Art vs. Words

I was mulling about an issue tonight that surfaces in the church realm frequently. It has to do with using art in church and what it's place is next to preaching and other methods of spreading the Gospel. John Piper said several months ago that they don't use a lot of media/visual arts in their services for fear "It’s going to communicate that preaching is weak, preaching doesn’t save, preaching doesn’t hold, but entertainment does."

Art words

The uproar from the Arts and Multimedia world was pretty widespread. This is because the natural tendency after reading such a firm declaration is to challenge it. And who can expect less from the group of people that the author is, in a sense, "attacking". But my post here isn't really a defense of either side. I'm a Multimedia Director who considers himself a "Piper-ite"... which, for me, is really nothing more than being a "digital" disciple. But through my mulling I had a little epiphany that helped me understand where the difference lies between preaching with art and preaching with words.

To me this issue really boils down to a core idea that has to do with the method which you express a meaning or idea. Your idea is the original thought before words, pictures or sounds are used to express it. The words, pictures and sounds(plus other methods I haven't listed) are merely the means of translating your idea into something that others can comprehend. Now what I've come to realize is that each of these methods of translating fall on a scale with two ends. On one end of the scale there is the abstract way of conveying an idea and on the other end is the explicit, or intentional way.

The abstract way of expressing ideas leaves room for interpretation by the audience, the explicit way does not. The explicit way serves one purpose, to portray a specific understanding of the original idea with no room left for interpretation. My point here is to show that the two items being discussed, art and words- in their purest form, fall at different ends of this spectrum, and we can choose where to place each of our methods between the two ends.

Art at it's purest form is meant to be interpreted by the beholder. It's not explicit, not direct, not intentional of any kind of meaning. That's what makes it art. Artists, when creating their works, don't intend to express an explicit meaning. If they did, they would just write it out, IN WORDS. Instead they want the audience to take their creation and be free to read their own meaning into it. That's what makes art so enjoyable, the less explicit the better. Words on the other hand, in their purest form, are the exact opposite. We have words and languages because it is the most direct, non abstract, method of conveying meaning. When you want to know the ultimate meaning of something, you ask for it to be conveyed in words. It's why we use email in the office instead of pictures and pantomimes. The absolute ultimate method of conveying an idea clearly is through words.

Now, when it comes to which methods are acceptable to use in a church service.. the truth is, both your spoken word sermons and your visual art pieces will fall on the scale between abstract and explicit. Where you place them on the scale is up to you. Your (creative)videos have just as much ability of "preaching" as does your pastor's sermon. But where it falls on the abstract/explicit scale is what determines it's artistic value. So the question isn't about method really. It's about the amount of clarity you want to use in presenting your message. As in most situations, I believe a healthy balance is always important.

God, who is the ultimate Preacher, uses all forms to convey His message. In abstract ways He shows His glory through creation. All the way from the expansive galaxies down to the tiniest form of the double-helix, God has proved Himself to be the most exhaustive of artists. But He also expresses Himself in direct, explicit methods. Scripture is our prime example of how God purposefully wrote out a message for all humanity to hear. In it we have the clearest example of the character and nature of God that there has ever been, Jesus Christ. It's God literally putting his message in human form for us to vividly understand.

In regards to John Piper, it's pretty clear to me that he's more of an explicit kind of guy. And in this I would support him in the sense that there are truths of the Gospel that should not be portrayed abstractly. They're strict ideas that come from God and should be treated with strict methods of conveyance. And Piper has based both his church's service-style and methodology around this principal.

Personally, I believe every church can choose where on this scale they let their methods fall when it comes to portraying the Gospel. But each will reap different benefits by doing so. I think Jesus used a certain balance of explicit preaching and abstract preaching by means of parables and stories. So as a church, find the balance that works best for your audience and go with it. But don't forget that "best" isn't debatable, because "best" means making your audience the most like Christ. That is the Church's goal and as soon as your method of conveying your message hinders that, you've missed the point.

MJ & God

I was thinking today about Michael Jackson and what he would have said/did say when standing before the throne of God. If asked “why should I let you into Heaven”, I can imagine him saying “well...” as he starts to give an answer that might sound something like this...

