If you’ve ever spent much time in art museums, you know that much of the greatest Christian art of the past was anything BUT “family friendly.” Caravaggio’s David with the Head of Goliath for instance. Powerful painting, raw, and violent. It’s the gripping moment David holds up the head of Goliath – his severed neck still dripping blood. The most amazing thing about the piece is that it’s a self-portrait, and yet Caravaggio painted himself not as the hero, but as Goliath. As if he understood his own dark and sinful heart.
Why Are We Seeing So Many Shallow Christians?
I’m not sure most Christian stores today would proudly display a painting like that, or if many churches would have the courage to hang it in the sanctuary. But the history of Christian art often features exposed breasts, fingers being jammed into Jesus’ wounds, or a naked Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel – images that confront the viewer and force him or her to reconsider their assumptions.
The question is: at what point did Christian artists and other church leaders give up their role as truth tellers and provocateurs? Certainly there is a role for comfort when it comes to art or our message from pulpits, but we can never forget the artist’s job is to force us to make a decision. To shake up our pre-conceptions, and show us a new perspective on the world.
When did Christian leaders, artists, and visionaries stop challenging us and start soothing us?
Personally, I have a feeling that we lost much of the power of our Christian message when it was determined that everything needed to be “family friendly.” I imagine the marketplace had a role to play, and certainly the more conservative Church culture here in America. And don’t get me wrong – we should be protecting children and doing whatever we can to make them safe. However, when it comes to dealing with adults – especially mature believers – we shouldn’t let that keep us from speaking the truth.
But today, Christian record labels refuse provocative language, Christian publishers aren’t interested in much that’s not positive, and we want Christian movies to have happy endings. And that thinking has invaded the decisions of most church leaders as well. As a result, most leaders struggle to confront wrong behavior, poor performance, or outright sin.
I admit that most people in the culture assume the church is the last place to be provocative. But the Bible tells a different story. The Bible can be brutal. It’s real. It doesn’t hold back. In fact, in Matthew 10:34 Jesus said: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Sure he loved and healed people, but the message of Jesus shocked people. It made them choose. They were forced to make a decision.
Today, the stakes are too high for us to be hypocritical. We can’t admire the great Christian leaders and artists of the past, and yet criticize those today who are committed to reveal the truth. The question is – how do we change?
We could start with giving Christian leaders (and creative artists) enough space to challenge our thinking – sometimes even scare us. It’s not about being controversial just for the sake of controversy, it’s about telling the truth and being bold for the sake of the gospel.
The Greek translation of the word “bold” is “courageous, daring, or dauntless.” It refers to acting or speaking without fear of the consequences.
And to creatives in the church, I say when your idea requires it, let’s peel away the veneers of what people expect, in order to expose them to the raw beauty of what they don’t expect. To reveal the truth of our message is the greatest service we can offer. It’s time to rise up.
For leaders everywhere:
Stop being afraid.
Say the things that need to be said.
Make people think.
After all, eternity hangs in the balance.
Phil Cooke, Ph.D. is a producer and media consultant to churches and ministries across the country. His latest book is “The Way Back: How Christians Blew Their Credibility and How We Get It Back.” Find out more at www.philcooke.com.