The Relationship Between Art & Church



Today over at Christ and Pop Culture, I took a look at the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of the tricky relationship between art and evangelical Christianity. There is serious historical baggage that has led to current views of art within the church that are unhealthy. Beholding great art is often simply not attempted because of fear, bad theology, and/or historic anti-intellectualism.

In the words of Dr. Richard Lovelace ,

Evangelicalism has its roots in Puritan and Pietistic traditions which has fused the ascetic piety of the early church fathers with Protestant doctrine and which has also overreacted against the luxurious expression of Christian faith in symbolic liturgy graphic art, music and architecture. As a result of these forces, the evangelical stream moved away from the sacramental vision of life in Catholic tradition, in which the created world is not only celebrated as good but recognized as a constant symbolic message about spiritual reality. Evangelical moved in a Manichaean direction, toward a frame of mind in which the objects of sense and sigh could drag us away from what was “spiritual”.

Read the entire article over at Christ and Pop Culture on what can be done to mend the strained relationship between art & the church.

The Misunderstood Sacrilege of Russian Punk Rock

The wincingly unpleasant situation in Moscow over the actions of the punk band Pussy Riot have been well covered and well followed for the better part of 2012. It all started when a few members from the Russian punk band Pussy Riot did a “fake prayer protest” inside of Christ the Savior Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox mega church, if you will. Most by now know that Pussy Riot was convicted of Hooliganism (seriously) and sentenced to two years in a Russian prison that I cannot image, despite some recent social reform, is a very nice place. Since then the western world has been nearly unified in calling for the release of Pussy Riot. I say nearly, because yesterday Christianity Today seemingly made a case against Pussy Riot based on sacrilege.

Sacrilege, or the act of profaning and/or mocking religion is what led to the riots in Benghazi, the crusades and the untimely death of this scribe…



But in all seriousness, the argument made by Christianity Today is based on how the fake-song-prayer of Pussy Riot could have offended Christians.

“..the Orthodox see the iconostasis and the altar, before which the punk band performed, as a consecrated place of divine encounter. The band didn’t just show disrespect for Jesus and his mother, which ought to concern Christians everywhere. Their performance was also an act of religious aggression against believers who had come to pray in a place of sanctuary.”

Essentially, Christians could possibly have been offended and so the legal actions of the Russian state are understandable. But this raises some troubling questions.

The Theology of Sacrilege

The Christian God is not a god that needs the defense of humanity; the God that “laid the foundations of the earth” (Job 38:4) and “determined its measurements” (Job 38:5)is not in need of our offended sensibilities. The sovereignty of God does not ebb and flow with the profaning of an altar by those who do not even believe in the reality of an altar. “Religious aggression” against Jesus by nonbelievers of was not greeted in the first century by an offended temperament but by mercy. However, false religion was deeply offended by anything that might smell of disrespect. Think of king Nebuchadnezzar, who demanded everybody worship his little golden idol and threw Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into the fire for “sacrilege”. Like an insecure, albeit buff, prisoner in a prison yard who gets his feelings hurt (i.e. ‘disrespected’) whenever anybody looks at him funny. So it goes for the religion that cries “sacrilege”. The offense of sacrilege implies that the god in question needs and expects the obedience of those to do not worship him. However, the real problem is that all sin is actually sacrilege and Christ has taken on God’s perfect reviling of sacrilege for the sacrilegious.


Pussy Riot & Sacrilege

Pussy Riot is not a CCM group. They are progressive, openly non-Christians who used a venue to them as sacred as a coffee shop to display (broken nonetheless) the Imago Dei. Pussy Riot was protesting the crookedness of the Russian Government in a bold declaration that would have gotten them the firing squad a mere 20 years ago. And in doing so in the church, reminded the world that the Russian Orthodox Church is operating in a corrupt union with the Russian State. Pussy Riot went to the heart of corruption and just as Jesus drove the moneychangers from the temple, cried foul on a truly inhumane system. As Christianity Today points out,


Jesus drove the moneychangers out of the temple but he did not cast aspersions on his mother nor defame his heavenly Father.


But while Pussy Riot did sacrilege, they also (at the exact same time) imitated their heavenly Father in seeking justice. This is the same pattern for every act of justice ever attempted by fallen humans, who give off the aroma of the God who created them and the aroma of deadly rebellion against God with every action taken. As Christians, Christ has taken on the offense of sacrilege that we have committed and while we may not believe in the values espoused by Pussy Riot or think that it is a good thing to profane a church (I am not pro-sacrilege, people! I am not about to fight that war in the comment section), the gospel frees us to have mercy on our ideological “enemies” and even support them in their fight against other powers of wickedness in the world.