“Surely you know the amazing things I did while on earth, and of all the people that loved and respected me...I’m kind of a big deal. I was abused as a child, yet I grew up to be one of the most impacting artists of all time. I wrote so many genius songs and presented staggering performances that amazed millions of people. I have a love for people and children all over the world and believe everyone can ‘make a change’. The impression I’ve made on others has carried on to inspire so many new artists/singers/songwriters and who knows how many people they’ve impacted as a result of my inspiration. I’ve fathered 3 wonderful children who I love very much and always gave them the best that I could. I lived my whole life trying to help and love people because I think that’s what everyone should do.”

But I think in that moment as he starts to speak, he stops to look around and observe the magnitude of the presence he is standing, an indescribable setting that displays all of the awesomeness that is God, and His glory that resonates beyond all understanding. Then as he tries to comprehend all of this he looks over his shoulder to see where he’s come from. The world in which he once reigned now only compares to the tip of a pin next to where he is. So he turns back around and with a shrug mumbles... “nevermind”.

Let us not forget that the award that awaits us as Christians is far greater than any position, power, respect, pleasure or feeling that this world can ever offer.

Tworship?

For some reason today I came upon at least 3 articles addressing the concept of twittering in church. For some reason it's a real hot topic and I've been surprised at the number of strict opponents of the phenomenon. But this particular blog post I came across really took the words out of my mouth and it applies to most everything in life that deals with battles of extremes. My reply I posted to the article deals with what the essence of my blog is about... that being/doing the extreme of any certain thing leads to unbalance (and usually idolatry) and that the key is to "keep balance".

I replied specifically to others in the thread and I won't post those here, but you can view them on the original article's page which is linked here.

Thou shalt not Twitter during worship, says . . . who?

by Bruce Reyes-Chow

My response:

Every area of life carries potential of becoming idolatrous. Anything that is abused or excessively acted out as to detract from one's relationship with God is an idol. However what most people overlook is that the opposite of excessively acting out or abusing something is to deny one's participation or association with the subject altogether. And the problem that gets misunderstood is that this denial is in and of itself an idol.

In the context of this article, Twitter use is being questioned because it has the potential to become an idol and take the place of our communication with God during the specific setting of worship services. However, what is overlooked by many is that to argue the opposite of using Twitter in church is to have the wrong answer as well. To try to argue that no one should ever use it during service is to create an idol of solitude and concentration that must be acted out in order to communicate with God. That is to say that this demeanor is the requirement for getting the proper effect intended for church gathering times.

I would say this mentality is wrong because it denies the Holy Spirit to work through any atmosphere except that of silence held by the congregation during preaching and possibly singing if applicable. I have come to learn that most areas where two sides are debated like this (to do/not to do) that it must be understood that balance is the key to avoiding idolatry. If one is truly a Christ-follower and attends church in order to commune with believers and to be fed by the Spirit, then who can deny him the opportunity to share that with the online community? For one to cast judgement that he is either right or wrong for tweeting or not tweeting is to deny that person of their own convictions by casting legalistic demands on them.

For me, the balance happens by tweeting when I feel necessary and not tweeting when I am aware that it is a distraction to others or to myself. But to declare a universal mandate of right or wrong for the whole church community is to create a rule with no justification that only denies both parties of letting spiritual conviction(not social conviction) guide their actions.

In response to the typical arguments against twittering I would answer their questions this way: Are there people that only tweet to glorify themselves? YES... But are there those that use this technology to further the impact of the message? I would say even more so! Can the tweeting be done at other times? Possibly, but it seems to me that the impact of an audience that is (digitally) engaging in what's being presented is so great during the time it's happening.An example from Mars Hill Church shows what people tweet during church and I can't help but see how excitement and community would grow from using technology in this way.http://blog.marshillchurch.org/2009/03/02/sunday-in-the-life/

I don't even feel the need to address how tweeting hardly differs in the slightest from note taking and could be a huge benefit in that way. My church does not specifically utilize twitter or texting as a dedicated tool in our services, and that's ok! But that has never stopped me from tweeting my thoughts on the experience/message when I feel the need.

Thanks for the words Bruce.

Thoughts on Humility

Just thought I'd throw a quick thought out before I head to bed. When following famous, successful Christian leaders(culturally speaking), I've seen that they often are asked by others how it's possible to stay humble in the midst of all their fame and attention they've received. And it's a worthy question if you think about some that have hundreds of thousands of followers, news agencies banging on the doors and other leaders of their kind giving them pats on the back. It's got to be really hard not to become confident in your abilities and talents real quick as if it were something YOU started.

