The Table Podcast

The Church and the Arts

In this episode, Darrell L. Bock, Glen Kreider, and Andrew Peterson discuss a Christian approach to the arts, focusing on the arts in a church context

Timecodes
00:15
Approaching art in the context of the church
06:19
Peterson’s artistic works
11:12
The arts in a church context
16:45
The church’s struggle with approaching the arts
19:00
How stages of life impacts artistic work
22:40
Expressing the Gospel through the arts
26:05
How the family impacts artistic work
28:52
Song writing and novel writing
31:55
Approaching the composition of music and lyrics
35:10
Approaching live performance of artistic work
36:30
How can we encourage children towards the arts?
38:20
How can Christian leaders encourage involvement in the arts?
Transcript
Darrell Bock
Welcome to the Table, where we discuss issues of God and culture. I’m Darrell Bock, executive director for Cultural Engagement at the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary. We’re taking a look at the arts, today, and we have a very special guest, Andrew Peterson, who is an author, a host of a chat among artists, a musician – I mean, there’s almost no part of the arts that you don’t touch. I hear that you’re on the edge of filmmaking, now – so you’re just going in all directions.
Andrew Peterson
I’m pretty tired. [Laughter]
Darrell Bock
Well, welcome you could stop by and get a little rest here with us. And then, Glenn Kreider, who teaches systematic theology here at Dallas; he’s a long veteran of "Table Foreign Wars,” as we call it. He’s done several podcasts, now, but you’re really excited about this one, aren’t you?
Glenn Kreider
I’m very excited, just to be across the table from my friend – I’m excited.
Darrell Bock
So, Andrew, our topic is the arts, and thinking through the arts, and helping Christians think through the arts, and kind of the arts experience – kind of all that. So, how did you discover you were an artist? Or did you just fall into it? How did you end up doing what you’re doing?
Andrew Peterson
Well, there’s about ten long versions of that story. I think the best way to put it would be that I grew up in the church, mostly – well, not mostly, completely in the church – I don’t know why I said “mostly,” even. My dad’s a pastor – was a pastor until last year – he just retired, after 50 years. So I grew up in the South, in a small town, one of four kids, and I was the only musician in the family, or, the only one really drawn to music. And my brother and I both loved to listen to music, but I was the one who wanted to make it – it wasn’t enough to, like, just hear it; I wanted to find out what it was like to get inside a song, you know? And I think my brother was a huge influence – he was the one who, when I was reading pulp fantasy novels, he was the one saying, “What are you doing reading that stuff? Read the Lord of the Rings,” and just always kind of raising the bar and pushing me to consider better writing than I tended to, when I was a kid.

And so, I don’t know, in the culture that I grew up in, a lot of the people were farmers, and FFA was big in my town – all my buddies has four-wheelers, and I would go help’em feed calves after school. And I just, I appreciate that now; at the time, I didn’t appreciate it. But I just couldn’t wait to get out of there, and all I wanted was to go to a place where other people liked music the way that I did. I wanted to be around people who seemed to, like, hunger for what art did to me. And I didn’t have it – other than my brother, there weren’t very many people in this little town that did it. So I always just felt like a weirdo, I think, growing up. I was the only left-handed person in my family, too, and loved to draw, loved to do music. So there was something about the making of things that got my attention early on.

