27 December 2006

Sending out weiner dogs

by Frank Turk

I just realized it was Wednesday, which is unofficially my day for occupying this space, and I realized I hadn't been preparing for it. I have been so engrossed by my Belkin TuneBase over the last two days, I'll be honest: I forgot about blogging. You can't imagine how entraced you can get listening to every frequency on the FM dial trying to find one with the appropriate level of stationlessness in order to broadcast a puny little peep from your iPod so you can listen to John Piper, Third Day and James White's rather hardscrabble free MP3s.

Anyway, as I found that 88.9 FM is the best for my little device, I was listening to Dr. Piper describe Christians as "task oriented" folk who frankly have let the arts slip through our fingers. There are a lot of reasons for that -- each could probably make a very keen blog post in and of itself -- but let me suggest one which Dr. Piper did not say in particular.

As a people, we Christians have adopted one of the worst attributes of the anabaptist tradition, and that is a rather sincere disdain for things which are true and beautiful. Here's what I mean by that: we have set up a false dichotomy between "true" and "beautiful" so that anything which is "true" must be plain or otherwise homely, and everything which is "beautiful" must be the work of the devil because it appeals to our eyes and ears. And we have also let the world dictate to us what is "beautiful" so that we don't even know it when we see it anymore.

So what we wind up with, for example, is the ocean of vacuous "worship" music in Christian bookstores which is neither true nor beautiful; we wind up with Christian "art" which is hardly suited for comic books let alone the walls of our homes; we wind up with t-shirts being the high fashion statement of our subculture; we wind up with literature-ignorant and theology-vacant "poetry" that neither moves emotionally or inspires intellectually.

And with these things, we want to have a culture war with New York, Los Angeles and Hollywood. Good grief, people: we might as well be sending weiner dogs out to defend us against an army of machette-weilding Haitian voodoo zombies. At least the weiner dogs would be able to smell the dead meat and run away from it, and we could follow them.

So what to do? I mean, isn't the right answer to study the culture and then try to co-opt its methods because obviously those methods are working on those people who we say we want to reach? It's that the missional thing to do -- especially in the arts?

Does that sound like a TeamPyro post to you?

Let me suggest something instead which I think many people probably have heard but no one has bothered to apply to this problem: all great art demonstrates the tension between love and death. That's not a Biblical proverb per se, but it is, in fact, true. All great poetry is about the tension between love and death -- even if it's not the love of another person or the death of a particular person. And one of the great failings of modern culture is its shallow vision of love (which is explicitly and almost exclusively sexual and sensual) and its obsession with death (either by avoidance in worshipping youth, or its glamorization of suicide).

Listen: if there's anything on Earth (or in the Heavens) which we Christians ought to know something about, it's Love and Death. In fact, we should be the ones who are exclaiming the fact of Love in Death. We shouldn't be establishing a suicide cult but extolling the fantastic fact that Christ died for our sins because God Loved, and Christ was resurrected in order that death would be destroyed.

There's more art to be made in that one sentence than all the movies Hollywod has ever turned out, and more than either NYC or LA could turn out in music and TV in 10,000 years. Why? Because there is Truth and Beauty in that statement, and it doesn't force us to make false moral choices or reduce our expressions to some gloomy, dismal, atonal text.

The great topic of art belongs to us. The great purpose of art is not, as someone once said, to frame a lie which seems pleasant, but to frame truth by analogy -- and the greatest truth-by-analogy of all time is the Bible.

So as we close out the season of meditation on that the incarnation of Christ means (or ought to mean) to us, the Christians, let us also think about how we tell others about this great gift. It's not enough to get it right in theory: we must also get it right in practice, which is to say, in the full-contact sport of real life.

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
and the one who gets understanding,
for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
and her profit better than gold.
She is more precious than jewels,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
those who hold her fast are called blessed.
Let us find her, and let us tell everyone how precious and rich she is indeed.


UncleChicken said...

Amen! If anyone is interested in this area, Francis Schaeffer has some really good books about Christianity and art...

REM said...

Circle the bases, Frank.

Taliesin said...

we wind up with t-shirts being the high fashion statement of our subculture

Reminds me of Elvis Costello's line in "Radio, Radio" where he says I want to bite the hand that feeds me. ;)

Your "love and death" link reminds me of a painting that use to (still does? - this was well over 10 years ago) hang in the Dallas Museum of Art. I was generally unimpressed by what I saw there (I'm sure because I'm a hick) with one very big exception. This large painting was of a main hall in a castle. The room was in a state of disarray, and the king was slumped on his throne. The queen (presumably) was at his feet with her head fallen on his lap, in seeming distress for him. The entire mood was one of mourning, but I, at least, sensed the tragedy was primarily his, and she was there out of love for him.

Not sure if this is exactly what you were driving at, but it is what came to mind as I read your description.

Mr. Jakobos mentioned Francis Schaeffer. I'll risk a mention of the (not in any way associate with Mars Hill Church in Seattle - older actually). If you like to try before you buy, you can get monthly snippets in a podcast form at iTunes as "Audition". It will likely be too broadly "christian" (little "c") for some, but is thought provoking at the least.

