Once upon a time, there were two stories. Both were penned by authors of Christian faith, each eager to communicate a Godly message to the world. Book A became an international success, resonating throughout the decades, being read in classrooms across the world. Book B flopped critically and financially, and became the laughing stock of the written word.
I find that many Christians’ first response is “persecution.” The world hates Christianity, so they hate our art. But Book A did spectacularly, as sometimes happens in real life. So “persecution” can’t be the all-sufficient answer.
Unfortunately, when you take away the easy fallback of “persecution,” you’re left with only one reason a book, movie, or album becomes a pitiful paramount of failure: bad art.
True, luck and wise marketing play a role in sales, but I’m not talking about art that is ignored, I’m talking about art that is panned across the board. Remember Left Behind? People blamed persecution even though the first Chronicles of Narnia movie did so well with the same Christian viewpoint. And when flagrantly-Christian rapper Lecrae topped a secular chart, it proved the world was still happy to enjoy Christian art.
But only if it’s good.
Bad Art is Distracting
People hated the philosophical boohockey of The Matrix Reloaded, but they forgave it mostly because of awesome action sequences, giving it a 73/72 on Rotten Tomatoes (critical/popular responses), not that much lower than the beloved original’s 85/82. However, The Matrix Revolutions had fewer action sequences, which meant less relief from the problems of the film. It got a 36/60.
No art is perfect, and it’s certainly reasonable to enjoy flawed productions, but the every problem calls attention to itself. The more problems there are, the louder that chorus becomes, and it takes focus off the author’s intention.
It’s basic math. Good > bad = more good. Bad > good = more bad.
Christian art is not exempt. I can overlook a few lengthy summations in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia because the rest is so good. But when I read a book that tried to draw parallels between a kingdom world and our world, all I could see was that Satan was an evil king in one world and an evil CEO in the other. That’s not the same. How is Satan a CEO in the first place? And God is a rival CEO? What company? How does Jesus have his father’s power and authority in the business world? Is he Vice President of the company? Who are God’s board of directors? What products does he supply? How do God, Inc. and Satan, Inc. rank against other businesses? No, I will not stop thinking about it because YOU brought it up, writer!
How can people hear your message when they’re distracted by the white noise?
A Lack of Care?
When you see or hear a mistake, you think to yourself, “Why did that happen?” In a live performance, anything can go wrong, but when you record a song, every note, word, and beat is intentional. So when you hear the line “So vicious, kind of swagaliscious/Mountain Dew and a bag of biscuits,” that means a dozen people heard it and said, “Yes, that’s something people say.”
Again, anybody can make a bad choice, even in a good song/movie/book/etc. However, the more bad that pops up in art, the more you start to wonder why the artist put those things there. Are they trying to make some point I don’t understand? Is it some reference I don’t get?
Or…are they just putting formulaic whatnots out there to make a quick buck like a Chipmunks sequel?
Even if the accusation is wrong, bad art paints a bad picture of the artist. Do they not know what they’re doing or do they just not care?
How can people hear your message when they think you can’t be bothered with the little things?
Bad Art Perpetuates a Lazy Stereotype
When the world sees Christianity, too often they see people who can’t comprehend little things like “facts.” They just slap “Jesus” on it and take lunch. “Why does God say this?” Because Jesus, shut up. “What about the scientific support of evolution?” Jesus, shut up. “Why do so many bad things happen?” Jesus, shut up.
“Why does this movie suck?” Jesus, shut up.
When we continually pump out bad art, that’s just unfortunate. But when we pump out bad art and call it good because Jesus-shut-up, it makes Christians look like cosmic derps because learning is haaaard.
Worse, it actually makes God himself look lazy and, frankly, pathetic. Just put “Grace” in there somewhere and clock out for the day? Well, what does that say about God? He does the bare minimum, then takes a nap?
Good Christian art shows the virtues of sacrifice, care, skill, and intelligence, traits that God showed throughout the Bible. True, in art successes, there’s the occasional pop-formula fluke, but those hits always fade. Do YOU still listen to Brittany Spears? Good art doesn’t go so easily. Kind of like Christian fads versus Christianity. Does anyone still have a WWJD bracelet?
Why should they listen to your message if it sounds like you’re just name-dropping because it’s easy?
On The Other Hand…
Good art waves away distractions and attracts people. Good art shows true effort. Good art displays enlightenment.
Good art makes Jesus look good. It makes him look like someone who cares about the little things, someone who knows what he’s talking about, someone who can captivate your attention and make you kneel in awe.
Jesus Christ is good art. May we Christian artists never forget that. May lay Christians never excuse bad art in the name of “holiness.” And may the people all over the world hear our messages and share them with everyone they know.