Darrell Bock
So it was the creativity of it, you think, that caught your attention? Or –
Andrew Peterson
It was the mystery of it that caught my attention. It was the fact that certain kinds of movies or certain kinds of books or music did something that I couldn’t articulate, to me. And I remember, Pink Floyd was one of my favorite bands when I was a kid, and it’s pretty trippy music. And I would lay on my bed with the little box speaker on either side of my head, with my eyes closed, and just lose myself in this music. There was just something about it that I was always – I had had these flashes of I think what C. S. Lewis called “sehnsucht,” you know, that idea that those flashes of almost painful longing. And I was always trying to find more of them, you know what I mean? And so, whether it was a book, or a movie, or a song, whatever it was. And then I began to, You know, I had a few moments like that in the making of something, and this was all pretty – it was divorced from my faith as I knew it at the time. I think I always believed in God, but I also didn’t see – there wasn’t a context in which I could flourish as an artist in the church; that stuff was seen as kind of like a waste of time. It wasn’t like my parents were mean about it, it just, nobody had –
Darrell Bock
It didn’t fit.
Andrew Peterson
Well, yeah, there was not a paradigm for it, where we lived. So, it just took a long – it was just a lot of just following clues.
Glenn Kreider
[Crosstalk] you learned to play instruments?
Andrew Peterson
Did I?
Glenn Kreider
Yeah, you took lessons, or ?
Andrew Peterson
I learned from – I played piano a fair bit, Journey songs, mostly, when I was in high school, so that at church camp I could impress girls. That was the whole thing – it was, like, “I’ve just gotta learn how to do this stuff, because –
Darrell Bock
There are always girls in this stuff [crosstalk]. [Laughter]
Andrew Peterson
I’m glad to hear that.
Glenn Kreider
Artists and girls.
Andrew Peterson
You know, there’s a lot of musicians out there came by it honest, because they were trying to impress a girl. And so, at church camp, I remember sitting at the piano – I learned Richard Marx stuff, and Journey, and I had worked on it all summer, so that at that week at camp I could have something. ‘Cause I couldn’t play sports very well, and I was – whatever. And sure enough, it worked: I was sitting there in the gym where the out-of-tune piano was, and I was playing these Journey songs. And the girls, sure enough, gathered around the piano, and I was, like, “It’s working.” Then on the other side of the gym, a guy pulls a guitar out of the case, and they all followed him out into the baseball field, and I was, like, “I could move the piano.” [Laughter]
Darrell Bock
You are loser. [Laughter]
Andrew Peterson
Yeah, so I went, and – his name is CJ, and he ended up being the guy I went to Bible College with, and taught me to play guitar. The first song I ever learned was a Guns N’ Roses song, so that I could play with him out in the baseball field. Yeah, it’s ridiculous.
Darrell Bock
[Laughs] There’s all kinds of theology in that, but I don’t think I wanna go there. [Laughter] So now, talk about what you do. I mean, you are multifaceted. You’ve got this Wingfeather Saga, which I take it is written for young people, basically, primarily? Or do you see it as kind of spanning the globe of –
Andrew Peterson
Well, I mean, the idea – I think anybody who writes for young people would hope that grownups would read their stuff, too. And so, I think about it like Harry Potter and Narnia, it’s, like, sure, it’s good for kids, but I would hope that the parents would enjoy it.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, I tell my wife – she says, “Is teaching adults different than teaching children?” and I go, “No.” [Laughter] And so –
Glenn Kreider
[Crosstalk] adults are easier.
Darrell Bock
That’s right.
Glenn Kreider
Well, sometimes. [Laughter]
Andrew Peterson
Yeah, my friend, Jason Gray – do you know Jason? He’s a songwriter, and every summer he goes at teaches at a church camp for kids. And he said that it’s such a good thing for him to have to remember, to have to relearn how to explain the Gospel to children. ‘Cause it’s really easy to get lost in this heady stuff, and when you boil it all down, it’s, like, “This is difficult.” It’s like writing poetry, whittling it down to its essence is a good discipline.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, in fact, some people say that, if you can’t do that then you really don’t get it, yet, so it’s an interesting challenge. But you also host the Rabbit Room. Now, the name itself sounds intriguing, and on your website you’ve got this picture of this scene in, well, I guess, in a bar, or a pub.
Andrew Peterson
British pub, yeah.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, and so that’s interesting. So, what is the Rabbit Room?
Andrew Peterson
So, the Rabbit Room is – we’re still learning how to explain it in a sentence or two. I can tell you the mission statement for the Rabbit Room: The Rabbit Room exists to foster spiritual formation and Christ-centered community through story, art, and music. And so, the idea struck pretty organically, with the moment, really, where the lightbulb turned on was in Oxford, at the Eagle and Child Pub where Lewis and Tolkien and their buddies would sometimes hang out. And, you know, I’m an American, so of course I’ve gotta go see this place when I’m there. And the funny thing about the Eagle and Child Pub is that it’s full of Americans who are C. S. Lewis fans. All the British people [laughter] [crosstalk].
Darrell Bock
All the British people don’t do this anymore, you know.
Andrew Peterson
They don’t care. And so, anyway, but I noticed, in that first visit, that there was a little piece of paper tacked to the awning, or the gable, going into that back room that said “The Rabbit Room,” and I had never heard that, before. I had read a lot of books about C. S. Lewis, and everybody knew about the Eagle and Child, but not about that. So I asked the bartender, I was, like, “Hey, what does this mean?” and he said, “Ah, I think they kept rabbits in that room, in the 1600s,” no joke, and it got that nickname. [Laughter] So, the point is, I was thinking about the inklings in that friendship, that it’s easy to romanticize it and be, like, “Oh, those guys, all these dons sitting there puffing their pipes and talking big ideas.”

But really, I think they were just friends, they were just buddies – it was almost like the books were an excuse to just be together, and that friendship – you know, C. S. Lewis said, in the back of one of his books, that his favorite sound in the world is the sound of men laughing. And that’s one of my favorites, too. So, I get the picture in my mind of these guys just kind of using books almost as just a kind of like the garden where their friendship was growing. And so, I thought about Nashville, and one of the great blessings of living in Nashville is that there are so many people who take their craft seriously, but who are also true believers, you know, people who really see it through the lens of the Gospel. And I realized that I was a beneficiary of those friendships – that the work that I was trying to do was greatly nourished by my friendships with other people who cared about those things.

And so, I was, like, “Well, there’s some synergy between what those guys happened upon and Nashville.” So the Rabbit Room was kind of an experiment in saying, “What would it look like if we tried to emulate some of the inklings stuff, only, in this town full of music instead of a town full of Oxford dons.”

