Free to Receive

Daniel A. Siedell
Good News

Let’s face it. Evangelicals are a pretty grumpy lot when it comes to art and culture. We’re perpetually on the lookout for artistic evidence to prove that this is the most evil of generations. In fact, it seems as if many of us even delight in being offended so that we can crow about the good old days when the church was the patron of the arts and collectively bemoan the consequences of Modernism and Postmodernism.

We want art and culture that is obvious to interpret and easy to use; we want to use it either as a theological weapon or as a target for our theological weapons. When we hear the word “culture,” we usually reach for our Bibles, where we search for commands that tell us what we shouldn’t do, eat, touch, or look at when it comes to the arts. Our approach to culture is thus predominately negative, reactionary and governed by law.

This is a heavy burden to bear. And so it’s understandable that we’re a little foggy on what to enjoy, or even if a Christian is supposed to “enjoy” art and culture at all. So, we tiptoe gingerly around it, limiting its use to undercover evangelism or as a preaching tool to shape virtue and affirm capitalistic morality. A trip to the library, museum, concert hall or theatre can become an occasion to worry about what’s “appropriate.”

The most progressive of us avoid the problem altogether by claiming to make our own art and culture. We dream of producing Christian artists, filmmakers, writers, and the like who can “take back” the culture, redeem it, transform it, or otherwise do something to it.

But the world does not need more (or any) “Christian artists.”

What the world does need from us are grace-filled Christians who embrace our freedom in Christ to such a degree that we can listen to and participate in the art and culture around us. The world needs more receivers and fewer makers, doers, or theorizers. We need to pay attention to the insightful art, music, film, and poetry that’s already out there. We need to rediscover and receive what our neighbors are already producing.

We need to live out of the grace that God gave to the Jews in Babylon—to build houses, plant gardens, have families, and seek the welfare of the city (Jeremiah 29:4-9). We don’t need to live as righteous cultural judges, but as broken sinners who enjoy the culture and live out God’s sustaining grace. We are free to love our artistic neighbors.

The Christian is the ideal audience for all aesthetic artifacts of the imagination—even (or especially) the most scandalous and offensive kinds. Often, these scandalous and offensive works reveal pain, suffering, and desperation in the most compelling ways. We can rest knowing that God at work in the world through the artists, writers, and filmmakers who produce artifacts, even those that contradict our own beliefs.

Every work of art , whether made by a believer or unbeliever, years for an audience that confesses, “All things were created through him and for him… and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17).

Daniel A. Siedell a faculty member at Knox Theological Seminary, and curator of LIBERATE, the resource ministry of Tullian Tchividjian and Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. He can be reached at [email protected]

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