This is a unique and nuanced question. It was asked of me initially in a casual conversation about enjoying older albums by once popular Christian musician Jennifer Knapp. It was then asked of me more officially in preparation for this series. The focus on “apostates” is significant. This is not a question about enjoying art made by those who are atheistic or agnostic, that is a different (if related) question. This question focus more specifically on whether or not we can enjoy works of art created by those who once claimed to follow Christ and belonged to the church. Does their renouncement of Christianity taint their previous contributions? It’s a worthwhile question in its own right. In what follows I am going to argue that since all truth is God’s truth the artists’ abandonment of the gospel does not damage the quality of their previous creations.
This question is insightful because it recognizes a relationship between creator and creation. That is to say, the creation of art involves, at some level, the personal input of the artist. They are not merely producing a product; they are communicating something of themselves in the process. So, in the case of a musician, they are not simply writing songs, they are communicating something of their own faith and belief and praise of God. When, then, someone turns against that faith and renounces what they once believed we are left wondering what to make of their original artistic expression. Is it still valid?
The answer can be found, I believe in contemplating the nature of truth. Truth is the metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical absolute which conforms to God’s own ideas as revealed in Scripture. This definition affords us several major touch stones for evaluating the artistic work of even an “apostate.” First, it establishes God’s ideas as the standard, the normative rule for what is true. Truth is not relative. There are clear boundary markers between truth and falsehood, and those are set and established by the God of the universe. Second, this truth is revealed to us through the Scriptures. Therefore, we may know what is true and what is false by considering what God’s Word says about any given thing. Thirdly, truth is perspectival in that it covers the nature of being and the structure of the universe (metaphysics), human knowledge (epistemology), and human behavior (ethics). In this regard we can see that what is true is always true, regardless of when it is said or who says it.
We see this Scripturally in some interesting ways. In the plot to kill Jesus, for example, the high priest Caiaphas prophesied unknowingly of the death of Jesus. We read:
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. (John 11:45-53)
His words were true despite that they came from an unbelieving source. Likewise, Paul quotes a Greek poet (Acts 17:28), and a Cretan prophet (Titus 1:12 – in this case he goes so far as to say, “this testimony is true”). The Biblical conclusion is clear: all truth is God’s truth regardless of who says it. Whether spoken by donkey (Num. 22), unbeliever, or even apostate, truth is truth.
Applied, then, to our question at hand we can ask whether the original artistic expression is true. Though the artist may have changed his or her convictions, does the original work communicate what is true, right, good, lovely, worthy of praise, etc. (Phil. 4:8)? If so then it can be enjoyed and consumed. There is, however, one related question that needs to be considered. Are we, by enjoying this art, endorsing the lifestyle, habits, and changed beliefs of the artist? That is to say, in consuming this product are we also supporting the apostate? This is a more difficult question and will require each individual to wrestle with their own conscience.
As Christians we must recognize that we interact with non-Christians on a daily basis. We get our hair cut, oil changed, and buy our groceries from non-Christians. Even more complicated is the reality that we submit to Government run by mixed bag of Christian and non-Christian law-makers, employees, and overseers. We drive on roads paved by non-Christians. There are all sorts of scenarios where we consume products made by non-Christians, some that we can’t even avoid. In fact, the Scriptures tell us not to avoid this reality because we are to “live in the world” (John 17:15). We must interact with the world. If we can draw the distinction in such scenarios as these, then it is possible to draw the same distinction in the realm of art. Not everyone will find that their conscience permits them to draw this distinction, and as such they need to avoid such works of art. Others will be able to accept the truth even while they reject the falsehood of the artist’s lifestyle. But each person must “be convinced in their own mind” (Rom. 14:5).
In many ways this will be an issue of Christian liberty which involves personal deliberation, wise conversation with mature believers, and careful self-reflection. It parallels, to some degree, Paul’s counsel regarding the food sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians 8. We should not take this question lightly or casually, but work through it with grace, friendship, and Scripture.