The Table Podcast

Theology and the Arts

In this episode, Drs. Darrell L. Bock, Reg Grant, Sandra Glahn, and Tim Basselin discuss theology in the arts, focusing on the Christian’s role in engaging with and producing art.

Timecodes
00:15
Grant introduces the Media, Arts, and Worship Department
04:12
The relationship of art to theology
11:32
Positive and negative aspects of art
15:23
Hermeneutics and meaning in art
21:37
Classes which incorporate the arts into theology
25:50
How does one get over fears in approaching art?
28:40
Creating boundaries for oneself as an artist
35:30
What are the limits for a Christian who produces art?
41:37
How professors learn from student art
44:32
How can art be used in the church and ministry?
48:35
Am I responsible if my art leads someone away from Christ?
52:21
The necessity of excellence and hard work in producing art
Transcript
Dr. Darrell Bock
Welcome to the Arts Week dinner, what a deal. It’s my pleasure. You all know who I am. I’m honored to be here representing the Hendricks Center and to interview our distinguished panel. Reg and I go way back.
Dr. Reg Grant
We do.
Dr. Darrell Bock
That’s right. I knew Reg
Dr. Reg Grant
When I had hair.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Well, I was gonna say
Dr. Darrell Bock
I mean, take your pick, right? I was gonna say I knew Reg when his hair was dark, okay? So anyway, so it’s a real pleasure to do this, to talk a little bit about arts and theology, and so I think the way I wanna begin is to ask Reg to tell a little bit about where in the world did an arts and media department come from, ’cause a lot of seminaries don’t have them. I mean, they might have a music thing or something like that, but arts and media?
Dr. Reg Grant
Yeah. I was a part of the pastoral ministry department for over 30 years. Beginning in 1994ish, the number of artists in the pastoral ministry department started growing, and so the seminary asked me to design a program that would accommodate those students in the THM, so we came up with ñ in those days, we called it an emphasis. We did an emphasis in 1994, I think it was, and then that grew, and they asked me to design an actual degree program, and that’s where the MAMW came from. The master of arts in media and worship came out of that, and that was in 2005. We had students who grandfathered it in, so that we started graduating students actually the first year. Naima Lett out in California now was our first graduate in the new master of arts in media, and in those days, it was master of arts in media and communication. The degree program turned to master of arts in media arts and worship, so then ñ and then it has grown from there. That’s how it came about.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So the department goes back to what year?
Dr. Reg Grant
The department goes back to ’05.
Dr. Darrell Bock
’05, okay.
Dr. Reg Grant
No, I’m sorry. The degree program goes back to ’05. The department goes back to ’13.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. There’s help coming from the floor. That’s interesting.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, so what led from the movement from the program to the department? I don’t know wanna take too much time on this, but this is fascinating.
Dr. Reg Grant
From the program to the department, well, we had enough people in the program, and it was ñ we were really ñ PM is pastoral ministries, and PM birthed the Counseling Department, us, the media arts people, so there were just basically too many people under the umbrella of PM with the specializations. It’s ñ
Dr. Reg Grant
Yeah, kind of [laughter], with the specialization in the arts, so they said, “Go ahead and try your own department.”
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, so basically, the department grew organically from within the activity of the school in many ways. Fair enough?
Dr. Reg Grant
Yes, and I think the administration thankfully was very supportive and has been, continues to be very supportive of the arts here at DTS and wanted to encourage those students who were seeking careers either in the local church as media directors, for example, or entrepreneurial line of student, who wanted to go out like Naima did and become actors or technicians on the West Coast or in New York or in Nashville.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, this is good. This is a good transition to the next question, which is ñ ’cause I think some people look at media arts on the campus, and they go, “Eh, yeah, I guess it’s kind of like an orphan. It’s associated with what’s going on.” So I’d like each of you to address this question, and that is art is actually a pretty fundamental theological category of things, and what you represent is actually more central than some people might think, so that’s like an opportunity to say, “Tell us how central you think this is.”
Dr. Reg Grant
If you were here this morning, you heard John Dyer talk about how the first person who’s filled by God’s spirit in the Old Testament was an artist, was Bezalel, who received the commission to construct the tabernacle, with all of its beauty and functionality at the same time. It is not from God’s perspective. It is art is not ornamental. Only, it is beautiful, but to say that it’s beautiful doesn’t mean ñ doesn’t equate with its being ornamental. It is foundational. It is substantive theologically, and it is in a place of influence in our world that gives voice to our message.
Dr. Sandra Glahn
It’s important to consider too that art in many ways, in its relationship to theology, is very much like work and theology. We’ve tended to think there’s secular work and then there’s Godly work, and there’s art, and then there’s being a pastor, and both of those things are really, in the last, thankfully, in the last 10 years or so, a lot more theological reflection being done on how did that happen? That needs to not happen, so we are not just a department that is people who are working artists. Like, I’m a writer. I’m a working artist, but we’re also filled with people who are studying theology who recognize their education is truncated and they need some of the arts, and they may not be able to write or draw or do music or whatever, but they want to think about, “How do I cultivate culture? My kids are watching videos all the time. How do I use what’s all the way around me to communicate?”
