Poor authors. Together with their publisher they hone their book, fuss over every detail, and broadcast, broadcast, broadcast its existence and purpose and still — people in its intended audience don’t get the point.
I heard more buzz about Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson than any other title this past year. Yet I didn’t get what it was about till a friend walked over two Sundays ago and handed me a copy.
“Oh,” I thought after opening it. “It’s Andrew Peterson’s memoir on becoming a Christian writer.” For lack of a better word — duh.
Andrew Peterson, as you likely know, is a singer-songwriter whose songs range from interpretive story-telling to overt worship. He’s a steadfast believer who’s been around the block creatively and spiritually, not just as a songwriter and performer but also as a family man, novelist, and founder of the Rabbit Room. Buying a copy of Adorning the Dark is taking Andrew Peterson out to lunch for a three-hour one-way conversation on what he’s learned from his career as a Christian writer.
Why would I not want that?
Adorning the Dark is part autobiography, part advice, and part exploration of what it means to be a Christian artist. This last theme is its most important, because I don’t think many believers realize what happens when they create art.
A couple years ago, I saw a local Christian ballet based on a biblical narrative. It was a relatively simple, low budget production, and yet it deeply moved me. Why? Every element was ordered to serve something true. The pretty Christ-centered songs and the allusions of the choreography to biblical stories were a vessel for something powerful.
That led me to start thinking of art as just that, a vessel. The vessel may be grand or modest. We’ll reject it if it’s ugly. But its purpose is what it carries. Does the artistic production carry something good, true, or beautiful?
And that brings me to the special role of the Christian in art. Christians have something to offer that the rest of the world cannot produce. “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” When a sincere believer who treasures God’s word does his work well, gospel hope emanates from it one way or another — especially when the medium has anything to do with words.
Oh, yes, good and beautiful art can come from outside the church. Oh, yes, poor craftsmanship and hypocrisy can infiltrate a believer’s work. This topic could be nuanced to Baffin Island and back. I’m not implying anything specific about what belongs in Christian songs. I’m not ignoring the full spectrum of artistic work, which has many applications that may seem spiritually neutral.
But I hope more Christian songwriters realize they need not depart from what is uniquely theirs to give. They shouldn’t be discouraged by the snark about “Christian music” or fooled by the allure of fame. God has a message of perfect beauty that the world is starving for. Almost every top 40 song and TV show is void of or opposed to this message. Diluting or ignoring that message is holding back something precious.
So I’m grateful to Andrew Peterson for writing not just about writing, but writing about it as a believer for believers.
“When we take seriously the fact that as humans, we’re bearers of God’s image, and as Christians, we’re also bearers of the Holy Spirit, we remember that we’re well-equipped to speak beauty into ugliness, order into chaos, light into darkness, love into lovelessness. That’s true no matter what our specific calling is. As we move through time, we’re contributing to the story of creation whether we like it or not. It just happens, no matter who you are.”