“Christian art sucks.”

I hear it often. You probably do, too. If I’m honest, I’m pretty sure I’ve said it myself. More than once, I’ve left the theater annoyed, turned off the radio appalled, and walked out of the bookstore disgusted. But why? And is it true? Does Christian art suck?

To the last question, the answer is a resounding NO. Christian art does not suck. Now, before you run out to buy me the newest Kirk Cameron movie or a subscription to Pureflix (yes, that’s really a thing), let me explain. One of the biggest critiques I hear of the art we call Christian is this: “That’s not the real world. Life doesn’t wrap up neatly in a three-minute song or a 90-minute film. It just doesn’t work that way.” And it’s true. The Christian life is a struggle. It isn’t often that our problems are solved in a single prayer, Bible study, or moment of confession.

Can I tell you a secret? So much of what we call “Christian art” isn’t actually Christian. Yep, songs and movies and Amish romance novels (again, actually a thing) that ignore the fallen nature of the human experience aren’t actually Christian… they’re romantic.

Let’s think about it this way: there is a major theme to the Christian life. This is the truth that we were created in the image of a loving Creator, and that we’re redeemed by that Creator through the work of Jesus. This is the hope that Jesus will return to make everything right and rule on this earth forever. That is the major theme of the Christian life.

But in this world, there is also pain, death, sickness, and the Denver Broncos. Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, God has inaugurated his kingdom on this earth, but it hasn’t fully come. He hasn’t yet wiped away every tear from every eye. He hasn’t yet put the world to rights. Let’s call this already/not yet reality the minor theme of the Christian life.

So when does art become “Christian?” Francis Schaeffer speaks to this in his amazing little book, Art and the Bible:

“If our Christian art only emphasizes the major theme, then it is not fully Christian but simply romantic art. And let us say with sorrow that for years our Sunday school literature has been romantic in its art and has had very little to do with genuine Christian art. Older Christians may wonder what is wrong with this art and wonder why their kids are turned off by it, but the answer is simple. It’s romantic. It’s based on the notion that Christianity has only an optimistic note.[1]

So art that is Christian is art that glorifies God for his work in the major theme, while not ignoring, minimizing, or paying cliché-laden lip service to the minor theme.

What I’ve realized over the years is that I don’t dislike Christian art… but I hate romantic art. Religious in theme or not, I want the creativity I consume to reek of the struggle of what it looks like to be human. Utopian fantasies do not interest me.

Utopian fantasies do not interest me. Click To Tweet

Now certainly, there are Christian artists that I don’t prefer, just as there are novelists and rock bands and songwriters that I don’t like. Being a Christian doesn’t mean that you have to appreciate all Christian art. And if romantic art is your thing, that’s great. I have a ton of friends who love to spend their time exploring that genre. Being created in the image of God, we all have our preferences as to what we find beautiful, and that itself is a thing of beauty.

So Christian, let’s stop demonizing Christian art. Instead, let’s thoughtfully engage every film, painting, novel, and song, hoping to find the beauty of the entire gospel story. And when we don’t, let’s call it what it is: romantic, feel-good, safe-for-the-family entertainment. But please, don’t call it “Christian.”

Let's thoughtfully engage every art-form hoping to find the beauty of the entire gospel story. Click To Tweet

[1] Francis Schaeffer, Art and the Bible (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 56.