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What Is a Christian Artist?

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“Christian artist” is a loaded term.

Some wear the label proudly, while others run in the opposite direction.

When I made the choice to name this website, I did it with full knowledge of this issue. We need a healthy dialogue about what “Christian artist” actually means because there is much confusion concerning that term. Here are some of my thoughts:

First, “Christian artist” can’t possibly mean just an artist that simply happens to be of the Christian faith. If that were the case we would also have atheist artists, Jewish artists, etc., and we don’t have labels like that. In fact, we don’t even categorize other segments of Christians this way: you’ve likely never heard of a Christian truck driver, a Christian firefighter, or a Christian loan officer, though they surely exist. That’s because we don’t usually add the label of “Christian” to a person’s hobbies or their profession simply because they happen to have Christian beliefs. No, “Christian artist” must mean something else.

It seems to me that when people use the term “Christian artist” they generally mean one of two things, or perhaps both:

  1. The content or message of the art promotes Christian values; or
  2. The artist’s intended audience is Christian.

In other words, the term “Christian artist” refers not so much to the artist themselves, but to their message or the audience. But this raises obvious issues. What happens when a Christian artist wants to produce art that isn’t uniquely Christian in its message or isn’t targeted at a church audience? Are they still a Christian artist? And why would we have these expectations of artists that we don’t have of anyone else? We certainly don’t expect a Christian who is a carpenter to only ever carve crosses or build pews for churches. We don’t expect the Christian plumber to make his entire living installing baptismal pools. We simply expect them to be good Christians and do great work – whatever that happens to be. Could this inconsistency be why some (who I would call) Christian artists are running away from the label?

A Core Issue

At the heart of this issue is the false distinction between that which is “secular”, and that which is “sacred”, or religious.

Religion = anything pertaining to a set of beliefs
Secular = anything unconcerned with, or unrelated to religion

This is actually a false distinction. Ultimately, there is no such thing as “secular”. Nothing is truly outside of the purview of religion. We’ve all got beliefs, and It’s impossible to separate those beliefs from the rest of our lives.  Even those who have a particular disdain for organized religion (such as a secular humanist or an atheist) subscribe to a system of beliefs – that is their religion. If the word “religion” doesn’t seem to fit, substitute the word “worldview” instead. Everyone has a worldview, even if they are radically skeptical and paradoxically believe that we can’t know anything for certain. Every thought we have and every action we take is a result of our belief system. This means that there is nothing that is truly “secular”.

And If there is no such category as “secular”, it follows that all art is inherently religious art.

The worldview of the artist is manifested in every work of art.

Of course, this is consistent with Scripture. Psalm 24 tells us that “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein. For He has founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the waters.”

He made it all. There is no part of creation that doesn’t concern Him. There is no compartmentalizing God. We are standing on His earth, seeing by the light of His sun, breathing His air, using the very senses He gave us to observe the wonder of it all. It is in Him that we live, that we move, that we have our very being (see Acts 17:28). How could we ever separate ourselves from this reality? There isn’t a thought we could have or an action we could take that could be considered “secular”. Everything (and therefore all art) falls under the category of “religious” in the sense that we cannot divorce our work from our system of beliefs about the world around us.

So, if all art is religious art, let us ask the question again: What is a Christian artist? Is it a label even worth having? I believe so. Let’s start by taking it apart and examining each word.

What Is a Christian?

Unfortunately, the term “Christian” has been eroded over the centuries, so let’s start with a few things it is not. Being a part of a Christian family or a Christian nation doesn’t make one a Christian. Attending regular church services and even becoming a member doesn’t make one a Christian. Living a good life and caring for the less fortunate doesn’t make one a Christian.

The word Christian literally means “belonging to Christ”, or “belonging to the Anointed One”. A Christian has made a decision to put their faith in Jesus and in His sacrificial work on the cross. Through His shed blood, our sins are forgiven and we are restored to right relationship with God. Through His resurrection, we are raised to a new life and are literally “born again” by the Spirit of God.

As new creations, we endeavor to live out the teachings and commands of Jesus just as His original disciples did. All of Jesus’s teachings could be boiled down to one simple point: advance the Kingdom of God. All the other commands, such as loving God, loving our neighbors, caring for the poor, preaching the gospel, healing the sick, making disciples, etc. are manifestations of His Kingdom; that is, they’re part of the bigger picture.