Darrell Bock
Yeah, Nashville’s a pretty interesting place. My daughter has lived in Nolensville for over a decade, and we’re out there periodically – she’s getting ready to move to Indianapolis. But the amount of musical talent, even in the churches – I mean, you go in the churches, and you hear some pretty fantastic music in the worship, and that kind of thing. And it has always struck me: it’s the only airport I go to where the little diner in the airport has live music going on at the same time.
Andrew Peterson
Yeah, and it’s good live –
Darrell Bock
And good live music.
Andrew Peterson
It’s, like, the guys that are playing in those little dive bars are actually amazing.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, exactly. So, it’s an interesting opportunity. Well, Glenn, let’s talk a little bit – I do have one question for you. And that is, you know, we talked about how art struggled to fit in the context of the church, and yet the idea of truth and beauty is a pretty important idea in theology. So, you’re the theologian amongst us – help us with that. I guess two questions: How should we think about truth and beauty? And secondly, why do you think it is that art struggles to kind of find its place in the church?
Glenn Kreider
Truth and beauty are often separated, just like truth and love, or mercy and truth. And in the Christian circles, particularly in evangelicals, truth is often limited to propositional statements. So we talk about “the story” being true, or, this story, which actually is a made-up story, is true in a different way in which the story of the resurrection is true. Then we move into poetry and wisdom sayings, and they are true in a different sense. Both truth and beauty, it seems to me – and I’m interested in your take on this – truth and beauty have to be understood in relationship to the God who is, and the son who is the incarnation of, both truth and beauty. And music has a way, the arts have a way, of expressing in an experiential – they create an experience that connects with people.

I love the language of mystery, that somehow, in this experience of beauty and truth, in a way that sometimes is difficult to put into words, one experiences the presence of God, and experiences the Gospel. There is something about live music – music does that for me anyhow, but there’s something about live music that is an amazing experience of truth and beauty. And the beautiful doesn’t necessarily have to – I mean, there’s a sense in which even that which is not beautiful, is it draws us towards the beautiful [crosstalk] –

Andrew Peterson
Tragedy, yeah.
Glenn Kreider
– it describes the world that is. And the longing for the world to come, how our lives are shaped by it, and how arts help us to shape us by the future which is to come. Which is one of the real major themes in your writing, both music lyrics and fantasy novels, is this hope of the world that is to come. I’d love to hear you talk a little bit about that.
Andrew Peterson
Yeah, I noticed that about five albums in, that there’s – like a – you guys are smarter than me, but – there was, like, an eschatology to a lot of the songs. I tended to focus on Heaven, and I can trace how the – I read N. T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope, several years ago, and I can see the change [laughs] in the way I thought about Heaven bear itself out in the songs. My longing became even more focused and pointed the more I began to kind of understand the biblical picture of what’s coming, you know? And going back to when you were asking about me as a kid is that, that longing, that, “What is it – ” like, there’s something tugging at my heart to something, it’s always pulling me towards something, someone, but there was always, like, a – it felt like a destination, to me.

And so, yeah, I don’t know, that’s always come up in my songwriting, and in the book writing, too. And I think that, at least for the arts, that has moved me. I don’t know if this is true of all art, but I think one of the great things that it does is it builds these signposts to the Kingdom. Do you remember the C. S. Lewis illustration of the man in the shed, or whatever? Have you ever heard of that? He uses this great illustration of a beam of light that’s kind of – you’re standing in a dusty shed, and there’s a crack in the ceiling, and there’s a beam of light coming through. And you can look at the light, and you can be, like, “Wow, look at that beam of light.” But something else happens entirely when you stand in the light, and you look through the crack, and you see the trees outside of the shed. And I think that’s the kind of art that – Christian art can do that. It doesn’t always do that, but it can do that. I think it’s one of the highest [crosstalk].

Darrell Bock
Almost went beyond itself, in some way.
Andrew Peterson
Yeah, like, the thing is beautiful, but then the goal is to move people into the light; not just to admire it, but to move into it so that you can see what’s on the outside.
Glenn Kreider
It’s that crack where the light shines through, in Leonard Cohen’s [crosstalk].
Darrell Bock
Interesting I do think the term “mystery” is an interesting one, because there are some things that happen with art that are beyond words – you can’t express it, but you know it’s there, and you feel it. There are times, sometimes, when I see a movie or – it tends to happen to me in movies, less with music, but – where I see a movie, and there’s a particularly poignant moment, and all of a sudden I feel this well of emotion, watching it and going – and I don’t even know where it comes from; it just, boom, you know, and it’s on you. And then it leads to a kind of reflection that is healthy. And so, and I think we underestimate this, so we – let’s deal with the second half of the question, and then I kind of wanna ask you about kind of the seasons of your writing. But the second half of the question: Why is it that you think we struggle with the place of art? Is it because we have been captured so much by expression and word and the way we conceive of truth, that we’ve almost limited its ability to get at us otherwise?
Glenn Kreider
I think we have a hierarchical view that says the most important thing is the words. Which makes music difficult for us to understand and embrace, because music is not lyrical, and it changes everything when the music changes. I mean, Andrew’s killed a couple of his songs for me, when he re-recorded them, recently, for that [laughter] [crosstalk] it doesn’t sound the same. “No More Faith” doesn’t sound the way it’s supposed to sound – I went back to playing the old one, in class. I think it also is because of the mystery, because we can control words, but music and the arts are so mysterious. And I think there’s also, we are aware of the power of the arts to grip people’s emotions, to lead to them. And some people would hear your story about a movie, and be deeply troubled by that.

