In the circles where I run, it's been stated as an axiom so many times that it's virtually unquestioned. But I confess that I find myself perplexed by the whole lowbrow Protestant vs. enlightened Catholic/Orthodox/Episcopalian view of the arts that is often set forth as indisputable fact. I just don't see it. It may have been true at one time, and certainly Reformed theologians such as Francis Schaeffer and Hans Rookmaaker wrote a lot of books several decades ago that were intended to counter a dismissive view of the arts that probably once characterized Protestantism. But is it true now?
Yeah, yeah, I know. On one side of this debate we have Michelangelo and Bernini and Flannery O'Connor and Walker Percy, and on the other side we have Carmen and Jesus Over the UN posters. But we also now have Marilynne Robinson and John Updike and Sufjan Stevens, artists of the highest order who are operating from a distinctly Protestant perspective. In other words, I don't think the assumed dichotomy is true now, and I don't think it's been true for a long time. We're now more than a generation removed from Francis Schaeffer and Hans Rookmaaker, and there is some evidence that their message stuck with the now balding, aging hippies who first heard it, and their children who have taken the pretty ball and run with it.
It's worth noting that many of the po-mo/emergent churches that are now all the rage take a very high view of the arts, and that art is an integral part of their worship services. The Cornerstone Music and Arts Festival (among others) attracts tens of thousands of (mostly) Protestants every year, who groove to their favorite bands and listen to lots of lectures about, you guessed it, the value of art. On a local, personal level, I am surrounded by church members and friends who have recording contracts, who display their paintings and sculptures in art galleries, who sponsor poetry slams, who own concert venues, and who write for national publications. And they are Protestants, and yes, even Calvinists to a certain degree, one and all.
Are there still more Protestants who don't give a rip about art than those who care about it passionately? Probably, but I'm not convinced that theology has much to do with it, and my guess is that there are also more Catholics, Orthodox, Episcopalians, Buddhists, and good old-fashioned Capitalist Consumer Materialists who don't give a rip about art than those who do. The solution, as always, is to look for and hang out with the people who do. But I'm not convinced that you'll find them more easily if you also look for candles and incense in the sanctuary.