Taliesin said...

Okay, my html skills leave something to be desired:

Mr. Jakobos mentioned Francis Schaeffer. I'll risk a mention of the Mars Hill Audio Journal (not in any way associated with Mars Hill Church in Seattle - older actually). If you like to try before you buy, you can get monthly snippets in a podcast form at iTunes as "Audition". It will likely be too broadly "christian" (little "c") for some, but is thought provoking at the least.

Steve Scott said...

The evangelical attitude is quite often, "it's the message, not the music." Quite right. If the music stinks, nobody will care about the message. Which is why my favorite (and only) Christian rock group is U2.

FX Turk said...

ARGH! I shoulda seen that one coming!

Steve --

Can you name any incidence in U2 where the actual Gospel is preached? See -- I can name at least 10 examples of where C.S.Lewis preaches the Gospel through fiction; I can name 5 in Tolkien. I might could find 3 in Bob Dylan which he wrote. But I can't name one in U2's (read: Bono's) lyrics. Not one!

You didn't ask me, but I'll tell you flat out: U2 is the perfect example of Christians (if that is what they are) delivering the culture's version of beauty and forgetting that there ought to be God's truth behind it.

And don't "40" me, OK? Anyone can sing "40" and have it mean anything. And let me make this clear: if "40" is your only example, then what was your point again?


clyde said...

Frank. Amen indeed. As my wife and I were playing cards last night I commented how tragic it is that Point of Grace represents successful 'Christian' art.

Schaeffer has helped me immensely in processing all of this. He had an appreciation and an eye for beauty.

Art by Christians should be the most complex, intricate and beautiful work the world has ever seen.

candy said...

If anybody wants to check out an artist who typified excellent art from a Christian perspective...check out Albrecht Durer.

Trinian said...

You really scared me for a second, Cent. You need to save that stuff for April 1st!

If I understand your point properly, then I agree that an otherwise valid aversion to worldliness can be, and has in many cases been, twisted to the point of creating a lack of any sort of beauty - since we can't be seen to approximate any of the highly-corrupted forms of what can be truly beautiful.

On the flip side, it will be interesting to see how many people will comment in favor of embracing corruption at all costs - if only to preserve some beauty.

Steve Scott said...

I understand your point, but disagree. U2 are musicians. Do Christian plumbers use explicitly Christian pipe wrenches and explicitly Christian joint compound? Why is "preaching the gospel" necessary in music? Did David preach the gospel when he played for king Saul? Is God anywhere mentioned in the book of Esther?

Truth is not synonymous with "preaching the gospel," because truth encompasses more that just the gospel. U2 creates (in my opinion) great music. They are true professionals that want to excell in their craft. That's what I appreciate most about them, questionable political views aside.

MSC said...

We wind up with t-shirts being the high fashion statement of our subculture.

Methinks the pot calleth the kettle black.

Lin said...

Frank wrote: As a people, we Christians have adopted one of the worst attributes of the anabaptist tradition, and that is a rather sincere disdain for things which are true and beautiful"

Gee, low blow. ...'true' and beautiful? Aren't you kind of generalizing here....

maybe they were just poor and could not afford big stained glass windows like the 'state church' of the early reformers.

FX Turk said...


You have opened the can of worms, and now you sleep in it. Or something like that.

Once upon a time, it was said of Hillary Clinton that her "christian faith" was so integrated into her personality that you didn't even notice it. let me ask you: does that not sound somewhat strange?

Specifically, doesn't the Christian faith actually do anything? Didn't Christ describe it as a city on a hill, a lamp to be put on a lampstand, salt which must have saltiness?

That is, didn't Christ say that faith ought to be noticed in some way?

See: I happen to know a Christian plumber, a Christian fast-food owner, a Christian CEO and a Christian insurance agent, among others. And you know something? None of them have fishies on their businesses' signs or business cards -- but they are well-known in their circles of influence as Christians.

Now, why is that? Is it because they belong to civic groups? They do, but that's not it. Is it because they do charity work? They do, but that's not it. It's because the Gospel comes up.

And this is a group of guys who use contracts, money, wrenches, and cheeseburgers as tools of the trade. What if there was someone in this group who used words and ideas as tools of the trade? Would it be reasonable to say, "well, the Gospel just doesn't come up -- but wow! what a cool poem!"

As I continue to think about this -- and I have been thinking about this for 20 years -- you just can't call a singer who apes the Gospel a "Christian" when he can't find it in himself to express the Gospel from time to time.

A Christian plumber is a Christian plumber if the Gospel comes up. The Gospel has to come up because it is more important than plumbing.

Is that really that far-fetched? I'd be willing to say, "U2 is full of guys who go to church and read the Bible -- but their band isn't a Christian band because it has nothing to do with Christ."

Does that make sense?

Readers beware: Scott's been very civil in his defense of his words so far, but if you're reading this and want to randomly defend Bono, I'm going to be less excited about less well-considered opinions.

Catez said...

All great poetry is about the tension between love and death

Perhaps. Sometimes it's about the tension between carpe diem and slackitude. "Do I dare to eat a peach?"

