CHRIS COLE looks at the renaissance in Christian arts and media.
The launch of a seven-days-a-week CCM satellite radio station UCB Cross Rhythms this July is a pointer that a renaissance in the arts and media is underway within the Church. UCB Cross Rhythms' head Chris Cole points out that this renaissance has all the evidence of being a God-instigated strategy and that more and more Christian arts and media ministries are discovering that it's in working in supportive co-operation, rather than staying isolated in rivalry, that is seeing a Kingdom of God electronic media infrastructure begin to emerge.
Kerry and I spent some time recently with some Christian friends who are passionately interested in the arts. Dimitri Tsouris helps design our magazine and with his wife Vivienne organises our theatre programme at the Cross Rhythms festivals. We were discussing the sense of excitement that is now pervading a lot of the Church. We shared the sense of bittersweet anticipation that many are feeling in terms of the insecurity of change, revival, repentance, judgment and the love of Jesus Christ. Our enthusiastic discussion on how radio, TV, art, festivals, music and relationships all fit into the scheme of things revealed, almost prophetically, a certain word that both Dimitri and I arrived at independently in order to describe this sense of anticipation. The word was 'renaissance'.
Renaissance explains a sense of 'new birth' or 'new beginnings', not just artistically and musically, but socially and culturally. This may adequately describe the conditions that many of us are trying to grapple with in terms of 'modern' or 'post modernity'. There is a feeling in the air of bittersweet pregnancy, labour and creation. The Church is realising that the arts are still an area of human activity that must be redeemed since it is the contemporary arts that can touch the emotions of a broken generation and become the modern day parables that illustrate to them the Kingdom of God. As the Church in the West goes through its process of 'restoration or reformation' through the work of God's Holy Spirit, an inevitable renaissance is taking place. God's Hebraic mindset towards his creation is wonderfully focussed on the redemption of first his children as he teaches them through Christ's character and attitude to spiritually and practically govern his world.
A window of opportunity has opened in the birth of electronic media within the UK, which could truly resource those within the Church fighting the spiritual battle for Britain. Thrilling ventures like UCB Europe with its inspirational music and Bible teaching broadcasting nationally on medium wave and satellite; Christian Channel Europe broadcasting quality Christian TV programming to the UK via satellite; Premier Radio establishing a London-wide Christian radio station; the increasing effectiveness of the long established pioneering Vision Channel cable station; and now the launch in July of UCB Cross Rhythms with a 24-hours-a-day, seven days-a-week satellite station offering cutting edge contemporary music for youth; all indicate to me that God has a strategy for this electronic age. Back at the birth of radio in the 1920s, the BBC's Lord Reith, a committed Christian, saw the huge potential for spiritual good that a medium with the ability to penetrate every home could be to the Church. But tragically in the following decades broadcast religion became more and more marginalised. And as the forces of secularism held sway, and television brought ever increasing waves of popular entertainment devoid of the light of the Gospel, observers of trends in media could be forgiven for thinking that religious broadcasting could only exist as a niche enjoyed by little old ladies wanting "Abide With Me" and "Bless This House". In truth, many of the stereotypical forms of presenting Christian truth on radio or television - the outside broadcast of a traditional Sunday service; clerics and theologians earnestly discussing current issues; request programmes for favourite hymns - seemed to have little or no relevance for the majority of people who'd ceased, or never begun, to attend church, particularly the young.
Then, over the last few years, a wholesale change in the Church's attitude towards the arts and media emerged. In a sense it's been Christians recognising that the Church have in previous centuries been pioneers in creating great art and a Michaelangelo, Johann Sebastian Bach, Ivan Doestievsky or Mahalia Jackson each had the ability to convey spiritual truth through their art. But it goes deeper than that. Students of revival have long pointed out that as the Church begins to experience the empowering of Holy Spirit revival, fresh and pioneering art, particularly music, emerges to impact nations. From the African American gospel blues that sprang out of the Great Awakening to the Salvation Army hymns of General Booth, this trend has been repeated through history. The reason is that art isn't, or shouldn't be, some separated activity isolated from the life of the Church community but something which flows out of a spiritually renewed Church. Now, in this time of Holy Spirit refreshment touching more and more of the Western Church, the Church is beginning to experience a renaissance in the arts and media.
In America we have observed the phenomenon of secular multi nationals investing heavily in Christian arts and communications for no other reason than there are profits to be made. And even where Christian arts and media ministries remain Christian owned there is often virulent competitiveness and aggressive marketing, which seem a long way from the principles of the Kingdom of God where servanthood and continually thinking more of each other than of ourselves should hold sway. In Britain though, there are some real signs that something different is developing. It's an opportunity for the 'gatekeepers' to work together within their diversity and yet demonstrate their unity by putting the principles of God's Kingdom before the short sightedness of their own ministries. Competitiveness is a natural feeling, but the spiritual agenda is of more noble stuff. Will this be easy to work out? Of course not. The Devil's strategy will be to divide and conquer. Sincerity and trust of relationship is the hardest thing in the world to produce. "In the end time the love of the brothers will grow cold." However, I'm writing this the day after Good Friday and the historic conclusion (or beginning) of the Irish Peace Talks.
