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Creativity and Cultural Power

Connection to LDAP server failed. May 6, 2016

written by Brian Shesko

I would like to expand on this previous post which looked briefly at Francis Schaeffer’s thoughts on the nature of a Christian’s art. Author Andy Crouch, in his work Culture Making, reflects on the lives of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa in order to state what seems to be the obvious: more people are drawn to the life of the celebrity princess than they are to that of the self-sacrificing saint**. This is despite the fact that hardly anyone could fill the role or have the international appeal that Princess Diana did, while nearly everyone is qualified and capable of doing what Mother Teresa did. Why is this?

His answer: Power. More specifically, he argues that the draw of “celebrity” is intoxicating because it assumes wealth, fame, and influence, which are all accompaniments to power. For American Christians, it seems that few things have been so desirable as a prominent, public figure, whether entertainer, athlete, or politician, who is willing to identify with Christianity. You only have to look at the parade of A-to-F-List celebrities of various kinds who have appeared at Liberty in the last 5 years to know that even The World’s Most Exciting University isn’t impervious to this seduction. But, he warns, pursuing power this way is futile because 1.) there’s no way to measure the amount of power one actually has and 2.) the pursuit becomes endless because no amount of power is ever enough.*

He offers an alternative. Rather than pursue power (which he defines as “the ability to successfully propose a new cultural good”*) through some form of notoriety, he suggests using power in service of the apparently powerless.*** That is, rather than seeking fame from our creativity as a means to attain power and influence, we should use our existing power, to whatever degree we have it, to serve those who appear to have less, or more rarely, none. Doing so “moves the horizons of possibility” for them, a phrase he uses throughout Culture Making; it is the opening up of opportunities, unlocking abilities, or otherwise empowering them to more fully realize their potential.

Applying this back to Francis Schaeffer, it casts the life of the artist who is a Christian in a new light. For one, it is probably the most effective way to ease the pressure to create any cultural good that is overtly “Christian”; using creativity in service to others is Christian to the core. Secondly, this type of service is a much needed, faithful witness, especially in contrast to any fame-seeking contingent that will undoubtedly persist among Christians. More often, we recoil at blatant fame-seekers, and in the current climate of growing skepticism surrounding truly evangelical Christians****, a Christian faith that serves the apparently powerless will have much more to offer than one that seeks only to impose its will on the broader culture.

Keep in mind, too, that even Mother Teresa, who was in a way both saint and celebrity, cannot escape criticism of her work, and neither did the Christian doctor who contracted Ebola while working in Liberia a couple years ago. Even fame achieved through honest, Christlike pursuits may be met with skepticism. But as Andy Crouch effectively argues, our creative efforts will produce much more lasting and powerful fruit if they are done not as a means of self-promotion or power-grabbing, but in true service to others.


*Culture Making, p. 219

**p. 222

***p. 230

****See David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons’ latest work for an extensive treatment of this