Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Couple Blog Responses: Nudity? Arts Ministry?

Here are a few responses to some blogs. Both have to do with David Taylor. Do I not believe that David can speak for himself? Of course! David is not a man of few words! LOVE you DT! He is astute, working on his PhD, and has several more books in him I'm sure. So, why do I bother? I love these conversations and can't resist. I believe that I'm going to learn some things by these interactions. Also, I've been emboldened by James K.A. Smith's review of the recently published, Hipster Christianity. He's pretty rough on the author Brett McCracken. I think that if Brett and I had an acquaintance, we could be good friends, yet Jamie's spanking of him is somewhat justified. Brett spends so much time pointing the finger that he seems ignorant that "the smeller's the feller," or "it takes one to know one." I'm letting myself be emboldened because the stakes are high with these discussions on faith and culture. These things matter.

I'll note that I don't presume to have the training or credentials to be brash in Jamie Smith's manner. Any of you are welcome to hold me accountable to writing/thinking/speaking as a brother coming alongside others. Let me know if my tone becomes patronizing. There is much to be learned about healthy internet discourse.

Two responses below: first on the question of nudity in film, the second in defense of the mission of 'art ministry." Both flow out of responses from other people to videos posted by The Gospel Coalition of DT presenting at a church planting conference.

In this video David is offering pastors a few recommendations on novels and films they might benefit from. David put the video it on his blog and a few people had trouble with his recommendation of P.T. Anderson's Magnolia especially because of the nudity (very brief yet graphic).  I'm looking forward to David's response.

My response:
This is truly a David Taylor kind of forum discussion! Love it.
My (unsolicited) 2 cents:
* I'd warn against any black and white on the topic of nudity. The Bible gives us wisdom but it will lead us each to various convictions. Insert here Paul's dictum used in 1 Corinthians, "all things are lawful but not all things are profitable." This is a scary thing for Christian brothers and sisters to accept, that what I am called to you may not be called to.
*I'd also caution against an overuse of the Incarnation to defend this issue or the arts in general willy nilly. I'm not saying the Incarnation doesn't have bearing here. Yet we have to be careful in how quick we ascribe something true about God (becoming human) to what we believe to be true about humanity. We have to maintain a distinction between us and God. See J. Begbie edited collection of essays, Beholding the Glory: Incarnation and the Arts.
*We also need to be careful in our viewing/reading/art imbibing habits. While some of us might find merit in a movie like Magnolia, I don't think it should be part of our regular 'diet.' Yes, I believe God can speak through such things, but he can speak much more plainly through the Scriptures.
*While Magnolia is a favorite of mine, I don't recommend it to people unless I know them well. In the video David is recommending the film for pastors and lay leaders who are wanting to broaden their understanding of culture and art. For a film like this to be 'profitable,' the viewer needs the maturity and training to discern the film carefully. Such a film requires not just the discernment of one person or pastor, but a good dialogue like the one here on this blog between all you good people.
*I'd also suggest that the issue of the body is much more of a poignant issue in dance than in film. Those of us working to discern such things need a theology of our bodies. Film is too close and loaded for most of us. A theology 'through the art' of dance would freshen and better frame and therefore inform questions about the body as depicted in film.
*Personally, I am more concerned about our lack of discernment in the area of violence in film. For example, why don't more Christians show concern about Peter Jackson's embellishments of war in his adaptations of the Tolkien books? My review of Showtime's Dexter is here:
*I watch most films with my wife. She is pretty good at helping me in the moment discern what parts of the body I shouldn't see...with her hand over my eyes!
In this other video David is talking about arts ministry at large. Here on The Gospel Coalition's site several people expressed grave skepticism about the purpose and merit of ministering to artists. These comments cut deep, yet in my response I'm truly attempting to build bridges. We'll see.

My response:
I’m an arts pastor involved in campus ministry. I’m also a contributor to David Taylor’s collection of essays. I’ve read through the comments here and want to attempt a response because we so much want to have these conversations with those of you in the church at large. After all, the book was written out of love for the body of Christ (tile: For the Beauty of the Church) and a desire to see the Kingdom of God advanced. We are not trying to put artists on a pedestal or to pit art over and above the Gospel.
First, there are many quick judgments here. I can’t help but think that you are not reacting to David so much as connecting him to other trends in the church that you’ve become confused or alarmed by. There has been lots of talk about the arts. In my estimation, the arts have become awkwardly trendy for Evangelicals. That is perhaps one of the reasons why the book was put together–to develop a more robust conversation about the arts that might serve the faithful, Gospel work of the local church pastor (David and I both come from precious work in the local church).
I encourage you to read the book. Many of your reactions here are in response to a five minute video. I don’t think many of you would like your ministries to be judged based on a five minute visit to your church. Give the book a chance. David assembled a very astute group of authors of which I am the least.
Second, I’m confused by the dualism inherent in most of these posts. The underlying assumption is that ‘culture-making’ is an optional project. We don’t have a choice whether we make culture or not. All of us daily produce culture; we practice the ordering of creation. The question is not if we are engaged in art and culture as the church, the question is how and to what extent we bring our art/culture engagement under the Lordship of Christ and how brightly his love, truth, beauty, justice shine through us.
Why the emphasis on arts ministry in the local church? Because we are trying to compensate for this kind of dualism that separates how the kingdom of God is established on earth “as it is in heaven.” If we evangelicals had a more developed theology of culture, we would not need ‘arts pastors.’ I’ll add that not all of us involved in arts ministry are naive ‘transformationalists.’ While I have hope for these things, I also understand the ultimate work of transformation is God’s alone. I teach a nuanced approach, cautious yet hopeful, “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” because we are “sheep among wolves.”
Finally, my emphasis on the arts is precisely out of concern for discipleship. If we don’t practice cultural discernment and champion good Christians in the arts, then we will be handing our people over to “the wolves,” to blindly to imbibe and co-opt cultural forms that compromise the Gospel. For example, contrary to your assumptions, many of us are involved in arts ministry because we are very concerned about aesthetic values of ‘the cool’ and ‘the sexy’ and want to steer the church away from hipster attempts to compete with popular culture.
grace and peace of Christ to you!


Matthew Westerholm said...

Nicely and neatly stated. Well-done.

w. david o. taylor said...

Love you too, Joshua Banner!

Anonymous said...

Il semble que vous soyez un expert dans ce domaine, vos remarques sont tres interessantes, merci.

- Daniel

motskrub said...

At the risk of being a pest...I sent you an email, but thought I'd also try to contact you via your blog. My name is Tom Burks, I'm a worship pastor looking for someone who might serve as a sounding board as our church transitions from being a user of artists (my fault) to a shepherd of artists (my hope). Is this something you might have some time for? Or can you suggest a voice of experience that might be helpful?