But you’re watching the movie theologically-informed that, if we have done a good job of not separating things that ought to be together, and that people are thinking theologically, they’re feeling theologically, they’re experiencing theologically, that they’re not bifurcating these ideas and these tasks into – which is part of why – we do that with the arts, too. We have Christian arts and secular arts, and it usually has nothing to do with – it should have nothing to do with quality; it usually has to do with content. And we’re back to verbal content, instead of pursuing truth and beauty.

Darrell Bock
So, I wanted to ask you, Andrew, about whether you feel like your writing has moved at all in terms of through the seasons of life. You’ve already alluded to this a little bit, that you feel like you’re writing with a more conscious awareness of how you address issues of hope and direction, but are there other moves that you see in your writing that are impacted by – or am I overanalyzing what happens?
Andrew Peterson
No, I mean, yeah, there’s certainly growth that happens – hopefully, anyway. [Laughs] There are some songs that people request that I won’t play now, because I just can’t stomach it anymore. ‘Cause, you know, if you write the kind of songs I write, then it tends to be a documentation of where my heart was 20 years ago. And there are some things that I just don’t – like, there’s a song called “The Chasing Song,” which was on my first record. It’s a song about selfishness and – whatever, it’s clever, and [laughs] – which that’s, by the way, David Wilcox is one of the great songwriters ever. I remember hearing him talk about how, when he listens to his young songs, he hears himself trying to be clever, and I was, like, “What’s wrong with being clever?”

And now I see it as, like, the last thing you wanna do is draw attention to yourself and not the thing that you’re pointing to, and so sometimes that cleverness can be a hurdle. So, this is one of those songs, and it was so – what I hear is a kid who grew up fairly legalistic, and was in Bible college, and was pretty self-righteous, and was really, really good at beating himself up. That’s what I hear when I hear that song. And it is almost not at all about the grace of God, or Christ’s work on the cross, or anything like that. So when I hear it, I’m, like, “I just don’t – ” not only do I not feel that, but I would rather sing about the other side of that coin, to people. And so when people request it, I’ve gotta go, “Do I explain all that? Or do I just say, ‘No, I don’t – ‘” [Laughter] So, yeah, but there are some songs – I get it.

One of the great blessings – and my dad, like I said, is a pastor; I remember hearing him talking about this, that one of the great blessings of working at the same church for a really long time is that you actually get to see some of the fruit of your ministry, you know? You get to marry people that you were there for their birth, and that kind of thing. And so, as a musician, you know, I’ve been at this for about 20 years, now, and I’ve been able to document, like I said, different stages of my life. So one of the cool things that happens at concerts is that, people that are about my age will come up and say, you know, I’m writing about the stuff that is right around the corner from them as parents, or as married people, or – like, the last two albums of mine were more or less about a midlife crisis, and, you know, I didn’t want the albums to be about that; that was just what the Lord was doing in me.

And so, it’s been so interesting to meet all these guys at shows that are, like, “Man, I’m 39 – I really needed that last record, you know?” And so, it’s been one of the fun things is being at this long enough to have seen, you know, slight changes in the way I write songs. But really, there’s a consistency to just trying to be faithful to exactly where God has me, and so, like, every part of our story is interesting, if you look closely enough at it.

Darrell Bock
You know, I do think it’s interesting how art just kind of has the capability of taking us to places that otherwise we might not even go. You put Christian and art together, and some people say, “Well, it really isn’t Christian until you’re really explicit about what you’re doing.” And then other people say –
Andrew Peterson
Because Jesus is always so explicit. [Laughter]
Darrell Bock
Exactly right, that’s right, he talked in very precise theological [crosstalk] and never used a parable. [Laughter] And then other people say, “No, art and drawing people in, sometimes some of the beauty of it is the mystery and the subtlety of it.” So, that’s an open-ended question, kind of where –
Andrew Peterson
Yeah, well, I think a lot of – it’s easy to get lazy about how we experience art. There’s a lot of stuff that people may think, “Oh, well, that’s kind of highfalutin whatever – I’m just, like, a normal guy.” And I kind of wanna be, like, “Actually, no, you’re pretty smart, and if you just kind of gave it a little bit of time, it would open itself up to you in a really rich and beautiful way.” So I think that’s part of it, is that I think that people are intimidated by this idea that it’s something that isn’t explicit that you’ve gotta really dwell with. They’re afraid, maybe, that they aren’t gonna get it, and what that might suggest about themselves. I just think it’s kind of, we can slip into that, especially in our culture. There are so many movies that are tremendously moving, if you, kind of like you were talking about, develop an ability to see things or think about things theologically, you can experience things differently.

I remember watching the movie Hellboy – did you ever see that movie?

