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Deconstructing "Christian Drama"

Joe looked across the coffee table from me, a spark in his eyes revealing his eagerness.  He leaned into his next question.  "So.  What did you think?  I really want to know,"  he asked between sips of his latte.  "And don't hold back either.  I want to get some good feedback that I can take with me."

It was three weeks earlier that Joe had first contacted me about a play he was producing at a local church.  He had written and produced it over the last three years, and fancied himself a serious writer and craftsman.  Passionate and energetic, it was obvious that he was driven to produce this play, and was personally attached to it at many levels.  And so he sought out people in the area, "influential" people I suspect, to help further his production and gain credibility.

But it was one week earlier that I actually sat through his play.  I cringed at the stilted dialogue that hung in the air like a boring lecture.  I lamented over the one-dimensional characterizations, a hodge-podge of stereotyped caricatures (does the anti-Christian antagonist really have to be dressed like a Nazi?).  And I puzzled over the dystopian story arc, what little there was, which seemed simply to exist only for the purpose of asserting Christian dogma upon the audience.  It was preachy, condescending, long-winded and poorly acted. 

Sitting there in a darkened church auditorium, I witnessed everything that was wrong with so-called "Christian drama."  

Something happens when art is used to serve primarily as a vehicle for a message.  Francis Schaeffer, in his book Art and the Bible, says that in this view:

"Art is only an embodiment of a message, a vehicle for the propagation of a particular message about the world or the artist or man or whatever...but, as I have said, this view reduces art to an intellectual statement and the work of art as a work of art disappears."

In this view, art is simplly a medium upon which truth is revealed, a vehicle for a message.  And in it's worst form, art becomes simply propaganda.

But there is a larger view of art.  When the Christian artist strives toward great art, his or her Christian worldview will inescapably shine from it.  Because art should reflect the artist in some way—what he believes, what he has experienced, what he has placed his faith in, how he uniquely sees the world.  In other words, the Christian artist should not strive to create "Christian art," but rather, strive toward honest art.  And in that honesty, their art will somewhow reflect the creativity of the Abba Father, the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  I believe that this holds true whether you are a playwright, songwriter, choreographer, moviemaker, or poet.

All of these thoughts collided in my mind like the opening stroke in a game of billiards.  And as I sat in front of Joe, fidgeting with my coffee, I took a deep breath—and then I slowly and tenderly, and as lovingly as I could, told him what I thought of his play.  

To his credit, Joe accepted my opinions with grace and humility.  He took mental notes of specific things I mentioned, and agreed that there were things he could do improve the artistic integrity of his play and make it more sensitive to unbelievers.  We ended up talking for quite a while about it all.  And at the end of our conversation, at the end of the coffee, we parted as friends.

I don't know if Joe will do anything with what I said. I don't know if this will change anything he does now or in the future. 

But I tried to be honest and grace-filled with him.  And as artists, that is always what we must strive for. 


Great article, Manuel. I don't know if your friend Joe heard you, though. In fact, I'm pretty sure he has upgraded to movies now. Christian movies. Let's plan an intervention. ;)

I guess that's the subject of another blog altogether...

Sincerity and craftsmanship don't always appear on stage together. I've seen (and even participated in) so many lousy Christian productions over the years, and most of the time the audience didn't care how bad it was; they just wanted to take pictures of their kids--or slap the backs of good friends out of kindness. All over the world, lame low-budget church productions (and banners and artwork and music and acting) are still making people feel good. Should we always tell them it's bad? Believe me--I'm not for shoddy art, but we might make a small case for kitschy, loving, honest crap. I'm not even sure I believe this--I'm just thinking out loud . . . In short, I think God can even bless the bad stuff.

I want to see this live. It is really inspiring. This is to remind people about the life of Jesus and the importance on studying about His word. - Instant Tax Solutions Reviews

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A rock musician turned rocket engineer turned Christian artist, MANUEL LUZ is a creative arts pastor, working musician, and author. His new book, Imagine That: Discovering Your Unique Role as a Christian Artist, is released by Moody Publishers.