Dr. Tim Basselin
Art deals with the fullness of what it means to be human more so than lots of our educational models that are primarily reason based, so bringing the emotions, bringing more of what it means to be human, our physicality and a lot more of who we are, to the table in doing the theology, and that’s part of how we should do theology. Theology isn’t simply a rational understanding of the world.
Dr. Darrell Bock
I want to put two ideas together and let you comment on them, because I think that we’re thinking about how the arts are foundational or how the issue of design is foundational, how creativity is foundational to theology, and I think of this in two ways. I think that oftentimes, we think about God as creator, but we don’t think about God as designer, so there’s that, and then you look at the image of God, and one of the ñ which is a reflection of that God who is creator/designer, and you look at that picture, and you go, “What is it that makes people unique?” It’s their ability to reflect. It’s their ability to image God, okay? They’re made in the image of God, but they’re imaging God. They’re representing what he can be like. They are creative in the way they go about their life, and then there’s the assignment that God gives people at the very beginning, in Genesis 1. Speak as to how this opening chapter of the Bible, this opening act, if you will, of the Biblical story helps us to connect the arts with theology.
Dr. Sandra Glahn
I think we often think of God as speaking ex nihilo, and the world comes into being, and then we’re like good Deists, and he just sort of left, and we are ñ our theology says that God is the sustainer, right? In Christ, all things hold together, and tilling the garden is part of the process. It’s ongoing creation, and God is very interested in his ongoing creation.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Tim?
Dr. Tim Basselin
Along those same lines, ìIn him, we live and move and have our being.î It’s this ongoing process, and us being in the image of God, it’s not just what we were born with. It’s something that we practice. It’s something that we do in the world, and we cultivate and create and change the world accordingly to being made in the image of God, and that’s part of God’s ongoing creation. My mentor, Rob Johnston, wrote a book on general revelation, and he distinguishes general revelation from the ways we usually think about natural theology, which Dr. Glahn was hinting at mentioning, the Deist sort of perspective, that God created, and it’s done. And we often think about art as a reflection of what God has already done in the past, as opposed to an understanding of God as creator that is continuously sustaining and creating and doing and active in the world, not just passively done something in the past that we’re looking back at, and so we join in that. We create. We participate and do things as well.
Dr. Reg Grant
Yeah, I think that we create. That’s true, of course, not in the same sense that God creates. No human being creates ex nihilo. Human beings create ex creatio, which is using existing materials that God provides for us, in an effort to represent him, glorify him, honor the name of Christ in what we put out there. C.S. Lewis said that none of us makes in the sense that God makes. God is the ultimate maker. We build. We take existing materials, and we build stuff. We make things in an ongoing effort to accurately, clearly, interestingly, relevantly reflect God to the world.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And of course, the creation mandate in Genesis emphasizes the idea that we’re supposed to rule, subdue the Earth. We’re managing it. We are creatively forming the way in which people live. We steward the creation, in many ways, and this isn’t just a mechanical process of checking boxes and making sure people can go from A to B, but actually, part of that sustenance is the way in which we nurture one another, we encourage one another, and art is a beautiful way of doing this. I’m transitioning to this kind of a question: We tend to think of art kind of like ñ we have a love/hate relationship with art, kind of like we might have with culture.

And what I mean by that is that sometimes when you think of the arts, and particularly if you move into media and those kinds of things, you think about, “Oh, look at all the damaging stuff that’s going on out there,” et cetera. But I think sometimes Christians need to do a better job of seeing where the potential is in the creation and in the arts for actually having fruitful discussions about where people are in life, ’cause I actually think art is oftentimes a lens into getting us to think about reality in ways we might not otherwise think about it. And when we do that, we really have an opportunity, it seems to me, to appreciate some things that otherwise, we might be slow to grasp. Help us with that tension, and I want you to emphasize the good side of what the arts and culture can do for us, not ñ because we’re so used to the negative side.

Dr. Reg Grant
Yeah. We’re not about pulling the drawbridge up and going inside the castle keep and just us, and we create our little world, yeah. It’s we let the drawbridge down. This was one of the key aspects of the Reformation, when Luther switched from his previous position of, “Draw ñ pull the drawbridge up,” to, “Let the drawbridge down,” after his trip to Rome in 1511. He switched, and that was part of this great transition into, “Go into the world and make a difference in the world through conversation and dialogue with the world.” Now, there are some things that we would do that the early Lutherans wouldn’t, I think, I know. We find many points with artists who are not believers, artists who are in the world and who have come upon truth and goodness and beauty, and we can use those connecting points as bridges to our culture to celebrate the good that they have found, the truth that they have found. They just don’t know where it comes from, and we get to be the signposts, to use another Lewis analogy, to point them to the source of all truth, goodness, and beauty in the person of Jesus Christ. That’s a great place to be.
