Killing Christian Creativity

Chardin_Jean-Simeon-ZZZ-Still_Life_with_Attributes_of_the_Arts

Hans Fiene (known for his “Lutheran Satire“) wrote a brilliant piece at The Federalist last month pointing out the left’s inability to produce anything original; instead of creating any new gay or female characters they simply hijack well known ones like Captain America or James Bond. This isn’t creativity. It’s intrusive laziness.

Fiene goes on to note the same laziness in Christian art and media. Instead of producing original content we settle for mimicking whatever is trending in pop culture. And he’s absolutely right: it’s a sloppy attempt to capitalize on whatever will make a quick sale. We’ve taken the grand truths of the Christian faith and suppressed them into fun, feel-good name brands.

But it runs deeper than just commercialization–the recent lack of Christian creativity often stems from bad theology. Whether it be best-selling novels that confuse the Trinity or worship that wants you to get turned on by Jesus, ill doctrine shapes most of our art.

Why? Because Christianity as a whole has stopped being about truth and reverence and has become more about personalized emotionalism. Why bother with all that deep, philosophical nonsense when you just can just make a cheap grab for the heartstrings? Who needs theology when you’ve got feeling?

This has overflowed into the way we do books, movies and music. We’ve lost quality because we’ve lost substance. We’ve cheapened our art because we’ve cheapened our God.

I saw a terrific picture on social media that exploits some of this poor theology in the way we read our Bibles:

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Its point is that we treat Scripture like isolated Sunday school lessons instead of connected chapters in God’s redemptive history. We treat the Bible like a bunch of illustrations to help us live better, rather than as the great tale of God and His people. We look at our faith as helpful hints and tidbits in order to live our best life now, rather than one epic narrative of God’s cosmic victory through His Son.

By doing so we’ve lost the grandeur and the scope of our own story and our own salvation.

This has drastically affected our art, because we no longer tell tales of the Great Story or the deep elements of which it is composed. Instead we settle for what is cheap and emotionally appealing. That’s why Christian bookstores are overstuffed with self-help nonsense. That’s why Christian music is full of one-syllable words repeated over and over. That’s why why Christian literature and movies are built on one-liners like “let go and let God.” There’s no depth. No majesty. No rich theology.

Compare that with the classics of Christian creativity like Milton’s Paradise Lost, Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress or Handel’s Messiah. Milton dealt with the cosmic impact of the fall. Bunyan dealt with the pilgrim’s quest to the Celestial City. Handel dealt with the nature and mission of Jesus Christ, including Old Testament prophecy and New Testament fulfillment.

They saw the magnitude of the Christian story. They saw a tale bigger and better than the standard “believe in Jesus and you’ll feel happy” garbage that’s shoveled out nowadays.

They told good stories because they were constantly aware of the Great Story. If we don’t recover the depth and doctrine of our faith, we will continue to be B-grade copycats. Instead of glorifying our Creator with creativity, we will continue to mock Him with commercialized laziness.

Let us be good musicians and writers and storytellers. After all, we have the best Story to tell.

What is the Kingdom?

William Hodges - A View of the Island of Madeira

Welcome to Marks of the Kingdom. The first half of the title is a bad pun on my name (Mark), and the second half refers to a topic of great debate, confusion and absolute importance: the Kingdom.

Since it’s the whole springboard for this blog I suppose it would be natural to begin with a definition of what “the kingdom” is. Look up the term in your Bible’s concordance and you’ll find it mentioned a lot. It permeates so much of Scripture that our understanding of it is essential to the way we understand the whole of God’s Word.

Is it heaven, up in the clouds somewhere? Is it a future period on earth when Israel becomes prosperous again? Is it a vague, spiritual concept with no concrete meaning? What is the kingdom, and what does it mean for us?

Let’s start by going back to the beginning. The Triune God has always been supreme, even before time began. He’s always been King and Ruler. So when He created the heavens and the earth and filled it with creatures and people, that was naturally an extension of His reign.

Adam and Eve were designed to be God’s viceroys, overseeing His domain on earth. They were meant to exhibit His kingship and bring Him glory. But God’s ancient enemy, Satan, duped our first parents into treason against the Most High and introduced the great chasm of sin that has separated us from Him ever since. Instead of being stewards of the kingdom, we’ve by nature joined the ranks of the rebels. The kingdom was disturbed.

