For 2006: The Church’s Brave New Brain—Part 2


In the previous segment of this mini-series, we left off with the Church grappling with the transition from the Information Age (and its emphasis on data and logic) to the Conceptual Age (with its emphasis on design and empathy.) The fundamental switch here aligns with the move from left-brained to right-brained thinking.

Where the Church gets steamrolled in this transition is that it's been stuck in the tar of left-brained mode for a couple hundred years. When the Enlightenment made it all about what we thought rather than did, the Western Church bought into living totally out of its left hemisphere. The result has been an entire group of people within society disenfranchised by the one group tasked with disenfranchising no one.

If we were honest with ourselves, we Christians of 2006 should question where all our creative types vanished to. How many Christians do we know who make their entire living as full-time artists, novelists, musicians, and actors? Compare that with how many Christians we know who are middle managers, accountants, engineers, or computer IT gurus.

Two hundred years ago, Christians not only created the art, they supported it. I would dare say that the vast majority of art in Christian households today is not only NOT created by Christians, it's barely passable as art. Our slide to the left brain over the right created a dearth of Christian artists and their lack left us stuck with whatever was most easily mass-marketed. The result? Today's Christians are too often the people responsible for much of the kitschy garbage passed off as "art" that we see today. A gut-check is needed here. Compare what hangs on the wall of your local museum with that of your local Christian bookstore. I don't think I'm stretching when I say the artistic output of today's Evangelicalism might represent the nadir of artistic expression in all of Christian history.

Kinkade keeps on truckin'!

{Click on image to appreciate the full-sized horror of it all (pops)}

If we don't like the art that artists make today, we have our lack of patronage to blame for this, in part. Christian artists found the rising anti-art backlash in the Church meant that they could no longer afford to make a living as artists creating art solely for Christian crowds. As a result, Christian artists were stuck between putting food on the table selling art that appealed to secular crowds or starving to death trying to sell to an increasingly fickle Christian audience. Yes, many of them gave in to the prevailing nonsense that passes itself off as contemporary art today, but in the end we didn't support them and they had to eat. (Not trying to make excuses, just trying to point out reality.)

You know why the artist is different? Simple: he sees the world through a different part of his brain. Where the Church in America absolutely fumbled the Gospel here is that we automatically equated his different way of thinking with error. Not only that, but we painted (ugh!) the artist and all his friends as the very thing that is wrong with the world today. Strangely enough, he was thinking the same thing about us.

Now, as we enter 2006, we have an impasse. We decided we liked our churches stripped of anything that resembles art, good or otherwise. (I don't mean to pick on the Baptists here, but could there be anything more soul-anesthetizing than the architecture and interior decoration of your typical Baptist church of the last thirty years? Honestly, why can't our congregations inspire artists in their midst to create beautiful church art to offer up to God the artistic gifts He bestowed on those folks? It seems every kind of service is appreciated in our churches except the artistic.) The message to the artist was clear: your paintbrush is the devil's instrument.

Think what our churches would be like if we thought that everyone involved in the computer industry was creating the Beast's pathway. What if the engineers were building the antichrist's throneroom? And the accountants were only presiding over the one world money system and that infamous mark? Do you think that any of those left-brainers would hang around our congregations? Yet, in many cases, this is what happened to the right-brainers.

But guess what, left-brained Christians? Artists are the new power class in the Conceptual Age. You know, the bohemian with the soul patch. And guess what again? We drove his kind out of our churches with our total emphasis on left-brained thinking and our complete inability to appreciate what his right hemisphere (and his musical, empathic, theatrical, artist's bent) brought to our congregations.

But now that empathic artist is the one in charge. Left-brained Christians are gnashing their teeth over this. I see it every day. And the gnashing is only going to increase unless left-brained and right-brained Christians bury the hatchet—and not in each other. God created both left-brained and right-brained thinkers; it's about time the Church honored both.

In the next installment of this mini-series, we'll see how the Church needs to adapt to this cultural change and what it means for how we do ministry in 2006 and beyond.

Stay tuned!

19 thoughts on “For 2006: The Church’s Brave New Brain—Part 2

  1. Susan

    I hope your posts move many of your readers who have influence in the church at large to pray and ask God what they could do to support the arts in their church home. It is interesting that people have little problem paying a teaching pastor full-time wages so that they can remain undestracted from the creative process of studying and delivering a sermon among the other activites they do, however a worship pastor, who engages in creativity on a much more right-brained level, dealing with music and arts and creatives of all kinds, is most often only considered “part time” and therefore usually only has time for organizational activities and little time if any for creative.