Dr. Tim Basselin
So Paul doesn’t show up at the Areopagus and just say, “This is bad. This is terrible. Condemn this. This is ñ” but he sees what is good and points it out and names it as good, and says, “You don’t really know what you’re doing here, but look at this. That’s God. That’s true. That is very true,” and he quotes from their own poets about other gods, and he claims it as good, and we need to be able to do that. We need to be trained to do that, to recognize good around us. If we are gonna take it seriously that God is active in the world, that the Holy Spirit is active, drawing all people unto Christ, and if we’re also gonna take seriously that we are fallen, we can’t assume that we have all the right answers and the right theology perfectly, and that we can’t learn anything from anybody else, and that there’s only this one-directional, like, “We have the truth, and we’re gonna take it there.” Well, yeah, that’s partially true, but also, if people are really made in the image of God, and if the Holy Spirit’s really at work in the world, there’s truth there, and there’s some times that we need to be critiqued, ’cause our theology is not perfect, so we have to be able to listen.
Dr. Sandra Glahn
One of the courses that we offer is a course in Italy on medieval art and spirituality, and we begin the course by saying, “We’re going to approach this with a hermeneutic of charity. We’re going into Italy, Roman Catholic roots, and we know you have been learning to think critically, but what we don’t want you to do is be a critic of everything. There’s a big difference, and so it’s like take a Venn diagram, and there are plenty of other places where we’ll assess the theology, but here, what we want you to do is have that hermeneutic of charity. What I mean is interpret it through a loving lens, a lens looking for the things that we have in common, that Venn diagram of seeing what overlaps.” And it’s really helpful for then looking at, whether it’s icons, whether it’s paintings, whether it’s cathedrals, and learning how to read a cathedral, to recognize what a rich history of art came before us, and I think ñ well, that’s enough. I’ll stop.
Dr. Reg Grant
There’s a ñ let me just follow up on this and what Dr. Basselin was saying. When we go into the world and we discover these points of connection, these connecting points between truth and goodness and beauty, what’s left out of the equation, and what we get to participate in, is the thing that truth is based upon, and that’s an ontological category. Truth flows from being and is consistent with the being of God, the Biblical God, and so we get to show them that, “The truth that you have accidentally discovered is rooted in God and in particular, in the person of Jesus Christ, and that truth will lead you to a morality, a goodness consistent with his character, and out of that goodness will flow beauty.” So it is not chronological, but it is ontologically sequential, and that’s where we get to participate in the conversation with the world, is pointing them to that source of being in the person of Jesus Christ that they just are unaware of.
Dr. Sandra Glahn
It’s sometimes also even finding that source of being in their work, okay? So I think one of the things that sometimes trips us up is we’ve been trained, as we read the Bible and we interpret the Bible, to consider authorial intent ñ what did the author mean? There’s really one thing the author had in mind, right? But when you look at a painting, you don’t do that. You do the opposite. Many times, the artist doesn’t care if you figure out what he or she was trying to do. They wanna know, “What do you see? What is that bringing out in you?” So it’s a very different way of looking at something, and often, we’ll see something about Christ in something that was created for that very reason. They weren’t creating it for Christ, but because we’re Christians, we’re seeing it through that grid, and we can appreciate what they have done because it can enhance our own worship because our eyes are beginning to be training to see in that Venn diagram beauty in the unexpected places.
Dr. Tim Basselin
And sometimes our hermeneutic of finding the author’s one meaning in the Bible is problematic. If you can abstract the meaning from a parable, you don’t need the parable. Much of the Bible is stories about God. We have the stories for a reason. You can’t simply abstract the meaning in one way and have one definition of the meaning and then apply it to something today. It’s a valid way of looking at the text, but I don’t think it’s the only way of looking at the text. I think stories invite us to enter with our understandings of who we are and what we’ve experienced in life. They invite us to enter into the story and be changed by the story, as opposed to looking at the story, figuring out its meaning, abstracting it, and then applying it to what we’re doing today. It’s two different methods.
Dr. Reg Grant
But we wouldn’t say that the axiom beauty is in the eye of the beholder really holds much water. Part of that is true. It’s partially true, but beauty, for it to follow the canons of beauty, must correspond to the reality in which that beauty is based. That’s the being thatís back at the very beginning, the being that out of which flows truth, out of which flows goodness, out of which flows beauty, so it’s not a subjective, just a, “Well, I think it’s black, and you think it’s white. Therefore, it’s both.” That’s not true. That’s not good. That is a distortion, so what we want to do is we want to ñ and the idea that we can ñ the whole idea of intent is very murky, because how can we ñ you can’t get inside the head of somebody else. How in the world are you going to know? The only way to get to intent is through meaning. They’re different things. The meaning is in the text. The intent of the author is not, unless he says, “I mean this. I intend this,” so you have to look at what we have in the text, and you may guess at intent, and it may be an informed guess, but that’s all it’ll ever be. What you have is meaning embedded in the text, and is that meaning consistent with the character of the one who created it?
