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Vol. V • 1982


Addicted to Mediocrity: 20th Century Christians and the Arts, by Franky Schaeffer. illustrations by Kurt Mitchell. Crossway Books, A Division of Good News Publishers, 9825 W. Roosevelt Road, Westchester, IL 60153, 1981, First Printing 1982.127 pp. incl. illustrations and index, pb., $4.95.

Franky Schaeffer, the son of Francis and Edith Schaeffer who founded L'Abri Fellowship in Switzerland, is known to many Christians as the creator and producer-director of the film series How Should We Then Live? and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? Schaeffer is also a painter and has co-authored another book, Plan for Action (published by Revell) in addition to the present work. He is thus well qualified to speak out on contemporary Christians and the arts as both a recognized artist and as a Bible-believing Christian.

By "the arts" Schaeffer means "all the range of human expression—from the way we decorate our homes all the way to Michelangelo's David, from the most humbly penned letter to the writing of William Shakespeare." Schaeffer bases his definition of the arts upon the Biblical creation perspective:

Schaeffer's concern is that "much of the church … have(sic) forgotten how central this part of our life is." This concern is the chief burden of the book, accounts for its scathing title, and motivates the cover art and extremely satirical cartoons punctuating the text. (The cover shows a retarded-looking handyman with a "Christian" patch on his pants pocket roller-painting whitewash over Michelangelo's famous fresco of God creating Adam. One of the milder cartoons shows the major arts, portrayed by paintbrush, trumpet, ballet shoe and pen, on the gallows with nooses around their "necks," and a blackclad, preacherish figure as their executioner.)

Schaeffer contends that 20th century Christians are by and large "addicted to mediocrity" in the arts chiefly because

Schaeffer singles out the utilitarian world view sweeping secular society and infiltrating the church in the wake of Darwinian evolutionism as the next most important reason for the present low ebb in Christian artistic creativity. Due to this utilitarian world view the Biblical creation perspective's teaching of inherent worth of a person or thing on the basis of creation by God has largely been abandoned: "… the tree which once had had value, not least of which was its beauty … now only had value because of how many cubic feet of paper could be produced from it."(29) The statement echoes C.S. Lewis's famous line (in The Abolition of Man) about "the mere trousered ape who has never been able to conceive the Atlantic as anything more than so many million tons of cold salt water." Schaeffer concludes:

Schaeffer sharply attacks the adoption of this utilitarianism by the church for its own promotional ends and with a false view of "spirituality" separating the Christian life into a hierarchy of more or less "secular" and a "Christian" world. Schaeffer condemns almost all Christian television (and it turns out, television in general), Christian films and publishing as "scandalous in its abandon of quality," and he simply despises the flood of shoddy, mass-produced trinkets, T-shirts, bumper stickers and similar "witnessing" paraphernalia. He states:

The eight expository chapters are followed by an equally long section of questions and answers. Exhortations are scattered throughout the book to artistically talented Christians to persevere, and to Christians not so endowed to encourage their creative fellow Christians. In his answer to the question, "As someone in the arts … what specifically should I be doing now?" Schaeffer says in part:

I have kept quotations from Schaeffer's most scathing passages to a minimum, because I believe the book contains a message which deserves a hearing on the part of Bible-believing Christians of good will towards God and their fellow Christians whose artistic hunger and thirst is for artistic fare different from the evangelical mainstream. I agree with Schaeffer in much of what he has to say about the sort of isolation, non-acceptance and even sometimes exile experienced by such Christians. I speak as a music listener and composer hungry and thirsty for music more like, for instance, Dietrich Buxtebudes or Heinrich Schuetz's(16th century German composers) and less like a kind of Nashville Country "Jesus" style. However, I have discovered that I am not as alone in my musical desires as I assumed a few years ago: I have found dear Christian friends, and especially one beloved friend who "sticketh closer than a brother" (Proverbs 18:24) in the fundamental/evangelical, Bible-believing Christian community who accept me and "my" music as we are by God's special creation and grace. Perhaps Schaeffer has not been similarly blessed, and his anguished expression of an unusual Christian artist's loneliness and longing for Christian fellowship must not be stifled or go unheeded, for charity's sake. (My own highly talented and outstanding Christian music teacher has spoken to me in a similar vein.) It is also, alas, true that unusual musical talent may find more acceptance and nurture outside Bible believing churches and/or colleges today. I suppose this applies to other arts as well.
Finally, I suppose it is true that artistically gifted Christian believers whose talents do not lend themselves to their church's program and activities, but do become expressed in so-called "secular" ways such as exhibition in art galleries of paintings or drawings not bearing an explicitly "Christian" theme, performance of a work of music without Christian words and not in a traditional style or form, etc. may be made to feel guilty over this. This, I submit, in agreement with Schaeffer, is a burden they should not have to bear; my own experience encourages me to hope that an artistically gifted Christian humbly compelled to work out the increase of his or her God-given talent (see Luke 19:1 2ff) will not be thus falsely rebuked. (And if we are—what of it? Let our Lord Himself be our judge.)