And as for the idea of Christian’s being “offended” by people disrespecting God, maybe it comes not from a place of defense, but insecurity. I know that when I get offended, it is usually because I am insecure in who I am in Christ and what Christ is doing in human history. Like Paul’s warning about eating meat sacrificed to idols, it comes down to the conscience of the individual. But to support the Russian government’s corrupt actions against these feminist punk rockers is to deny the sovereignty of God to use crooked sticks to make straight lines. Maybe Pussy Riot is a just a very, very crooked stick that will lead to straight line of reform in the Russian Church and/or government.

Seven Websites That Will Enrich Your Life

In the sea of the internet, it is easy to drown. But if you learn the ropes and travel wisely, it can be a dear friend. These are my go-to websites for helpful information, spiritual nourishment and cultural relevance. If instead of wasting hours and hours of time on facebook, we diversified our online portfolio we could use the ubiquity of the internet to actually enrich our lives instead of destroying it!


This is where I go for all of my immediate music/arts needs. With quality reviews, features and tons and tons of cool lists, you can’t go to paste and not learn something awesome. At least, it will help you keep up with the endless stream of new music & movies.

6. Christ and Pop Culture

Okay, I am a bit biased here (I write for them…), but even if I didn’t, I would still read the content regularly. CaPC is an online-magazine style blog with a quality staff of diverse and talented writers (I don’t know why they let me hang around!). They avoid a common pitfall of most Christian sites of being too focused on a certain niche or subculture. The broadness and clarity of CaPC set them apart in the blogosphere. And they just switched platforms, moving all of their content to, which is giving CaPC some much needed exposure!

5. The Doghouse Diaries

If you are unfamiliar with this glorious timewaster, give yourself an hour and click the link above. It is the funniest website that I go to. Simply a thrice-weekly cartoon website with silly commentaries on life, relationships and everything in between. The graphs are my personal favorite. So maybe this wont change your life, but it lots and lots of fun!

4. Beer Advocate

Maybe you aren’t a drinker, fair enough… But if you are, this is how you become a *good* drinker. Beer advocate is a comprehensive beer education website, with rankings for just about every beer on earth and tutorials for pouring, purchasing, homebrewing and everything else in beer-world. And if you have a smartphone, it is a good way to avoid buying a dud at the grocery store or a restaurant. So stop drinking Michelob Ultra and get over to BA.


3. The Atlantic

One of, if not the best place to get news, current events, etc. The articles are carefully thought out social commentaries by excellent writers with diverse points of view. Some of the best articles that I have ever read (period) were on the Atlantic. And they treat Christian issues with dignity and respect, unlike many mainstream news publications. An article a day may keep ignorance away.


2. The Gospel Coalition

The Gospel Coalition is like the reformed theology Wal-Mart (minus the brutal business tactics and sad employees), one stop shopping. Not only are some of the best blogs online located at the Gospel Coalition, but the posts, reviews and cultural critiques are usually top notch. Every now and then there will be a post that borders on legalism or enculturation, but for the most part it is just a well stocked fridge of gospel resources.


1. Twitter

This one may seem obvious/ like a timewaster, but twitter (if done right) is one of the best resource gathering tools available today. If you choose your followers carefully (never feel ashamed to ‘unfollow’… your time is valuable) and limit your intake, twitter can be life enriching. Without it, I would be hopelessly behind on the blogs that I read regularly and have no idea when my favorite musicians were releasing new albums. Also, twitter functions as a platform for some of the wisest and godliest men to teach to a mass audience (I’m specifically thinking of: @RickWarren, @NickKristof, @ScottyWardSmith).





Precious Puritians & The Race Card

Last week the most interesting “controversy” in the Christian blogosphere was the drama surrounding a track from Propaganda’s (really, really good) new album Excellent. The song, “Precious Puritans” is an unsettling meta-critique of the Puritans pretty awful tract record with slavery and race. But with one listen of the song, it is evident that his purpose isn’t to blast the puritans, stir the pot of Christian hero-worship and remind his listeners that even the best of the best are awful. And like anything of this nature, the song got tossed around the blogosphere like controversial little rag doll.  The heat started when Owen Strachan, professor of Church History at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, posted a critique of Prop’s track, saying,

I wonder if Propaganda isn’t inclining us to distrust the Puritans.  He states his case against them so forcefully, and without any historical nuance, that I wonder if listeners will be inclined to dislike and even hate them…He qualifies his words on Joe Thorn’s blog–pretty strongly, in fact–but what about all the people who hear his song but won’t read that specific blog?