    And they will pay for concrete to be poured for a new parking lot: but wont pay a dime to have real art on the walls of the church. Pay a bundle for a huge sound-system but settle for a 4 piece band instead of fully cultivating the use of all the kinds of instruments available today…

    go figure.

  2. Anonymous

    In my town, I see this in operation. The Protestant churches build utilitarian concrete block boxes, but the Catholics have built beautiful churches, even parishes in the poor sections of town.

    Laura (hope4myfuture at Livejournal)

  3. Ronni

    AMEN! I’m an artist, I’m a photographer, musician, and mixed media artist… and I feel so much guilt for not having went to nursing school and “made something of myself”. It’s annoying. There is a reason we are “starving artists”… nobody really values what we do… if they did I wouldn’t have to fight with people about paying 1500 dollars for me to photograph a wedding. I have a ton in student loans, learning my craft, but people still want walmart prices on what is art. Nobody appreciates talent and beauty. The day walmart starts shooting weddings, I’m out of business. *sigh*

  4. Jim from

    One distinction that I think is helpful to make, is whether you mean art in general or art in church services. For example, churches like this one seem to be more about art and creativity than anything else:

    And Erwin McManus’s church has been known to have sculpturing and painting going on during the sermon. Not because it ties in with what’s being preached, but rather – just to “inspire the audience”.

    This to me is “art gone mad”, or at least misplaced art. It should not be integrated into the fabric of a church service. Outside of church, I’m all for it. And it certainly has it’s place in church history.


  5. Susan

    I shelled out big cash last year to a photographer friend who is a believer, for my daughter’s wedding, because I believe in supporting the true art of photog. He shot film, not digital (though we hired a two-photog team, and the other guy shot digital candids)Sure we could have gone another route and saved money, but…. sometimes it’s just the principle of the thing!

  6. Susan,

    Art reflects the very creative force of God. God created the world, and so we who have His creative spirit in us because we reflect His image, even if what we create is not on the same par as what He did.

    We understand why doctrine is important, but I don’t understand why we give so little attention to the role of art in the life of the Church. We go back to the Reformation for all parts of Protestant theology and yet the Reformation strongly honored art, too. That’s a shame.

  7. Laura,

    You bring up a good point in that in other groups the right brain has not suffered the rejection that it has in Evangelical circles. Mainline churches, Catholics, the Orthodox—all have a stronger respect for art than Evangelicals do. I wish that were not the case.

  8. Ronni,

    We think nothing of spending a few thousand dollars for a sit down meal at a wedding, but blanch at the cost of art-related enhancements. I think the only reason for that is that our culture in the last couple hundred years has put so little emphasis on right-brain thinking. We’ll drop a load for a plasma TV, but wouldn’t consider an original artwork that costs the same amount of money, even if the artwork increases in price while the TV becomes obsolete and worthless.

    I think part of the reason is that the modern Church in the West looked on artwork as the domain of the wealthy and attacked the wealthy for not spending their money instead on the poor. Art, therefore, became the realm of those who could not pass through the eye of the needle—and who wants to be excluded from heaven simply for having an expensive sculpture in their house.

    Unfortunately, this line of thinking has made us all vastly more poor since we have lost some of our appreciation for beauty and majesty. I fear that some of this has rubbed off in the way we view God. Since we are so diminished in our appreciation of powerful, majestic, and beautiful works of art, when we say that God is powerful, beautiful, and majestic, we have far less of a mental reference for saying that.

  9. swayz

    But, in spite of the truth of much of what you say, we still have the problem of groups of believers who are identified more by the building in which they worship, whether aesthetic or not, than by the God they worship. And I doubt that the presence or absence of art is going to solve that problem.

  10. Jim,

    Anything can go too far. McManus has done at his church what a lot of Christians do when they try to buck one side of an extreme—they go too far the other way.

    My take on that is that it will eventually level out. But I can at least understand why he’s doing that. And no doubt he’s attracting artists to his church! It’s that old tension in being cutting-edge and going overboard, though. McManus would argue that he’s getting that right-brained group that’s been run out of a lot of traditional churches over the years, so it seems right for now from the perspective of Mosaic leadership. The question is whether it becomes a distraction rather than a support for the message of the word being preached. I would tend to side with you on that.

    On the other hand, I firmly believe that arts do have a place even during the service. I was a part of a great little church out in Palo Alto California that had a worship dance team of about sixteen people of all ages. I know that many would say that dance teams like this are “way out there” and not biblical, but I would disagree—especially in this case. The team was all members of the church (both men and women—none professional dancers), and they had a professional choreographer (also a member of the church) who did a fantastic job designing the dances. They often performed during our worship singing times and I’ve got to tell you that their routines added tremendously to worship. They blessed the Lord with that gift of dance and blessed me, too. I’ve got to believe that our worship of God in eternity will most certainly contain dance—and many of the other arts as well.

