I remember when I was in high school, most of the songs I wrote would come from the depths of my emotions. They would wreck me. The song would affect me in such a way that I wouldn’t be able to finish playing it without getting choked up or overwhelmed. My heart would break as I dug into the experience I was having and putting it to lyrics and accompaniment. And as suddenly as the emotions were triggered, those songs would lose their impact on my emotions. Sometimes it would be later that day, other times it would take a couple weeks, but it would always be sudden. And eventually, sometime after I dropped out of college, writing from that heavy emotional mindset stopped affecting me as a whole- like I had grown numb to the emotional disposition of the topics that I was writing about. (As an aside: recently I started digging up those old songs and playing them a little. Some of them did trigger a response in my emotional state, whether it’s nostalgia or just relatable songwriting I don’t know, but most of them I would never play live in front of people again, not without some serious editing and work.)
I think most everything I create anymore is less about specific experiences that I have and more about abstract and even eternal concepts. Now, not everything has a happy ending. In fact, most of my writing comes from a negative or ‘darker’ perspective and I have to put in some serious work to even implicitly reference the ‘light’. But redemption is rarely explicitly stated in the songs that I write (at least at first draft), I normally don’t see the redemptive subtext until after the song is complete and I’m able to sit on it for a while. But, the reality of songwriting, and really of any artistic creation, is that the art is not really from us. Sure, we tend to write and create from our experiences, but the creation itself doesn’t start from within us. It’s birthed from a Home that transcends our experience. I think that’s why good art speaks to so many people, because it isn’t inherently earthly language. It’s a gift from Heaven, given by a gift-giver from Heaven, and the creator of that art is in touch with the emotions and personality traits of the Creator. How could this gift-giver have this authority, and why would I receive that gift and be able to transmit the same feelings and emotions as God would share? I think John the Baptist, though he wouldn’t be defined as an “artist”, clarifies so well the authority of the gift-giver:
“He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from Heaven is above all. He bears witness to what He has seen and heard, yet no one receives His testimony. Whoever receives His testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For He whom God has sent utters the words of God, for He gives the Spirit without measure. ” // John 3:31-34 (ESV)
Now, in this passage, John isn’t talking about creative types, or even creative abilities. I’ll give you that. What John is talking about is the testimony of Truth that Jesus comes to give. So how does that relate to our art that we create? Well, if we’re going to take what John says right before the above passage in verse 27, that “a person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven”, then we need to consider how these gifts come to us in the first place:
- God gives us gifts of artistic communicative mediums (music, film, TED Talks, poetry, etc.). He is gracious enough to give the experience of those gifts to everyone, and gives those of us who are artists the ability to utilize those gifts as our most natural form of communication.
- God gives us Jesus, who in turn gives us testimony of the Truth of the Gospel.
- The Gospel influences those who receive this testimony, and “sets his seal” to the fact of God’s Truth. For artists, leaning into the Truth of the Gospel and being transformed by Him permeates our art and everything we create.
- The Holy Spirit empowers the Christian artist to share the Truth in the communicative medium that is the language that they speak. For musical artists that’s in the songs they create. For visual artists it’s in their paintings or drawings. The art that is made becomes an evangelistic and missional tool, as well as a tool of worship for the artist.
When an artist learns of the good news of Jesus, accepts the gift of salvation, and submits their life to the Lordship of Christ, the only natural response is to go and tell others about what Jesus has done- which he also commands all believers to go do as well (Matthew 28:19-20). For me, and I assume for most Creatives, the most natural form of communicating (and therefore, communicating the Gospel) is through the art that we create, which is the language that we speak and interact with the people and the world around us.
So the question at the heart of this is: why does it matter that my art communicates the Gospel?
When someone accepts the gift of salvation, it truly begins to do a transformative work in their lives. This process is called “sanctification”. We are constantly in a state of being sanctified, all the way up until we reach Heaven and live in the presence of our Creator and our Savior. That redemptive work inside of us is reflected by what we do, say, and create; and the traits of the evidence of sanctification are listed out as the fruits of the Spirit (Galations 5:22-23) and Scripture would even point to the fact that if you do not bear the fruits of the Spirit that the proof of your salvation is non-existent, and therefore you may not be saved (Galations 5:16-21). So, it is more of a common-sense practice to consider that if you are saved, you will bear the traits of sanctification (which are the fruits of the Spirit) and those traits will be reflected in your art.
What’s so beautiful is that this doesn’t mean that the art we created before we came to know our Savior is now terrible, or evil. The beauty is that the art we made during our lives before is now a testimony of where we came from, what we wrestled with, and ultimately the plotline of how we came to accept the Gospel in the first place. That art may not speak to you anymore (like how most of my old art in high school doesn’t speak to me any longer) but it is a documented legacy of where you’ve been, which reflects the greatest evidence of redemption that Jesus does for us: that He saves us from who we once were and leads us to who He designed us to be. It’s with that mindset that we really grasp what it means to live out John 3:29b-30: “Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
What better outward evidence of Jesus increasing in our lives than communicating the Gospel through the art we create? May we, as artists, be so inclined to point people to the Gospel by using our art to proclaim our origin as His creation, made in His image and likeness (Gen 1:26-27); to identify, own up to, and admit our sinful nature as evidence of the Fall (1 Timothy 1:12-15); to declare the Savior has come and salvation is here (John 3:16-17); to exemplify redemption in the messages we communicate (John 3:29b-30); and to be active as not just mouthpieces through our art with missional intent (1 Corinthians 9:16) but also to be hands and feet to others so that we can live out the Gospel to everyone both on and off of our platforms (Ephesians 2:10). Let our prayer be that our art, and therefore our lives, would be used by God to proclaim the Gospel and bring people into the fold of God’s Kingdom.
Kevin McClure volunteers with RYFO as a part of our Artist Relations team. As a songwriter and musical artist he has had the honor of touring the United States both as a performer and a worship leader for the better part of the past 10 years. Kevin lives in Omaha, NE with his wife Hailey and his two daughters, Everleigh and Eliska.