Even though I spent my childhood overseas, I’ve always somewhat lived in the Protestant evangelical sub-culture. “Evangelical” can mean various things, but in this context, it means the world of mainstream Protestants, a strong belief in the Bible’s authority, and generally middle-class values.
Obviously, this tends to be a very upright culture, so I was shocked to discover there was a war going on within it. It was a cold war which not many people seemed to discuss or recognize, but it was definitely taking place.
The war’s terms are as follows: since Protestant evangelicals have their own values, their own entertainment (Christian films, Christian music, Christian fiction) and their own resources to promote that entertainment, it’s often assumed artists must promote those values to be true Christians.
Many evangelicals have this hidden assumption that “good Christian artists” will produce things such as Christian fiction, overtly Christian music, and Christian films. Artists who don’t do that tend to have their faith questioned, occasionally get demonized or are just regarded with distaste.
At first, I only knew this from my own observations. But research showed me that other people noticed this conflict as well. Theologian Francis Schaeffer talked about it in his book "Art and the Bible." Various publications carried interviews by bands such as Switchfoot or Jars of Clay who worked in mainstream music but kept getting criticized as not being Christian enough. Pastor and poet Steve Stockman -- who spoke at my university this past year -- wrote a book on the Christian members of U2 and how rarely evangelicals accept them in spite of the frequent Christian elements in their music.
Most notably, in 2011 evangelical polling firm the Barna Group found not only were young people leaving Christianity in droves, but one of the larger segments leaving was “creatives,” people with artistic abilities. When interviewed, many of these artists referred to Christian entertainment outlets as “the Christian ghetto” -- a place where they couldn’t flourish.
I find I usually agree with those disgruntled artists. I write fiction and nonfiction and my nonfiction is often religious, but my fiction rarely is. The closest I’ve gotten to writing a Christian character was a Catholic hitman in a spy film script, and I downplayed that in the final draft. As much as I enjoy C.S. Lewis’ "Chronicles of Narnia" and other works, I identify better with J.R.R. Tolkien, who described his work as fundamentally but not specifically Christian.
This all raises the question as to why I stick around. Why do I still attend Protestant evangelical churches when I know most people in them won’t value my fiction? Why do I attend a clearly evangelical university? Why do I often write for evangelical Christian publications when I risk being stereotyped as a religious writer?
One reason is that although I don’t agree with evangelical views on art, I do agree with almost everything else evangelicals believe. I am willing to make some compromises if I can stick with churches my family attends and theology I agree with.
Another reason is that if I’m inside the evangelical community, I can possibly help change things. I write blogs about the conflicts in Christian art. When I get the chance, I write articles or papers on the topic. I recommend resources so other Christian artists can learn about evangelical views on art and make informed decisions about where they submit their work. I do whatever I can to spread the word, and maybe that will make a difference in the end.