If, like Schaeffer, we include home decoration and letter writing among the arts or human creativity in general, then much of Schaeffer's charge against the "pietistic, silent church" is pointless. The "humbler arts" so to call them —home decorating, crafts, needlework, and the like — are not condemned or "relegated to the Christian basement" in any Christian church. A careful reader of Schaeffer's book soon realizes that the author's all-inclusive definition of human creativity is in effect abandoned in the most salient parts of his discussion. He is concerned with the fine arts' treatment at the hands of the church.

Schaeffer never deals with any possible dangers inherent in the pursuit of the arts, and this is the book's greatest flaw. Dorothy L. Sayers points out in her remarkable article "Towards a Christian Aesthetic" that there may be forms of art ("entertainment" and "propaganda") which have their measure and place in man's life, but which may be to true art as idols are to the true image of God (Christian Letters to a Post-Christian World}. C S. Lewis rightly says that an artist's own creativity may draw him away from God and become his idol(The Great Divorce). C.S. Lewis also alludes to objective standards of artistic worth (the belief that an object can merit praise due to inherent quality of goodness or sublimity) in his justly renowned Abolition of Man. No criteria of what constitutes good (or at least acceptable) art from the Biblical Christian perspective are spelled out by Schaeffer, probably to avoid a kind of legalistic moralism of his own. He invites Christians to investigate freely what their fellow men, believers or unbelievers, have to offer in the (fine) arts. Well and good (and Biblical too: I Corinthians 2:12, 15 quickly come to mind, as well as I Thessalonians 5:21: "Prove all things: hold fast that which is good.") But in all fairness allowance should have been made (or made more explicit) for the rightful concern of pastors, parents and teachers in the church for the souls of fellow Christians committed to their charge. In view of the blatant lawlessness, blasphemy and lasciviousness of so much of contemporary art (so thoroughly documented by Francis Schaeffer in How Should We Then Live?), are these persons and elders bearing authority in the church altogether wrong in opposing involvement with contemporary art? Can a case be made for a Christian artist's commitment to show forth the righteous and holy character of the Creator and Lord of the universe so that there would be some kind of fundamental difference between his work and that of an unbeliever? Again, Francis Schaeffer in How Should We Then Live? puts his finger on how this can be done when he speaks of the "modern" music of Schoenberg where there is perpetual variation with no resolution, in contrast to Bach "who, on his biblical base, had much diversity but always resolution. While I believe that we must side with Luther's statement, "I am not of the opinion that all the arts should be crushed to earth and perish through the Gospel, as some bigoted persons pretend, but would willingly see them all, and especially music, servants of Him who gave and created them" (quoted in How Should We Then Live?), I also believe we must side with all of this statement There should be freedom for all the arts — but in the only way true freedom is possible, in conscious surrender to God. Our people should indeed be taught and encouraged to "prove all things"— but also "to hold fast that which is good," and "touch not the unclean thing."

To sum up, Schaeffer rightly opposes a fictitious "sacred-secular" dichotomy in which the arts (or more precisely, the fine arts) are as such labeled "secular." His call to artistically creative Christians to joyous freedom and labor in our Lord, and to other Christians to receive and support them, is clear and timely, but sometimes couched in excessively harsh language offending rather than converting (one is reminded of 11 Timothy 2:24-26 and wishes Franky Schaeffer had also remembered it). A number of excellent points are forcefully made, especially Schaeffer's great emphasis upon the radical meaning of God's creation of man in His own image for man's creativity and total involvement in all human affairs. Nevertheless I regretfully believe that the book falls short both as an analysis of 20th century Christians and the arts and as a critique of the church. The remedy, as Schaeffer himself so clearly says, is at any rate neither analysis nor critique but rather the work accomplished by persevering, obedient Christians living their whole lives day by day unto our Lord.

Reviewed by Ellen Myers

"Book Review: Addicted to Mediocrity: 20th Century Christians and the Arts"
CSSHS • Creation Social Science & Humanities Society • Quarterly Journal

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