But I was thinking tonight about how that question is almost irrelevant if you truly understand how leadership of that kind works. Now we all know that the humility I speak of is a gift from God and only he can grant it. And that's exactly what those leaders generally say as a response. But I don't believe it's like some side benefit that all of a sudden is granted because a person has arrived at a certain level of maturity and fame. I believe that it is arguably the intial prerequisite for even carrying on a walk with Christ in the first place.

What led me into this train of thought tonight though was the idea that humility and spiritual success go hand in hand because the opposite WILL NOT HAPPEN! Growing spiritually while still relying on your own will to keep you on track will always end up a dead end. And the reason for this is not only that our nature is corrupted but also because God won't let you take the credit for your success. It just won't happen. We have to first admit our dependence on God and ask Him to do the things through us that we cannot. And only then will He receive the glory.

So in the case of the successful leaders who have a deep relationship with the father, I believe they have been given humility in order to be better known for Christ's work. Had they not utilized that gift, the result would've been completely different. Though there are instances where prideful, arrogant figures impact thousands of lives and do it in the name of Christianity, they are more often than not preaching a false or light-hearted gospel in order to further their own success. These people usually have what's called false humility where they make themselves appear humble on the outside but are merely doing it as a means to further their success. Many times they achieve this success but it is contrary to the achieving of Kingdom success. A true follower of Christ will only be able achieve large Kingdom impact if done with brokenness, transparency and humility.

Don't Blame the Gun

I’ve found myself thinking a lot about this lately... about how sometimes we don’t deal with sin as we should and instead try to blame our sin on a cause or means to the sin. It’s almost like we don’t realize that (first of all) our sin is something that we don’t only choose to do, but it’s a state of being we have inherited from our father Adam, and (secondly) that the tools with which we sin are not the reason for the sin at all, they are merely means to an end. We like to think that we’re naturally good people and it’s our surroundings that tempt us and lead us to do evil.I’ll use a bumper sticker I saw recently as an example. You’ve probably seen it before, it states simply “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. And the whole point is that the gun is simply the tool with which a sin can be accomplished... it is NOT the sin itself. In other words it’s not the gun’s fault, it’s YOUR fault.

So there’s two things I think we should realize: First, that we shouldn’t blame the gun. It’s important to understand that we sin because we are made sinners. Though we do choose to perform sins, the core of our sinful actions starts in our heart because we have inherited this nature from Adam (Rom. 5:12-21). We don’t sin because we are tempted, we give in to temptation because of our sin nature and failure to exercise obedience and self control. Secondly, we need to realize that the means to sins can sometimes be used for good and it would be a sin in itself to deem them as bad when they’re not. In the gun example this would mean trying to redeem firearms by exercising their positive uses instead of trying to abolish them based on the reasoning that they have been used to commit sins . Guns provide protection for our families and our country, they help us gather food and meat for eating and they are a tool that helps our government officials keep an upper hand over criminals and law breakers. So to try to get rid of guns altogether would be to sacrifice the positive effects of using them in order that we might remove the possibility of sinning.

For Christians, realizing these two points helps us to not only understand that sin is an issue of the heart, but it also gives us freedom to begin taking things that some use for evil and start using them for good. A great example of this is technology. Some might say that Christians shouldn’t have internet access because there’s so much temptation to view pornography. But to abandon cyberspace altogether is to lose an opportunity to utilize it in a God-glorifying, missional way. By not stepping up and embracing these new tools and methods God has given us, we’re basically handing them over and saying “here you go Satan, use these... we’re scared of them”.

Now some might quote Matthew 5:30 or Mark 9:43 which says “if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away”. But this is not sufficient evidence against the argument because Jesus’ deliberate overstatement here is intended to stress the importance of devotion to one's spouse. It’s clear he is not saying that we should remove all things that MIGHT cause us to sin because earlier in Mark he tells us that “from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft,” etc.

He specifically tells us that the means are not the issue... it’s the heart.

Now in this entry I have only spoken of 2 things that someone might have issues with and thus wrongly accuse of being a cause for sin. But there are many other things that open the door for temptation and create a pathway for evil acts. Basically abuse of anything whether it be watching too many films, overeating(not that many would regard food as a sin) or hanging out with lost people, all of these can lead to committing of sins. But when acted out in a healthy balance they can be enjoyed and used in the way they were designed as well as acting as a means to spread the gospel message.

As my blog title states... there must be a balance.