Gungor: On Christian Art

Michael Gungor — of the fantastic band Gungor — wrote a blog post that I think you ought to read (HT: @loswhit) titled, “Zombies, Wine, and Christian Music.” It’s essentially an exploration of the problems of Christian music (and by extension other forms of Christian art), which Gungor begins by talking about a game he plays on tour. All you have to do listen to a few bars of a song (absent any tip-off lyrics) and guess whether it’s a Christian song or a secular song.

If you’re familiar with the distinctions of those parallel worlds, Gungor says the game is pretty easy to play:

“But for me (and I’m actually one of the better players of the game if I must say so myself), I find something very disingenuous about most Christian music. This is something I can simply feel at a gut level. If I hear a song, and I hear any sort of pretending or false emotion, that’s a good first indicator.”

Part of the problem, Gungor says, is that Christian music is saddled with a motivation (a safe and family-friendly message) that relegates the medium (the music itself) to mere packaging:

“… it’s very typical of the basic premise of most Christian music to me, which is–use whatever musical style you wish as a medium to communicate your message. It’s not about the art, it’s about the message. So use whatever tools and mediums you have at your fingertips to do so. If you want to reach emo kids, then sing emo music but with Jesus language.”

In this environment, art becomes math:

pre-determined message + marketable genre = Christian product

Unfortunately, often the message clashes with what amounts to a derivative facsimile (rather than an authentic expression) of the given genre. And thus, while there’s no shortage of Christian albums, there is a definite shortage of artistic achievement and meaningful connection.

Gungor articulates the two main problems with this practice as follows:

  1. It’s dishonest
  2. It kills creativity

I agree. His most convicting example of this second point is the way in which his music is often described: “creative.” He observes that no one bothers to describe secular art as “creative” because that’s a given — it’s art. But Christian art such as the music of Gungor or John Mark McMillan stands out to the degree that people consistently remark about its creativity. This music is the exception rather than the rule, and thus it stands out from the rest of its industry as particularly distinctive and original.

No matter your preferred art form, resist the derivative. Pursue that which is honest. Don’t give in to the temptation to cut corners, to trace someone else’s work and call it art.

If you’re game, Michael Gungor has some inspiring words for you:

“Make it and let them catch up with you. Your art is sacred.”  

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Scott is a writer, editor for Collide Magazine, conference director for Echo MediaConference, occasional speaker, and struggling humorist.