Dr. Darrell Bock
Well, that was a little discussion of hermeneutics [laughter], on which I don’t have any opinions, so I won’t ñ
Dr. Darrell Bock
So let me just point out, we’ve got mics on either end, as is often the case when we do interviews, so those are for students who wanna ask questions. I’m gonna ask one more question, and hopefully, you’ll come up to the mics, and I want you to each point out one class that you’re involved in that might not be a normal class to think about taking at a seminary, but that you think a seminarian should take, okay? Does that question make sense?
Dr. Reg Grant
Just one? [Laughter]
Dr. Darrell Bock
One each, just one each, okay? So you’ve got to weigh that in your mind, out of those 55 courses that you’re now choosing between, all right, so do you have one, or ñ
Dr. Reg Grant
Yeah, I’ve got one. I’ve got more than that, but I’ll just do one.
Dr. Reg Grant
Yeah. I’m teaching it in the spring. It’s called ìDramatizing Scripture.î It is taking the word of God without a traditional sermon approach. It’s memorizing scripture and performing it. I’ve taught this all over the world, and we have seen God’s spirit do the most incredible things around the world with scripture that is memorized and performed according to the canons of theater arts and how you go about using the stage effectively, how you go about using your voice effectively, how you go about embodying the character, so that when people leave your performance, what they don’t say is, “You know, I never heard it that way before.” What they say is, “I never saw it that way before,” because they participate vicariously in an event, and they ñ one guy said they remember the tears of a forgotten sorrow. They actually participate in the event.

And the principles in dramatizing immediately are applicable to your preaching or your teaching. How are you going to use your voice most effectively in your teaching and your preaching? How are you going to use the stage most effectively, so that you don’t violate the natural law of theater and actually work against the kind of message that you’re trying to create? There are psychological advantages to different parts of the stage. You’re either gonna use it accidentally well or you’re gonna use it like most people do, accidentally very poorly and actually contaminate your message through an inappropriate use of your body, your voice, and your place on the stage.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Tell us how you really feel. [Laughter]
Dr. Sandra Glahn
I’m going to pick a class where every other year, there’s a magnificent conference in the northeastern part of the US, where we live in a house together for about five days, and we attend the conference. It’s for writers and those who love to read, and they bring in Pulitzer winners and National Book Award winners who have written winsomely on faith, not necessarily Christian faith, and it’s our job as theologians to go together and figure out what is it that they’re doing that’s so winsome that we can borrow, that we can use, so ñ
Dr. Sandra Glahn
Okay, we can steal [laughter], that we can appreciate, that we can grow from, that we love, and so it’s just a wonderful time, and then we all read one book in common from one of the keynote speakers and have one last night where we’re sitting around the table with 12 people who’ve all read the same book, and it’s every other April.
Dr. Tim Basselin
I teach a couple of classes that are theology in contemporary literature and one theology at Sundance Film Festival, so those classes are really about learning how to listen and how to listen well to culture, and I think we could all use a little more of that. I think a lot of us don’t know really well how to listen when we pray, and I think it’s something we can habituate in our lives, about how to really listen to other people, how to listen to art, how to listen to God a little bit more, soÖ
Dr. Darrell Bock
I think I heard you, so that means there’s a question over here, so go ahead.
Audience
So taking the image of sort of letting the drawbridge down and going out into the world to interact with the art that’s there, so for those of us who haven’t grown up trained in our churches or our families to do that, so myself included, I immediately sort of have a reaction to certain types of art. There’re certain things that I think, “Oh, I didn’t even know that I should see that or participate in that,” so what might be some reasons for unwarranted fear, fear that maybe isn’t in line with a good theology of the Bible, that’s fear that I’m creating, that God’s like, “Why are you even letting that keep you from interacting with this art?” But on the other hand, what might be good cautions as you kind of make that journey?
Dr. Tim Basselin
That’s a lot of question. Unreasonable fears? I think we have poor theologies of our bodies. We tend to have poor theologies of the created world. We tend to move towards a Christian Platonism that says that our faith, our spirituality, and sometimes our rationality are what are most important and have to be protected, and we don’t interact well with what it means to be in a world where we bleed and poop, and to think about Jesus, our savior going to the bathroom, or I mean, that kind of ñ to say stuff like that makes us uncomfortable and kind of weirded out, right? That same sort of uncomfortability is often the stuff that art is dealing with and trying to say, “This is part of what it means to be human. Face up to it,” and we could do well to listen to some more of that. I’ll let you all handle the caution ones. [Laughter]
Dr. Sandra Glahn
I think anything that objectifies other human beings, but again, that’s ñ some of that’s subjective. It’s sort of like the same question as, “What can I watch on TV?” Well, there’s not one answer for everybody. Some of us, it’s real clear what we can watch, and then it’s a little fuzzier, what we can’t, but I think often, our fear with art is just we don’t know what to do with it. We don’t know how to think about it. We don’t know how to approach it. We don’t know what questions to ask, and we’re used to being in control, so we wanna control it.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Are you _____, Reg, or are you gonna ñ
Dr. Reg Grant
No, I’ll say just a brief thing about it. I’ve had a number of students come across ñ sit across from my desk, people who are going to LA or New York, mainly, and they’re wondering where to draw the line in terms of parts that they will accept, words that they will say, scenes that they will play, and like Dr. Glahn said, there’s no one right answer for ñ you can’t create a rubric for the kind of ñ you know what? You’re not gonna work in LA or New York, I’ll tell you right now. For one thing, you’re never given the whole script. You don’t know what’s in the rest of that movie. Now, if you have a play, yeah, you can read the play ahead of time, but not with movies, and often not with television series, so you’re going to have to make up your mind. Know thyself. Know where your stumbling blocks are, and they’re the same stumbling blocks as the guy sitting next to you, and don’t open yourself up to ñ don’t compromise yourself by putting yourself in a position where you would have to participate in a scene, or for me, it’s saying words, because I was burned as a kid, badly, with a lot of really terrible things that were said, and so I avoid that.

