23 December 2008
Charlie Peacock, part 3
So I survived the last projects, essays, and final exams. I’ve been trying to write about the things Charlie said concerning being a Christian and an artist in today’s culture, but constant interruptions and distractions tend to give me severe writer’s block. So, finally, here are some of the ideas he brought up that I especially appreciated.
Charlie made it clear that not only artists are creative – artistic creativity is only one kind. Everyone is creative: the scientist, the engineer, the businessman, the teacher, the homemaker, all of us. I loved this definition of the church that he gave us: “We are God’s gifted ones gathering as communities to do God’s work.” Any meaningful labor is worthy of any Christian’s time; no vocation is more worthy than another.
The Christian who is an artist in today’s culture has a special tension, however, because of the increasing separation between “secular” and “religious” publishers and markets. I appreciated Charlie’s insistence that the individual Christian must have the freedom to choose to serve the church directly and primarily – too many of us have become sinfully cynical about the quality of Christian-labeled work, and we forget that one job of the Christian is to build up other believers. If this is one’s call, pursue it, wholeheartedly and with excellence.
However, the only reason the artistic works of a Christian should be in the Christian bookstore, Charlie said, is if they have been created for that primary purpose of teaching and building up believers. The Christian who is an artist must not be limited to this purpose, and should not be pressured into using his creativity in solely or primarily this way; he must be equally free to pursue his art simply because it is meaningful art. He should be able to do his work “anywhere, everywhere, and without apology,” whether he names it as “Christian” or not, and with the support and blessing of his brothers and sisters in the Lord.
Why? Because we are called to serve not only other believers, but “all the nations.” We are “image-bearing ambassadors” who are to “contribute to and transform culture,” being salt and light within it. Our work should be good for the community, for our neighbor. The artist’s work no more has to be named Christian than the mechanic’s or the carpenter’s or the engineer’s: if we excel in our work, we glorify God and serve our neighbor, and a fish sign on it won’t make it any better quality.
Charlie told us that he is not hesitant to declare “I’m a Christian,” but he has chosen not to call himself “a Christian musician” because he wishes to disconnect himself from the cultural baggage of that name; then he can go wherever he is called by his work, not be assigned in people's minds permanently to only “church music.” He mentioned doing some work with jazz, and then being invited to join a “Christian jazz” forum on the web. He refused because his goal was to be a part of the “ongoing jazz story” in its totality and not to suggest that his particular work is somehow different because of his faith rather than simply because he is a musician.
He talked too about answering the question “Are you a Christian?” and how he prefers to answer with a question rather than just say yes: “Why do you ask?” he might respond, or “It depends; what do you mean by the term Christian?” This opens the door to discussion, and allows him to be a witness to his faith in the way the person asking most needs to hear it, rather than letting that person think that Charlie represents whatever misconceptions he might hold. He has no desire other than to boldly be a Christian, but he has learned to be wise in the way he names himself, to try to have the most winsome and effective influence that he can.
For me, perhaps the most important point he made is summed up in this: some of us are called mainly to talk to the family – to teach and build up believers – and we must do this with excellence (which is going to mean speaking, lovingly, to the lack of excellence in too much Christian art today), and others of us are called to serve the broader community – and we need the support and encouragement of the church to do that work with excellence and to remain faithful to God as we work in a world that can hold out many strong temptations. “We should be God’s [artistic] people everywhere and in everything,” Charlie said; “we must not have too narrow a scope but be about His business throughout the world.”