Last week I took my wife on a date to see the recently released Christian film War Room. I went on the recommendation of more than a couple people in my church, people I trust theologically and artistically.
Like most Christian movies, War Room was received with a mix of critical disdain and audience acclaim. Films like these can be incredibly polarizing. People either come out singing its praises or shouting an artistic “anathema!” over it. This is even true in the church. Christianity Today tore the film to shreds in a recent review. Yet even as I write these words, two women are sitting behind me talking about it. “Wasn’t it fabulous?” one says. “Yes! My whole family needs to see this!”
My Artistic Dilemma
As an artist, I entered the theater admittedly skeptical. And, as expected, on an artistic level I was sadly left wanting. There were even some occasional theological fumbles that had me less than enthused (I squirmed as many likely did during Priscilla Shirer’s “get behind me Satan” rant). And yet, to my surprise, the film’s themes still resonated. I felt convicted regarding my prayer life. I was reminded of the daily battle for my family that’s being waged. I sensed an urgency to fight against spiritual attack. And I was often moved to tears at the gospel themes portrayed.
As I left the theater that night, I sensed an interesting mix of disappointment and encouragement. I find that, like so many, I want to write off a movie like War Room as bad art, but I just can’t escape the fact that it’s done some real soul-level good for me. How should we reconcile this tension?
God Rides School Buses
When I first began making records in 2005, I had a chip on my shoulder. I was nauseated by much of what I heard on Christian radio. I wanted to write music that was deep, complex, and interesting. I wanted my content to explore the far reaches of God’s character and promises.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the record store. After I finally made the music I really wanted to, I noticed something. My most purchased, most celebrated, and most influential songs were the simple, sophomoric, unoriginal, four-chords-and-a-guitar gospel-proclaiming ones. What's more, all the songs I labored for years to create—the ones I really felt dabbled in the profound—were almost never mentioned.
How could something so elementary be used so mightily for God’s glory? I’ve learned something these past 10 years: God often prefers a clunky school bus to a limousine when bringing people to himself. As the apostle Paul observes:
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are. (1 Cor. 1:27–28)
Desire to Use the Undesirable
It’s wrong to conclude from these verses that God wants Christians to settle for making bad art. That’s obviously not Paul’s point, nor is it mine. The passage is descriptive, not prescriptive. Nevertheless, we do see an aspect of God’s character here—he desires to use undesirable things for his glory. He loves using unimpressive objects to demonstrate how supremely impressive he is.
Should we be surprised, then, if in his wisdom he often decides to use more popular, mass-appeal forms of art for the display of his glory? If there’s no room in our worldview for an appreciation of accessible pop-art as well as more sophisticated varieties, we may have more of a heart problem than an art problem.
The truth is the gospel can be as simple as it is complex. The same news that baffles brilliant minds is the same news embraced by little kids. Yet it is still so easy to cultivate pride in the name of a refined palate, particularly in intellectual Christian circles.
I am not asking you to compromise your desire for great art from Christians. Far from it! We should want excellence and depth from Christian filmmakers, songwriters, and authors. But we should not assume that if their art lacks profundity then God cannot or will not use it in profound ways.