Busting Myths About Christianity: Assessing Myths 7-8


Odysseus blinding the cyclops PolyphemusOver the last week, we've been looking at commonly heard statements about Christianity that have taken on mythical proportions. It's hard  to be a Christian in the West and not encounter these myths: 

  1. Christians are more judgmental than non-Christians.
  2. Christians are stingier than non-Christians.
  3. Christians are more intolerant of other people than non-Christians.
  4. Christians are more short-sighted than non-Christians. 
  5. Christians don't know how to have fun. 
  6. Christians despise intellectuals more than non-Christians do.
  7. Christians prefer kitsch over important art.
  8. Christian subculture mimics the world rather than creating anything lasting.
  9. Companies run by Christians are as unethical as secular companies, and perhaps more so.
  10. Christianity causes more problems in the world than any other religion.

Today, we'll look at myths #7 & #8:

7. Christians prefer kitsch over important art

As the Church of Jesus Christ grew and expanded, it touched nearly every art form. The Gospel's revelation of the divinity of Christ and His human nature resulted in a synthesis that ultimately broke the back of gnostic religions. This, in turn, created an environment in which art flourished, as God's coming to Earth as Man hallowed imagery.

But while the important artists that forged the backbone of Western art identified as Christians, the 19th century saw an increasing backlash against the realism that undergirded Christian art up until that time. With the coming of German higher criticism in the late 19th century, questions about the veracity of Scripture led to questions about absolute truth. The resulting cultural decline reflected in art that deconstructed itself.

Christian artists, unable to fend off the trend, either stayed true to their art and faded into profitless obscurity, or they pandered to low culture in an attempt keep bread on the table. When modern marketing techniques raised advertising to the level of popular art, the culture rewarded ad icons. Those icons, when mass marketed, led to an even lower form of art now known as kitsch.

I suspect that the rise of fundamentalism on one side and higher criticism on the other, dealt a death blow to Christian art during the Great Depression. Fundamentalists, in an entrenchment move, lumped all contemporary art into the category of "potentially evil," and this spilled over into the Evangelical consciousness. As a reaction against the supposed judgment that fell upon this country for the Roaring Twenties, Fundamentalists pushed hard against all forms of profligacy, and art, as a whole, suffered in that wake. Art, in general, lay damned.

But God built a creative spirit into man, so that desire to create needed a channel. What it got was a version of art that combined advertising imagery with a new sanitized Christian "ideal." And popular art, especially by Christians, has not recovered.

In her seminal book, A Profound Weakness: Christians & Kitsch, Betty Spackman argues from two sides of this issue, at once decrying kitsch as poor art, while acknowledging that it can still carry meaning for Christians. More to the point, she makes a bulletproof case that much of what passes for Christian art today is more kitsch than art, and that recovering a true appreciation by Christians for more masterful art may be difficult given the current state of Christian subculture around the world.

When all of Evangelicalism in the West is considered, it's hard to escape the truth that kitsch dominates our expression. From our "His Pain, Your Gain" t-Shirts to "WWJD" jewelry to modern megachurches, Christian culture perpetuates kitsch over substantive works, the typical Christian bookstore replacing the secular museum. Worse yet, the average Christian today can rack his brain and not come up with the name of a contemporary Christian artist—with the possible exception of Thomas Kinkade.

The problem of Christians and kitsch extends to all parts of the creative life within the Church. As kitsch itself is a derivative form, so too many creative endeavors within the Christian community lack a true defining Christianity, instead adding a Christianized coating to secular forms. What a true Christian expression of the arts might look like in the 21st century is yet to be seen, but we all should hope to live long enough to witness its full blossoming.

Assessment: Confirmed


8. Christian subculture mimics the world rather than creating anything lasting

Our affinity for kitsch means Christian expression cannot avoid including it at the core of our subculture. As mentioned above, the derivative nature of kitsch means the art itself has come from some other source, itself often derivative. Christians attempting to create out of that limited pool come off as pseudo-sanctified mynah birds, rather than images of the Spirit as dove.

For this reason, contemporary Christian culture in the West lives more off a perverted form of its past than a vital present. When the Reformation is reduced to a derivative t-shirt, it's hard to argue that modern Christians care one iota about leading culture, preferring instead to be culture's dog on a leash.

