Art, Conscience, and Theological McCarthyism

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It’s not easy for evangelicals to talk about art. We polarize into camps: one denies art’s value, and the other exaggerates its virtues. We make our own consciences normative, engaging in a sort of theological McCarthyism, judging other Christians guilty by association with art we don’t approve. Or we dismiss legitimate questions about artists who presume the role of cultural priests, imposing values antithetical to the gospel.

Scotty Smith, Mike Cosper, and Greg Thornbury discuss these difficulties in a wide-ranging roundtable conversation. Art doesn’t work on the typical evangelical timetable, observes Thornbury, dean of the school of theology and missions at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. We want to clinch the gospel decision before the airplane lifts off, but art unfolds at a contemplative pace. We’re loathe to recognize beauty that comes from unregenerate sources, notes Mike Cosper, pastor of worship and arts at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky. That’s partly because we confuse common grace and special grace, says Scotty Smith, pastor of preaching at Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee.