It has become one of the major criticisms by “Emergent” types against the “Traditional” church: The church doesn’t support the arts and artists. I hear a lot from the Emergent frontier these days (more than I often want to), but I confess I haven’t quite figured out what to think of this criticism. Many of the critiques of Emergents are accurate and good, many are not, but what I think about this particular criticism has yet to be determined.
Ted Kluck, one of the authors of Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be, has his own thoughts on the subject. Speaking of an “apology” by Christian leaders to artists for not supporting them, Kluck writes:
This is an apology I’ve heard made several times before, and I’m still a little unclear as to the reason. Is it because churches aren’t displaying art on their walls? Neither are insurance companies, but nobody is up in arms about that. My hunch is that there is this feeling that churches aren’t adequately “supporting” artists (musicians, writers, visual artists) in their midst. However, I don’t exactly see churches “supporting” software designers, salesmen, or farmers either. That’s not the church’s purpose. And it seems that the artists who are making the most noise about “not being supported” are the ones who may not have the talent to really cut it in the marketplace anyway. I don’t know of any working artists (musicians, actors, writers, painters) who complain that their church doesn’t “support” their efforts. Art is tough. Making a living at art is tough (p. 143).
Kluck has made some good points: (1) The church doesn’t support any other professions exclusively, so why should they be shamed for not supporting artists? (2) What does supporting professions have to do with the purpose of the church anyways?
In spite of all this, I can’t help but wonder if the fact that God made us to be “artistic,” to reflect His power in creation through our creative activities, suggests that maybe Kluck has missed the point. It’s not that the church should “support” a profession. Rather, the church should “support,” (perhaps “encourage” and “utilize” would be better terms) the God-given abilities and creativity of human beings made in their Maker’s image.
Perhaps Protestants have overreacted to the Idol worship of imagery prior to the Reformation. Is all art in the church bad because it leads some to worship the image instead of the God it points us to? Perhaps Protestants need a better theology of images, and from there we can begin afresh this discussion of the church supporting the arts. I don’t think the answer is as clear as either Kluck or Emergent believers make it out to be. As always, I have more questions than answers… and perhaps that’s what the Emergent Church wants. But I think there’s more clarity to be found. The picture just isn’t quite clear enough yet.