Enter Joe Thorn’s Joe Thorn’s recent blog posts. Prop qualified his words with an interview on Thorn’s blog (as a response to some of the grumpy backlash) and reminded folks that “God uses crooked sticks to make straight lines.”. And realistically, all Prop did was reiterate what he said in the song. The meaning is clear; God uses really awful sinners, like Propaganda and the Puritans. I think Strachan didn’t give the listeners (or Propaganda) enough credit in being able to discern the meaning of the song. ‘Precious Puritans’ is meant to ruffle the feathers of Puritan readers (like me) and it’s meant to wake us up!

Evangelicalism seems to have forgotten about race. American Christians have made a mess of racial relations in the church over the last two hundred years, and instead of proactively moving towards repentance, the church simply doesn’t talk about it anymore. Propaganda doesn’t let us get away with this. I think he realizes that a lot of the dudes out there listening to Christian rap are White dudes. And maybe this is exactly what Prop wanted, because anything that is really true is going to cause a ruckus. Like much of what Propaganda says throughout the album, we should approach this track with a teachable spirit and a humble view of our corporate and personal failures. This disposition will be ripe soil for revival and the fruit of the Spirit.

And don’t forget, you can buy Propaganda’s album here, or you can get it for free from the Humble Beast website. It’s a great album, one of the years best so far.

Check out  Joe Thorn’s post for the lyrics of Precious Puritans and to hear the track streaming free. Again, it’s dope.

Cheap Grace & Expensive Grace | The Best Ways (NOT) To Enjoy God’s Grace

Grace is scandalous, scary and hard to understand all at the same time. Everybody has their own definition of “grace”. A friend of mine used to say “well, all sins are forgiven so let’s rock ‘n roll!”. However, my personal favorite is Aunt Bethany’s understanding of grace. (‘She died thirty years ago!”).

And outside of the church, grace is everything from what you say before Thanksgiving to the fluid stunts of a gymnast. But inside the church, there is just as much confusion as to what grace is and why it is so enjoyable. When grace is understood and enjoy, it leads to incomparable freedom. In Dynamics of Spiritual Life,  Richard Lovelace explains that

Believers who are truly established in Christ have experienced the shattering of their spheres of ignorance and darkness by a growing understanding of the nature of God, their sin and God’s provision of grace in Jesus Christ

But I usually fall short of this earth shattering understanding and acceptance of God’s grace that is taught in the bible and in most orthodox theological systems. Why? What inhibits me from enjoying what should be the most joyful and freeing spiritual revelry that the soul of man has ever known?

Well, in short, I do.

The two ways that it is easiest for me and most Christians to not enjoy the grace of God are through “Cheap Grace” and “Expensive Grace”.

Cheap Grace

It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who first coined the term “cheap grace”. Lovelace would say that it is “the wholly unbiblical teaching of justification without sanctification”(p.100). Essentially what happens is a Christian misunderstands that grace is not meant just to pardon us, but to change us also. This understanding of grace comes from a misunderstanding of why we need grace. Sin is just a few pesky slip ups, not an utter and complete treason against God embedded in the DNA of an individual, as explained in detail in many, many Biblical texts (such as Jeremiah 17, Psalm 51 and the book of Romans). This misunderstanding of the severity of human depravity makes grace look less amazing, and subsequently less enjoyable. To quote Lovelace again, (you can tell what I’ve been reading lately, can’t you?)

‘A conscience which is note fully enlightened both to the grandeur of God’s merciful provision of redemption [grace], will inevitably fall prey to anxiety, pride, sensuality and all the other expressions of that unconscious despair which Kierkegaard called “the sickness unto death”‘

Expensive Grace

The other extreme can be just as bad, if not worse. In a state of ‘expensive grace’ the Christian realized the despair of his or her depravity and is wrecked by it (as we should be!). Then grace comes along and all of their sin has been forgiven! God now accepts the believer unconditionally and whenever they sin, they remember that God has already forgiven that sin! How grand! And how true! But again, soon the same problem with cheap grace can rear  head: justification without sanctification. Grace is applied to the sins, but not the sinner. Enter Lovelace,

It is not enough to tell believers ‘you are accepted though your faith in Christ’. We must tell them also ‘you are delivered from the bondages of sin through the power of the indwelling Christ’.

If there is no grace to defeat sin, then the believer can easily enter into a pseudo-monastic guilt complex that feels the weight of grace and the weight of sin and must strive to at least pay God back a little bit for the sacrifice that he has made. This was Luther before God changed his heart through the book of Galatians. Constantly flogging himself and living in a legalistic hell of unpayable repayment. Let’s see if Lovelace has anything to say on this matter…. As a matter of fact, he does! Let’s listen in,

Even if we are assured that our sin is covered, we do not want to face the despair of having to live in conscious helpless awareness of its tyranny, abusing the grace and forgiveness of Christ. If we have to go on running further and further into spiritual debt, we would rather do this in the dark without realizing what is happening.

