Every year, by some twist of fate, I find myself invited to give a lecture on the intersection between art and Christian faith/practice for our Media Summit. Generally, it’s the one time a year that I get to think about art and its creation and reception from a distinctly Christian point of view. One aspect of art I have been struck by every year that of narrative. Art tells a story, and whether the meaning of that story is to be found in the act of communication or the act of reception, some tale is being told.
For Christian art, the ‘tale’ being told needs to contain elements of the Christian story: good creation, ruin and fall, atoning sacrifice, and glorious restoration. In other words, for art to be considered ‘Christian,’ it must tell the truth about the world—not just as it is, but as it was and will be. We don’t live in a paradise; nor do we live in a hell-scape. We live in a world that was created good and has fallen into dark ruin, one which has received the promise and payment for restoration and is now waiting for the coming dawn.
It would be somewhat unrealistic to say that a Christian work of art must express all this in every lyric, line, or brushstroke. But good art will show an understanding of the context into which it is given, and in so doing speak volumes about the artist’s understanding of the metanarrative we creatures find ourselves inhabiting.
So art, as a story, must do what all good stories do—it must echo the words and the pattern of Scripture, and therefore of human history. Another way to say this is that the movements of the narrative found within Christian art mimic the movements of the life of Christ. He was born, he suffered under the futility of the Fall, he give himself as an atoning sacrifice, and he rose again to new life as the first fruits of the coming age. The story of Christ starts out as the story of history inverted and ends by sweeping up history in its wake, leading it to the end for which it was designed.
Good art tells this story in miniature. In this way, art follows Christ, and draws others along in its pursuit.