Something very awesome and wonderful is taking place regarding the Church and electronic media in the UK and Europe. An opportunity exists for those who are the Christian media gatekeepers to communicate with each other, endeavour to find ways of working together and in doing so truly honour Jesus Christ. It will take courageous resolve. Without this spiritual courage these ministries will remain unproductive and fail to fulfil their potential, simply fragmenting in self-interest and competitive chaos and the dishonouring of God's name. But in Britain in 1998 we have an opportunity to operate in a different way. A fine example of putting the Kingdom of God before any mistaken perception of "owning" a ministry occurred in 1996 when UCB, after battling sacrificially for years to survive and having won a degree of financial security, passed on to Cross Rhythms the right to run its youth culture station. UCB's managing director and trustees were mature enough not to try and reinvent the wheel and start from scratch a new station committed to youth culture. Rather, they recognised that Cross Rhythms already had the call and some of the gifts and experience in this area, and allowed Cross Rhythms to come alongside UCB to develop its youth programming.
I will always remember Gareth Littler's prophetic statement at the 1996 Cross Rhythms festival about the older generation resourcing the younger. This statement endorsed the Godly principle of a Father empowering his Son to take on the mantle and not a religious Saul trying to kill a David through jealousy borne out of unfulfilment in ministry. UCB have been faithful to this empowerment. Cross Rhythms will reach its generation with the very best CCM. Much of it will be radical and on the edge, but it will do God's work. I thank God for the CCM scene in America. Without the USA we would not have a CCM scene in the UK. However, despite the huge expansion of CCM in the States its genuine impact on the nation has been limited. Although there are signs of changing attitudes, there are very few radio stations in America playing genuinely youth culture music, the music that a generation struggling with complex issues wants to hear. Eight out of 1,600 Christian radio stations play Christian rock music, as we know it because these stations are afraid of losing their financial support base of older more conservative elements within the Church. I thank God that UCB have gone down a different road. A younger generation being resourced by the older. A Christian ministry wanting to be faithful to God's Kingdom and not simply to the fickleness of worldly success.
The '60s birthed a revolution. This revolution became catalyst for some rethinking. The media became an instrument of empowerment. The Church missed the boat and we, for a time, we lost our voice. Since the '60s, art forms such as music have become almost utilitarian. Essentially, this means that social agendas are now communicated through the vehicles of music. The use of music in the early '60s to gain support for the civil rights movement or those opposed to the Vietnam war are well documented. The ability of music to rally people to the cause such as Live Aid, the release of Mandella, festivals for Gay Liberation, are almost a yearly occurrence and powerful in promoting their group agendas. Society is now fracturing at such a rate that the Church must start declaring her agendas and come out of the closet with true pride in Christ Jesus. Let's take back the YMCA (the song not the organisation!).
The launch of UCB Cross Rhythms is a significant contribution to this utilitarian approach. There are those within the Church concerned that a Christian radio station will simply be a cultural ghetto with no ability to impact the unchurched. For a number of years Cross Rhythms has been producing the Cross Rhythms Experience for the mainstream station Plymouth Sound. Our ratings for the Sunday evening broadcast demonstrate that we practically double the audience figures on this secular station. This flies in the face of those who think CCM is some ex-hippy with Hares strumming his or her 12-string guitar. UCB Cross Rhythms will not only help open up the much needed distribution of CCM (still one of the fastest growing genres of music world wide), but also inspire, educate and inform a generation that need to make sense of an increasingly senseless world. Equally, Christian artists and musicians endeavouring to 'cross over' by playing their wares in the mainstream marketplace must be encouraged and supported. UCB Cross Rhythms will editorially inform and communicate good news whenever, wherever and however it's happening.
Christians in Britain and Europe have been given a window of opportunity by God as far as the electronic media is concerned. In the last three years we have seen the substantial growth of UCB Europe as a ministry that has successfully for 12 years built into the life of the Church in this country. Premier Radio in London has now achieved a real sense of stability and growth after a difficult 'birth'. Vision cable has pioneered for years against tremendous odds and established a real respect within the ITC for its tenacity and perseverance. Christian Channel Europe has achieved the impossible and established the first satellite TV service. At great cost to themselves. Rory and Wendy Alec have persevered and built a tremendous TV studio complex in Gateshead through nothing short of miraculous provision. I could go on and describe the small band of broadcasters who for years without any support from the Church have stood their ground within the BBC and ILR. I've missed out, but in no way minimise, the effectiveness of countless other ministries who are either just starting up or have been patiently working for years behind the scenes when all they could see was seen in 'true faith'. I do not mention these ministries because as a ministry Cross Rhythms have not 'built' with them as yet. And that, my friends, is the crux of the matter. Two-way traffic doesn't operate on a one-way street. Whilst we must all be faithful to the ministry God has given us, there is a higher principle of all of us serving Gods kingdom and the honour of Christ.
The window of opportunity that God has given us with Christian media is certainly not to join together as one big media organisation. The opportunity in the UK, however, is to work for a genuine sense of God's Kingdom and his Son being honoured above everything else. Then we will begin to see a Christ-centred counter culture that will begin to sweep away the lies and stereotypes believed by non-Christians and through the modern day parables of contemporary communicators shine Gospel light into the darkness.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
Chris and Kerry speak at a number of national conferences on Christian lifestyle, marriage and culture.
View all articles by Chris Cole FRSA