Gospel Fluency by Jeff Vanderstelt, Free for CAPC Members
In Gospel Fluency, Jeff Vanderstelt wants to help every believer speak the gospel in the stuff of everyday life.
There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!
A few months ago, I published my debut to fiction: a horror novel titled Ophelia, Alive (A Ghost Story). It’s not what you might call a “Christian novel.” In fact, it’s the sort of book a lot of Christians would reject outright: a grisly tale of ghosts and murders and poop jokes. This was not lost on CaPC’s Hannah Anderson when she interviewed me for our podcast Persuasion.
“Given the background that I had in the church—” she told me—”horror was not something we could jump to. . . . So how does horror fit into your understanding of your Christian life, and how does this all work?”
The message of the gospel is the Christ has triumphed over not just sin and death, but over all of creation—including the arts.This is an attitude that’s all too common among Christians, and particularly among Protestants—and not just about horror, either. If you hang out in the right corners of Protestantism, there’s a good chance you’ll encounter this attitude about almost any art form, from literature, to music, to film, to the visual arts: that any work that doesn’t serve primarily as a vehicle for the gospel is a frivolous distraction at best and a tool of Satan at worst.
Steve Turner—now a noted rock journalist and poet, in addition to being the author of this month’s member offering, Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts—was well acquainted with this attitude throughout his fundamentalist upbringing in Northamptonshire, England:
No one ever told me that it would be wrong for a Christian to become an actor or a songwriter, a novelist or a dancer. It was implied. There were no role models. I can remember a well-known actress and a British pop singer getting saved, but then they gave up their careers “for the Lord.” Their testimony was obviously more highly valued than their talent. Like drunkenness and promiscuity, involvement in the arts was something best spoken of in the past tense.
Whether this Christian indifference and/or hostility toward the arts was right or wrong, it had clear consequences: nearly every corner of fine and popular culture were almost entirely lacking in Christian voices. This, Turner argues, shouldn’t be—and even Christians who are laser-focused on evangelism ought to agree with him. After all, if you don’t show up at the marketplace of ideas, people can’t buy what you’re selling.
Turner reached adolescence and adulthood thinking there had to be a better way to approach the arts from a Christian perspective, and the question led him on a lifelong journey from England to Reformed theologian Francis Schaeffer’s L’Abri retreat to eventually writing for publications like Rolling Stone and NME—a journey he recounts in some detail in Imagine. Imagine is less an autobiography than it is a manifesto, however; contained within its pages are two propositions that will likely resonate with Christ and Pop Culture readers: that Christians ought to learn to understand art better, and that Christians should feel able to participate in the arts more freely.
With regard to the first point, Turner borrows a page from Schaeffer: “Rather than asking, Is this artist saved? ask, Is this piece of work technically excellent? Is it a valid expression of the artist’s view of the world? Are form and content well integrated? Is truth communicated?” With regard to the other, he invites us to view “truth” as consisting of “concentric circles”: with Christ and the cross at the center, but with other truths (such as scientific and moral truth) radiating out from it. Some Christians are certainly called to write about the central truth, Turner argues, but not all; the world needs Christians speaking relatable truth in all spheres of life.
It’s a message that will resonate with our members, and one that should speak to those outside of our little pop-culture-loving circle as well. After all, the message of the gospel is the Christ has triumphed over not just sin and death, but over all of creation—including the arts. Christians are free to serve God as evangelists, and farmers, and plumbers, and—yes—artists.
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