It means that you won’t work a lot, but you know what? I can get up in the morning and look at the guy in the mirror, and I can live with that guy. What I couldn’t live with is if I compromised my principles and placed myself in a position where I am tempted to do things and say things that I would be uncomfortable with, and so I just say, “No, I can’t do that.” But my brother might feel comfortable doing those scenes, and I’ll support him 100 percent, and I’ll be there for him to help him, so it’s slippery, and there’s not an easy answer. You have to answer it based on your knowledge of who you are and the line that you don’t want to cross, and I’d rather err on the side of conservative than I would take a chance and compromise what I believe to be right.

Dr. Sandra Glahn
Let me add one more thing that I think has been helpful to me. When we read about to think on what is true, what is honorable, and what is right, we sometimes think that that means we can only think on what’s G rated, and I think this is where a lot of Christians have made a mistake, because I think what’s essential in that is the point of view. You couldn’t read the Bible if you were saying everything has to be G rated. Some of the analogies God makes to Israel and their whoring is ñ it’s pretty graphic, okay? And so you could say, “Well, that’s just nasty. I can’t go there,” and I think the point of view is am I rooting for the bank robbers to kill people so they get away? That’s not thinking what’s good.

But if I’m going to create something that at the end has victory, I would hope that I’ve made the darkness dark enough so that the victor is really victorious over something, right? So if you sort of sanitize evil and then have Jesus the victor over it, it’s not at all the same as Jesus saving really, truly evil people. That doesn’t mean you have to sort of wallow in the evil, but it also, I think, is a help for me to look at ñ I can watch a G-rated show, but where I’m rooting for the bad guy. The point of view of the show is you want them to get away with something. I think that’s a lot more dangerous maybe then something else that others might not consider good, but that you’re actually rooting for good in the end.

Dr. Reg Grant
I’m much more offended by most G-rated films than I am R-rated films, because the production values are so lousy [laughter], and ñ
Dr. Darrell Bock
Tell us what you really think, Reg.
Dr. Reg Grant
I have told my students for years, “If God were writing the Bible today, he couldn’t get it published in CBA. It’s got too much sex and violence in it.”
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, it’d be Genesis 1 and 2, and we’d be done. [Laughter]
Dr. Sandra Glahn
There is a place for G for children, but when you say safe for the whole family, at some point, the adults should be able to ñ yeah.
Dr. Reg Grant
Yeah, somebody has to play Judas ñ
Dr. Sandra Glahn
Exactly.
Dr. Reg Grant
ñ and play him realistically, believably.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, this is an important point, and I’m gonna bring up an example. A very popular movie among Christians was God Is Not Dead, and in the midst of ñ you didn’t see it?
Dr. Sandra Glahn
I didn’t.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. I can always count on Tim, okay? Tim, let’s talk movies, all right? [Laughter] And the thing that struck me about it was the portrayal of the non-Christian was so exaggerated and so out of whack that no one is rooting for this guy unless they’re on the edge of depravity already. And I’m sitting here going, “I’ve been on university campuses. I know the slot that guy is portraying, and that’s not a reflection of the reality you see on those campuses.” The person who plays that slot is so winsome and so ñ I’ll use the word debonair or whatever that you’re attracted to them as a person, and that’s part of what makes what they say so effective, so that we actually haven’t done ourselves a service when we caricature or straw man a character that isn’t representative of the kind of challenge that’s out there. Good illustration?
Dr. Tim Basselin
Yeah. I donít have anything to add to that.
Dr. Sandra Glahn
ñ ’cause I don’t have any opinions either, ’cause my mentor didn’t have any. I have a daughter who has Asperger’s, and she sees the world in very black-and-white colors, or lack thereof, and I honestly, on principle, didn’t go see that movie, but my daughter did, and it was very meaningful to her, because she needs it spelled out where the bad guy looks bad and the good guy looks good, and she learns to discern, ’cause she misses a lot of social clues. And I just had to shut up, because as she’s talking about this film that she had seen, I realized that there is a place. It seems like there’s a place for pretty much every kind of media, and I had to come off my little high horse a little bit and decide maybe God could use that too.