I lkie some of what Francis Schaeffer has said, but why do we focus on aesthetics - the surface of the medium - as if that alone conveys the artist?

Catez said...

artist meaning The Artist.

Steve Scott said...

Whoa, here. I'm not quite sure what happened because my original comment was designed to lend support to your post because I agreed with it. Was there something I misunderstood? We have let the arts slip through our fingers and in doing so I agree we've set up the idea that something "true" must be plain or homely. How true of so-called "Christian" music. A half-hearted effort has resulted because of the focus on "the message" at the expense of the music. The "gospel" may be there, but a lack of excellence in the music couches the gospel within a bed of mediocrity. Hardly the way to treat the gospel!

When I converted to Christianity, some friends tried to introduce me to CCM. They gave me tapes and CD's of "Christian" music. Well, the compositions were second rate, the recording techniques were lacking, the music was just plain bad. Such is the case also with much church music I've heard. It is purposefully made bland so as to obscure God-honoring talent for fear of giving man the glory. Beauty, as you said in ridicule, must be the work of the devil because it would appeal to our senses.

The result of what I'm saying is the "vacuous" worship music you dislike. So, I agree with your post! Maybe we disagree on the idea of Christian vocation. I would hope somebody is known in their circles not merely because the gospel comes up, but because they perform their work with righteousness and excellence. A Christian plumber is a Christian plumber because he does what a plumber should do. I've known Christians who boast about their slack-handedness on the job for the sake of the gospel, (for example playing GTY so loud on the radio that everybody can hear MacArthur, or using company time to create Christian computer passwords and screen savers as witnessing tools to the computer geeks) and quite frankly it destroys their "gospel" witness. Atheist friends of mine have told me as much. Is the chief end of man to glorify God or to let everybody know you're a Christian?

farmboy said...

Genesis 3:6 is an interesting verse: "So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate it, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate." (ESV)

During my formative years in the Midwest I had the opportunity to look on some beautiful fall foliage. Those trees were a delight to my eyes. But, I'm a fallen, redeemed, and not yet entirely sanctified human being.

Adam and Eve up through Genesis 3:6 had the opportunity to do something I will not do this side of heaven. Adam and Eve were able to look at God, talk with God, and take walks with God. Adam and Eve had capabilities that were yet to be diminished by the fall.

Given the unfallen state of Adam and Eve and the communion with God they enjoyed, consider Genesis 3:6. There has to be some benchmark against which we evaluate something to determine if it qualifies as beautiful. Adam and Eve were able to gaze on God. What can be more beautiful than looking at Him? Yet, with this benchmark for beauty Eve gazes on the tree (and its fruit) and pronounces it a delight to the eyes.

Now, move to 2 Corinthians 5:17: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." (ESV) What does it mean for the old to pass away? What does it mean for the new to come? Our present situation does not change as a result of being reconciled with God the Father through the Christ. We live in the same house with the same family; have the same problems and such. What does change is our perspective - how we see and understand our present situation.

As part of sanctification over time the old is more fully removed and the new is more fully put in place. If the benchmark for true beauty is found in God, then as we progress through the process of sanctification shouldn't it follow that we better see and understand true beauty in art, literature and such?

Is it possible that the present state of Christian art, literature and such is due to Christians for whom the old has not sufficiently passed away and the new has not sufficiently come? Instead of seeing and understanding literature from a distinctly Christian perspective, do too many Christians still see and understand literature primarily from an unredeemed perspective? Then they try to Christianize unredeemed literature instead of creating literature from a distinctively Christian perspective.

In Christian higher education we talk often of integrating faith and learning as if they are equal components. In my area of business is the proper perspective one of integrating Christianity and business or one of seeing and understanding business from a distinctly Christian perspective? I side with the latter. In literature, then, is the proper perspective one of integrating Christianity and literature or one of seeing and understanding literature from a distinctly Christian perspective?

Touchstone said...

I dunno, Frank. I wouldn't put "40" up there as "Gospel", but what do you think this stanza from U2's "When Love Comes to Town":

I was there when they crucified my Lord
I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword
I threw the dice when they pierced his side
But I've seen love conquer the great divide

That sounds like it might be talking about Jesus' crucifixion -- and Bono's role in putting Him on the cross. Maybe? Earlier in the song (verse 1) Bono says:
I was a sailor, I was lost at sea
I was under the waves
Before love rescued me
I was a fighter, I could turn on a thread
Now I stand accused of the things I've said

Indeed the whole song is about having his life transformed by love, and this transformation he points at Jesus death on the cross in the lyrics.

