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Don't Teach Me About Truth and Beauty

"When you become a Christian, you throw away all your secular music, and when you become Reformed you throw away all your Christian music."

There's a grain of truth in this, in that I've found the Reformed perspective to a have a greater appreciation for the doctrine of Common Grace and therefore have greater confidence in approaching that which is "secular" in the world. I heard Jerram Barrs of Covenant Seminary speak this weekend at l'Abri's annual conference in Rochester, MN, and have come to realize that it is this doctrine that undergirds the Reformed confidence in engaging culture. Because humans are created in the image of God, even fallen, unregenerate people frequently display God's truth and beauty. And as Christians, it is our responsibility to recognize and celebrate truth and beauty wherever we find it.

So if I find beauty or truth (or both) in the music of Rich Mullins (which I often do) I can celebrate and enjoy that. And if I find truth without beauty in the propaganda that passes for art in much of CCM, I can still appreciate the truth despite the lack of originality or creativity or beauty. Likewise, I can appreciate the beauty of a well-made song or film even if the message is profoundly anti-Christian. And I can celebrate both the truth and beauty, say, in the way that Radiohead creatively expresses the truth of the fallen human condition.

"All are permissible, but not all things are beneficial." Certainly there is a place for choosing not to consume some particular art or entertainment because it will lead you into sin, or simply because any benefits derived from it are outweighed by possible risks of sin or buying into the wrong elements of its message. But we have to remember that goodness, truth, and beauty exist in most forms of even "secular" art and can be acknowledged and celebrated. Whether or not you choose to do so in each given circumstance is a matter of personal conscience, but this understanding keeps us from judging others who choose to listen, read, or watch this or that, unless we can clearly see that they have wrong motives in doing so or are being harmed in doing so.

Personally I tend to listen to more "secular" music than Christian. Many of my favorite artists are those who write from a Christian worldview, but still do so creatively. Some examples: Sufjan Stevens, David Eugene Edwards, Derek Webb, Over the Rhine, Waterdeep. Some of my other favorite artists (Radiohead, Sigur Ros, Wilco, The Decemberists, The Notwist) may not write from a Christian worldview, but I'm still able to find much truth in what they write, and I'm able to celebrate the tremendous beauty of the art they create.

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Amen Brotha! That's a good word. I've tried to explain this to some of my more fundamentalist friends and it's almost always met with strong opposition.

Everything belongs to God. All truth is his. I can celebrate truth where ever I see it. I do agree that we must be discerning though, about what will lead us into sin, but I trust that the Spirit will lead us into all truth!

Andrew, all I have to say is that you are, as usual, much better at articulating thoughts than I am. WE shall have to discuss Jerram's talk (and other things) further. Also, if I don't see you before tomorrow, enjoy Sigur Ros. Thewyr muusici iis soowe gwoode.

By the way, that last comment was by me.

Indeed. I think the whole Fundamentalist fear of everything "secular" is due to a misunderstanding of what it means to be "in the world but not of it."

BTW, I was responding to Stacy's comment, when Eric slipped his in. Thanks for your affirmation, Eric, and we'll certainly be discussing these things in more detail.

Good post. As a young Christian I often "gave up" secular music, thinking that it would give me some kind of a spiritual boost.
Now I enjoy listening to it but maybe I'm more mature and less likely to see the stars as heros to emulate.

I suppose it can be a bit depressing when Christians are wildly enthusiastic about some controvesial star. I find as I get older, I can like the music without liking the lifestyle of the star.

Jerram Barrs has a good talk on Harry Potter on BeThinking.org and he makes some interesting points about how we relate to non-Christian culture.

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