Dr. Darrell Bock
[Laughter] We’ll talk later. Next? Oh, over here ñ sorry. Yeah, over here, go.
Audience
Okay. Can you hear me?
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, you’re on.
Audience
I have kind of a multifaceted question. That question was a little bit of what I’m asking, but from the perspective of the viewer, but then from the perspective of the artist, who is a Christian artist, what would you say their role is as it relates to the content of what they’re producing? Are they limited to, say, like explicitly Christian content? If not, then what is their responsibility as it relates to quality, and what limits are there, if any, on their content, or how do they live out their faith when working with content that’s not explicitly Christian in that sense?
Dr. Tim Basselin
For me, their limits are the same as any artist.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, you can’t get away with that.
Dr. Sandra Glahn
ñ analogy between art and theology and work and theology, and I think the questions you’re asking are very similar to how we process work. Is it okay for a Christian to have a non-ministry job as a vocation? If so, what kind of person should you be in that job? It’s pretty similar. You should be committed to excellence, and that great theologian, Oprah Winfrey, said that the biggest argument against racism is excellence. I’ve found that the biggest argument against sexism is excellence, and often, the biggest argument against Christian ñ prejudice against Christians is excellence, so you should be really excellent at what you do.
Dr. Tim Basselin
Reg was speaking earlier about the singularity of beauty and truth and goodness in relation to God, and I believe that any artist is ñ generally, they’re trying to reach out for that. They’re trying to move beyond themselves and see this bigger thing that’s there, of truth and beauty and goodness. I mean, that’s what you would want from any artist. That’s what would make us connect with it, and that’s true also for a Christian. They’re trying to get to that underlying myth of the world that is ñ that’s beyond just the facts of the world, that help us see the facts even more clearly, help us see things better.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So what you’re saying is that the artist who is challenged with a part where they play a sinister character, for example, should do it in such a way in which the real sinisterness of that character comes out, because part of what often happens with a story is you’ve got a foil between the tension between the presence of evil and the presence of goodness working itself out in the storyline. So when you said earlier ñ and I said I wasn’t gonna let you get away with it, and I’m not letting you get away with it now ñ you’re got to approach it as an artist, is that the direction that we’re going in with that observation? Is it if you’re given a part, you wanna work hard to portray it as honestly and really as it can be?
Dr. Tim Basselin
In that example, the piece of art is a whole, and the person has a singular part in it, so it’s not just what the singular person is doing. It’s what that person is doing in relation to the whole truth of that play or that movie, so yes, they can lose themselves in that role as it fits into the whole if the whole is what is good.
Dr. Reg Grant
Yeah, like you could do ñ let’s say you take a play by Mamet, a David Mamet play. I could not do a David Mamet play because of the language, just personal choice, but some other guy could, or gal could, and that’d be fine. What I have to look at is for ñ this is a great example of there are good characters in David Mamet plays. The message as a whole, for a number of Mamet plays, is not good. It’s not wholesome, so what I want to be careful of is that I don’t participate or endorse a play, a movie that celebrates the fruit of the flesh and does not at least suggest that there is a price to be paid for indulgence in sin, because so very much of what is produced now is the polar opposite of what we believe in in our ñ in Christ. It works against what we have to believe, so I don’t want to participate in that kind of an event.

That said, if a play or a movie opportunity comes along, and the person is truly vile ñ I mean, read Charles Dickens. I mean, the man has some of the most vile characters on Earth. They always get their comeuppance. They always pay a price, but you never celebrate Uriah Heep, you know? You want to see him crack his knuckles for the last time, and he does, so it’s ñ but would I play Uriah Heep? In a heartbeat, I would play Uriah Heep, yes.

Dr. Darrell Bock
[Laughter] You’d be good at it.
Dr. Sandra Glahn
That was a backhanded compliment.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So your name is now Reg Heep? [Laughter]
Dr. Reg Grant
Reggie the Heep.
Dr. Sandra Glahn
So you wouldn’t wanna create art that is a lie, right?
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, that’s right.
Dr. Sandra Glahn
If Jesus is the truth, then you don’t want to help contribute to a lie.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, here?
Audience
My question is ñ gosh, this is high. My question is I’ve had the pleasure of having more than one class with all three of you, so I know the very real conversations that take place in your classroom, and I wanted to ask you, just looking back at the course of the past year and the way that you’ve journeyed with the students that you’ve taught in the past year, what’s some new place of understanding that you’ve come to through that journey with students, either in theology or just in relation to art and culture?
Dr. Reg Grant
I have come to appreciate my growing awareness of a need to be flexible, that there are valid expressions that I have to learn from, and the older I get, we get ñ
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm, thank you. [Laughter]
Dr. Reg Grant
ñ the more I am becoming aware that there is a gap between where I ñ Hall will tell you the same thing ñ between our generation and the millennials. I mean, Dr. Bassilen, there are things that he can sincerely deeply appreciate that I need to learn to appreciate, and I sincerely want to do that. So over the last year, I would say that’s my main thing, is broadening my appreciation for different expressions of art and learning to truly not just appreciate them from a distance, but become involved in them and integrate them into my life.
