Why is Christian Art Sometimes So Schmaltzy?

Change of Season by Patty Kingsley
Change of Season by Patty Kingsley

My kids have a lovely relative who buys them Christian novels to read. Lately, I’ve noticed a growing skepticism on the part of my children. They are suspicious of the book if they think it is “Christian.”

At 18, 15 and 14, they have – without any help from me I will add – concluded that sometimes those books just aren’t as good as the ones you read at school or even more likely, pick up at Indigo.

My kids have experienced Christian novels as predictable, too-good-to-be-true, preachy and boring. And if the cover art involves a young woman in a field with wind blowing her hair – especially if she’s dressed like a pilgrim – my daughter’s reaction is less than charitable.

If they think we have trapped them into watching a movie that is “Christian,” we are in big trouble. Sometimes they actually laugh at the parts that are supposed to be the most moving. And these are faith-filled young adults.

Are they horrible children? No, I don’t think so. They’ve been raised in a world of sophisticated media by parents who often quietly agreed with them (even if we would tut-tut their response at the time).

Sometimes we Christians seem to make such schmaltz. Maybe we think we have to? I haven’t quite figured that out yet.

My interview with Iwan Russell-Jones, author, filmmaker, theologian and Regent College professor, helped me think through this dilemma with a little more nuance.

Russell-Jones reminded me of one of the loveliest books I’ve ever read: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, an achingly beautiful poem of a book that brims with God.

Heck, I even liked the Noah movie. I thought God was everywhere in it and Noah seemed more realistic to me than any Sunday School flannel version I’ve ever seen.

When it comes to art, I probably know just enough to be dangerous. But I do know that the paintings that hang on our walls by a favourite Christian artist take some explaining to those who ask. I think that’s a good thing.

One painting is of a long overcoat hanging on a hook, to be put away (or taken out) for a new season: it hints of new beginnings. Another is a shadowy image of a horse thundering down a track: it points to God’s power and majesty. Another is of a man diving under a breaking wave: the wave is God’s will.

Visitors to our home almost always ask about these paintings. And I love to tell.

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