Why do you read what you read? Is it because a teacher tells you or because a friend hands you a stack of books when he or she is done? Is it because you’re friendly with a local librarian who recommends books similar to one’s you’ve already borrowed? Do you only buy books from a particular bookstore? Or from the collection held by your church or school’s library?
Who do you trust to tell you what’s good?
William Dyrness notes that many discussions of modern culture from within the church seem to assume
that Christians can inhabit a space somehow removed from their cultural surroundings. The truth is, of course, that they are already formed by their culture long before they begin any critical reflection on it. Culture is not out there waiting to be examined; it is part of who they are. 
Are we engaging in thinking about what is worth reading or are we settling for being told that the label “Christian” will do the thinking for us? I’ve written before on Transpositions about whether “Christian” is a helpful label for literature, and why I don’t just read “Christian” books. However, a recent post about “Christian” books and profanity has shown me that there is an expectation on the part of readers that “Christian” publishers have edification as a business goal. Like many niche industries it developed as a way of giving authors an opportunity to write about topics and narrative lines that were not the purview of the rest of the publishing industry. Some publishers may have had, and may still have, a personal or ideological stake in the content of these novels. But largely speaking, one other reason why the Christian publishing industry is such a large market is because they have a ready audience, and there’s a formula for what works.
I think relying heavily on Christian sub-culture and the industry that symbiotically benefits from its creative output makes us a little bit dumber culturally and a little bit less discerning. The responsibility for developing discernment lies not with the Christian publishing industry but with the local church. Churches have the responsibility to equip artists, pray for them, and encourage them to do their work well, even if it means stepping outside of the often narrow purview of the “Christian art” industry. Let us not degrade artist’s work by using it merely as sermon illustrations or “adapting” it so that a “Christian” label can be neatly affixed. We must encourage artists and writers in our midst to choose a medium or an artform and do it well. Look at some of the most extraordinary novelists of the 20th century (quite a few of them were God-fearing folk, if that’s the measure by which you decide you want to read something) and consider whether these would make it into a “Christian” bookstore. Then consider whether that even matters to Christian discernment and appreciation of the arts.
I would contend that we must equip our artists well with biblically-grounded teaching, with personal encouragement to seek out mentors in order to be taught in their trade and craft well, and with a commission to be salt and light in their field.
Is this a priority in your church community? Do you teach from the pulpit, in Sunday school or in small groups a biblically grounded framework for engaging with culture and with the arts?
Let’s celebrate Good Art because it’s GOOD! Let us appreciate good literature because it is good. Let us not subcontract the work of character formation and discernment to someone else.
 Dyrness, William A. Poetic Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2011. Print. 74
Image: Author’s own.