A Call for Syllabus Ideas

On My Shelf

The title of the university class is this: The Arts and Culture: A Christian Aesthetic.   It’s in January, is one week long, 8-5 for five days straight, beginning Monday, and there’s a two-three hour final on Friday afternoon.   I’ve been teaching this class for ten years, a couple of years on my own, and the rest partnering with a couple of different Bible faculty (who have more graduate Bible credits than I do).   This year, I’ve got a new teacher to team with (tell you about her later), so I’m messing with the syllabus, etc.  After just reading a seven-year old presentation (a good 50-60 pages) that represents the basic thrust of the class, I’m convinced that while I have been working with some solid thoughts, the cultural ground has changed (and is changing) enormously.   If we live in a time of cultural shift equal to that of Guttenberg, I need to pay closer attention.  We all do.

Over the next month or so, I’m going to ask you to help me work on my syllabus (or at least the core ideas), and who I’m especially interested in hearing from are those of you that are Christ-followers (hip term of the moment, “Christian” not being nearly as culture friendly as we need) and working artists, successful (whatever that means) or not.   If you are not a working artist, no worries…join in as well—after all, you are the receivers of the art being made.   As a Christ-follower, you engage in art forms as audience (film, television, music, advertising, painting, etc.), and these discussions of what content we should be interacting with is always with us.  (This and that movie or song or artist or news channel corrupts us or makes us more like Christ or offends the weaker brother or compels us to become murderers or worse…blah, blah, blah.)

I’m betting there are some awesome ideas and approaches that I have not even begun thinking about.   I hope so.

The best thing about this is that I won’t have to think up stuff to blog about.

Okay.  Assignment number 1:

  • Tell me what you want a class like this to teach.   In plain terms: if a student has to pay X amount of big bucks to take this class at a fairly pricy private university, what information/experience do they have to have, and what should they be able to do as a result of that information/experience?

Oh…one more piece of information.   You may be wondering: “What’s the demographic of the class?   Who is the class being built for?”   The syllabus says this about the primary audience for the class:

  • The class serves the fine arts student, giving attention to theological issues and spiritual dynamics the Christian artist inevitably faces as he/she pursues a career in artistic fields.
  • The class also serves a cross-section of the university, attracting all majors, seeking to address the significant impact of art and popular culture on the life of the Christian.


9 Replies to “A Call for Syllabus Ideas”

  1. How can my art speak truth in love to a culture lost in sin and self-righteousness? How can I fulfull the commission Christ has given me through the gifts He has given me?

  2. Reading this, I can’t help but be reminded of Lewis’ Quote: “We do not need more people writing Christian books, what we need is more Christians writing good books.” I would feel no detraction to his intent if I substituted, ‘creating..art’ for ‘writing..books.’ When I write, my intention is never to evangelize. My trust is that my world view will show and if God uses it to attract, that will always be more effective than if I use it to promote.

    I dislike the idea of shielding one’s self from arbitrary ideas, expressions, and “less than desirable” lifestyles. It’s contrived and involves judgment. It’s not the way Jesus lived. Ultimately, I find a source for these expressions deep down within myself (sometimes not so deep.) Having this reminder of my own sinful nature so present, so in-my-face, is what creates the struggle – which is often the only way I experience God in my life on a daily basis. Grace, of course, is what provides the balance to go on living.

    There, but for the grace of God, go I.

    1. So you’d tell them: “Follow Jesus, engage with everybody, and write what you write, make the film you want to make, etc., and make the best piece of work you can.” Something like that? Is that fair?

      But why not make “Christian Films” or write “Christian Books?” Or at least, “Family Values” works of art?

      Just asking.


      1. You have a way of getting right to the weak points in my arguments Jeff. 🙂

        Yes, that’s fair; With one caveat: That we be ready to accept that the Jesus we’re following may at any time show himself to be different than who we think he is at that moment.

        I don’t think that the culture equates family values with Christianity at this point so I won’t address that. I also am assuming that since the title of the course is “Arts and Culture…” that you’re not asking why not create art for the sake of Christians.