Appealing to cultural relevance only worsens the problem, pulling the Church down into the world's cultural cesspool. Though not all of modern culture should be viewed at arm's length, sadly, the aspects deemed most usable by the Western Church are the ones most needful of discarding. Sure, it may be possible to erect something intriguing out of rusty tin cans, but is that redeeming the time we've been given by the Lord?

Until the Church in the West abandons its love affair with redeeming the sleaziest parts of our culture, most of what we redeem from it will be garbage. And derivative garbage, at that. Encouraging folks guided by the Lord to create new directions in culture—leading, not following—and backing their gifts wholeheartedly is our only hope.

Assessment: Confirmed 


Stay tuned, the final two myth assessments still to come… 

Entries in this series:

{Image: Odysseus blinding the Cyclops Polyphemus

More Cowbell Award III


A reader wondered a couple weeks ago why I had not posted a “More Cowbell Award” in recent days. More Cowbell!The fact is that there are entire sites that have sprung up in the last few months that do nothing but assault harebrained practices in the Church, so I felt like all the good commentary was already being rendered up for bloggers. Why add more?

But in the last couple weeks I’ve noticed a theme coming to the fore. So the award no one wants to win is back with a vengeance. Though the winner of this week’s More Cowbell Award is widespread and well-known, it has nearly vanished from our perception because we now take it for granted. Having had some awful encounters with this recently, I hereby bestow the uncoveted More Cowbell Award III on

Christian “Adware”

I would guess that just about everyone recognizes the Ichthus symbol, be they Christian or not. It has a long history dating back to the earliest days of the Church. Ichthus symbolA story broke recently that archaeologists unearthed a third or fourth century church and found the symbol on everything. The Ichthus fish has even been co-opted by Darwinists by adding legs to it, and of course the Christians countered by having an Ichthus fish swallowing a Darwin “pseudo-fish.” Can’t miss the obvious point there, can we now, folks.

I’m venturing a guess that at least a third of the people who read this post will, in reality, have an Ichthus or some other Jesus ID on their vehicle. I think about three-quarters of the folks at my church self-identify that way, but I’m sure that’s countered by all the Presbyterians out there who would rather die than affix anything so kitschy to the Lexus. (Ha, ha! That’s a joke. Don’t flame me.) So, I’ll stick with the one-third guesstimate.

If you’re one of those in that singular third, you may hate me for what I have to say, but here goes:

Scrape the fish off your car. Please! I’m begging.

Why? Here’s a sampling of what I’ve seen in the last four days:

  • A guy with an Ichthus fish on his car goes hurtling past me doing over eighty in a sixty zone.
  • A car with a prominent Ichthus fish on it, filled with revelers, dumps all manner of trash out the window after passing me on the highway. (I witness this about once a week anymore.)
  • A couple whose car not only has an Ichthus fish but about ten other Jesus-related stickers on its back end also sports a large “High on the Hill” logo in the rear window. High on the Hill is a notorious head shop in my area.
  • A car sitting in the nearby grocery store parking lot not only has an Ichthus on its rear, but also a “Does not play well with others” bumper sticker and another with a stylized grimacing face whose meaning is lost on me. (Hey, it took me about a year to realize that the large italicized number on some people’s cars and trucks corresponded to their favorite NASCAR driver’s car number, so what does that tell ya?)

To be perfectly blunt (and when am I not perfectly blunt?), I can’t see what having any kind of Jesus fish or bumper stickers gets us except another reason for unbelievers to be hacked off at our lousy driving habits or the sheer hypocrisy of the plethora of other stickers we might have on our cars that cancels out that Ichthus. If a nut goes screaming past me doing twenty miles over the speed limit, he’s just a menace. But if he’s sportin’ the old Ichthus and doing it, well then he’s now a Christian menace.

    “Will ya take a gander at that car with the Jesus bumper stickers weaving all over the road right in front of us? Better get around this fine driving example and—oh, she’s not only talking on her cellphone, but she’s putting on the face paint at the same time. Martha, is my bazooka still in the glove compartment?”

    “Yes, dear.”

    “Well, lock and load, woman, and hand that thing over here….”