Or how about the song "Falling At Your Feet"? Here's a couple stanzas:

every foot in every face
every cop's stop who finds the grace
every prisioner in the maze
every hand that needs an ace
is falling, falling at your feet
i've come crawling, and i'm falling at your feet


every eye closed by a bruise
every player who just can't lose
every pop star howling abuse
every drunk back on the booze
all falling at your feet
oh i'm falling at your feet

The song ends with these lyrics, lest you twitch your eyebrow and wonder who Bono's talking about:

(all fall down) all the information
(all fall down) all the big ideas
(all fall down) all the radio waves
(all fall down) electronic seas
(all fall down) how to navigate
(all fall down) how to simply be
(all fall down) to know when to wait
(all fall down) this plain simplicity
(all fall down) in whom shall i trust
(all fall down) how might i be still
(all fall down) teach me to surrender
(all fall down) not my will, thy will

Or, here's a song I like by U2: "Grace". Hold on, you say, that's about a girl! Well, yeah, but this is art Frank. What do you think this stanza is referring to:
She takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain
It could be her name

It's a name for a girl
It's also a thought that changed the world
And when she walks on the street
You can hear the strings
Grace finds goodness in everything

It's one of those tricky works-on-more-than-one-level deals. Some have wondered if Bono isn't talking about *real* grace in an artful way, just here. The last few lines are rich in speaking to the Gospel too, I think:

She carries a pearl in perfect condition

What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stains
Because grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things

Grace makes beauty out of ugly things

I don't have a way to check with Bono, but I'd say "She carries a pearl in perfect condition" is a reference to Matt 13:45. And "left a
mark no longer stains" I'd go so far as to suggest is a pointer to Isaiah 1:18 -- which is definitely a Gospel reference if you ask me. And the beautiful last line is a lyric any sola gratia Reformed type should be able to appreciate, especially when you hear it with the music.

Lessee... There's "Miracle Drug" which has the lyric "I was a stranger, you took me in", which gets me thinking about the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25, verses 34 and 35.

There's "Crumbs From Your Table", which has the title of course and this lyric that point at Matt 15:21-28:

You speak of signs and wonders
I need something other
I would believe if I was able
But I’m waiting on the crumbs from your table

This song invokes the faith of the Canaanite Woman in the context of Africa, and the suffering there.

I could go, but you get the idea. U2 songs are rich in Bible references and pointers to themes and principles of the Gospel. But it's conceived as art, not preaching with a I-IV-V chord loop behind it, so you like the best art, you gotta think a little bit about what Bono's getting it with many of the references and messages.

And that's the ironic thing about your post, Frank. You make a very good point about a big problem -- evangelical Christianity's abdication of the arts. Then, you throw down the gauntlet, announcing in advance that U2 (as an example) isn't explicit enough or in-your-face-enough, or [insert-favorite-complaint-here] enough, and proceed to wonder why Christians have not made much progress in redeeming the arts -- especially popular music.

Truth be told, I'm not a huge U2 or Bono fan. But I do get the messages he sends through his music, and they are done artistically, but effectively all the same. He's painting a mosaic of his faith with this music, and it centers around all the primary themes of the Gospel, being fallen, saved by grace, transformed by love, and committed and engaged in working toward the Kingdom of God, here and now, right here on earth.

We've hashed this out before, and I know you just can't stand Bono -- he's not fundy enough to make the cut in your eyes. But the very reason why the really good music today -- the *art* the exist in music lies nearly completely out of the world of CCM is precisely because of the attitude you have toward art -- hostile to the art. If Bono wrote his music to please your demands, I think it wouldn't survive as quality music. It takes some artistic treatment, some indirection, some rendering to yield art that is redeemed, but truly and powerfully artistic.

You've got ten thousand Christian music artists, a great many of which will score much higher on you "Gospel Quotient" for the lyrics, but never reach anyone but the converted. That's all fine and well, but if you really mean what you say about the arts in your post, I'd expect some understanding of how art gets made and expressed. It isn't gonna read like the lyrics of a WoW CD, even and especially when its at its best.


Mike Barrett said...

Frank, you come close to arguing 'form' over 'function'. Please correct me on this, but I don't really see your point supported by anything Jesus said. Seems to me that Kingdom work is down in the trenches, sometimes painfully boring, and the wages are low too. If there is art and beauty in all this I am not sure that is the target we should aim for. It might be a wonderful biproduct of the mission, however.

I guess, in the end, God helps us fight voodoo priests with a pack of weiner dogs... but I have seen some o' those weiner dogs kick some butt.

FX Turk said...

I will get to all of touchstone's examples later today. I thank him for making the effort.

FX Turk said...


I would agree with you that the rudimentary Gospel work is muscle and blood, skin and bone. But it turns out that the apostle Paul didn't just do painfully boring, low-wage work in the trenches: he wrote letters. That's art.

The Gospels are stories told to make an explicit theological point: that's art.

Jesus told parables -- that's art. Jesus interpreted Scripture: that's art. Jesus provided object lessons like cursing the fig tree and resurrecting Lazarus -- that's art.

The earliest church had hymns and spirtual songs -- that's art.

There is no question: I'm in for the physically-hard stuff. Read last week's post on the practical example. But God wants us to serve him with -all- our hearts and -all- our minds and -all- our spirit. Without minimizing the toil and real sacrifice of the good, Godly people who are bivocational missionaries, All is a lot bigger than making everyone into one kind of bi-vocational missionary.

Everyone will not be an artist in the Kindgom, but Artists will be in the Kingdom. At the same time, let's not confuse real artistry with popular fame -- if we are going to conduct a culture war for Christ, we will have artists making art who are being thrown to the same kind of lions that the teachers who refuse to forget Christ when Christians celebrate Christmas are being thrown to. We will have artist who are persecuted for sharing the Gospel explicitly and forcefully in words and pictures.

