Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Christian Involvement in (dramatic) art

Giles Fouhy, a minister from East London wonderfully helped London Interfacers to think Christianly about the arts this week.  I'll do my best to summarise! As an actor he'd written his paper specifically for the dramatic arts, but much of what he said is very useful for thinking about the arts in general.

He began introducing 3 really helpful questions that Christians are faced with as they engage with the arts - questions we found we'd all struggled with, or thought about:

1) Morality: Is not the immoral content of drama/art spiritually damaging to audiences and practitioners? i.e. the very act of becoming different characters, depicting sin can be dangerous.
2) Reality: Drama is imaginary and therefore unreal and untrue - isn't it just an escapist lie?
3) Utility: What use is drama/the arts? Is it not just frivolous time wasting?

So where do we go with these questions? Well we always go back to the Bible. Giles helped us to explore a biblical worldview for the reformation of all of life, which has largely stemmed from 19th century thought (Neo-Calvinist 'reformational' thought to be precise!).  He helped us to see
the scope of Creation (how vast and wide and good it is, how wonderfully sustained it is by God's word, and by us as we carry out our role in society)
the scope of The Fall (that all of creation is subjected to bondage to decay, creation is frustrated, and ravaged by sin.  However, sin hasn't obliterated everything.  There is common grace that restrains God's righteous anger)
the scope of Redemption (the cosmic scope of Christ's work on the cross, and his resurrection must not be underestimated.  Christ is restoring the whole of creation to himself as the head of the Church.)
This worldview leaves us with an antithesis now: we live in a world that is steeped in sin and held in 'bondage' to Satan, and a world into which the Kingdom of God has come in Christ, so that everywhere there lies the potential for redemption.

So how does this affect our questions/objections raised at the beginning?

Well firstly Giles encouraged us to see that along with all creation, the arts are able to be redeemed.  But we need to consume with care.  As Seerveld writes,
"Unless you are protected by the holiness of a biblical innocence and by genuinely wise, critical antennae, then performing or composing or receiving art in the secular city is as dangerous as jaywalking."
The simple framework with which we can approach these questions was outlined as follows:

We look for the structure: 'structure denotes the essence of a creaturely thing, the kind of creature it is by virtue of God's creational law' - we approach involvement in the arts, a creation of God, with positive optimism, searching for that which is creational - which we can affirm and encourage.

We also look  for the direction: 'direction refers to a sinful deviation from the structure, or a renewed conformity to it in Christ.'

So as we approach the question of Morality -  we need to make a distinction between the content of a play/piece of work, and the overall message/story that is portrayed.  So often we can be wary because of the amount of language/nudity, rather than thinking discerningly about the worldview/direction that is portrayed.  Does the story conform to true redemptive pattern of love and self-sacrifce? What is the direction of the piece?
'If our commission to be truthful demands that we portray sin, our commission to be holy demands that we don't glory in it'
With Reality, a helpful argument from Ryken was put forward, that the artistic imagination, correctly perceived, far from escaping reality, takes us into reality.  It's a window.  Good art illuminates reality, while bad art escapes from reality. It's the 'lie that tells the truth'.  As we delve into the Word of God, we see the extent to which the Bible appeals to truth through imaginative story telling and images.

As for Utility, there is a big temptation to divide the secular and sacred, and feel guilty for not spending all our time evangelising etc.  Giles encouraged us to see the real and only divide is the antithesis discussed earlier - and so our discipleship needs to embrace seeing this in all walks of life, from the prayer meeting to the studio.  A discipleship that breaks out of 'the church' and embraces and affirms the whole of life provides the true context for evangelism.

As I reflect on what Giles shared with us, it's immensely exciting to be thinking Christianly about the arts - to be grappling with how the gospel truly shapes the work we produce.  Praise God that He is so wonderfully involved with his creation, that the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.   Let's keep looking to Christ as we engage with the arts.

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