Monday, October 10, 2011
Skills or Message?
On Twitter recently, I made a comment about Christian films and the poor acting that is often associated with them. Someone responded by asking,
"Are you going for the acting or the message? The truth is what is needed!"
The person went on to ask, "Shouldn't God's glory be the first thing?"
This is a question that often comes up when dealing with works of art that have a Christian message connected to them. So what's more important? Skills or message?
I think the problem here is with the question itself, as it pits two things against each other that should actually be walking hand-in-hand. When it comes to Christians doing art, it's not either convey a true message or do it skillfully. It's both/ and. Consider a few Scriptures:
"Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts."
The Psalmist goes on to speak on God's nature and His works as incentives to praise Him in this way. But did you notice the word "skillfully" in verse 3? Why doesn't it simply say "play on the strings"? I believe it's because God is particularly glorified when knowledge, wisdom and craftsmanship are applied by the artist in His service. This glorifies God as the generous Giver of talent, creative capacity and artistic expertise. It wasn't enough for the Psalmist to merely say true things about God. That truth was meant to be joined by skillful accompaniment.
Or consider these verses concerning the building of the tabernacle:
Let every skillful craftsman among you come and make all that the LORD has commanded:
And every skillful woman spun with her hands, and they all brought what they had spun in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. All the women whose hearts stirred them to use their skill spun the goats’ hair.
Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whom the LORD has put skill and intelligence to know how to do any work in the construction of the sanctuary shall work in accordance with all that the LORD has commanded." And Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whose mind the LORD had put skill, everyone whose heart stirred him up to come to do the work.
I'm sure at that time, there were many with the desire to work on the tabernacle. But it wasn’t enough to have the desire without the skill to best glorify God with those desires. This was such a priority to God that He actually put skill into the minds of Bezalel and Oholiab (Ex.36:2). The tabernacle would have looked really shabby if just anybody who knew how to pick up a carving instrument was allowed to work on it! Does this mean that God won’t accept the praise of someone who jumps on the piano and pounds away mindlessly to the glory of God? Not necessarily. A sincere heart is of great worth in God’s eyes (1 Sam. 16:7). Also, being the most skilled virtuoso in the world is meaningless if her heart is controlled by pride or self-exaltation (Proverbs 8:13).
With that said, I believe that art done by Christians should be held to high aesthetic standards and that the phrase, "It was pretty good for a Christian movie/song/book, etc." should NEVER be the preface for a statement about Christian works of art. If I have to choose between quality art and a truthful message, I'll simply pass on the work altogether. Why should I have to look at a bad painting in order to see the text of Romans 6:23 scribbled into the furniture? Just give me a Bible, please. There are plenty of places to get truth without subjecting yourself to bad art in the process.
So here's my answer to the question, "Shouldn't God's glory be the first thing?"
If an Isrealite asked Moses that same question, I think he might have said, "Yes. God's glory is the first thing. That's why they must be skilled."
grace and peace,