But even if this is true, it is up to us, who are non-artists or are lesser artrists to recognize and embreace those who are making art for Christ's sake. We can't shuttle the arts off to its own Christian ghetto and hope they turn out OK. These people are missionaries to the culture in a way that a conventional pastor is not and perhaps cannot be.

FX Turk said...

Lydia --

Sorry I didn't get to your comment sooner -- I was ranting about U2 and missed your interesting point.

I would be willing to grant that the reason they didn;t -do- those things was because they were poor. The problem is that they also -decried- those things.

Now, let's get a few things in place before we say more than that:
-- Personally, I'm against cathedral-building because, well, I'm in favor of the local church. I think that there's a place where a local body is too big to be doing internally what it ought to be doing, which is preaching the Gospel and making disciples.
-- I'm also against any cult of personality -- whether it be a living pastor or a dead saint. In that, there are dangers in iconography which can be overcome but which have to be balanced against Biblical admonitions against idolatry.

With those things said, there's a line one crosses when one is willing to toss all art out from the sake of Godly poverty and stoicism. God doesn't call us to mope around all our second-birth lives; God doesn't ask us to mutter in Greek in the hopes that the magic words will transform lives.

God calls us to preach the Gospel to every living thing. That might manifest itself in blogging or in commenting on blogs. It might manifest itself in song-writing. It might manifest itself in 10,000 different ways because every person in the body of Christ is not a foot or an ear. And think about that: the idea that we are members (that is, parts; appendages) of the body of Christ is a metaphor! What a beautiful thing it is that God speaks to us in poetry!

This is not about a high view of economically-low living: this is about Christ being Lord of every kind of living, and putting all the works of man under Christ's kingship.

FX Turk said...


I have read your comment twice now, and the example of who I would pony up as an honest-to-God Christian artist is Keith Green. When you contrast Keith Green against Bono, all of my points become transparently clear. And, unfairly, I leave that work to the reader.

However, let me slide in the example which makes everyone who defends Bono crazy: Johnny Cash. Here's what Johnny Cash was not: he was not a psalmist (small "p", no implication of personal inspiration intended). He was an artist who was a Christian -- and whenever the opprotunity came up, he preached the Gospel with no-holds-barred.

One of the problems with all of the examples you have presented here relative to the Gospel is that these lyrics could mean anything to anybody. Yes, Bono uses the word "savior", and he uses the word "grace". the word "lord". No question. The question is whether his use of these words points us to the grace of God and the sacrifice of the Cross as redemptive and necessary, or if they are just people and events in his songs about himself.

Listen: I think that, in the end, there will be a lot of great artists like Johnny Cash who were deeply flawed men who leaned hard of God because they were weak and sinful but will turn up with the sheeps rather than the goats -- and maybe Bono is one of those guys. But when someone asks one of these guys the question, "so are you a Christian?" they will answer (in words to this effect), "I belong to Christ; he bought me, and I didn't deserve it." They will not answer (in words to this effect), "all religion has some holy truth in it."

And they will have said it with their art.

SFB said...

You broke the bonds
and you loosed the chains
carried the Cross and all my shame
All my shame
You know I believe it

-Bono, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"

That point aside, I think we need to be wary about labeling every pop singer who mentions Christ or faith in Him a "Christian". Bono may or may not usually spout orthodoxy most of the time, but Johnny Cash had some WEIRD beliefs interpolated into his brand of Xtian thought, as do may others who seem to want Christ but deny His church.

FX Turk said...


I was hoping someone would bring that up. The lyrics are properly rendered --

You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross
Of my shame
Of my shame
You know I believed it

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for

That's a lot different than proclaiming the Gospel: that's proclaiming that it wasn't enough.

Would you agree that if I made a teamPyro post that said, "Jesus is Lord and Christ, but I need more than that" it would not be the Gospel but a subversion of the Gospel? If not, how?

Kim said...

I know this is not in the line of discussion that is here so far, but hey, why don't make a little diversion.

Just what do you mean by a "weiner dog?" Do you mean a particular breed like a Daschund?

That may sound like a totally irrelevant question, but this whole discussion of U2 and whether or not they are Christians is something I've heard enough about.

FX Turk said...

A bit on Johnny Cash:

He took baptism 4 times according to the biography Cash. He was AOG or Pentecostal, so he believed in personal revelation and daGifts (as we say here at teamPyro). He was a drug addict who never fully recovered and he divorced his first wife to marry another woman.

But when he was faced with the matter of speaking to others about what he was, he was clear: he was a sinner saved by Grace, and without Grace, he was nothing. He wasn't looking for something else.

Without speaking for Phil, Dan or Pecadillo, I'll go on-record to say that that man went down to his house justified, and I embrace him as a brother in Christ in spite of my stench as a Zwingli-istic baptist legalist and in spite of his stench as a pneumaticistic cheerleader.

The sufficiency of Christ is the Gospel -- the rest of that stuff is important but not sufficient, not saving.

FX Turk said...