Darrell Bock
No, I didn’t.
Andrew Peterson
So, Hellboy is this comic character, and he’s a [laughs] – I haven’t talked about this in a long time – I wonder if I should even spend any time on it. [Laughter] But he’s a comic character who was a “demon” or whatever that ended up being raised by a priest, right, “Oh, a portal opens and this baby demon ends up in our world.” This is comic book stuff, so you gotta – and he’s raised by a priest, and the priest gives him a new name, and tells him, “You have a different name than whatever.” And the whole story in Hellboy is of this, like, big bad demon trying to tell Hellboy, “You are not who your father is; you are who I say you are.” And, like, the big climatic moment in the movie is when he literally breaks his own demon horns, and claims the name that his priest father gave him.

And I remember just sitting in the theater weeping, because that whole name idea is one of the ones that I’ve struggled with the most. I’m very susceptible to the Enemy’s attacks in that way, like, I believe lies about myself all the time, and so, it profoundly affected me. And the guy I was sitting with, I was, like, “Oh my goodness, did you notice all the whatever?” and he was, like, “What are you talking about? [Laughter] It was just a cool monster,” you know? And I just think that that’s part of, because of my job, I’ve gotten into the habit of looking for the metaphor, looking for, “How is the Lord speaking now?”

And I don’t know if you’ve heard – I don’t know who said it, if this is just an old saying, but – people say there are two books of Revelation: there is Scripture and there is nature. And so, as a hobby gardener and beekeeper at home, all of that stuff is metaphor. It’s, like, God is using metaphor constantly through creation, to talk about himself.

Darrell Bock
Well, he started us off in a garden, you know, and we’re supposed to tend the garden and manage it well, and it’s a way of talking about stewardship, so that shouldn’t be too surprising. We didn’t raise this earlier – maybe it’s a good time to talk about it now – talk a little bit about your family and how – I was talking about the seasons of life, and I guess one of the things I had in the back of my mind in asking that question is, as you move through, you talked about early on writing thinking about, “Well, some of the stuff that I write I don’t like as much anymore, ’cause I was just being clever, felt like I was just being clever.” How much does the presence of your family and the way you interact with your family impact your art or –
Andrew Peterson
Oh, man, oof, I don’t even know how to talk about that. They’re kind of at the heart of it – they have always been at the heart of it. Like, the reason I do music is because my wife talked me into it, and she’s pretty, so I tend to – I’m a pushover. So, no, she has always seen something in me that – she doesn’t even really like music all that much is the irony, but she just, she has always loved me, and she saw some gift or some desire that I had to try to do music, and so she fanned the flame. And, you know, I would rather be home than on-stage, any day. And I think that’s part of the culture of our family, we take the call very seriously, the vocational spiritual call to use my gift and to try to steward it for God’s Kingdom. It does not mean that it’s always fun for me to be [crosstalk] –
Darrell Bock
Well, you even talk about that on your webpage, I mean, I saw that on your webpage, that you were talking about that, you know, the traveling does get old, you do miss your family, that kind of thing.
Andrew Peterson
Yeah, so they are – I don’t wanna say they’re my muse, that isn’t exactly what I mean. But they are the thing that – the truest part of my life, I think, is the way God has opened up the Gospel to me through my wife and my children.
Darrell Bock
Now, Glenn, you had some questions you wanted to ask Andrew about craft – let’s talk about that.
Glenn Kreider
And then, your kids are musicians, too.
Andrew Peterson
Yeah, [laughs] which is a blast. I’ve been married 22 years; my oldest is 18, and then a 17-year-old, and then a 14-year-old girl. And all of’em play music, and we’ve done a few family band tours around Europe, even. And it is one of the greatest feelings in the world, to turn around and see my children using their gifts, not just for the Kingdom but for their dad. It’s, like, holy cow, I can’t believe that they’re cool enough to wanna hang out with me right now. And I don’t have to pay’em [laughter] [crosstalk] its wonderful.
Glenn Kreider
For their dad, but also, typologically, for their heavenly father.
Andrew Peterson
Yeah, yeah, it’s true.
Glenn Kreider
Once again, it all comes together. So, I don’t write much poetry – dabbled a little bit in songwriting, and it’s a completely different animal from the kind of writing that I do. So you’re a songwriter-lyricist, and a fiction novelist – those are two radically different genres. So, I’ve had songwriters say to me – who were students at the seminary – they say, “You ask for a ten-page paper – I’ve spent all my life boiling my thoughts down to a phrase. I write a page-and-a-half – I got nothing, that’s it [crosstalk].” [Laughter] So, somewhere in there is a question about the craft of writing.
Andrew Peterson
Yeah, well, I think I hear exactly what you’re saying, is that poetry and songwriting, which are very, very different, but they are about a lot of distilling, a lot of, like, whittling down. And that happens in novel-writing, too, but in a much less dramatic way, I think. The way I’ve described in the past is that songwriting tends to be about patience; novel-writing is about endurance. And so, one is a sprint and one is a marathon. Like, with songwriting, I remember Rich Mullins saying, one time, that songwriting was like going fishing: you get all your stuff ready, and you go, and you sit by the pond, and you kind of wait – there’s a lot of waiting that happens. Because you do need some flash of an idea, or you need to happen upon something that opens the door to the song, or whatever it is.