But that doesn’t mean God’s sovereign rule was somehow diminished – we shouldn’t be so haughty as to assume that our insubordination took anything away from God’s kingship. What it does mean is that God’s particular administration on earth, through man as His image-bearers, was disturbed. In other words, what’s been changed is not God’s kingdom itself but rather our place and participation in it. Instead of reflecting His glory, this world came under His curse. Instead of sons and daughters, we became foreigners.

Yet even from the beginning God offered flickers of hope that this expulsion would not be final. He promised a human descendant who would crush Satan (Gen. 3:15). He promised an offspring whose blessing would spread to all the families of the world (Gen. 12:1-3). He promised a kingdom of restored relationship between Himself and man (Gen. 17:6-7). He promised a coming king who would reign over all (Gen. 49:10). The kingdom would be restored.

Old Testament Israel was a glimmer of that kingdom to come. They served God as their true Monarch, and they received His moral, civil and ceremonial laws. Yet they were simply an ethnic, physical picture of the kingdom, and the rest of the world remained in darkness. The spiritual reality was still to come.

Then John the Baptist appeared, calling people to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt. 3:2). Whatever the kingdom is, it was not a distant reality at the time of the New Testament. It was “at hand.” It was at the doorstep. It was about to burst onto the scene.

Then Jesus, the incarnate second Person in the Trinity, came proclaiming the same thing (Mt. 4:17) but with a twist: that with His arrival had come the arrival of the kingdom (Mt. 12:28; Mk. 1:15; Lk. 9:27; 10:9; 11:20). This is seen most explicitly in Luke 17:20-21:

Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

The Pharisees expected the kingdom to be some far-off event, and a lot of Christians today imagine a similar thing by assuming that “the kingdom” only refers to our eternal future in heaven. But Christ announced that it was here. Jesus was seed of the woman who would crush Satan. He was the true offspring of Abraham in whom all people would be blessed. He was the king from Judah who would reign over all. With His arrival, the kingdom had also arrived.

This kingdom was initiated when Christ “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death…on a cross” and was subsequently “exalted” and had “bestowed on Him the Name that is  above every name” (Phil. 2:8, 9). His incarnation, passion and ascension ushered in the restoration of sinful man to holy God. In Him we can once again reflect our Creator and administer His glory on earth.

This kingdom is not spread by military might or political expansion, but through the preaching of the gospel and the changing of hearts. So when the disciples asked Christ after His resurrection, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) He answered, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (1:8).

The kingdom is the reign of Jesus Christ and its message is the good news about what He has done. Wherever Jesus is preached, the kingdom grows. Wherever lives are ransomed from sin and conformed to the image of God’s Son, the kingdom thrives. The kingdom is wherever insubordinate rebels, who committed high treason back in the Garden, are “delivered…from the domain of darkness and transferred…to the kingdom of [God’s] beloved Son” (Col. 1:13).

That’s not to say this kingdom is in its full or final form. Although Jesus spoke about it as a present reality, He also spoke of it as a hope yet to come (Mt. 8:11; 25:34; Mk. 14:25; Lk. 14:15). The kingdom has a dual nature; it is both now and not yet. There remains a completion of this expanding empire.  When history has run its course, when all the redeemed are gathered into the court of their King and all the remaining darkness is crushed beneath Christ’s feet (Ps. 110:1; Lk. 20:41-44), then the kingdom will reach its unending climax.

In other words, the kingdom was inaugurated at Christ’s first coming. It will be consummated at His second coming.

Until that day when “It is done!” (Rev. 21:6), we now live in the kingdom’s expansion stage. We belong to it. We participate in it everyday. The kingdom is not something we sit on our hands and wait for. It is a present reality that is meant to be tasted, seen and lived. It is in our midst.

My hope and prayer is that we exhibit the “marks” of this kingdom in every area of life: in our theology, in our sharing of the faith, in the way we raise our families, in the way we engage the culture, and in the way we conduct ourselves. May we faithfully advance the cause of our King in the way we think and act, for His kingdom is now.