Bad Art and the Tortured Beauty of the Cross

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“Don’t blame that trash on God.” So responds pastor Scotty Smith of Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee, when someone presents him a song “from the Lord” that falls short of a good, true, and beautiful aesthetic.

We evangelicals tend to want our art to be pristine, easy on the eye, as with Thomas Kinkade paintings. Our music and films often reflect this desire. We envision Christian worship as an escape from reality, where life is hard, filled with sickness, death, and lament.

Yet good art, especially the Bible, knows better. Greg Thornbury, dean of the school of theology and missions at Union University, suggests reading a Flannery O’Connor short story to see how art can awaken you to creation’s groaning. Even better, take a look at the tortured beauty of the cross. Or see what Mike Cosper, pastor of worship and arts at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky, sees in the Book of Esther: an R-rated tale of sex, murder, and seduction. This is the scene of God’s redemption.

Bad art encourages escapism among Christians. Good art, epitomized by the Psalms, helps us long for the new creation even as we learn to love all God’s creatures.