It struck me last night as I curled up on our couch with my wife to watch Psych’s season seven finale: Psych, the Musical. In spite of our science, technology, math, and engineering society (STEM), creative arts has a gripping hold of us all. Deep in our guts we rebel against our analytical side. Though we are more convinced than ever that STEM industries are the sure fast anchor to a prosperous future, where capitalism rises or falls upon these integral industries, our appetites desire art.

Appetite for the Arts

Why did it take so long for this startling revelation regarding our technology driven society’s fascination with creative arts? Surely, I felt the inklings of this through American Idol or Gerard Butler’s breakout performance as the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera? If not then, surely it should have been the Grey’s Anatomy musical episode? What about all the other Broadway adaptations for the cinema: Rent, Fame, Hairspray, Mama Mia, Les Mis? Or the other shows following American Idol: Glee, The Voice, America’s Got Talent, Dancing with the Stars? What really seals the deal for any of us with children: Frozen? My Blu-ray player is frozen playing “Let it Go” in repeat.

 If we over-correct by trading sound biblical doctrine for the sake of an emotion-driven, artistic-oriented worship experience, the Church suffers a great loss.Why are we so hungry for these arts? Because our brains are famished. Our brains atrophy from the indulgence and emphasis on our left-brain. The right side of our brain wants feeding. Engineers stare deep into the abyss of Cad programs. Stock tickers hypnotize brokers. Business analysts lose themselves in excel spreadsheets filled with formulas, stats, and metrics indicating buying patterns, profit, and loss.

And the next generation of Millennial workers face dismal prospects. According to Barna Group’s research on teen’s life aspirations, half of high school graduates aspire to work in STEM industries, and only a fifth aspire to creative arts professions. So few of us were encouraged to pursue the arts. In high school a gifted writer would have been told that they’d be good at ad copy. Musicians, comedians, vocal performers, and other stage performers were all asked in high school, “How will you ever make a living?” These are all destined to work a day job while pursuing their dreams at night and on weekends. Yet, reality TV contests like American Idol stir hope in young minds every day to follow their gut in pursuit of creative arts.

Is this appetite for the arts, and in turn satisfaction through consumption, bad or wrong? Not necessarily, but we must consider the affects right-brain emaciation might have on church and spirituality. If we over-correct by trading sound biblical doctrine for the sake of an emotion-driven, artistic-oriented worship experience, the Church suffers a great loss.

A Right-Brain Emaciation Case Study

Months ago now, I sat in my normal spot at the coffee bar in my local coffee shop. An executive from the corporate offices of this expansive and nationally recognized business visited the shop. He immediately engaged customers in an on-site ethnographic study. He looked at me, saw a youngish looking guy with a notebook computer and asked, rather quasi-asserted, “So, you’re a student?” “No,” I politely replied. “Those days are long gone. I’m a thirty-two year old husband, father of three, and working professional.”

I went on to share that I was a church-planter out of a local church. The executive actually lived in the area and had visited our church. I performed a role reversal on him and asked him about his experience at our church. He responded that the teaching was rather cerebral. Instead, he landed at a different church that had less emphasis on doctrine and more emphasis on an emotional experience. He explained that with the kind of work he does, he needs a place to unplug his brain and not have to think so hard. Essentially, he chose the church he goes to for the music.

Knowing the theological prowess of our lead pastor, I was not astonished that the executive found his intellect challenged. What astonished me is that this highly educated, successful, and apparently intelligent executive found sound doctrine and solid biblical exposition undesirable.

The Aftermath of an Appetite for Arts

This should not be a surprising outcome. After all, in another Barna Group research study, findings showed two-thirds of those who attend church experience “a real and personal connection” with God, while at the same time three out of five church attenders “could not remember a significant or important new insight or understanding related to faith.” In other words, people are connecting to God emotionally but not rationally. What does this indicate about obstacles that the church will face in the future?

It seems unlikely that future generations will echo the psalmist in Psalm 119:131, “I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments.” If my encounter with this middle-aged executive is at all representative of the wants and needs of church consumers, we can expect trading a regular diet of healthy sound doctrine for doctrinal dilution and emotional euphoria.

This is a dangerous prospect because it forsakes what God explicitly instructs us to practice, and it opens the way for false doctrine and false teachers to enter the church. The Church is instructed to “preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2) and “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). But if listeners pay no attention to what is preached and taught, they will very well be the indiscernible recipients of wayward teaching. Furthermore, pastors run the risk of scratching the itches of people who wish to trade doctrine for what suits their own passions (2 Tim. 4:3). In such an environment, God no longer sets the standards of holiness, truth, and love; people do. And those standards are based on appetites, conveniences, and comforts.

Gratefully, the Lord is protecting his flock by elevating doctrinally conscious worship leaders who write music in line with Psalm 119:171, “My lips will pour forth praise, for you teach me your statutes.” But this will not endure unless those who attend church see that sound doctrine interplay sublimely with the creative arts. They must long for both expressions just as the psalmist demonstrates.

Assuredly, I am not opposed to the arts. As a writer, I am overwhelmingly in favor of them. I want to see them practiced in the church in an understated, liturgically-minded, and deeply worshipful manner. But there is a vast distinction between enjoying a popcorn movie like X-Men: Days of Future Past and transforming church into a “popcorn event”: an hour of entertaining videos, funny skits, a rock concert, and a moving 20 minute pep talk—all to satisfy the hunger of the people. The masses may be entertained, but such pragmatism diminishes the historic creeds and confessions, the doctrines of grace, and the right administration of the sacraments.

Sound gospel doctrine must be cherished, protected, and elevated before the Church. Biblical literacy must be promoted. In tandem with this, should be a flourishing practice of the arts.  Biblically executed worship will speak to our culture in a timely way and fashion an artistically-minded gospel culture that reflects sound gospel doctrine.

image via Andy Rennie


4 Comments

  1. This article leaves me a bit confused–it seems the author has confused the words “art” and “entertainment.” The mistake comes out pretty early on when he holds up Glee, Frozen and the Grey’s Anatomy musical as examples of “art.”

    Confusing entertainment with art is an easy mistake to make because the line is so blurry (truthfully, I’d be willing to argue that there ISN’T a line, that it’s a slow gradient from one to another), but it’s an important distinction–the latter reveals truth, something we desperately need in our churches, whereas the latter merely titillates the senses and emotions.

    Of course, some art functions as entertainment and really great entertainment reveals truth, which is why it’s so hard to distinguish between the two.

    Unfortunately, the article makes the mistake of conflating the two, leaving little room for truth to be revealed by any means other than cerebral teaching, a mistake the Western church has been making for the last 200 years.

    1. Well said Jake Tolbert. I think the way you reach the next generation is by allowing room for artistic (and sometimes entertaining) worship and teaching elements coupled with sound biblical teaching.

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