Boundless is running my new article today entitled “v. Culture.” The article briefly critiques Christian approaches to culture, followed by six alternative ways to engaging culture.
Boundless is running my new article today entitled “v. Culture.” The article briefly critiques Christian approaches to culture, followed by six alternative ways to engage culture.
Plenary #6 – Jeremy Begbie
This is the address I have anticipated the most. I encountered Begbie in my seminary library, reading some of Voice of Creation’s Praise. Begbie’s most recent work is the in the Baker Engaging Culture series: Resounding Truth. Begbie demonstrates theological integration at its finest. I have so much to learn, so much to enjoy!
Hopeful Subversion requires not what the futurist typically does—examining present trends and forecasting the philosophical and cultural future. As Christians we do the opposite. We begin with God’s future (Rev 21) and work backwards.
The Spirit Unites the Unlike: the new creation will be populated with diverse peoples. Christians are among the few who can do bad art with style. This symposium puts the unlike together—pastor and artist. Pentecost is a collection of diverse peoples, not speaking the same language, but different cultures and languages. The Spirit translated different languages. Pastors and artists need to learn one another’s languages, the languages of proposition and description. The Christian community should to subvert homogeneity. Music often relies on beats and counter-beats, different configurations, in order to create pleasant sounds.
The Spirit Brings Excess from the Future: the Spirit does not merely restore order of Edenic proportions, a world of balance. The NT views a new creation that vastly surpasses the former world, that does away with evil and lavishes its landscape of novelty. Gallons of wine when we need only bottles, surplus of fish and loaves not just enough, a resurrected body, not just a revived life, a hyperlife. God specializes in excess. Artists resonate with this because the arts are unnecessary. Unlike the evolutionary genetics that perceives art as necessary to attract potential mates, the Arts are excessive. They say more than they can tell (see Rowan Williams recent book). No need of sun or moon, uncreated light, will illumine the new creation. This is excessive. “My vision of the future is artists and others revelling in excess.”
The Spirit Inverts: a lamb rules the new creation (see The Upside-Down Mice). God brings a world where the poor become rich, where promotion is demotion, where the way up is the way down. The power that rules the world, that flung the stars into the sky is our power in an oppressive world. We are to initiate a preview of the world to come. Kings College stained glass–Pilot is washing his hands below the crucified Lord. The Lord Jesus holds the power of the cross, inverting power through his sacrifice. He rules over the rulers of our day. Music often inverts, playing a series of notes forwards and backwards for effect. Begbie plays pieces on piano that reflect inversion, stunning theological integration and illustration of the Spirit inverting the world. Cross-shaped love.
The Spirit Exposes the Depths: the Lamb bears the marks of slaughter in the new creation. We must subvert sentimentality, the trivialization of evil, suffering, and death. We have reached an aesthetic moment in Western culture, with the media surge of preoccupation with arts that ignore the awful and the infinite. In our worship we pursue sentimentality. We crave perfect immediacy in worship, when God communes with us through imperfection. Jesus is not our fantasy partner, our boyfriend. The Spirit exposes the depths to which Christ has already gone, Christ crucified, where we see who we really are—enemies of God—out of the depths Christ screams of the horror of evil and suffering. But God is prepared to go into the pit in order to embrace us. The Son of the Father reaches into the pit of hell to tell us that we have nothing to fear.
Plenary #1 – Andy Crouch, Art as Gift, Calling & Obedience
Andy is perhaps best known as a columnist for Christianity Today; however he has started other magazines, written extensively on matters of faith and culture. His message was one of the best I’ve heard on the subject—compelling, intriguing, and engaging. Buy it and listen to it at least twice.
I. God is a Culture-maker. Andy began with some reflections on Gen 2:4-17. He main point in this part was that God is both a Creator and a Culture-maker. Although this was the weakest part of his address, he offered several insightful observations.
- When God created ex nihilo, he also created ex creatio, out of creation. As the first act of culture-making he made a garden.
- God placed “useless” elements in the garden–gold, bdellium, onyx–that were superfluous, not elements designed primarily for their usefulness but rather for their beauty, i.e. we build out of granite, not gold. Note the biblical celebration of that gold, “And the gold of that land is good.”
Defined culture with Ken Myers’ definition, which he remarkably stated was the “best” definition: “Culture is what we make of the world.” This witty definition connotes both the material and intellectual dimensions of culture, culture that is produced and culture that thought. Andy proceeded to place Art within the framework of culture noting that Jesus took, broke, and blessed culture on night he was betrayed—bread and wine, not wheat and grapes.
II. The Uselessness of Art. “The way we make art is the truest diagnostic test of our underlying beliefs about culture.” “Art” is “those aspects of culture that can not be reduced to utility.” Why have wallpaper when wallboard will do, why craft a careful sentence when a stupid one will do, why buy a thin laptop when a think one will work just fine?” Art transcends utility and cannot be translated without losing meaning. Art is not useful; it is better than useful! So it is with Christian worship. “We stake our worship every Sunday on the belief that God does not require us to be useful to him nor does worship have to be useful to us.”
III. Art is play and pain. We play not entirely like children but like children. “It’s not fully adult to play.” We fly through the 18th century rooms at the Art Museums to quickly arrive in the Impressionist rooms, but even the Impressionists confronted pain. Only the gospel can engage in art playfully and painfully without bowing to naivety or sadism. Pop culture falls short of real play and sincere pain.
Closing remarks: “I hope for nothing less that the recognition of Christ body among us, broken and beautiful, in play and pain. We are here to discover Christ taking, blessing, breaking and giving…here to be slightly more like Christ…to rekindle our capacity to be beautifully un-useful to God.”