        My experience in the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous leads me to the conclusion that there is a substantial portion of the culture that bristles with antagonism at the mere mention of the word, “Christ” and any of its derivatives. By showing my worldview in my art without using obtuse references to words (or subjects) that can be the source of prejudice, I open the door to a relationship that can foster the question from the culture, “What is it that attracts me to this person (artist)?” Otherwise, Christ never gets the chance at all (for that portion of the culture that has those preconceived ideas, which I believe is the majority of non-Christians.)

  3. Since this class seems to be targeted for the “fine arts” students, I think I’d want to tackle the following questions:

    1) Based upon Jay’s suggestion: what is the culture I am helping to create? And what is the relationship between the culture I am creating/living in at its eschatological fulfillment in the Kingdom of God? In other words: why does my little piece of cultural creation matter to the coming (and present) kingdom?

    2) There have been some nice shifts recently in the discussion of the “vocation of the artist.” Most notably, people are starting to slough off the notion that an artist is a “sub-creator” and replace it with “co-redemptor.” For the fine arts students, this is huge: what is the essence of my vocation? Jeremy Begbie has been suggesting that we ought to think of our artistic vocation as participation in the reconciling work of God not to “make new things” but to “make all things new.”

    3) I’d want to be convinced that I can find greater flourishing and satisfaction by understanding the theological underpinnings of my aesthetic. I guess I’d want some time to be convinced that if I am theologically informed, I’ll be a better artist. Or more broadly: I’d want to be convinced that the pursuit of holistic human flourishing will enable me to be a better artist (simply because I’ll be a better human).

    My own assumption is that artists who are thoughtful make better art, and to be thoughtful about the nature of reality and the one who makes reality leads to the best art. Of course you can “accidentally” make great art, but I want to be transformed and to offer transformation (or transposition) by letting my mind come along for the artistic ride.

    1. Chad,

      Wow, thanks for the great questions. Lots to think about here. I’ll have to ruminate on Begbie’s suggestion to be “make all things new” vs. “making new things.” Can you point me toward which book of his develops this more fully? It’s not that I disagree, but in art making, it is often difficult to grasp the end result as it lands in the heart of the audience/receiver. Making art is sometimes far more intuitive than “making redemptive things” suggests. Speaking broadly, I hope all my action is redemptive in that it flows from the living stream wherein redemption lives, and I’d say the same for my art work. The move from “sub-creator” to “co-redemptor” is interesting…thanks for bringing it up. Do you find that that notion reduces artmaking to utilitarian, evangelistic notions? How do we define work that redeems and that which doesn’t? What is the redemptive work of art? Or the “co-redemptive” work of it? And how will we know, as artists, that we’ve been able to make that kind of work?

      As to #3, you question what are sometimes basic assumptions behind such teaching exercises as this class, but truth it, there’s been some pretty great art created by all kinds of messed-up people who haven’t the foggiest about the theological underpinnings. But I agree with you, thoughtful means a greater opportunity for impactful, lasting, and perhaps even transformational (co-redemptive?) work.

      Thanks for the thoughtful work here. I appreciate it.


      1. He makes mention of it in David Taylor’s new book “For the Beauty of the Church.” It’s sort of a side-note in the current of his thought, but like you, I found it alluring and fascinating. It comes in the midst of a discussion centered around where Begbie predicts the arts-theology movement is ultimately heading.

        My suspicion is that the notion of “co-redemption” falls nicely within the kind of artistic integrity we want to protect. Instead of imagining ourselves as re-arranging the created order in our art, we are exposing the beauty and goodness proper to all created things. In that sense, the “redemption of all things” is a co-laboring with the Holy Spirit to expose and celebrate the native goodness of all things. After all, God only creates good. And our art can, I think, assist in the reconciling work of God to restore distorted goods and loves back to their proper place.

        I don’t think that will reduce art to utility–I think it will elevate art in the minds of Christians as a vital and necessary part of the kingdom of God.

        In response to your response on #3, I agree. There are artists who create AMAZING work who don’t have an inkling of the goodness, truth and beauty they’ve imaged forth into the world. However, it’s still there 🙂 And I think that the artist who is aware of it as he/she works might be able to craft more subtle, more beautiful, more “redemptive” art. At least, in theory I think it should work…

        Wish I could take this class. Sounds like a blast.

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