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.


  1. For me, it’s enough that the church understand and allow art (which it doesn’t really do that well). I don’t want the church to support art. I don’t even want the church to celebrate art (any more than I want the church to celebrate file folders—after all, being well-organized is every bit as much a trait humans may possess in reflection of their creator).

    Really, I’m not even sure what is meant by support here. It’s kinda like with breast cancer. “Support breast cancer!” What does that even mean? Let’s pretend that grammatically that doesn’t mean either cheering bras (which mechanically support breasts, which host the cancer) or cheering for the cancer itself. Let’s pretend that we’re supposed to support the end of breast cancer. What does that even look like?

    Is it just me saying, “Boo breast cancer”? Is it me giving money to cancer destruction forces? Is it me offering myself as a guinea pig to science? Or is it me just crossing my fingers, hoping for the best, and telling people who ask that I’m supporting breast cancer?

    I have the same problem with the emergent fad of needing to support the arts. As an artist (who hopes to make a living from his art) and son of an artist (who made his living from his art), I haven’t the foggiest idea what I’m supposed to be wanting from the church here.

    As to your suggestions, I’ll gently nix #1 on the grounds that God didn’t make us to be artistic or creative. Sure, he made some of us to be that way, but that number is pretty small. Trust me, I’ve seen the internet.

    #2 Protestants may or may not have reacted to strongly against the horror of icons, but the Reformed church (which is most directly descended from iconoclast practices) seems to have a far more healthy view of both art and the artist than many other evangelical traditions. (Generally, that is. I still run into the occasional crazy Reformed lady who thinks museums are filled with porn.)

    The Danes last blog post..20080819

  2. Hey David,

    I do hear what you’re saying, but I do think on this point (in an otherwise helpful book) they’ve somewhat missed the point.

    Sure, if artists are asking for financial support and some non-specific vote of confidence then they are probably off track.

    However, it seems to me that the central issue is whether or not artistic expression has a special role in connecting humanity with the divine.

    If you go to the Catholic church, you’ll see that they place great value on art as a way of raising their thoughts to God, of clarifying their understanding of topics like suffering or glory, and of placing their minds in the right mindset for prayer and worship.

    It’s this view and valuation of art (as well as unity in financial assets) that explains why Catholics meet in cathedrals and Protestants rent out the cafeteria of the local elementary school.

    These days, though, lots of Protestants are asking how we can recapture the valuation of many good aspects of art while still rejecting the icon worship Catholics are prone to. I think, when young emergents complain about churches “not supporting” the arts, they are feeling that their churches are willing to throw the baby (appreciation of the way art draws our thoughts toward God and his Truth) out with the bathwater (Catholics praying to statues of saints or kissing dead bones).

    So, I do think it’s oversimplifying to suggest that it’s the same as asking whether churches support their local plumber. At its center, it’s a discussion about whether art has a valuable role in worship or whether we can afford to entirely abandon it, writing it off as a mere secular profession.

    Ben Bartletts last blog post..Fun notes and pictures.

  3. I agree with you Ben,that’s my issue with Kluck’s comments in the book (which, you are right, is otherwise really good).

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