Monday, May 07, 2007

Christian Marketplace - Day 4

Welcome back to Day 4 of my discussion of "the Christian Marketplace," covering the realms of popular entertainment of fiction and music for the Christian community. (For previous posts, see Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3)

I think that I have set up the context of the Christian Marketplace (in regards to American culture at least). To sum up the 3 prior posts, you can say that this arena is plagued with a narrow interpretation of how it can operate. Christian musicians are chastised for sing a love song (that doesn't have lyrics that can also be sung as if "Jesus is my boyfriend"). If they don't have enough of a Jesus quotient in their songs, they are called "sellouts" who are trying for success in the "secular" music arena. Authors in the CBA have to walk a fine line theologically in how they represent real life, lest they be accused of supporting sin.

This is a deep topic that can require a lot to fully discuss it - blog posts can't adequately cover all the issues. Let me say that I don't want truly immoral art given a pass with the "Christian" label, whether to the artist or the art. Early in her career, Britney Spears maintained she was a Baptist and pledged to stay a virgin until marriage, while never following through. This is an extreme example of course. But where can we go with this issue of a Christian pop culture ghetto?

Some suggestions:
1. Don't put artists on pedestals. These musicians and authors are not theologians. I don't want to see wrong teaching promulgated any more than someone else, but their craft is for entertainment, encouragement, and emulating the Creator - not a expository sermon. The artist has a responsibility to do well with their craft (which should include accuracy), but don't expect to be fully fed through pop culture, even Christianized culture. Reading good books and listening to positive music is a blessing, but we grow in our walk while dealing directly with our God, not while spinning the latest from Newsboys while reading Ted Dekker (or Karen Kingsbury, whatever your flavor!) Hey, I have been incredibly blessed when reading a novel that deals with themes that resonate with what God is speaking to me in my devotional life. God can even use these works to speak to you, but it shouldn't be the norm, in my opinion.

2. Along with that: give grace. They are responsible for their Christian walk, not Joe Q. Christian who leaves a review on Amazon criticizing someone's faith. Romans 14 deals with the tricky situation of dealing with differences in spiritual maturity. I won't try to push The Light of Eidon or Germ on someone who is very careful about violence, as I don't want to cause them a problem. Yet there needs to be understanding that is reciprocated to those who feel these books are appropriate for them.

3. The Christian Marketplace is undergoing transition. There is a discussion of the emerging church going on right now. This is a loaded term, but it can be applicable to what is happening to Christians in culture right now. The experiment of Christians circling the wagons to provide their own entertainment and therefore avoiding contamination with "the world" is undergoing change. This phenomenon is worth several days of its own focus, but I'll just touch on it here.

There are a lot of Christian artists who are getting noticed outside the CCM world. I hear their songs on soundtracks of shows like Smallville. They may turn up on non-Christian format stations. Switchfoot started as a "Christian band", but has crossed over to be a successful mainstream artist. I still see a Christian worldview in all of their music, even if it is not explicit. Bands like The Fray played to mainstream radio, but was picked up by Christian formats such as Air 1 due to their positive, faith-infused lyrics.

Christian fiction used to be relegated to prarie romances with a predictable formula: 1. main character is not a Christian or fallen away, 2. said person goes through trials related to their lack of faith, 3. the person has a conversion experience and all is well in the world. A stereotype, I know. Currently there are authors who are trying to write compelling stories where faith is a natural outgrowth of the plot and circumstances, not forcing a plot to fit a formula.

Hey, I love when someone finds the glorious freedom of the children of God, whether in real life or even as a story. The problem is that we live in a fallen world, and not everything turns out the way we want. There are novels being written that explore all aspects of life from a viewpoint of faith - just that not every story will end with the predicted ending. I remember being shocked when something very bad happened to the female protaganist in The Oath. She didn't have a happy ending. But it fit the theme of the story, and the very Christian ideals in the book were served by his artistic choice. Plus, it made for a great twist, because I didn't think he would go there.

4. I think this is the key point...but I'm writing a huge post, so I'll save it for tomorrow!

1 comment:

  1. Great stuff, Jason.

    My only point of departure might be regarding the formula writing. I see a lot of CBA still writing formulaic fiction--it's just that the formulas are now more varied. Karen Kingsbury's is different from Ted Dekker's is different from ... Lynn Austen.

    Understand, I also think other craft elements are improving, which makes the reading experience overall much better than in the past.

    There is still this issue of Christians separating themselves from the culture at large.

    I taught for 30 years in Christian schools, but I looked at my role much as I imagine a pastor does--I had the job of helping to shape my students' worldviews so they knew how to engage the culture.

    Can literature do that same thing? Or music?

    I agree with you that relying on God to speak through these extra-Biblical means is shaky at best. I think, in each case, what Christian art should do is point to Christ--in some way. Might be in creating a curiosity or a thirst or stimulating thought or bringing confirmation or opening up a dialogue or, yes, showing an example (a la much traditional CBA fiction).

    Of course, that comes back to, who are we writing for?

    See, my thinking is, I write for Christians who then can influence those in their circle who are not Christians. Maybe they can even influence them by giving them a piece of well-written fiction.