Two statements stuck out to me like a pair of sore thumbs, and they are the bookends for his post:
"The Church needs artists because without art we cannot reach the world."
"We need Christian artists because we are never going to reach the world without great Christian art to go with great Christian talk."
Without artists we cannot reach the world and we are never going to reach the world.
This is an unfortunately great example of trying to make a point and in doing so completely going overboard and undermining the very point you were trying to make. Worse, it is in my opinion not only unbiblical, it is anti-biblical and denigrates the power of the Gospel.
When Jesus sent out the apostles with the Great Commission, He told them to:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20)If you are wondering where "Christian art" fits into that narrative, don't worry. You are not missing it, it is not there. In Acts 2:37 when the Jews implored Peter to tell them "Brothers, what shall we do?", Peter didn't stop and get out an easel and some parchment to paint them a picture. Nor did he compose a quick symphony, or choreograph a ballet. He didn't even spontaneously start miming the plan of salvation or bust out some interpretive dance complete with ribbons. Nope, his message was pretty clear and simply spoken:
And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)Luke recounts that some 3000 souls were saved that day without even a quick ditty on a recorder. I guess back in those primitive days you could reach the world and see men saved without the benefit of art. Paul exhorted Timothy to preach the Gospel, in season and out. He didn't tell Timothy to go to art school. You get my point I trust.
If there had never been a lick of "Christian art" ever made, the Gospel would still be plenty powerful and sufficient for the salvation of men's souls. Much of what we know in the West as the great pieces of "Christian art" were made by men who didn't even understand the Gospel and quite likely were not saved. The Gospel is not dependent on "art" and it is not incomplete when it is just "great Christian talk".
There is a lot to be said about the value of art, although I will qualify that statement by pointing out that very little of what passes for art today has any artistic value. Like other aspects of Western civilization it is hugely valuable and beneficial for society, just as our laws and morals are. But art is not the Gospel. The Gospel is by design spoken. It is Good News, not Good Art. Like the apocryphal and endlessly repeated saying "Preach the Gospel at all times, use words when necessary", Tim Keller seems to be suggesting that the preaching of the Gospel is not enough. Think about that from a guy who is considered to be "conservative" and "Reformed".
The message of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus and the call to repent is not good enough.
I am not putting words in his mouth or taking him out of context. What he wrote is what he wrote and is reproduced completely and without editing above. Keller denigrates the untold missionaries past and present who go to the ends of the earth armed only with the Gospel and their Bible. How can they think they can reach the world for Jesus without being artists? What about all of those simple country preachers who don't have access to world class musicians or ballet dancers?
Tim is clearly trying to make a point here about the value of Christian art as he defines it. That is fine and there is a case to be made, just as there is a case to be made that not everything that falls under the umbrella of art is valuable or praiseworthy or appropriate for the church. Instead of making that case he fell into the trap of making a far wider and more sweeping generalization than he needed to and rather than making his case he instead made himself sound foolish and bordering on heterodox. Again, I don't think that Keller believes the Gospel is inadequate but I do think that what he said in that post would imply he does. Hopefully he clarifies his statement because instead of putting out the firestorm he just threw gas on it.