I just got an ad in my inbox from a large Christian Book Distributor/Publisher. The headline? “Beautiful Christian Silks Make Meaningful Gifts.” The inside of the email assures me that the scarves are based on some of the world’s best “Christian Art” and that the scarves would be great gifts for my (and I quote) “Christian Friends.”
It’s not my intent to pick on the publisher here, but it brings up a point I’ve been thinking a lot about in the past few weeks. The question is this: What makes something “Christian” art (or writing, or music…)? Is it the artist, the subject matter? I think the label “Christian” when applied to art, music, and writing, is almost universally a bad idea. Art, music, and writing are inanimate, they don’t have feelings or beliefs. I’ve heard a lot of “Christian” music that doesn’t represent me, a Christian, and I’ve heard a lot of music on the “regular” radio that I think reflects the message Jesus was getting at. Does that make it Christian music? I like to create art. If I paint a picture of a sunset, does that make it Christian art, because I identify as a Christian? (PS, I would probably never paint a picture of a sunset, at least not a realistic looking one, but that’s another story entirely.) What about White Crucifixion, painted by one of my favorite painters, Marc Chagall. Is it a Christian painting? The artist is Jewish, and the painting is clearly about Jewish themes. Does the painting become Christian when Christ is front and center? These questions add depth and complexity to the dialog about “Christian” art, and I think they illustrate some of the difficulties in trying to apply “Christian” as a label to just about anything.
Once I got a flier for a plumber that said “Christian Plumbing Services.” What does that mean, exactly? I understand that the intent of the advert was probably to highlight the fact that the plumber herself (or himself) is a Christian, but it feels like a strange way to divide the world to me.
People can be Christian. Even then, it’s hard to come up with one definition of what that means. I would love to see Christian not be used to describe scarves, music, art or plumbing services. What do you think?
For further reading: Why Switchfoot Won’t Sing Christian Songs.