Have you been to a Christian bookstore recently? What a cultural wasteland.
Novels with paper-thin characters, absurd plots, and execrable writing. Pragmatic, paint-by-numbers books that promise success in relationships, business, and, of course, dieting. Cheap, sentimental gifts that nobody needs. And don’t even get me started on the “lad magazines,” with their “provocative” covers hidden behind flimsy pieces of cardboard.
Oh, wait, did I say “Christian bookstore”? I meant to say “airport bookstore.”
If you think the Christian subculture is shallow, I suggest you pay a visit to mainstream culture. Turn on cable TV to a random channel, and you’re likely to encounter dialogue that would curl an English major’s toes. Choose the finest, Oscar-contending film at your local multiplex theater, and you’ll sit through a dozen puerile trailers before the feature begins.
It’s not Christian culture that is especially shallow. It’s our Western, popular, mass-mediated culture. Evangelical Christians in the United States have a protean ability to pursue relevance, and our impulse to popularize has brought people to faith and sustained faith where it might have been lost. But even Christian popularizers recognize the problem. We each have our favorite Christian examples in film or music or art or porcelain figurines that make us embarrassed to be associated with the name.
But we also have living writers, musicians, visual artists, and filmmakers who love Jesus Christ and are making extraordinary works of art. Some are well known and celebrated, others obscure and neglected. Some of them, like the Danish artist Peter Brandes (“Dwelling in Light Accessible,” page 40), are all too little known in the United States but are renowned elsewhere.
Then there is our cultural heritage. At a recent conference, former CT columnist N. D. Wilson pointed to two millennia of extraordinary art, created across several continents and many cultures, explicitly in the name of and for the worship of Christ. He then asked: Why shouldn’t this count in our assessment of whether Christian faith leads to cultural excellence? Of course it does. And even in our secular age, an extraordinary proportion of our most-loved stories—The Lord of the Rings and Narnia, of course, but also Harry Potter, Divergent, even The Hunger Games—have been created by writers shaped by Christian faith.
So when it occurred to us that we could dedicate this issue of CT to books and the arts, we jumped at the chance. People of Christian faith are still creating and curating some beautiful and enduring work—and that is worth celebrating.
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