The auditorium was packed, hundreds of literary hopefuls, avid readers, admiring law students, and simple fans all squeezed in together to hear one of the most respected and prolific writers of our time tell his story.
It was 2000, my senior year at Baylor University, and my eyes gleamed with all the hopes and potential of publication. So when I heard that John Grisham would be coming to speak on campus, I jumped at the opportunity to hear him. Lee and I were engaged at the time, so we went together and, randomly, recording artist Chris Rice was with us as well.
I can’t remember why he was there. I just know that he was, and really it fits because every bit of my history is peppered with random.
I loved listening to John Grisham tell his story. It took him three years to write A Time to Kill, and two years to secure an agent. The novel was picked up by a small publishing house who ordered only 5,000 copies printed. Grisham bought 1,000 of those and sold them himself.
Meager beginnings from a man who just had stories to tell.
At the end of his talk, Grisham opened the floor for a Q & A, and this started off nicely with students asking smart, respectful questions. Then one girl stood up and approached the mic.
“Mr. Grisham,” she said, “Thank you for speaking with us today. I noticed you spoke of your faith, and yet I can’t help but wonder why, if you believe yourself to be a Christian, you aren’t writing Christian books that are more God-honoring.”
And the entire auditorium groaned.
Grisham paused and looked closely at the girl, an amused smile tilting his mouth upward. He cleared his throat and leaned forward just a little before speaking. “Well,” he said. “The reason is simple. I am a Christian who is a writer. I’m not a Christian writer.” Then he straightened up, and the audience erupted in applause.
For the creative Christian artist there is a very real struggle with knowing how art and faith blend. For some, art and faith are obviously intertwined – you cannot have one without the other – and their creative genius spills forth in a visual gospel message.
But what about the Christian artist whose art doesn’t give a blatant visual representation of Christ in every stroke of the paintbrush, completed manuscript, or song penned beneath the candlelight?
Is there a place for creative Christians who aren’t producing overtly Christian work? Can art reflect faith without openly proclaiming Christ?
When you consider that God Himself was the Ultimate creative, the first and the last, the Creator of beauty, of color and smell and taste and sound, the originator of art, and the heavenly conductor of the celestial rhythms that beat out all of this life, it’s not so hard to see creativity as an extension of Him.
[Art] is useful because God is thereby honoured when it is seen that he hath bestowed such genius upon one of his creatures in whom is such art. All men will be gracious unto thee by reason of thine art.
For anyone who works from the creative realm, whether they be the obvious arts such as writing, making music, painting or sculpting, to the more obscure and modern arts such as decorating, photography, producing videos, cooking, or designing, it must be noted that they operate as an extension of God Himself.
The creative genius made in the likeness of the Creator.
Many of the greatest historical artistic works flowed directly from a place of faith and yes, the art often revealed that faith in very obvious ways.
As the world progressed, however, the arts began to change, and it seems that Christians lost their sense of just how to portray faith through the medium of creativity. Christian art became a means of proselytizing. It became less about revealing God and His goodness, and more about saving souls. The art was dumbed down in order to send a message, and in this dumbing down the created actually veiled the Creator.
So my question for you, readers, is this: Can great art still reveal the mystery of God’s goodness without being overtly Christian? Can a writer be a Christian without writing a Christian book? Can a painter still reveal God’s glory and goodness without painting Calvary? Can a musician still edify the gospel without singing about God? Can art and faith exist parallel to one another and still bring glory to the Creator, or should they intersect?
So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31
Personally, I believe that art and faith are both separate and intertwined. Like John Grisham, I believe an artist can be a Christian without being a Christian artist, and can still unveil God’s glory as the Creator. But…
There’s more we could say on this topic.
I’d like to discuss this further in another blog post, but for now I open the comment section to you. What are your thoughts on the Christian artist vs. the Christian who makes art?
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My simple answer is yes. Yes, I can learn about God and be drawn from God through art that isn’t specifically Christian. God uses all things for his glory and when we are seeking after him, we can find him in all things. The interpretation of art is often left up to whoever is viewing/reading/listening, so what we do with what we see/here is up to what’s in our hearts. Now, I realize that’s probably a simplistic view … 🙂
But I don’t think this is as complex as we want to make it. I’m really excited to write the follow up post because I think the answer is both simple, yet also rich and deep. (And I agree with you, by the way.) 😉
Beautifully said Kelli. With your thoughts expressed here, on reflection I can see that God allows us a glimpse of the beauty of his perfect creation through the creativity and talent of those so gifted. A wonderful, stimulating and thought provoking perspective. Thank you!