    Proper place, proper time, done in a proper way. Like anything else, the arts can be used improperly. But when done right, they can not only enhance our churches apart from meetings, but in meetings as well. Anyone have a spiritual song they wrote? 😉

  11. Swayz,

    You’re right. Too many people think of church as a building.

    Still, their error should not force us into making our gathering places purposefully austere at the expense of the artistic among us. Correct the wrong thinking, but don’t penalize the artists for it! Again, using the artistic gifts of those in our community for the edification of the community and the Lord is in keeping with the ideals of work, play, and expression all being for the glory of God. The Reformation focused that perspective, but we have forgotten it.

  12. Anonymous

    I think we expect most people to fit into one mold or the other. However, I have seen pastors sent away from their congregations simply because they lacked in some area; they were not a great administrator or entertainer. We need to recognize each other’s gifts, make room for expression of those gifts, and realize that we all need each other to make the family of God work.

    Blessings to you and to your family.
    Darla Z

  13. Ronni

    Since we are so diminished in our appreciation of powerful, majestic, and beautiful works of art, when we say that God is powerful, beautiful, and majestic, we have far less of a mental reference for saying that.

    I so agree… so many people don’t know even how to use their imagination. I remember watching Frontier House and the one little boy said something incredible… He said that in his 20th century life, his gameboy and nintendo were his life, and all he knew, and that going back to the Frontier, he discovered his imagination.

    Can you imagine? *G*

    I find it incredible that the group of people I’m with now so value art. They don’t go overboard, but rather put it in its proper place. It is used as a gift to God from us and as a form of worship (but nobody paints during service! LOL). They even put their money where their mouth is and opened a Christian Art gallery here.

    Throughout all of this I finally got to say outloud, “I am an artist” and not be ashamed of that fact.

    Oh and Susan, I shoot full digital and I guarantee my stuff is as good or better than most film shooters… I started out with film, but now I can see if I got what I wanted right away, and if not, shoot it again. Not to mention retouching is much easier. I’ve shot some film at weddings, per request… and every time when they see the final outcome, they choose the digital shots (and can’t tell the difference once they are printed out). I’m so glad you choose to pay what they were worth. I myself have over 20k in student loans, and by the time I have all my equipment I need to stop borrowing and renting, I’ll have over 50K total invested. People still ask me to shoot entire weddings for 400 dollars. Amazing.

  14. I had a change of heart during the Christmas season. I was looking at the LifeWay Christmas catalog. At first, the selection of kitsch was laughable to disgusting. And much of it was overpriced to me. But I later thought about it. Why do I and other artists slam this stuff so much? We call it kitsch, trash, garbage, selling out for money. Sure, much of it does make me laugh, but the stuff IS creative! I think we lack creativity because the Christian arts community kicks artists around for making a go of it in the marketplace.

    I get criticized for wearing Christian T-shirts…by Christian artists! I get told…by Christian writers!…not to write the Gospel so openly in my poetry.

    And on further thought about the golden age(s) of Christian art, much of the historical Christian art also was very limited in scope. You painted Biblical scenes or saints, or you went hungry.

    But on the flip side of that coin, you can get a lot of mileage out of the same Biblical stories. Just see all the different ways things from the Bible are portrayed. We have Albrecht Durer’s woodcut of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and we have “Left Behind.”

    So I got some Christian kitsch this Christmas. It probably was not designed by a Christian, or if it was, was the person serious??? My younger brother, an avowed atheist, gave me the “Jesus Saves” coin bank. Look it up online for a picture. It will elicit a laugh or a howl of protest, depending on your disposition. It is like an idolatrous icon, taking the name of Jesus and His saving grace in vain. But I laughed at it, so I kept it. My brother bought it at a store called “World of Mirth.”

    Then I find out today that the co-owner of “World of Mirth,” along with her husband and two daughters, ages nine and four, were found murdered, tied up in their basement, throats slit, their house set on fire above them. It made all the arguments against a “Jesus Saves” coin bank seem silly. Every time I look at it, I hope I will remember them and forget about how sacreligious the bank might be.

  15. Steve

    Are you implying that Thomas Kinkade was “forced” to put his art on a toy semitruck because we weren’t helping pay him enough to put food on the table?

    I won’t argue with the fact there are many starving artists and photographers.

    But if you’re using Kinkade as an example, your example is a rather poor one. Kinkade is a multimillionaire many times over, who has a large company that looks for ways to market his art to make yet more money.

    I’m all for supporting artists. But let’s use appropos examples…

  16. Pingback: A Quiet Simple Life » For all you both brained people out there (and everyone else!)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *