Saturday, September 4, 2010

Christ and the Arts

No, this isn't the final treatise on Christian aesthetics or the solution to the iconclast debate of eclipsed centuries. I came across an inteview that my good friend Dan Threlfall did of Jesse Bryan, the creative director at Mars Hill. Jesse is responsible for anything artistic at Mars Hill. The interview is brief but it does a fabulous job of communicating Bryan's philosophy - one which is I think is extremely helpful and biblical. I'll spare you my rehash of the interview, but make sure you read it here.

What do you think? Is it biblical? Have you heard a better philosophy?


  1. Enjoyed that article! Thanks for posting it. I don't see how his perspective could *not* be biblical. It's very down to earth as well. I'm always jealous of very creative people like him, but thankful at the same time that there are creative people out there who help convey important messages (like the Gospel!).

    Christ also made his "sermons" relevant through parables. So I think that anything we can do to help people understand and engage is good.

  2. Interesting article, and I agree with Straight. Not much to disagree with. As a former teacher, I tried to employ as many creative processes into teaching as I possibly could--in order to make a more lasting impression. The problem was, that it was often the impression I wanted to convey--or the agenda I wanted to advance. In teaching subjects like mathematics or economics, this is probably a good thing. But is it necessarily a good thing for Biblical instruction coupled with spiritual understanding? For example, I do not believe that tithing (OT Jewish taxation) is scriptural or relevant to the body of Christ--but I could devise a "creative" process that could easily convince the gullible or move the emotional to "tithe" if that is what I wanted them to do. This happens almost every Sunday all over the world.

    There are other things I would consider. For instance, how far into the creative process does the message AND the relevance begin to slip? In our efforts to "attract" or present a viewpoint, can we reduce Christianity to a sloganized marketing plan? Does the Holy Spirit move through manipulation of the senses through external stimuli, or is it an internal process?

    Many of the management and marketing techniques that are becoming increasingly popular in contemporary religious organizations were developed during the 80’s when special interest in the effectiveness of Disney in creating traffic was recognized. Gurus such as Bennet, Zigler, Hutchins, etc. made millions on training companies to focus on the entire marketing mix model as a means of expansion. The bottom line to Disney marketing was “find out what people really want, and provide it for them at a price”. The trend of religion has always been to provide people with what they find self-affirming, whether it be in the most orthodox setting to the most liberal. Jesse pretty much sums up that his marketing approach to the latest “theatrical release” is along the Disney model--which makes me wonder if slick marketing and novel entertainment are more effective means of teaching than a Holy Spirit driven personal relationship one can share with a fellow believer?

    Just thoughts…

  3. As always, your comments are insightful. I'm going to let the offerings ideas pass be by for now, but i'd like to at least offer a few non-original thoughts on the church and marketing. I think the attempt by preacher's to make a message memorable as well as biblical can be admirable. Christ himself used many object lessons, both physical and mental. He taught faith with children, the hinderance of belief to the rich with an absurd illustration of a camel hopping through the eye of a needle, and taught that he was the bread of life, the door, the shepherd, etc. Jesus frequently spoke in an illustrative manner to communicate his point. However, we are not Jesus!

    I had the privilege of sitting in a interview with Jud Wilhite, a pastor of a very large church in Las Vegas. He told us from the platform that living in Vegas had given him access to all sorts of props and talents to use in preaching. He's preached upside and performed a bunch of other elaborate stunts to try to make the message of God's word memorable. It was well intentioned. However, he noticed after a little while that people were leaving saying how cool he was as pastor and how amazing the service was. That stopped him in his tracks. He said that when people left they should be admiring how amazing Jesus was, not how amazing he was. He still uses object lessons, but they are much tamer.... deliberately. I appreciate his honesty and humility.

    As I look at trying to communicate God's word, 2 guidelines come to mind to keep me from becoming a marketing fiend. 1. Who is my reliance on? If my reliance is on my gimmics, my humor, or my intellect (we're all doomed), I am in serious error. The Spirit of God through the Word of God is the ONLY one who can change lives! 2. The Parking Lot Test. What are people saying when they leave? If they are thinking that Jesus is incredible and can save even the filthiest sinner then we are getting someone. If they leave thinking the church, or the pastor, or the show was awesome, then we've screwed up!

    Any other guidelines?

  4. I maintain that truth is self-evident and the work of the Holy Spirit is his own. What he intends to employ or what externals he relies on are not really mine to say, so I may find it difficult to judge in all given situations. The impression I tend to receive concerning “synchronized services” is that they appear to be based more on production value than the direction of the Holy Spirit.

    I guess the definitive admonishment on the whole subject would be Paul’s:

    2Corinthians 4:2 But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.