Steve Turner has worked as a poet and music journalist for over 30 years. Though from a Christian home in London, he studied at L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland where his interest in categorizing (or more accurately, not categorizing) Christian art grew. His book Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts represents his biblically founded views of Christian artists. Throughout the book he posits that art itself is not Christian or non-Christian; rather, the difference lies in that it is created by a Christian or a non-Christian.
Turner challenges the notion among believers that all art created by us has to be explicitly religious. Instead, he believes that all art that is created by a Christian will (in some way) reflect his religious views, all while maintaining technical excellence. He compares the Christian artist with the Christian doctor or nurse. It isn’t expected that a Christian doctor pass out tracts with all his prescriptions. So why does a Christian artist need to explicitly embed a Christian message in all his work?
Having worked in the secular industry of music journalism for most of his career, Turner has had prime experience in bringing his beliefs to his writing and interviewing—overtly and covertly. He explains that he did this through “direct opinion, choice of subject matter, or the priority given to information” (19). He would never glorify the sin of the people he interviewed.
Additionally, Turner uses five concentric circles as a model to illustrate how he believes Christianity can be displayed in the arts. The first, outermost circle has no specific worldview. It is art in the simplest sense. For example, someone playing an instrument, or a child drawing a picture. Turner says this circle is “carried out in the spirit of play” (83). The next circle describes art that contains some sort of Christian expression. It points to God in certain ways, particularly by its biblical portrayal of human life. These art forms can give people joy and incite questions about who God is.
The third circle clearly defines some sort of biblical teaching; this includes abstractions such as love, peace, or justice. The fourth circle is more theological, touching on original sin and shedding light on the human condition. Finally, the fifth and innermost circle defines art that deals openly with the cross of Christ; this art clearly tells the redemption story (83-88). Central to his argument is his belief that the state of a man’s soul will have direct correlations to the state of his art. He claims that this is why the quality of an artist’s interior life is so important. “If we are living righteously and God’s laws are constantly before us, then the imaginations of our heart will reflect that” (124).
An Evaluation: The Artist and his Bible
Turner builds his case for Christians’ art using Scripture. We know from reading Scripture that God used different genres to write His inspired Word. And even though the Bible’s authors had no experience in other forms of media, namely, films or novels, one premise remains throughout Scripture that we can use: the doctrine presented within can be applied to any art form during any century. The Bible, in all its timelessness, still inspires and teaches us today. And the effect of Scripture reaches to our art, as well.
Drawing for much of his experience as a journalist, Turner spends a good deal of time exploring the songs of rock groups, specifically those of U2. Here he puts meat on the bones of his concentric circles. Here he does well to put meat on the bones of his concentric circles for the reader. How do these circles work in the real art world? His use of songs written by members of the rock group, three of whom were believers, makes clear that Christian themes can underscore all of a Christian’s work without directly saying, “I am a Christian and this is my Christian work.”
At no point does Turner think Christians can or should be removed from the realm of art or culture, a good stance since Christians, as the light of the world, need to shine. We are in a unique place to illustrate our humanity to a broken world. Turner writes about our position: “It’s enough to share with an audience that, like them, you have loved, lost, celebrated and mourned” (108). In a sinful world, with darkened cultures, we need to be there, making art and making it well—a standard Turner rightly assumes throughout the book.
Reflecting God’s Image
In conclusion, Imagine: a Vision for Christians in the Arts is a powerful work about the way art reflects what is in our hearts. “We should respect the power of art. We can’t let our spirits take any amount of punishment and expect to emerge unscathed” (42). His experience from working in a secular industry and his constant use of biblical examples lend to his credibility as an expert on this topic. He is a man who practices what he believes.
Turner’s conviction about the necessity for Christian artists to be immersed in the art world is a legitimate challenge to us, and one that should spur us on to better creating. Unlike unbelievers, we have two of the greatest powers an artist could ever need: the truth and the ability. I agree with Turner that the quality of our art must not suffer because of what we believe. If anything, because of what we believe—Christ is Lord of all—we should create with excellence and bring honor and praise to His name.
History has shown, Turner reiterates, and I agree that art can stand on its own two feet and will reflect the hearts of artists. And in turn, artists (especially believers) will reflect the image of our Creator.