So, countless nights of me sitting up with my guitar, falling asleep, because I just cannot think of an idea. But when you’re writing a story, you just kind of meander; you just are, like – it doesn’t have to be good, you know what I mean? You’re, like, you’re just writing sentences [crosstalk] –

Darrell Bock
Get something down on the paper.
Andrew Peterson
– building paragraphs, and going, “Well, maybe this happens and maybe that doesn’t happen, and – ” And then, the editing process is the really fun part of taking this lump of clay and turning it into a piece of pottery. But it’s, like, 2,000 words a day – that was my thing: I would get up in the morning, go to Starbucks, and not let myself go home until I’d written 2,000 words. And then that way, writing a book is just math, you know? It’s, like, “Well, if I’m truly committed to writing 2,000 words a day, it’ll take me 3 months to write the first draft,” you know?
Glenn Kreider
You told me, one time in the midst of that, that you hadn’t written a song for a while?
Andrew Peterson
Yeah.
Glenn Kreider
How do you get back into [crosstalk]?
Andrew Peterson
[Laughs] With a lot of fear and failure. Songwriting, man, it’s just so – so hard for me, and it’s getting harder the older I get. I don’t know what exactly it is about it, but, like – it’s kind of like blogging – I don’t know if you ever tried blogging, but in the beginning it was, like, “This is a blast.” And now when I think about writing a blogpost, like, because I think I’ve grown as a writer, I’m a lot more picky than I was before, and I’ll be, like, “Actually, that wouldn’t make a good post, like, what do I – ” so I tend to write those a lot less. So I think the songs are the same way that, like – and I’m not saying that’s a good thing. I think that if I were more kind of youthful and spry, I would just write a bunch of bad stuff, and find something good. But now I just, if I don’t feel it, then I abandon it or I put it aside and work on something else.
Glenn Kreider
Which comes first, the music or the lyric [crosstalk]?
Darrell Bock
That was exactly my question. [Laughter]
Andrew Peterson
It is the age-old question. It happens different every time – there is no consistent thing. And I usually say that if somebody tells you they know exactly how to write a song, they’re either a bad songwriter or a liar. And so, any time you engage in the creative act, you are entering into mystery of some kind. Like, it’s an embodiment of one of the core elements of who we are as image bearers of a creative God. And so, who are we to think that we know how that works, other than, you do the work, and you’re present, and you are curious, and you try to maintain a sense of wonder. But always a sense of humility, because what you’re entering into is something that you don’t understand.

And so, when I teach writing workshopy stuff – you know, sometimes I’ll go and teach, and I usually try to – it’s not about nitpicking lyrics or choruses or whatever. It’s about how to cultivate a writing life; learn how to be discerning artistically, learn how to – because I feel like whether or not the songs are good – I think God is not nearly as interested in the songs we’re writing as he is in who he’s shaping us to be. We are the song that is being written. And so, that’s the thing that I like thinking about the most is that, once again, it’s a metaphor that’s playing out. It’s like I’m hacking away at this thing in order to make something beautiful [laughs], so –

Darrell Bock
So, sometimes you’ve got a tune, and sometimes you’ve got lyrics that need a tune [crosstalk].
Andrew Peterson
Yeah, thank you for bringing us back to the original question. [Laughter] That was very subtle of you. I think that it works best when they both are born at the same time. Like, if I write some lyrical passage that I think is really good, and then I later try to put music to it, I feel like I can always hear that that’s how it happened. Like, ideally, the way it works is – this may be too specific, but – you’re sitting there playing the guitar, and then you get a rhythm, and then you start mumbling things. And a phrase comes out of the mumble, that you latch onto because it’s interesting. And then you try to find out why, where the mumble came from, why that phrase, and you chase it down. That way, the thing that you blurted out came out so naturally and organically that it kind of has to exist with that –
Darrell Bock
It fit the music.
Andrew Peterson
– guitar riff or that piano part. Does that make sense?

And, you know, the best songs, you can hear that happening. It’s, like, there is a rhythm to’em and a syncopation to it, and the lyric just sits in the bed of music perfectly, and I’m, like, “Oh, you can tell that that happened at once,” you know?

