The Christians

Last week I attended a play called The Christians at the Dallas Theater Center. It was a smartly-written drama about a megachurch pastor who shifts his beliefs and loses his congregation. Since I am neither a playwright or a critic, I won’t offer a full critique of the play except to say it’s worth seeing. But I will point out a feeling I had in the audience. I kept thinking, “This was written by someone who understands the Christian subculture.” 

Last night wasn’t the first time I encountered that feeling. Many months ago, a friend recommended a BBC comedy called Rev. which achieved a similar effect. The vicar in that show struggles with his calling, his mind wanders during prayer, and his parishioners are equally familial and frustrating. It’s refreshing to see Christianity portrayed with depth and grace, rather than the flat caricatures often employed in our culture. But what does it say about our society that these honest portrayals are so rare? I think it says at least two things. 

First, it speaks to the surprisingly large disconnect between Sunday mornings and the rest of our nation. More and more, I hear my secular compatriots ask questions that reveal a complete lack of awareness about our faith. The average American seems far removed from anything that goes on in church, and he fills in that knowledge gap with assumptions about hate speech or brainwashing or abuse. 

Second, it reveals the extent to which Christianity has abandoned the arts. There was a time when the world’s best artist were inspired by the story of Christianity. Now they seem to be inspired by contempt for it. In all of our boycotting and parental advisories, we have forgotten to interpret the times. We have missed opportunities to let beauty point us to the Creator. And, I suspect, those failures are born of our lack of conviction that the creator is really beautiful. Holy, yes. Powerful, of course. But beautiful? Winsome? Emotional? We balk. 

God’s story has much to say about modern churches and modern gadgets and modern globalization and modern ways of being human. And culture makers have much to say about the world we live in. Our storytellers — playwrights, screenwriters, songwriters and performers — are the ones who interpret our times. It’s refreshing to see those two worlds combine in honest ways. When art is informed by truth, it is more beautiful, not less.