By "weiner dog" I mean "a lap dog; the kind of carnivore which cannot protect itself against real danger". You can't send a lap dog -- or even an army of lap dogs -- to fight machette-weilding Haitian voodoo zombies.

The voodoo zombies would make them into vienna sausages.

I don't want to see any Christians made into sausages, literally or figuratively.

And thank you for trying to step over the dead horse. This new one here and not the other one.

DJP said...

On Johnny Cash I have little opinion; on Bono (and the band) more. But what I wanted to share, tag-teaming with Frank, is this:

I'm old enough to remember well the impact when "I Still Haven't Found" came out.

The critcs et al. knew that it meant U2 was cool. They weren't going to preach to them. They were lost and still looking around like everyone else. It had the impact of a counter to the evangelistic "I Found It" campaign. U2 was "us," not "them."

4given said...

So are you implying between the lines that you don't like songs like:
Your love is extravagant
Your friendship, it is intimate
I feel I'm moving to the rhythm of Your grace
Your fragrance is intoxicating in the secret place
Cause Your love is extravagant


Touchstone said...


Well, I like Jonny Cash *and* Bono. Overall, my CD player sees a lot more Johnny Cash than U2. I see Cash and Bono as two of a kind: driven, talented, prone to excess, but fundamentally concerned with getting things right with God in their own lives.

As a quick aside, I was given a copy of the book Johnny Cash Live at Folsom Prison: The Making of a Masterpiece back while the Walk the Line buzz was still going. The Folsom Prison concerts are some of my favorites, in all of music, not just Johnny Cash. Anyway, the book goes into *way* more detail than I needed to know all about that famous performance in 1968, but what was obtainable from the actual concert audio was made abundantly clear in the book: Johnny Cash didn't come to Folsom to preach, but to connect with the prisoners.

The Amazon blurb on the book points out:

Cash, a moralistic, mordantly witty man fighting his own drug-addiction demons, who viewed his prison concerts (he gave more than 30) as a chance to connect with convicts, not preach at them.

I don't have a book on the Madison Square Garden concert, but I've listened to the audio a thousand times, and it's not a preaching event, even with all those lost people in the crowd.

Which is not condemnation from me. Rather, I just think you have a distorted view of both Cash and Bono -- in opposite directions.

But the point here is, I think about *art*, rather than a Bono-vs-Cash duel via combox. Keith Green, along with Larry Norman and Phil Keaggy were all Christian musicians who took their music seriously as art. But they are more the exceptions that prove the rule than representative of the CCM genre, unfortunately. And in Green's case, his lyrics were solid (too solid, I often thought -- very narrowly channeled), and he was a great piano player, but his art was not art that would have appealed to the masses. Artistically, he just wasn't that good (and he was good).

Whatever you think of his piano playing skills, there's a lesson in the art of Keith Green. The "right-between-the-eyes-all-the-time" approach has it's place, but it ultimate ends up in the "preaching-to-the-choir" bin, which is unfortunately where Green ended up artistically.

So what's left? Compromise and weak-kneed faith? It's a brute fact that straight-ahead preaching is very difficult to pull off in popular art as art; people don't want to be preached to when they are buying a CD for easy listening. That doesn't mean that preaching doesn't have its place; it does. I know you've got a penchant for "right-between-the-eyes-24-7", and as penchants go, that's a commendable one. But the practical effect of demanding that in popular art is to make your art get left by the wayside, ignored. Like so much of CCM, we can pride ourselves on the preaching, but we'll again be wondering why our stuff is never taken seriously as art -- we are on the outisde looking in.

Instead, I think we maintain a straightforward stance of preaching and proclaiming, on the street, in the church and everywhere else where people will listen. But let's redeem the arts, realizing that art is art, not a platform for preaching (and yes, preaching is itself an art!). That doesn't mean the Gospel message can't be conveyed through art -- it can -- but it's gonna show through as an organic part of the medium if it's to have any currency as art.

As it is, I will point out that while Cash didn't preach to the prisoners at Folsom, even though he could have/should have, he most definitely did minister to those men with his art. He connected with them in a deep, visceral way. The book has a series of comments from inmates about the effect Johnny Cash had in that concert; a clear-eyed realization how broken and lost they were, but that *all* men are, even the famous guy up on the stage, for example.

That's art in action, I say. Righteous action. Did it end in an altar call? No, it didn't. Should it have? Perhaps. But here's a classic example where Christians are tempted to make the great the enemy of the good; if it did "peg the needle" as a modern page out the book of Acts, then it must not have been any good at all.

That's too bad, because the Gospel works best as a "combined arms" operation: Preachers preach, believers witness, artists make their art, infused and framed by their faith. The message goes forth in different media, sometimes more "in-your-face", sometimes less so, but all converging on the same Gospel message. If you demand that art becomes a form of preaching (as preaching), it just slips through your fingers, and it becomes inert to our cause. But let art be *redeemed* art, and you have a powerful cultural and aesthetic tool that points people toward God. That may not be "ticket" for salvation itself, but it can be -- should be -- a potent force in moving people in that direction, preparing their hearts for when the preaching really *is* delivered. Straight between the eyes.


donsands said...

