This last weekend it was once again my privilege to spend several hours pouring into the lives of youth workers at the Simply Youth Ministry Conference. As always, I did an eight-hour intensive on “Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture,” where I lay out what I hope and trust is a biblically-faithful theology of faith and culture.
After finishing up on Sunday afternoon, I was approached by Tyrone, a 23-year-old junior at Nyack College who hails from New York City. Tyrone was mulling over what we had discussed in the class and wondered how he could apply his faith to what he sees as his calling. . . to work in the world of art, particularly in the arenas of film and fashion.
Tyrone and I sat together for awhile to talk about his hopes, his dreams, and his aspirations. . . along with the fact that God does indeed have something to say about Tyrone’s endeavors. Tyrone is pursing things that matter and that matter deeply. He knows that the worlds of art, film, and fashion typically work themselves out in ways that remain faithful to our culture’s most cherished values and stories. Sadly, those values and stories result in things not being the way they are supposed to be. Tyrone, in a very wonderful way, longs for something better.
I told Tyrone that when I got home I would pass on a list of books and resources that I know would serve him well as he endeavors to live out his faith in his unique calling. The good news is that there are many deeply committed Christians who have endeavored to embrace art, film, and fashion to the glory of God. So Tyrone (and anyone else willing to read a few good things), here’s a little list to get you started. . .
Steve Turner has written a couple of books that are really, really helpful. His book, Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts, will get you thinking about the fact that Jesus is the Lord of all of life. . . including art, film, and fashion! Turner believes that creativity is essential. . . it is what God wants. But God wants us to embrace a vision for excellence in the arts. Turner lays out a vision for the arts that will help you see there is lots of art being created by Christians that just flat-out bad, and lots of art being created by non-Christians that is off-the-charts good. Turner’s latest book, Popcultured: Thinking Christianly About Style, Media, and Entertainment, is one that I’m recommending wherever I go. It’s a book for both consumers and creators of art, film, and fashion.
Of course, like most people I know who have a good view of faith and culture, Turner was influenced by Francis Schaeffer. I love Schaeffer’s little booklet, Art and the Bible. It is clear, concise, and convicting.
On the general subject of art, our friend Ned Bustard has published a helpful collection of essays, It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God. These essays from folks with last names like Keller, Edgar, Peacock, and Fujimura explore what it means to make art from the unique perspective of a believer in Christ.
Tyrone, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention another good book on how we image God through our creativity. Andy Crouch’s Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling will serve you well as a foundation for understanding how you’ve been made, the creative gifts you’ve been given, and how to use those gifts to “make” to the glory of God.
Since you’ve expressed a special interest in film – and there are loads of good books on Christians and film that are out there right now – I want to tell you about two of my favorites. First is William Romanowski’s Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture. This book has served me well over the years. It’s about so much more than just film. It’s also a book that I’ve required students at all levels to read in just about every class I teach. For a book specifically on film, I recommend Brian Godawa’s Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films With Wisdom and Discernment. It’s been re-released recently in an updated and expanded version. Godowa is himself a film-maker. One of the most valuable aspects of this book is its treatment of violence, sex, and profanity in film. Read it and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
Finally, I need to tell you about a ministry that does some amazing cultural analysis, much of it on contemporary film. My friend Denis Haack runs Ransom Fellowship, and his Critique magazine is well-worth your time.
Thanks for inviting me into this journey with you Tyrone! It’s going to be fun to see how almighty God helps you matter in a world of matters that really do matter.