Dr. Tim Basselin
I find that a very difficult question to answer, because I set up my classes in a way ñ
Dr. Tim Basselin
I purposely set up my classes in a way where I don’t have the answers. I try not to come with the, “Here’s the stuff. I’m giving it to you,” but, “This is a discussion,” and so like literally every class period, I am learning from students. Also, that’s partially ’cause I haven’t been around long, and I have a lot to learn, honestly. If I had to zero in on one thing this last year, I think I’ve not been a practicing artist in my life. I have a calling to write that I’ve never fully explored, I guess, so I’ve had opportunities in the last year to learn from students who have been practicing artists to learn what the practice of doing art looks like, and so I’ve been on a journey this last year of learning that.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, we’re tight for time here. I’m gonna try and get both of these questions, but I’m gonna ask our responders to keep it crisp, so that we can get ’em both in. Go ahead.
Audience
I have two questions. One is how can we incorporate or encourage the arts in our churches beyond music or the worship service, and the question is, in your experience, it seems that you guys have been doing a lot of work not just in the Christian or seminary community, but also in the world. And I’m thinking right now very specifically of the community that I have of people that are not believers, and compared to them, I am not cool. Like, all of them have tattoos and are very trendy, and I don’t look at all like them, but and sometimes, it can be hard to remember that first, our identity is in Christ and that we don’t have to prove like that we are cool enough to be part of their world, but at the same time, we wanna be there to witness for Christ. But how can we ñ or what are some practical ways that you guys have seen as being who we are, with our identity firm in the Lord, but ministering to that community?
Dr. Reg Grant
I’ll give you two real quick things. On the church side of things, start with baby steps. Start small, and it really involves dialogue, starting off with dialogue, and the first dialogue has to happen between people in the local assembly, between one another, so you can start a reading group, a reading club. You can start a movie-attending club, where you go to a movie together as a group, and you discuss afterwards. You go out to Starbucks or whatever, you get together after the movie, and you start dialoguing about that, and then you start inviting a neighbor or two to join your group in a reading group or in a movie-attending or a play-attending or a concert-attending group, and then you go out with them and start to talk. So gradually, the circle widens, and you start ñ the circumference grows larger and larger, until you’re finally talking with people in the community about arts-related projects. Then you take the step to formalize the training in the local assembly with people who are professionals in the art.

That’s a transition to the answer to the second question. Excellence is cool, so you don’t worry about putting on a mask of coolness or trying to find some mask in your trunk full of masks to impress people. You simply devote yourself to the discipline of the art to which ñ that you wanna get involved in, where you’re gifted, and you produce excellent art. That is cool. That will attract people, so I think those are the two things I’d say.

Dr. Sandra Glahn
I would add love when I walk into a group of junior hires. I’m like over 50, and I don’t have any tats, but if I love them, they get so little of it, it’s amazing how they ñ how that opens doors, just being curious about their lives, what are they listening to, what are they interested in. I think that’s true with some of you too, you know?
Dr. Tim Basselin
Concerning the first one with the church, I’d like to echo what Reg said on the second one, and what Sandy said, but on the first one, I’d like to add I like the organic vision that he’s talking about, this like start at your table right here, and it sort of spreads and gets bigger and wider. However, I don’t have much hope for that changing things by itself. We also need systematic ñ we have systematic theologies within the church that put the word of God up here on the stage and arts or anything like that back there in the corner somewhere, and we need to have spaces for art in churches. We need to have facilitators, curators, people that aren’t ñ the art is there. The artists are there. You just simply need to make space for it, and we don’t have theological space, nor do we have actual physical space in our churches for art, ’cause we don’t appreciate it.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, last question over here?
Audience
You guys have talked a lot about excellence and about how the integrity of your art is prime, I think kind of in retaliation against this Christian culture that says, “As long as it’s theologically accurate and nice, then we don’t have to worry about how good it is.” But if I write or produce something that resonates with people, that’s truthful and raw and excellent, but it winds up leading somebody away from Christ or damaging their relationship with God, am I responsible for that?
Dr. Reg Grant
Yeah.
Dr. Tim Basselin
No. [Laughter]
Dr. Sandra Glahn
I’m not sure.
Dr. Reg Grant
If you write something that is true ñ and I didn’t get that from you ñ if it’s true, and it is good, and it’s excellent, aesthetically excellent, and it is beautiful because it flows out of the goodness which flows out of the truth, and the person takes that and runs in a divergent path, then no, you’re not responsible for that. If you celebrated that which is evil, and it misled a person, then yes, then you are responsible ñ I think that you are complicit. I wouldn’t say you’re responsible. The person’s ultimately responsible for his or her decision, but you are complicit in that, because you have presented a lie as the truth, and the person has bought it and acted on it.
