Yesterday, Stephen Altrogge (a blogger I much respect and admire) wrote an article entitled Would the Psalms Survive Our Criticism?. He makes the case that Reformed Christians should judge art and creativity fairly, since we are often dismissed as being against both of those things.
I appreciate what Altrogge is trying to say; but there are parts of his argument which I find questionable. Not necessarily incorrect, but perhaps incomplete and less clear than they could be.
First, Altrogge writes,
… when it comes to interpreting a song or a piece of poetry or spoken word, we have to use our theology carefully. We need to interpret and critique the piece on its own terms rather than immediately plopping all of our systematic theology on top of it.
Of course, “plopping” theology down on things is never a good idea. It’s clumsy and inept. But there’s a difference between plopping theology and using it as a tool to separate the good stuff from the bad.
Christians are not free to set aside theology when it comes to art. It is the lens by which we see and interpret everything! When I watch a movie, or read a book, or listen to a song, I cannot judge it solely “on its own terms”, i.e. by its artistic merits. My verdict would be incomplete. For though I may acknowledge those merits, the be-all-end-all must be whether or not the art in question aligns itself with Bible truth.
Point being, art, like everything else, must be ultimately judged on God’s terms. His are the only ones that matter.
Altrogge doesn’t really argue otherwise, but I think he would have done well to reinforce this more than he did. Art is great, but (as one commenter wrote) God’s truth trumps art. And Christians must learn to subjugate their love for art accordingly. When we fail to do so, we throw away our Bible-based, theological lenses and jump on the bandwagon of cultural normality – all in the name of “being fair” and critiquing art “on its own terms.”
I also think Altrogge makes a questionable move in comparing the 17th Psalm with Jeff Bethke’s “Jesus/Religion” video – mainly because of the vast differences between the two.
Psalm 17 is Scripture, the inspired Word, and David uses poetic – but completely biblical – language to paint a picture of God’s actions. It’s a piece of art, yes; but more than that, it’s true.
Jeff Bethke’s video is a piece of art, too; but the trueness of it is muddled. Good points are made, but error is mixed in, too. The result? Confusion. It ends up reinforcing the modern notion that anything like “traditional” or “organized” religion must be rejected.
For the record, that’s not just my opinion. Bethke himself agreed when Kevin DeYoung addressed the video’s flaws.
So I ask you… what are your thoughts on Altrogge’s article? Are my concerns valid ones? Or am I making mountains out of molehills? Let me know what you think down in the comments section, as I believe it’s a subject worthy of discussion.