I have a "Gutter Company". Weird.

I install aluminum seamless gutters for about 15 builders.

I, and my two partners, have been tremendously blessed finacially.

We try to do all our work with excellence.

Our greatest desire is to glorify the name of Christ in our work, and in our company.

Many times we have preached the gospel on the construction sites.

It simply goes hand in hand. Sometimes I have not spoken of Christ when I should have, and other times I tried to force Jesus on others. And then there are the times when all things came together, and God's grace worked in me to be a witness for His name's sake, and for the gospel.

Good post Cent. And some good comments to think about.

Here's the bottom line for us all I would think:
"For whoever shall be ashamed of Me and of My words, of him shall the Son of Man be ashamed, when He shall come in His own glory, and in His Father's and the holy angels." Luke 9:26

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation". Rom. 1:16

Speaking of Christian musicians, that verse reminds me of the Newsboys song:

What are we sneaking around for?
Who are we trying to please?
Shrugging off sin,
Apologizing like we're spreading some kind of disease.

I'm not ashamed to let you know
I want this light in me to show
I'm not ashamed to speak the name of Jesus Christ.

Jim Crigler said...

A few notes:

1. I bet it's easier to find a free FM frequency in Siloam Springs than it is in metro Atlanta.

2. This entire thread and comments — all the comments, are oddly encouraging to me, personally, for reasons I won't explain here.

3. In his Nobel acceptance speach, William Faulkner wrote that the only story worth telling is of the human heart in conflict with itself.

4. One of the Dougs wrote a while back that resurrection is the only story worth telling. (Yes, I know there's a conflict with #3; that's why I included it.)

FX Turk said...


I'll throw you a bone on this one.

When Bono is dead, and someone writes his bio, we will have a fully-orbed picture of who he was in the end. And in that, Cash in 1968 is not the Cash of 1978, 1988 or 1998 -- and I think it would be easy to say in 1968 at the Folsom prison concerts that Cash was not a saved man -- not a believer.

I'll leave the rest to your own reasoning power.

Solameanie said...

I probably shouldn't get involved in this, but I will.

I make no judgment of Bono's heart. I have read interviews where he seems to state orthodox Christian soteriology. Then he ends up messing up his testimony with very profane language. That might fly at at Emergent Church service, but most Christians I know have a problem with that. He is generally unapologetic about the language also.

U2 is not a "Christian band." One of the members (the bass player) isn't a believer unless he's been recently converted. They have also been known for advocating condom use at their concerts (I think they even had a booth where people could get them).

Keith Green, for all of his wonderful music, had some pretty serious theological issues also. He could be very legalistic. He advocated the "breaking up your fallow ground" stuff i.e. digging up all your past sins (whether they're under the blood or not). I remember going to what was supposed to be a Keith Green concert. He sang five songs and preached the rest of the time..and got irritated when people wanted him to sing (mercy..isn't that what they came to hear after all?)

We need to be careful about putting people on pedestals. If I got on one, I'd get knocked off of it pretty quickly.

candy said...

Keith Green: 20th century Charles Finney.

How come we get bogged down with U2 and Cash. How about Bach and Handel?

How about some visual works of art. Any pieces of art resonate with anyone?

How about the difference between the visual Italian Rennaisance and a more scholarly Europe influenced by the Reformation?

Anyways, just food for thought.

MSC said...

Christian art is an enigma to me. I was an architect for roughly 18 years before I became a pastor. I worked for a samll but prestigious firm who believed in building as high art. All of the greatest architects in history were not even remotely purported to be Christians (unless we include Roman Catholics).

Most if not all the great visual Christian artists were Roman Catholics (i.e. Rennaisance men - Michelangelo, Botticelli, Da Vinci, et. al.). All of the rest of visual art is dominated by something other than Christian.

Perhaps we can claim some literary artists - Augustine, Bunyan, Milton, Lewis (I seriously question Tolkien), and maybe O'Connor (Catholic again?). But the list of great non-Christian literary geniuses is endless.

We can claim some great lyricists - Luther, Watts, Toplady, Wesley, and perhaps a handful of others.

We have maybe a few great composers - Bach, Handel(?).

What about musicians? Along the classical variety I can think of one living today - Christopher Parkening. Maybe there are others.

As far as CCM goes, what a dissapointing show. There are perhaps moments of greatness, but nothing along the lines of timelesss legacy. I personally like a lot of CCM artists (e.g. Phil Keaggy, Fernando Ortega, Jars of Clay to mention a few), but let's face it, these will never compare to the Beatles, the Stones, the Dylans, the Led Zeppelins and yes even the U2's of the world.

I am perplexed that we do not see more art of genius among believers that seek to exalt the glory of God to the highest. The legacy of greatness in Christianity seems to be in the realm of thinkers and preachers (orators?) of which we can claim many. Does this say something about Christianity as primarily a religion of the Word - cut straight, unadorned and unobscured? I am still thinking about it.

candy said...

Some artists to check out who painted Christian themes (I can't speak for their personal faith), were Albrecht Durer (my favorite), Rembrandt, Gustave Dore, Hans Holbein the Younger, Mathias Grunewald, to name a few.