Dr. Sandra Glahn
You wanna explain yourself, or just ñ
Dr. Tim Basselin
I think he explained both sides of it pretty well. I taught a class at Wheaton one time, and one of my course evaluations at the end of the class said that someone lost their salvation in my class. I didn’t teach at Wheaton anymore [laughter], but I don’t think I was really responsible. I think there was other stuff going on in that person’s life, probably, and I was trying my best, in everything I knew how to do, to be obedient to what God had called me to and what I was presenting in the material and stuff. They grew up in an extremely sheltered life and never heard anything about JEDP, and I ñ that was part of my responsibility in teaching that class, and they couldn’t handle it for other reasons that were going on in their life, and they didn’t reach out and come and try to talk about, and I mean, I don’t even know who that person was, ’cause it was an evaluation. There’s no name on it, butÖ
Dr. Darrell Bock
I thought you said depends or something like that. Are you not gonna elaborate?
Dr. Sandra Glahn
I said I’m not sure.
Dr. Darrell Bock
You’re not sure? You’re still not sure?
Dr. Sandra Glahn
No, I agree with everything that was said. [Laughter] I actually do.
Dr. Tim Basselin
For me, it’s a matter of obedience. If you are being obedient to what God has called you to, to the best of your ability, you rest in that. You fall back. You don’t have to reach and worry, and you can just rest in who God has called you to be and trust that God is bigger than whatever you produce.
Dr. Reg Grant
Yeah, just make sure it’s God who called you, and not your flesh.
Dr. Tim Basselin
If we really had to worry about that, we wouldn’t be able to produce anything, because I’m always gonna be flawed, and whatever I make is gonna be flawed, and it is possible for it to hurt someone. I also wouldn’t be able to love anybody or be in a relationship or have a friend or do much of anything. I’d be paralyzed.
Dr. Reg Grant
Last thing, I promise: Don’t take a shortcut. At the root of almost ñ I don’t know if there’s a sin that this is not true of: Satan offers us a shortcut. “Oh, you wanna be wise? Take that fruit and eat it now. You can have wisdom right now. You don’t have to wait on God. Oh, are you hungry, Jesus? Turn those stones into bread right now. You want to avoid the cross? Throw yourself down from the temple mount. Angels will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” There’s always a shortcut, and that shortcut, that easy way, is what I find among Christian artists across the board. It doesn’t matter the genre. It doesn’t matter what it is that they’re pursuing, the discipline that they’re pursuing. They want ñ it’s like the old saying about writing: Most people don’t really want to write. Most people want to have written. [Laughter] It’s the same thing with acting ñ
Dr. Sandra Glahn
ñ working out too.
Dr. Reg Grant
Skip all of the discipline. Skip all the hard work. Skip the trench work, where you’re sweating it out, and nobody sees what you’re doing, and just cut to the chase and walk across the stage and receive your Academy Award, and it does not work that way. So I want to encourage you to, if you’re in our program ñ there are days when nobody except Jesus sees you, and you are there, paying the price for your craft and learning the discipline, and then you move up incrementally. Very, very seldom does someone come in, and they make a quantum leap up into the stratosphere, and besides that, it’s not spiritually healthy to do that, so hang in there, pay the price, because God sees, and God rewards, and God will lead you.
Dr. Tim Basselin
And I believe the reason Christian, across the board, artists often do that is ’cause we have a theology that says, “If you have your theology straight, if you have your ideas straight, all you have to do is take them and put ’em over here, and that’s all that matters,” and so as opposed to, “Just turn those stones into bread,” right, Jesus talks about sowing, a long process.
Dr. Darrell Bock
All right, let’s thank our panel. [Applause]
Read More
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.
Reg Grant
Reg Grant is the Chair of Media Arts and Worship and Senior Professor of Media Arts and Worship. Dr. Grant enjoys teaching courses in homiletics, drama, oral interpretation, and creative writing. He also serves on the board of directors for Insight for Living. Dr. Grant has coauthored several books and has written, produced, and acted for radio, television, theater, and film. Dr. Grant is married to Lauren and they have three grown children and one grandson (Lauren is "Lolly"; Reg is "Pop"). Reg loves to spend time on his ranch south of San Antonio. You'd never know it from his cultured personality, but this guy can "cowboy up" right quick.
Sandra Glahn
Dr. Glahn serves as associate professor in Media Arts and Worship and is a multi-published author of both fiction and non-fiction. She is a journalist, and a speaker who advocates for thinking that transforms. Dr. Glahn’s more than twenty books relate to bioethics, sexuality, and reproductive technologies as well as ten Bible studies in the Coffee Cup Bible Study series. She is a regular blogger at Engage, Bible.org’s site for women in Christian leadership, the owner of Aspire Productions, and served as editor-in-chief for Kindred Spirit from 1999 to 2015.
Timothy J. Basselin
Timothy J. Basselin is Assistant Professor of Media Arts and Worship at Dallas Theological Seminary. Dr. Basselin also serves as the director of The Agape Project.
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