share this on facebook, but your website feels very commercial, like an online store devoted to promoting your books. Maybe that’s what it is, and your articles would find a better place on your personal blog or something similar. Anyway I loved the article and really appreciate your viewpoint! Hope my feedback on your website is useful.

    1. Well I write books for a living, so….
      And I don’t have any advertisers on the blog, so I’m not sure what offends you – particularly if you like the posts. But I’m glad you like the article and hope you keep coming back! Thanks for responding…

    2. If you wrote a book, wouldn’t you promote it on your blog? In general, if you have a business, don’t you promote it and want people to check it out? Phil doesn’t even have a store where he sells his books, how is this site commercial?

  11. Love it!!! Totally agree with you. I get so grieved when Christians show their teeth in matters like this, it sends a message out of judgement and hatred, not very inviting. This is not how we influence nations. So glad for your work that you do.

  12. Really great on all points and applies not only to Christians, but to many social groups. There are always people of all groups, races, and religions, who try to tear each other apart instead of building each other up. Happens everywhere in any arena and it’s too bad. Especially in the creative world. We serve a creative, artistic God!

  13. Great thoughts, Phil. I agree with you that the potential for “watercooler conversation” from this movie with non-Christians is great. I have yet to see a “Christian” movie – whether made by Christians or non-Christians – that nails is at every point. In all honesty, I can find something I disagree with in most churches as well. But kudos for Mr. Aronofsky for at least trying, which is more than can be said for many of his critics. My response would be that, if this movie is going to “wreck your faith”, your “faith” probably has bigger issues than this movie can fix.

  14. Phil, sometimes you have to have the wisdom to know when you are being mocked. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, is still a wolf. Anyone who includes words attributed to God, as being evil, and having them uttered word for word by the story’s villain Tubal-Cain, is no way telling the story of the title character who found grace in an evil world. Neither is the use of rock monsters to build the one thing, that was the sole purpose for Noah to be used by his creator.

  15. The conversation at the water cooler, man that Capt America was great…
    ADD of the media mass gluttons .. Noah will have a nice Red box run … Weren’t rock monsters on SNL?

    1. Not sure what bubble you’re living in JeffTN62- but so far, Noah is $290,677,129 and counting worldwide. But it sounds like you prefer to stay in the shallow end of the pool, and not actually share the gospel outside of handing people tracts. 🙂

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