Glenn Kreider
But it’s different than writing with people, writing with somebody else.
Andrew Peterson
Yeah, I don’t do that – I’m too scared to do that. Cindy Morgan is this wonderful, wonderful songwriter, and I just did a show with her a few days ago, and she cowrites constantly. Like, a lot of guys in Nashville go from studio to studio, all week long, and love it. So much so that they kind of can’t do it unless they’re cowriting, they just enjoy it so much. And I just have this – I’m too much of a chicken. I just sit in the room and have zero – it’s like static on a TV. They’ll be, like, “What do you think about that?” [Making TV static sound] And I just, I can go home and work on something somebody gives me, but – yeah.
Glenn Kreider
What’s the live experience like? So, for me, I prepare to teach. I walk into the classroom, and something happens, the spirit of God is present in the community. Do you have that same kind of experience? Do you rewrite songs in a live performance? [Laughter]
Andrew Peterson
No, but I change the set list, every time. I mean, very seldom do I do the exact same songs every night, because I try to be sensitive to the spirit, or to the vibe of the room, or whatever. The live thing is my favorite thing to do. I love to write books, I love music, but when I’m on stage and the audience is with me. And, you know, ideally, it’s when people are already familiar with the songs, and I’m not coming in going, “Hi, my name is Andrew – you’ve never heard of me, but – ” But it’s a room full of people who know the songs already, and we can experience them together kind of objectively, without – it’s like I’m not a part of it; it’s like the song is the thing, then. And that is just one of the best feelings in the world: the feeling of connection, of looking out and seeing people moved to either joy or sadness by your own story is just a giant affirmation that the Lord uses art to connect us.
Glenn Kreider
So you’re a Christian artist who grew up in a subculture that really didn’t understand the arts and didn’t understand music?
Andrew Peterson
I would say so.
Glenn Kreider
You’re the father of artistic offspring?
Andrew Peterson
Uh-huh.
Glenn Kreider
Talk to us a little bit about how those of us who care about Christians in the arts can encourage artists, how we could – our own children, grandchildren, but in the church.
Andrew Peterson
Yeah, well, I just think we try – and all I can tell you is about how we do it in our house. From a very young age, I exposed the kids to music that wasn’t by Christians, just because I would rather them listen to a good song by somebody who’s not a Christian than a really bad song by somebody who is. And so, to try to cultivate in them a little bit of, like, healthy snobbery about what good music is, and to look at the way the Lord uses that. And so, I remember from a very young age, like, playing Counting Crows for my kids, one of my favorite bands in college. And, you know, they tend to wanna know what the songwriter believes. As little children, they’d be six years old, and they’d hear a song and be, like, “Is that guy a Christian? Like, what is he singing about, here?” And we would cultivate a habit of asking questions about where the art came from, what it might mean, and –

And I think that’s the thing, is we just – you know, and even now, my kids don’t think of there being a hard divide between Christian music and secular music. They’re just on the hunt for something beautiful. And so, as far as them playing music, we just leave instruments out. We didn’t really force them to take lessons; I just would leave guitars in their bedrooms at night, you know, and they gravitated to it. [Laughter]

Darrell Bock
So, if you were to give advice to, I’ll say, pastors and church leaders, about how to encourage the arts in their communities, what would you say to them?
Andrew Peterson
Hm, well, just off the cuff, I think – you know, there’s this thing that, like, in the movie business, where they try to market movies to Christian audiences, like, The Shack is coming out – whatever.
Darrell Bock
Yep, I’ve been in the midst of those – I know what that’s like.
Andrew Peterson
I’ve never read the book, but I just, I know enough about it to be kind of, like, a little eye-rolly. But then a movie like Silence came out, that I have friends who say that it’s their favorite book – it’s a very difficult book, but it’s also a probing and deep and honest book, you know? And one movie that Silence, arguably a very Christian movie, flopped, Selma, like, in many ways a very Christian movie, flopped, but then the church just gravitates to these other things. But the truth of it is that the Christians that they’re trying to market all these other movies to are really just watching Netflix; they’re watching mainstream movies at home. And I think a lot of pastors are doing the same thing, you know? So we have almost this shame, like, “We’re not really supposed to be watching this thing, or listening to that band, or whatever.”

And how many times have – you know, I remember even as a kid being so excited when my dad would mention, like, Indiana Jones, from the pulpit. And just say, like, “Okay, remember that scene in whatever, when this happened?” as a way of illustrating. And it’s not like pastors have to use movies, but to integrate, like, who we are as – let me say one more – I’m getting off-topic, maybe, but – I read this interesting article in Entertainment Weekly, on a plane or something, where this guy was talking about Netflix – and this is back before it was streaming; it was all DVDs that would come to your house. He was talking about how many times he would order movies, and then they would show up at his house, and he would be, like, “What was I thinking? I don’t really wanna watch this,” and he would mail it back. And he said he realized that there was the movie-watcher he wishes he was, and then there’s the movie-watcher he actually is.

Like, he wishes he watched arthouse films, but really, he just wants to watch Taken 3, or whatever. So I think there’s a part of me that’s, like, let’s just own up to the fact that we are experiencing these things in this way, and see how the Gospel speaks to us in it. And the other thing I would say is that Frederick Buechner had a huge influence on me. Our church is actually reading Telling Secrets, a church book club that we’re doing, and I’ve been reminded, reading that book, how beautiful it is the way Buechner talks about how important it is for ministers to be honest with their own stories.

