The topic of this issue has been on a lot of minds lately, and with good reason. God created us in his own image, and he is the Great Artist. And yet, one conclusion I have come to after many of these discussions is that we have confused a very important biblical distinction between creation and redemption.
On one side, there are those who are uncomfortable with creation. That means, in practice, that they are uncomfortable with the idea that non-Christians can bring glory to God by their creative efforts, and with the notion that Christians can enjoy this shared realm of common grace as a gift of God even if it is not specifically "Christian." So, we expect our musicians, painters, and writers to produce "Christian Art," justified by its evangelistic or churchly usefulness. What often results from this confusion is bad art and bad theology. On the other end, there are those who are so comfortable with creation that they raise it to the level of redemption-even speaking of art as if it were "sacramental" (a means of grace). Both confuse creation and redemption for different reasons, but with the same effect.
When we make this confusion, however, we are confusing heaven and earth, the sacred and the secular, worship and entertainment, ministry and business. The "Christian Artist" feels the need to preach or evangelize in his or her music, but the confusion of "reaching the lost" and selling CD's makes it difficult to do either with attention to excellence and integrity. Why can't we enjoy a night out at a "secular" concert as an end in itself? In Reformation Christianity, "glorifying God and enjoying him forever" refers to both creation and redemption-spheres, so that it is considered more honoring to God to enjoy a really good evening at the opera or Eric Clapton concert than an evening of "preachy" music with a tacky commercial style and an Arminian presentation of the "gospel." As I said in a recent panel discussion of this topic, when it comes to the point of having to use discernment while being entertained, I'm more worried about Carman than Clapton!
If we clearly distinguish creation and redemption, we can have Christians who can once again create art in the real world, with no other divine mandate than to do it well, and we can have worship services that are rooted in redemption, not entertainment in the guise of "ministry." Bach signed all of his compositions, whether for use in church or for use in the concern hall, Soli Deo Gloria ("To God Alone Be Glory"). The compositions might have had two different uses (Bach understood the distinction between worship and entertainment), but both had the same aim of glorifying God. To glorify God as entertainment, it need not be specifically "Christian," but our worship music must be! May we once again see the legitimacy of art and pleasure as a sphere of divine approval, without corrupting either art or religion with the confusion of creation with redemption, or vice versa. Merry Christmas!