To summarize: to be Christian is to belong to Christ. Belonging to Christ means we follow His commands and advance His Kingdom.

What (or who) Is an Artist?

This question has been debated by many, ranging from the enthusiast to the philosopher. However, the simplest definition will work for our purposes: an artist is someone who makes art. And art, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination.

In other words, if you make something, and that process requires creativity, skill, and imagination, then that is a form of art. It’s quite a broad definition, but it’s also the narrowest one that doesn’t leave important things out.

Putting It Together

Having defined both words, now we just need to put them together. However, here we face one last obstacle.

Which is the adjective and which is the noun? Does art define our Christianity, or does Christianity define our art? Which one is our true identity and which is the modifier?

Unfortunately, I think many see themselves primarily as artists, and that their Christian faith defines their artistic process to varying degrees. But if we truly understand what it means to be a Christian, we can only come to the conclusion that this is our true identity.

We must not confuse who we are with what we do. Our activity flows out of our identity, but they are not one and the same.

We are defined not by what we do, but by the One who created us. We are first and foremost ones who belong to Christ. Every other gift, talent, calling, etc. flows out of this reality.

Perhaps “artistic Christian” would be a more appropriate title, but we can certainly keep on using the term “Christian artist” as long as we use it with understanding.

So, my definition of Christian artist would be something like this: “one who advances the Kingdom of God through the expression of their creativity, skill, and imagination.”

Notice that neither the message nor the audience must be inherently Christian for this definition to work. In fact, one could argue that the Kingdom of God will rarely advance if we spend all our time portraying Christian messages just within the four walls of the Church.

And if it seems like my definition might include a whole lot more people than normally bear the label of Christian artist, that’s a good thing. I believe that every one of us is actually an artist.

It is both the privilege and the responsibility of every Christian to advance the Kingdom of God within their respective spheres of influence using whatever creativity and skills God has blessed them with.

That certainly includes those of us who express the Kingdom through designing, writing, singing, acting, dancing, sculpting, etc. But it also includes a lot of other things we haven’t seen as a form of art, such as raising kids, starting a company, creating a garden, or running for office. All of these require tremendous skill, creativity, and imagination.

My prayer is that we will all begin to see every gift that God has given us as a means to advance His Kingdom and demonstrate the heart of God to a culture in desperate need of it.

Jonathan Fitt

Jonathan Fitt is a musician, author, speaker, and founder of Christian Artists Guild. His passion is empowering artists and contending for a renaissance in the church that leads to a reformation in culture.

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  • Monique says:

    Beautifully written!

    • Jonathan Fitt says:

      Thanks Monique!

  • Tim and Kristi Hutto says:

    Awesome work Sir, just awesome! Praying blessings upon blessings!!!!!!!!

  • Kim Zimmerman says:

    love it!! for years, I never considered myself artistic, because it was all about painting while worship was happening. I can’t paint. haha – but I have been learning what you have written – being creative didn’t mean I couldn’t be a teacher, or worship leader, it means that I can be creative or artistic in the midst of it

    • Jonathan Fitt says:

      Exactly! Bless you Kim!

  • Larry says:

    Nice work. I don’t think we will see a ‘renaissance’ within the church, or a reformation within the ‘culture’. We will see some Christians losing their religion and finding Christ. There is an important prophetic component to the times we live in, and it is likely that just as many churches are already given over to a sinful and abominable worldview, the day will come when Christianity has died in the West. The Lord will preserve for Himself a remnant. In the meantime, there is absolutely no sin in a Christian writing a song that expresses godly morals without directly referencing the name of Jesus. However, we do have to take personal responsibility for redeeming the time. If I become and artist who never verbally and/or correctly expresses a biblical faith, I am probably not actually Christian. This calls for a healthy fear of God for the artist and discernment for the listener.

    • Jonathan Fitt says:

      Larry, thanks so much for your perspective. I’m a bit more hope-filled about Christianity in the west, and the power of God working through his people to transform hearts and minds.

      One big question raised by your comment is: How do we define “correctly expresses a biblical faith”? It seems to me that so many of the issues we face stem from that question. Thanks again for reading and for your thoughts.

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