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It’s time to put the ‘Art’ back in Christian Art

Grade 12 student Kinley DeBoer was published this month in Christian Courier, a Canadian Christian magazine. In Ms. Dekens English 12 class, each student answered the question, “What do you want the church to know?” Students then received feedback from the editor, who also chose three pieces for publication. Kinley’s piece was one of the essays chosen, as he reflects on Christianity and culture.

I was driving home from work flipping through radio stations when I stumbled upon Praise 106.5, the local Christian radio station here in B.C. Instead of flipping the channel off like I frequently do, I decided to give the station a chance. Much to my disappointment, my scepticism was justified as a boring pop-rock song about how God could move a mountain or drink an ocean bled out of the speakers. How can a song praising a creator with infinite creativity be so uninspired? This song represents an overarching problem with a lot of contemporary Christian art, particularly in books, music and film: the artists make it ‘Christian’ first and ‘art’ second.

Many people, including myself, would argue that all art is inherently Christian. Art is an expression that tells one part of the story of God’s people. Every word choice, chord progression or line delivery demonstrates our human capacity to create and to celebrate the joys and sorrows of life. There is a difference between a film where every frame, sound and line are meticulously laid out to tell the director’s dream story and one only created to recap last week’s sermon.

Following that point, no two movies better illustrate this dichotomy than God’s Not Dead, directed by Harold Cronk (Pure Flix), and The Prince of Egypt, directed by Brenda Chapman (Dream Works). The Prince of Egypt is an animated movie that retells the Exodus story. God’s Not Dead is a live action movie telling the story of a university student fighting for religious rights by standing up to one of his professors. On paper, these films have a lot of differences. I believe the biggest difference can be found in the passion and heart the filmmakers put into their projects.

Art, as a tool to express love, passion, and gratitude for life, is inherently Christian.

God’s not Dead is a movie created to teach the audience morals instead of exploring characters and stories. The characters feel like two dimensional architypes – such as the angry atheist, the repressed Muslim woman and the hard-working Christian boy – less than actual people. There is the skeleton of an intriguing story present; the lack of exploration and flat characters, however, leads to the story feeling hollow.

The Prince of Egypt, on the other hand, won an Oscar for its original score. The creators of this movie poured their hearts and souls into telling one of history’s most famous stories. “From Passover to the parting of the Red Sea,” one review said, The Prince of Egypt “does an amazing job in immersing us in this grand, tragic and profoundly human story.” The Oscar it received demonstrates how the creators wanted to make an all-around brilliant movie, which included a soundtrack and score that stand by themselves as amazing art.

Art is a powerful tool to express love, passion and gratitude for life. Christianity is a religion built on those virtues and art, as a tool to express them, offers us infinite possibilities for how. Next time I turn on Praise 106.5 on the drive home, I hope that instead of being told how great God is, I am shown it.