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From a post last year at the First Things blog, Matthew Milliner writes:

Criticism, to be sure, has its place.  Frankly, it’s also more fun.  But why not fast, for a season, from strictly negative cultural critique?  Western civilization may be in rapid decline, but most of us have gotten the message, and grumbling about it does little to slow the rate of deterioration.  The appetite for gloom need not always be fed.   A different strategy is called for:  Seek and celebrate the good (and if you haven’t found good, you haven’t looked hard enough).  Call it the cultural version of Jim Neuchterlein’s inspiriting reflections this month On the Square, entitled Apocalyspe No.  “Conservatives need no instruction in the dangers of inordinate optimism, but they might need some help with its opposite.”

Today he returns to the same theme, applying it to contemporary art:

But even the most basic effort at understanding will quickly discern that complaints about contemporary art being absurd have long been sounded, quite convincingly, from within the world of contemporary art itself – making Christian “pronouncements” on that score redundant.  Did I mention this makes Christian pronouncements redundant?   At the very least we should follow the rule that every paragraph of complaint about contemporary art should be backed up with an hour of walking the galleries.

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3 thoughts on “On Cultural Criticism”

  1. It’s the same as going into a cross-cultural evangelistic situation. You find the cultural elements that help you convey the gospel and even those that are fairly neutral to share with the people you are ministering to. You even study the negative aspects in order to understand issues that people are facing. Then, you don’t come out railing against the negative aspects of the culture, but proclaiming the gospel from the positive aspects. It’s not that you ignore sin, but you personalize the detrimental results of the negative aspects of the culture. The people will be able to see the flaws in their culture without you telling them when they are confronted with their own sins.

  2. Marsisme says:

    It’s the abstract painting within this Norman Rockwell that makes it very intriguing and pulls the viewer within – wanting to see and comprehend more. It’s the same with the gospel. Some people need a black/white picture to understand its content. Others seek a deeper many-faceted understanding of God, Jesus and the Kingdom.
    Like this painting, it can be approached from both viewpoints.

    When I was young I grieved over why the Christian Church has so many denominations. A wiser person then said to me that different people need different structures and denominational ‘cultures’ to relate to God and worship – as long as the core truths are adhered to and proclaimed. All Christians just won’t fit into a Catholic, a conservative Protestant or a Pentecostal etc … box.

    This painting is a lesson in diversity. We are each made in the image of God. The most obvious characteristic of God (the Creator) that we reflect is his creative nature. Whether an artist is a realist, an impressionist or paints in the abstract; he/she is expressing a characteristic of God.

    And that is us, is it not? We all comprehend God from different viewpoints and backgrounds. And that’s OK. What is truly marvelous is that God meets each of us and speaks to each of us in a uniquely creative way. Praise God for his incredible imagination.

  3. Matthaeus Flexibilis says:

    I’ll admit it — many Christian’s favorite contemporary artist, Makoto Fujimura, is a mystery to me. I cannot understand or approve his art. Too abstract.

    Now off to walk the (virtual) galleries. A little Raphael does me right.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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