Christian apologists seek objective material for defending the Faith. This is wise for obvious reasons.

Objectivity provides a standard upon which we can measure the legitimacy and validity of what we believe. The modern period was founded upon such objectivity–science, reason and empiricism.

This is contrasted with subjective material, which is far more relative and contingent. Subjectivity tends to be apologetical quicksand, for once we use our subjective perceptions and experiences to legitimatize the Christian faith, we create a weak foundation. We make our faith “true for us and us alone” when we do this.

Yet subjectivity is what postmodernism thrives on. Rejecting the certainty of modernistic thought, we’ve sought a more diversified approach to life. We’ve embraced the chaos of relativity and have bowed down to emotionalism and experience.

In the face of postmodernism, Christian apologists could take the route of presenting arguments for universal truth, but another option, more timeless and far underused, is the use of “narratives.” Narratives, after all, are what we use to define our existence. They speak in a language we all understand, for life itself is a narrative–a story.

Indeed, “narratives,” or “myths,” are an integral part of postmodern thought. While modern thinkers rejected the validity of the world’s myths, insisting that they were merely premodern superstitions that held no correspondence to reality, postmodern advocates reconsidered their importance. They were convinced that each society had their own set of myths that constituted their “claim to legitimacy.” These “legitimizing myths” operate on a level of truth that’s different than the preferred methods of modernism. They speak into the matters of the heart and soul. In other words, societies construct their values and morals based on the myths they cherish.

Although postmodernism rejects objective assertions, stories agree on the objective reality of human desire. Our deepest desires are timeless, and they always resonate with people. Among others, desires for glory, honor, immortality, paradise, love, victory over evil and purpose never die. The vast majority of stories express these desires. Additionally, Jungian archetypes, inherent to most stories, illuminate a universal reality. In a sense, then, deep desires and archetypes point to an “objective reality” in how they find universal resonance.

We find in Story the objective basis (the deep desires of humanity; archetypes) upon which we can defend the legitimacy of our faith. What better medium to express the values and ideals of the Biblical Christianity than that of Story?

Of course, we must not limit Story to the form narrative. All forms of art (music, visual arts, drama, crafts, novels, etc) are considered storytelling, for they seek to give an expression–a snippet–from the characters in the story. The Psalms of David were just as much a part of his story as his narratives in 1 & 2 Samuel. The same applies to the art we create today: it’s not concerned with facts; it aims for impression.

Art is powerful because it invites audiences to engage with the values and ideals of the artist’s particular worldview; audiences naturally enter into the worldview of the artist when they allow the art to speak to them. In the same way, Christian artists have the opportunity to form a common bond with all worldviews by expressing their own worldview through an accepted medium.

Paul said something about this when he wrote to the Corinthian church. He said he’s become “all things to all people” (1 Cor. 9:22). This idea is called contextualization, which simply means making a message relevant to an audience without distorting its truth. Paul himself exemplifies this principle when he was in Athens (Acts 17:13-34). While there, he proclaimed Jesus and the resurrection, which piqued the city’s philosophers’ curiosity. They told him: “You bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know what these things mean” (verse 20). Paul then contextualized the Gospel by drawing attention to a particular idol that was labeled as “the unknown god.” He argued that this “god” is indeed real, that he’s made himself known in the person of Jesus, and that he confirmed his deity by resurrecting.

Like Paul, we need to make people scratch their heads at the art we create. In becoming “all things to all people,” artists of the Christian persuasion begin to fulfill the missionary mandate in Matthew 28:19-20 when they create compelling art that stems from the Christian worldview. Specifically, we fulfill this when we invite audiences to engage with the values of Christianity. For example, we value the redemption found in Jesus. Christian artists can then promote this value by creating stories of redemption filled with sacrifice and radical forgiveness.

Art does not preach; our goal is not to convert audiences, but to offer them a new perspective. We can’t overload our art with overt messages about our worldview–that’s bad art. A message forced upon a medium is like oil and water; it feels unnatural and turns audiences off.

It must be authentic, compelling.