Darrell Bock
That’s actually gonna be my next question is I’m hearing a tone of honesty, “Let’s be honest about life,” that I’m hearing you consistently push at. And I sometimes think the church is guilty of covering over the hard parts and the tensions of life, and therefore, there’s a disconnect between the reality of the tension people feel in life versus the way the church talks about what they feel.
Andrew Peterson
Mm-hmm, there’s a “supposed to.”
Darrell Bock
Yeah, exactly, versus, “The way I’m maybe really feeling, or the way I’m really processing what’s going on,” that kind of thing. And I do think that good art has the ability to expose that – I think that’s the right word, to expose that. And all of a sudden, it confronts you in a way in which you go, “I can’t turn away – I’ve gotta face up to this thing that’s been put in front of me, and actually interact with it. I can’t shut it off; it’s too powerful,” et cetera. And that’s some of the strength of art, when we keep our eyes open for it and are willing to walk into those spaces.
Glenn Kreider
And there are a lot of Christian artists who are doing that and doing it well – that piece you wrote in response to [crosstalk] to Peterson, I mean, that thing exploded. But there are a lot of artists who are telling the truth, who are doing that well.
Andrew Peterson
Yeah, you could say the same thing about filmmakers, too – there’s so many people working really hard. There’s a guy in Nashville who, he’s a film marketer, Eric, really nice guy. But his job is to try to find a way to get Christians to watch movies that kind of fall in the middle where they’re, like, too Christian for the mainstream but not safe enough for the typical Christian audience. And to me I’m, like, “Aw, man, why isn’t the church embracing these things?” It’s so hard to make a movie, that when a movie comes out that is honest in that way, like, man, support it, you know? It’s good, it’s telling the truth.
Glenn Kreider
Talk, if you would, for a couple of minutes about the transition, now, of Wingfeather to film?
Andrew Peterson
Yeah, oh, man, what a fun thing. I can be really brief, but – so The Wingfeather Saga is this four-book big fantasy adventure story, that I usually describe as being a cross between Princess Bride and Lord of the Rings. So it’s big and epic, but it also is a little bit fun, at times. And so, anyway, I for years have thought – you know, the kids will ask, “When are you gonna make a movie?” and I just can’t ever imagine somebody giving me the $5 million it would take – not me, but putting up the $5 million –
Darrell Bock
Yeah, and that’s not that much for a movie.
Andrew Peterson
Right, and it would be really bad and dumb. But then, because of the fact that I think we’re living in, like, the golden age of television – where some of the best storytellers have gravitated to that serial television thing, because they have this freedom, and time to expand the world, and build a character, and follow him – I was, like, “What if there was, like, a Netflix four-season show that was The Wingfeather Saga, Season One, Two, Three, and Four, so we could really tell the story.” Which is ultimately a story about resurrection. And so, anyway, I pitched it to a buddy of mine, and he’s a producer – I met him at Veggie Tales, and he was done with Veggie Tales and looking for a project, and I was, like, “What if we were to make a Wingfeather Saga pilot, and pitched to Netflix.” So that’s what we’re doing, we’re making kind of a proof of concept pilot that we raised money for on Kickstarter, and if we can get in through the door, we’re gonna say, “Hey, you guys, let us make this movie.” So –
Darrell Bock
Oh, wow, so that sounds pretty cool. Well, flown by, I mean – [Laughter]
Andrew Peterson
We didn’t even get to beekeeping, yet. [Laughter]
Darrell Bock
That’s right – yeah, we’ll save the bees for another story. But anyway, I really appreciate your willingness to come in and talk with us about the arts a little bit. And hopefully this has been an encouragement, and a stimulation, to people about thinking about the way in which we can be touched and impacted by God, and the way we see the world and reality. I sometimes think that some of the most powerful illustrations I get are the words that people have written for lyrics, and that kind of thing, that open up a conversation, and that distill certain things that are going on in life, in such a packaged way that you end up in a space that you might not otherwise occupy. And so, I do appreciate your willingness to come in and interact with us on this.
Andrew Peterson
Sure – thanks for having me.
Darrell Bock
And also, for you, Glenn, I think that some people go, “That guy teaches systematic theology at Dallas?” Yeah, he does.”
Glenn Kreider
He does. And he wants to be a songwriter. [Laughter]
Darrell Bock
We’re waiting. [Laughter] So, we thank you for being a part of The Table, and hope you will join us again, soon. And we hope this has been an opportunity to really reflect on where God has you.
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Andrew Peterson
Andrew Peterson is an American Christian musician and author, who plays folk rock, roots rock, and country gospel music. Peterson is a founding member of the Square Peg Alliance, a group of Christian songwriters. He has toured with Caedmon's Call, Fernando Ortega, Michael Card, Sara Groves, Bebo Norman, Nichole Nordeman, Jill Phillips, Andy Gullahorn, Ben Shive, Eric Peters, and other members of the Square Peg Alliance.
Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than 40 books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
Glenn R. Kreider
Dr. Kreider is professor of theological studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. He identifies his motivations as his passion for the triune God and his desire to help others respond to divine revelation in spirit and truth. Prior to coming to DTS he served as director of Christian education and pastored a church in Cedar Hill, Texas. Dr. Kreider’s research interests include Jonathan Edwards, theological method, and our eschatological hope. He is married to his best friend, Janice, and they have two grown children, a son-in-law, and one granddaughter, Marlo Grace. He and Janice enjoy live music, good stories, bold coffee, and their four rescue dogs—two pugs, a chihuahua, and an adorable black lab named Chloe.
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