Essentially, our conscience cannot handle the weight of our sin and the weight of our forgiveness without the power of conformity to godliness. And since this view of grace essentially says “I am accepted and I will never follow God as I aught”. And while, in a sense, true, this leads to hardworking, miserable Christians. This is popular is the “gospel-centered” crowd (with people like myself). Much more could be and should be said about this.

But what is the alternative? How do we actually enjoy grace?

Free Grace.

Free grace is a full theology of atonement. Free grace says that we are flawed beyond our wildest imagination and forgiven even beyond that! But that is not all. Free grace says that grace is not just for salvation but for sanctification. We often see ourselves in control of our spiritual growth and striving. But the gospel says that God is actually the one in control of it all (Philippians 1:6). We enjoy grace by seeing our complete, comically terrible inability to be righteous and God’s complete, comically lavish grace on those who have faith. From there we trust that God gives us grace to live in line with the gospel. It is the grace of God working through the Holy Spirit that allows us “not [to] sin, (and to remember) that when we do we have an advocate through Jesus Christ”. This God driven sanctification frees us not to freak out when we (or others) are not perfect AND to respond joyfully to the prompting of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Totally free, totally not of our own strength and totally enjoyable (albeit sometimes difficult). If I understood this better in my daily life, I am 100% those around me would see Jesus clearer and I’d be happier. But you know what, God will surely bring that to completion, so it’s a good day!

Central Illinois School Shooting: A Case Study of Despair in the Youth Culture

The September 7th School shooting in Normal, Illinois had the potential to be much worse than it was. Nobody was physically harmed, only three shots were fired and the evacuation plan went as smooth as it possibly could. But it was certainly not a smooth morning. According to the Huffington Post,

“the gunman walked to the front of the room and pulled the gun, a hatchet, a canteen he said was full of kerosene and a bottle of what he said were painkillers out of a backpack.

…he [the student] had pulled out a weapon and pistol, and said, `Now it’s time for you guys to listen to me,’

…a few students managed to slip out of the room, and that led the shooter to fire the first shot into the ceiling. The shooter told at least one student he wouldn’t hurt them, and after lining the remaining students up against a wall complained that no one was willing to listen to him about unspecified problems.”

After a heroic effort by the teacher, the student was subdued until police arrived. And while this all ended better than it could have, this raises some questions that Christians must address about the culture at large.

 Why are so many so unhappy?

In America, There are more kids (and adults) on anti-anxiety and anti-depression medication than those who are not. We are disenfranchised, selfish, lonely and desperate. Have we always been like this under the surface or are we getting worse?

 What can be done to prevent not only shootings, but the isolation and desperation that lead to events like this?

Sure, metal detectors and security guards will find most of the kids with guns but how can we get kids to no want to shoot up their schools? Will there always be reckless minorities of angsty kids, or can this be curbed? On a larger scale, it seems to be a lost cause in the present. The present cultural darkness is simply different and more public than it has been (not to say that it is getting worse, just changing shape).

What is the hope of the youth culture?

As Christians, we have a hope and a joy to offer a disenfranchised, sad, licentious youth: Jesus. But is that what they hear at church? The gospel of Jesus is the only hope that the youth culture (and any culture, for that matter) has. But is that doctrine alive in the church? As Richard Lovelace points out on the progression of spiritual live and death in the church, After Luther awakened the gospel kraken of Justification by Faith alone “subsequent generations of Protestants were capable of turning Luther’s teachings into dead orthodoxy, and this seems to have happened especially in the Lutheran sector”

How can the church communicate and address this in the current culture?

Are old methods just in need of spiritual renewal or does the church need creative, new outlets? I am not convinced that the methods in use to reach the youth are issue, but it is the heart of the matter. Gospel renewal and revival is not as much a question of what, but of who. Who is changing the culture? Is it the Holy Spirit or the hardworking Christian crusader? Offering an alternative to the moralistic perspective of cultural change, Richard Lovelace notes that renewal is not of human strategy but

“Rather, it is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit which restores the people of God to normal spiritual life after a period of corporate declension. Periods of spiritual decline occur in history because the gravity of indwelling sin keeps pulling believers first into formal religion and then into open apostasy. Periods od awakening alternate with these as God graciously breathes new life into his people”

So the church’s response to the brokenness of the world need not be one of despair but one of prayer. Only Spiritual revival will change the church and affect positively the world around us, and only the Holy Spirit can do that, as seen in Acts 19:18-41. In sum, it really is only God who can change the hearts of those so desperate and despairing that they would turn a gun on their classmates.