It’s hard to demonstrate Christian charity to someone else while driving. Other than signaling to another person that it’s okay to merge in front of you—in which case they never see your Ichthus on the rear of your car anyway—or perhaps letting an elderly person take the parking spot closest to the store while you park farther away, the only thing that can be accomplished by having Christian adware stuff on your car is negative. (I take that back. There is one “positive” thing. Back in the days before Internet porn, I think a few guys with Jesus fish and stickers on their cars may actually have thought twice about driving into the “adult” bookstore parking lot with a car advertising the fact they were about to do something really stupid. You think I’m kidding, but I’m not.) Otherwise, like the four cases I cited above, what we get through Christian adware instead of a life-chaging profession of Christ is a soul-killing anti-witness. By advertising the fact that we’re Christians and we can’t obey the law, can’t drive rationally, or can’t figure out that Jesus and the great prices on bongs at the head shop don’t mix—well, you don’t have to be R.C. Sproul to see that it’s just not worth demeaning the Lord via a plastic fish slapped on our cars.

With just three chords—Em, Am, C— it was the first song I learned on the guitar. “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love” says it all. That great chapter of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13, says that only one thing speaks the true language of the Kingdom of God. Not fish. Not bumper stickers. L-O-V-E. And it doesn’t come through pithy sayings above the exhaust system on our cars, nor through “This Blood’s for You!” T-shirts, or any of that other “here today, burn tomorrow” kind of junk that’s already passing away even as it’s rolling off a Chinese conveyor belt in Shanghai.

We need to ask ourselves what does more for our neighbor, showing her the love of Christ by being there for her in her time of need -OR- showing her the Ichthus symbol on the back of our Chevy when we pass her on the road?

That ancient church they just dug up had it right. If we want that Ichthus symbol in our churches, let’s go for it. But when we go out those doors into the world, we’re ambassadors for Christ. We should never give anyone a reason to think less of the Lord because we’re having a bad day; when we put big old Ichthus fish on our cars, we’re just asking for someone to find fault with us—and too often our fish-labeled stupidity gives people the ammo they need to not take Christ or His Church seriously.

Why do we have all the Ichthus fish, the “You sinned, but Jesus got nailed for it” bumper stickers, and the “His Pain, Your Gain” T-shirts? Do they advance the cause of Christ or merely give others a reason to find fault with it? Doesn’t Christian adware do little more than trick us into thinking we’re somehow evangelizing other people when we’re really not—or worse, driving them away from Christ instead?

Isn’t it time to scrape the fish off the car?

The More Cowbell Award II


More Cowbell AwardYes, it’s another installment of Cerulean Sanctum’s “award that no one wants to win”—the More Cowbell Award!

This one deals with contemporary Christian music, so you know it’s going to be a doozy. I’m sure just about everyone reading this blog will agree that most modern Christian radio stations are deep wells filled with the music of mediocrity, but it was hard for me to believe what I was hearing on two of the stations in my local area (I listen for the one or two decent preachers they have on from time to time. None of the Christian music I like is ever played.) In the span of no more than fifteen minutes, I heard three instances of what wins my second award. Even I was caught off guard by this new CCM trend because I didn’t think it was possible to surpass a nadir.

And I still can’t scrub it out of my ears, so—

Our second More Cowbell Award goes to

Children’s Choirs in Adult Contemporary Christian Music

I don’t get it. What is the lure for adults singers to have children’s choirs backing them on what are essentially pop and rock tunes? One of the songs that sent me screaming into the night had the most inane backing, with little kids repeating ad nauseum, “I fall down and get back up.” If I were a kid singing that three hundred times over through the course of the song, I’d think I’d take a swing at the producer, or at least bite his ankle. Guessing the ages of the singers, it sounded to me that on that song not a single kid was past the concrete reasoning stage, leading me to believe that all of them were thinking, Grownups must be really clumsy.

Back in the Eighties and Nineties we had what I called “Sandi Patty (or is that “Sandi Patti” or “Sandy Patti” or…oh, never mind) Syndrome” where producers, especially on her albums, had to have four thousand cymbal crashes, a white pop choir, a black gospel choir, and a London Symphony Orchestra swell at song’s end, culminating in a sonic denouement I can best describe as “cataclysmic.” I developed a permanent tic after the Christian bookstore I worked for several years ago insisted on playing a loop of Patty/Patti’s album Morning Like This all day, every day for weeks. Now, some musical genius from the realms of 2005’s CCM is forcing real live human beings to endure the voices of cherubic children mouthing the words some Nashville-crossover songwriter thought would sound cute and/or serious coming out of the mouths of babes.

Give me a man or woman with a decent singing voice and a mastery of a guitar or piano, and just let them sing, fer cryin’ out loud! After all, it’s Christ-ianity, not Kitsch-ianity.

*For an in-depth explanation of the More Cowbell Award, please click here.