So, Christian writer, you’ve finished your project. Congratulations! Break out the bubbly and put up your feet. Oh, quick question: how are you going to label that project? Will you put the proverbial Christian stamp on it? What effect would that have on your audience, the project’s marketability, your reputation? Okay, maybe it’s not so quick a question. The decision to label your work as Christian or not isn’t as simple as it may seem. But you have to figure it out. To label or not to label?
Before you decide, let’s take a look at some of the most common, flawed arguments we’ve come across in this debate. We hope seeing these arguments laid out and our responses to them helps you avoid endorsing them when you decide what to do for your work.
There are two extremes on the spectrum regarding this idea of the Christian label:
1. Avoid the label due to the stigma associated with Christian art
2. Use the label to make art more marketable to Christians
Let’s examine these extremes, shall we?
1. Avoid the label due to the stigma associated with Christian art.
Argument 1: Christian art has been so bad for so long that if I put that label on my work, people will assume my art sucks too, and I won’t be successful.
Response: By avoiding the label, we do nothing to change the stigma. If your art is truly great and of the very highest quality, then it can be successful no matter what label you put on it. Only by creating solid art that shows Christ can we remove the stereotype of bad Christian art.
Argument 2: If I’m open about being a Christian/my art having Christ influences, I’m limiting my audience. In other words, I run the risk of turning people off if I’m open about my faith.
Response: Again, your art needs to be of the highest possible quality, able to stand on its own apart from labels. If your work does this, if it speaks truth through powerful storytelling, your audience is limitless.
As for turning people off by being up front with the name of Christ, what else is new? Yes, as in everyday life, when some people find out you love Jesus, they’ll write you off, mock you, etc., often without giving you a chance to speak. Why would your life as an artist be any different? However, we also want to point out that the masses dislike hypocrisy and, generally, our world today appreciates transparency. People may hate your beliefs, but they may respect you more for not hiding them.
Let’s also not forget the attractive nature of Christ. If your work shows Christ and spiritual truths in strong, relevant, and new ways, then people will be drawn to it. Christ draws people to Himself—the true Son of God is appealing, not repelling. Unlike the impostor we see in certain political movements, in the radical misrepresentations of grace and justice, in the one who is continually boiled down to sappy simplicity, the Christ of the Bible is magnetic and inescapable. He is the ultimate subject matter. If this is the Christ you write, draw, photograph, etc. for, do you really think people won’t look at your work?
Note: In a publishing house, Argument 2 here has some validity—you and/or your audience may be limited due to the publisher you sign on with. Going with a Christian or secular publishing house is a large decision, and one not discussed in this blog post. We’ll save that topic for another day.
2. Use the label to make art more marketable to Christians.
Argument 1: I label my work as Christian so that others can know it’s safe for them and their children to consume.
Response: If parents aren’t actively engaging in the culture of their children and rely solely on labels to decide if something is fit for their consumption, they’re not doing a great job as parents. Just because something is labeled Christian doesn’t mean it’s righteous or of high quality. On the flip side, just because something is NOT labeled as Christian doesn’t mean it’s evil or of poor quality. A label as the singular data point in a decision to consume or not is always lacking. People may continue to do it, but don’t use it as your reason to put Christian on your art.
Argument 2: I label my work as Christian so that people will consume it because of the label, regardless of its quality.
Response: This argument is borderline unethical. Riding the coattails of the Christian genre, with the added bonus of your art sucking, is just plain sad. Simply applying the label Christian to your art doesn’t make it high quality, worthy of success, or even fit for consumption.
It’s time to stop settling for “he’s tone deaf, but he loves Jesus so let’s tell him he’s awesome.” His voice isn’t awesome, her poetry isn’t deep, and those actors can’t act. Sorry. The best of intentions and the sweetest of hearts are not substitutes for good artistry. Don’t mistake evaluating the quality of one’s art for judgment of their salvation; an honest critique of a person’s work is not a critique of that person’s heart for God. A person can love Jesus with all of his being and create art that is found wanting—this happens regularly. Yes, the message of Christ is always powerful, but the method of delivery of that message is extremely important. Perfect your method; don’t use the message as an excuse for creating crappy art.
Now that you know the flaws in these arguments, we hope you’ll be able to come to a decision about how to label your work without resorting to them. We can’t tell you which is correct—to label or not to label. It’s a decision unique to each individual and to each story. No matter what you decide, you MUST do the following:
1. Perfect your craft. Make your art, writing, music, etc. the best it can possibly be.
2. Glorify Christ and show Him and themes of spiritual worth in your work.
If you do these two things, regardless of how you choose to label your work, your art will be solid and your identity in Christ apparent.
By Madeleine Mozley
Images from FreeDigitalPhotos.net. Image credits in order of appearance: artur84, graur codrin, thanunkorn.