Art presents itself to the whole spectrum of society, which is a good thing because not everyone is searching for God or willing to assess the validity of the Christian faith. In contrast to conventional apologetics, artists reach this broader audience by offering a “no-pressure invitation” to engage with the values of Christianity.

Apologetics is far more than argumentation and reason; it’s about adapting to the culture and philosophical climate, and although our current climate discourages objective assertions, art creates an objective “platform” where we can express our worldview. It provides a medium for postmodern audiences to engage the objective reality of desire that lurks inside each soul. This is what should motivate Christians to create compelling art that enters into the subjectivity of the audience. It beckons them to follow the rabbit holes, which may prompt them to ask the big questions about life, humanity, themselves and God.

______________

Sources:

Fernando, Ajith. Acts The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998.

Frost, Michael. Seeing God in the Ordinary: A Theology of the Everyday. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000.

Grenz, Stanley J. A Primer on Postmodernism. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

Montgomery, John W. “Introduction: The Apologists of Eucatastrophe.” In Myth, Allegory and Gospel, 11-31. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany Fellowship, Inc., 1974.

1 COMMENT

  1. Absolutely love this piece. The value and power of Story cannot be underestimated.

    I would like to dialogue a bit about what you refer to as “objective reality.” You argue that certain realities are objective on the basis that (through Story) they have a timeless quality that we can see through the ages (desires for glory, honor, immortality, paradise, love, victory over evil and purpose). It cannot be substantiated that these qualities are timeless, since timelessness itself is hard to substantiate. The evidence of these qualities through the ages suggests an enduring quality, which in and of itself, may lend to their objectivity. From a purely philosophical viewpoint, some of these qualities may eventually die off. It is likely they won’t, but we only make that conclusion based on past longevity.

    Why do I even bring such an esoteric point up? Because I feel the modernist proclivity for objectivity largely hinders apologetics. While absolute truth has always existed, our understanding of absolute truth has always been limited. The world is flat until the day a smart person says otherwise. The sun revolves around the Earth, until a smart person says otherwise. Newton says gravity is a force with a set of laws, until Einstein says otherwise. Regarding the Bible, as Christians, we believe that the Bible holds absolute truth about God and His interest in making humanity. But our ability to understand that truth has also proven limited. At best, if we are honest with ourselves, our understanding of the absolute truth we call God is not absolute; rather, it is merely sufficient. We attest truths laid down for us centuries ago, such as the Trinity of God, even though we cannot come close to understanding it.

    So to the modernist reading this exhaustive rant, I sum up this way: relax. Show more grace than your forefathers did and recognize our minuscule abilities in understanding the One Objective God. Embrace that, while we may never understand Him fully, He has given us enough of Himself to help us share our knowledge of Him with others.

  2. I’m a believer & an artist. I’m not sure I understand your statements, “the art we create today: it’s not concerned with facts; it aims for impression…&…It [art] must be authentic, compelling.” How can something not be concerned with facts and also be authentic & compelling? My work is definitely concerned with facts…things that truly exist or actually happened. People connect to my work because they have had similar experiences.

    • My intent with that statement was to emphasize art’s focus. My article was about why art is a powerful tool in inviting postmodern advocates to contemplate objective matters. Even though truth may be “relative” to them and they find objectivity [seemingly] elusive, storytelling and art should compel people with such postmodern mindsets to explore the possibility that objectivity (facts) is knowable.

      So I do agree with you that art without fact is not compelling, but to concentrate on the facts too much is to do a disservice to art.

      From the viewpoint of the artist, facts (to the best of their ability) should undergird the art, just not so much that it turns into a textbook, you know? So when I said “art isn’t concerned about facts”, I meant it isn’t trying to present Truth in a way that strips it of its allure, which, in my opinion, is often what happens when the Gospel is presented today. It’s then misunderstood as a lifeless system, when it reality, is immensely life-giving. Art helps emphasize this fact (no pun intended), it doesn’t remove the facts.

      (You should read C.S. Lewis’ “Is Theology Poetry?” in The Weight of Glory; I recommend it for all Christian artists).

      Take care, and God bless.