I can't name that many contemporary artists and refuse to include Thomas Kincade as an example of contemporary Christian art. I put him right up there with some of the disappointing CCM music stuff.

candy said...

Oh...I used the term "painted" when actually some of the artists I mentioned engraved and illustrated more than painted.

I love this subject. :)

MSC said...

I love Durer's work too. I used his series on The Apocalypse as illustrations when teaching through the book of Revelation a few years ago. It seems unclear where he stood spiritually and whether or not he fully embraced Luther and the Reformation. He was good friends with Erasmus. Nonetheless, he certainly ought to be included with the other Renaissance masters.

I thought of a few other literary giants, but I am unsure of their professions of faith as well - T. S. Eliot and Dostoevsky. The latter's "Brothers... and Crime and Punishment are masterpieces of the human predicament.

4given said...

The summary of the practical application of Christianity: "Whatever you do, do ALL to the glory of God." (I Cor. 10:31)

Can we really ever be too heavenly minded to be of no earthly good?

I read somewhere (wish I could remember) that Christians should use the gifts of common grace under the guidance of special grace to use creation for the glory of God.

In other words, Christians should employ biblical principles in art, music and all of life. Why? Because, for example, true art will glorify God, not tempt man or blaspheme our holy Father.

A Christian artist should employ a biblical paintbrush as he strives to essentially emulate the greatest of all artists, God, the Maker of all things; a Christian scientist should apply God's sovereign hand in his discoveries for even science is subject to the Word of God. Why? Because isn't general revelation subject to the confirmation of special revelation and not human experience? If not, than who gets the glory?

God is not Grandpa Big Bird looking down from the sky loving us, but not really involved in the daily plan of our lives. God is to be trusted as our sovereign Lord, especially in divine chastisement, affliction, pain, loss... our songs should be more beautiful, our art more God-honoring.

True beauty is Soli Deo Gloria sung in our hearts, proclaimed in our lives no matter what comes our way.

4given said...

I say that because the Lord has ordained for me in this time to lose function in my left leg. I have multiple sclerosis. I may even end up in a wheel chair. I have brain lesions covering my brain and I have 2 that keep growing. For now it is only in my dreams that I run in meadows with my children and ski down mountains with my husband.
I have that relapsing/remitting kind so I have good days where I go in remission and all seems normal to onlookers. But you know what... LIFE IS TOO SHORT NOT TO LIVE IT FOR HIS GLORY!!! too short.

MSC said...

I agree with your comments and I certainly wholeheartedly agree with 1 Cor. 10:31. I guess I am perplexed that we don't see more remarkable expressions of this verse in Christian art. The vast majority of excellence in art by most commonly accepted criteria is not produced by the hands of those who ought to be committed to such a maxim. Where are all the artistic geniuses of genuine Biblical persuasion?

BTW, I appreciate even more your perspective on your personal suffering. That is genius :)

candy said...

I believe one reason we don't see a lot of great art by Christians is because art is not considered a valid Christian ministry. Do you know many Christians who support an arts ministry, that isn't exclusively music? I could use a good patron. Anyone want to be a patron? :)

Albert said...

Hey Frank, thanks for a thoughtful and encouraging post. I think you would enjoy reading this interview with Bono, as it may contain a more clear articulation of the gospel from Bono's lips than any you've yet heard.


In fact (not to be presumptuous from the peanut gallery, but) I wouldn't mind seeing your thoughts on this interview over on your own blog.

Thanks again for your insightful post and I appreciate the clarity and depth of the love/death tension that you see as informing all of our quest to express the truth and beauty of the gospel through art.

Albert said...

Oh, and if you don't want to have to sign up/log in you can look around the blogosphere for the quote I have in mind, which deals with grace over against karma.

FX Turk said...


That interview comes from the book In Conversation with Michka Assayas, which I have read twice now, cover to cover.

Read that book, put the interview you have linked to in that cointext, and then restate your claim, if possible. WorldMag editors notwithstanding, Bono has never delivered the Gospel clearly and doesn't think it's necessary to do so. It's not an issue for him -- he doesn't think it says anything which disqualifies other religious traditions.

Let me say this also about Bono: he probably comes by that view honestly. He grew up in Dublin, in the midst of what can only be called a Christian holy war. That's not a very edifying environment. So if he thinks that people can use the Gospel to justify the deaths of others, its because he's seen it first hand.

The question, as always, is if that experience trumps God's word. Do people who kill others because of political differences caused by the Protestant/Catholic split live out the Gospel? If they do, in what way do they do that?

It's not like I just discovered Bono, people. I've been watching him since they played live in their first American tour in a bar in my home town in the 80's. He's not a punk kid anymore, but that doesn't mean he's worked out all his demons.

Turgonian said...

Come on, Calvdispy, don't question Tolkien. He called The Lord of the Rings a Christian work, and that settles it for me.

Good points overall on artistry. I do think it's OK to let the Gospel 'sneak through' in our art rather than openly proclaim it. Love and Death, indeed, and the Cross. Somehow. Let's not get too restrictive.

Justin said...

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