Hmm thanks for making me think. Admittedly, I’ve seen more of Grisham’s books made into movies than I have read his books. But the girl at the microphone made mention that his books could be more ‘God honoring.’ I do believe it’s certainly possible and even natural to display God given talents and creativity in ways other than explicitly preaching the gospel, painting the gospel, singing the gospel etc, but I don’t believe you can unveil God’s glory with song, written word or anything else that is not God-honoring. If someone finds out a particular artist is a Christian, hopefully the first thing that they say is NOT ‘wow, I would’ve never guessed that!’ I don’t care how good of an artist you are, if you’re painting something that is in anyway dishonoring to God, then it’s not glorifying Him at the same time. So I guess my question in reference to John Grisham would be, is there anything in his books that would grieve the heart of God? if not, then fantastic. As a sidenote, I think the vast majority of what comes out of Hollywood is originally written and directed by Satan , so with a few rare exceptions, if your book or movie or music or whatever is embraced by Hollywood, that may be a good sign that your art is not that glorifying to God afterall.
I see what you’re saying, Alisha, and you touch on some of what I’m planning to write in my follow up post, which I hope to get up tomorrow or Friday!
As far as Hollywood, though, I’m not sure that’s completely true. I think there are a lot of people who are trying to bring more God honoring work to the big screen, but it’s a tough hill to climb. But for a current example, I think of the book Unbroken, which Angelina Jolie made into a movie. I’e read the book, but haven’t yet seen the movie, but I know for a fact she left the best part of that book out! That’s not a reflection on the book so much as the filmmaker. There’s a lot of good stuff here that I want to uncover – I just need the time to do it! 🙂
Indeed the response – the appropriate one is very simple. And it simply is – what label doth make thee feel better? In our label saturated times, we feel some compulsion to box, divide, emcompass, categorize, etc. etc. A christian must simply be a christian first. I am a christian that has worked as or performed as: a disc jocket, a maintenance man, a musician, a welder, a poet, an engineer, sometimes a writer, and an automobile mechanic. In which of these tasks was i more “God honouring”? In which was I less? Often we create rhetorical questions, when an answer may be present, already! (don’t we?) ha ha.
We tend to overly analyze this question in the context of someone that has experienced some modicum of success, or notariety, but such “success” is quite irrelevant to the core question of who one is. Madeline L’Engle writes eloquently of the responsiblities an artist has to serve the art, and of course, art takes so so many forms, we don’t often acknowledge that a christian mother performs art in what may seem her mundane duties. There are – perhaps those that are so highly skilled in what may not look like art at all, skilled in creating reports from what looks like completely disparate data forms. Or – hauling away junk from a demoslished building, and how the junk man interacts with the people he or she sees….IS art. Art takes so many more forms than we give it credit for, and given this wildly expansive scope, does it not seem pedestrian to silently oblige artists to write “..lyrics that contain methods to salvation…” or “paintings to depict only biblical stories or themes?
Conversely – i’ve heard it said by artists who are christians that “..prostelytizing..yeah thats not us, i don’t think its right..” So, strangely…its ok for George Harrison (probably my favorite Beatle) to sing of Hare Krishna, but its not ok for someone to declare that Jesus is the only way?
So the pendulum doth swing mightly does it not? In a question, problem, conundrum that has what seems to almost be a “variable scope” – one that mathematically varies, so it seems. How does one define or answer the above authors question? Might i humbly suggest, we are first called to follow Jesus, and what did he say? Love the Lord your God with all your heart soul mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself”. Before we fret over a particulary function of art of form, should we not re-check, re-inventory our primary calling? Secondly – in light of the fact that Jesus IS THE creator, totally creative, inventive, the mysitcal relationships of the living and inanimate is held soundly in his mighty hands! How do we express this “appropriately”? How does one express it at all regardless of contexts? Implied with our lord’s *extensive* creativity…..is that there is a tremendous amount of latitude given to the artist that happens to be a Christian. As God has reached across the universe, creating visuals, sounds, frequencies, interwoven relationships, seen and unseen, the mysteries of the gospel – expressed across the heavens, the grandeur of seeing our own galaxy center, is enough to boggle my mind for weeks, even years. Can we not grant and extend to our chrisian siblings, an equal amount of great latitude in GRACE as we interact with them? shepherd them, learning from each other….how to “help each other find their way home” as it has been said. The tones of many discussions often take such divisive forms, that good old fashion “rap sessions” as we said in the 1970s, become harder and harder, and more acrimonious by the year it seems. Lets stop flaming and shaming and start listening and strengthening. Lets be the paracletian, lets be the leader, lets serve serve! Thanks for reading. – Don
Thanks for reading for the thoughtful response, Don. I agree with you. 🙂 I hope you had time to read part 2 and 3 of this series as i dove much more into the topic! Blessings!
I’ve not yet. However, i would like to. I very much appreciate your approach to this “match gasoline” topic. Well done!