WHY BONO JUST MIGHT GET IT RIGHT
I spent much of the last week with 3,500 Christian singles/newly married/fresh-faced college students at New Attitude. Yes, this is the brain child of the man who cursed many of us with the courtship culture, but no, it’s not a week-long brainwashing festival for that type of life choice.
What it ended up being was a four-day conference of solid preaching and worship that left me with a positive taste over where part of Christendom is heading. While there were plenty of problems with this future—part being the fact that this community has yet to produce many musicians who could achieve relevance or meaning in a community outside the closed confines of conservatism—much of the experience was entirely positive.
Why this has relevance to Patrol readers comes partially in the fact that the kids at this conference will be part of the face of “CCM music” for the next fewyears, and also in some comments made by John Piper on Monday night. Piper is like a rock-star in this community (they even roped off his section of seats when he showed up), and he preached a message on the life of William Tyndale.
I know you’re cringing, dear reader, but hang on just a few more seconds and I swear the nut graf will come. Piper addressed the philosophical and literary differences between Erasmus and Tyndale who came at the issue of the translation of the Bible and Protestant/Catholic split on different sides. In this seemingly dry and antiquated subject, Piper made a point that profoundly summarized problems that I’ve seen in modern Christian culture, especially that on the “cutting edge of society.”
The incredibly truncated quote:
…I linger over this difference between Erasmus and Tyndale because of how amazing it sounds to me like today. Tyndale wrote his books and translated the New Testament and there was a thundering effect, Erasmus wrote his and there was an entertaining effect a, high brow, elitist, layered, nuanceing of church tradition. They satirized the monasteries so they had a ring of radical nature about them, clerical abuses they criticized, but the gospel wasn’t at the center. I’m not going to name any names but there are elitist cool avant-garde, marginally evangelical writers and scholars today who…(feel) as if to be robust and strong and full about what Christ has achieved feels rather distasteful…it is ironic and sad that today supposedly avant-garde writers strike a cool, evasive, imprecise, artistic superficially reformist pose of Erasmus and call it post-modern when in fact it is totally pre-modern, because it is totally permanent.
Whether it’s in Relevant, Blue like Jazz, or in the Black Cat, it’s hard to find Christians who will explicitly admit that they are Christians, or what exactly being a Christian means. Now, I know why many of these artists and writers have trouble identifying themselves with the particularities of doctrine and teaching; too many of them have been burned by the church in the past and too many of them are still trying to figure out what being a Christian truly means. What I’ve struggled with is when any type of doctrinal or philosophical certainty is greeted with skepticism and condescension, when the gospel is reduced to little more than well-meaning, philosophically vague platitudes that carry no true implications for belief or non-belief.
It’s a difficult thing to get labeled as a Christian in the mainstream or independent art world today, and inspires no end of questions and incessant, sniping prattle. Ask Sufjan Stevens what it’s like to never make it through an interview without his faith being mentioned, ask Dan Layus of Augustana what it’s like to make music with the weight of the faith of his family, church and college hanging over his head. I’ve talked to, and hung out with a number of other artists who face that problem on a day to day basis; what does it mean to be a Christian artist? Or perhaps more precisely, “How much of my faith can I admit to, without being completely labeled as a conservative fundamentalist freak-out?”
I have no great all-encompassing solution to this problem, but I think there are some things you can’t get away from. I’d argue, along with Piper, that Christianity is comprised in the gospel and the gospel is a message that necessarily excludes many other philosophical standpoints from legitimacy. I’m trying so delicately to not make this be a discussion about all these specific points of theology, but at some point and time, Christians have to be willing to be dogmatic about their “theology” because the implications of that theology provides the entire basis for their faith.
The implications of that faith should extend outside of doctrine and into vocation, as another speaker said, the purest theology should produce the most beautiful and excellent art. Too often the most “dogmatic” Christians produce absolute artistic crap. You wonder if God shudders when those types of people are singing his praises.
It’s a dangerous thing to identify yourself as a Christian in the musical landscape, it’s a far more dangerous thing to be so terrified of rejection that you are completely unwilling to be identified with the very thing that has saved you and given you hope in your life; the gospel. Though Bono’s theology isn’t perfect, I’ve appreciated the fact that he’s been willing to come out very strongly and very openly about the implications of his Christian faith. The thing is though, he hasn’t just preached this message, he’s lived it for the last few decades, and he’s lived it in the public eye.
You may mock Bono for a lot of things, but you can’t touch his sincerity. The man has provided one of the best examples for Christians working in the artistic world: tell about your faith, but live it.
And don’t be afraid to be dogmatic about the very details that have changed your life. New Attitude has another phrase they like to use, and it comprises this balance pretty well: “humble orthodoxy.” They’ve got that right; now if they could just produce some music that’s worth listening to outside of “worship.”
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