I was inspired and challenged this week through a blog post by Gary Furr, pastor of Vestavia Hills Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.
Read his entire post. It’s worth the time and effort.
What struck me between the eyes was his challenge to us creative types in the church.
Furr talks about UVa professor James Davison Hunter’s 2010 book, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. He says, “Hunter surveyed the Christian landscape and concluded that not only is Christian impact on the culture waning, the Christianity that wants to affect it is weak and superficial. While we make great impact on individuals and meet many needs, it does not tend to move the influence makers of our society.
“Nowhere is this lack of depth and power more evident than in our engagement with the arts. Those who tell the stories, produce the art and who debate world changing ideas are not, by and large, among Christians. This is not a problem, he says, that can be overcome by forceful politics, organizing or by withdrawing into the artistic ghettos of our churches where terrible or, at best, mediocre art is produced to satisfy the internal audience but which makes virtually no impact on the larger culture and particularly those who are the shapers of culture.
“The antidote is not to somehow regain some imaginary lost control of the culture but to think more brilliantly, achieve more truthfully, and to produce more beautifully the genuinely great ideas, art and cultural expressions that will, finally, draw by their intrinsic and persuasive superiority.”
He says this is most often not the path we choose. “In short, we quibble over words and fail to tell stories. We are horrified about avoiding improprieties, all the while serving, supposedly, a gospel whose book tells unflinchingly disturbing, violent, cruel, and even vulgar stories about adulterers, philanderers, thieves, and every other kind of human with a failing. In the telling of those stories, the artistic power of it continues to help us talk. Our Savior is a man hanging naked on a cross, surrounded by blasphemies and lies.”
Furr’s prophetic words come at a crucial point in the development of The Prodigal Project.
There’s nothing sanitized in Jesus’ story about the young man who wished his father dead, and then went off to squander his inheritance on prostitutes and wild living. Nor is there anything appropriate about the outburst of his older brother when the young prodigal returns home with his tail between his legs. It is in contrast to those earthy, despicable, yet all-too-real characters that we gain a better understanding of a loving, forgiving Father who goes out to invite both sons to the party.
I pray that, in retelling this most beautiful of Jesus’ parables, we will, as Furr exhorts, “think more brilliantly, achieve more truthfully, and produce more beautifully” so that younger and older sons of our culture will be drawn to a portrait of the Father who embodies grace, love and second chances.