Darrow Miller and Friends

WHO AM I to Judge Pole Dancing Classes for Children?

Is beauty really “in the eye of the beholder”?

We are repeatedly assured that there is no objective standard by which to judge art. Art is a “level playing field,” they tell us. Value, like taste, is culturally and individually defined. To this way of thinking, it’s prosaic at best and evil at worst to pass judgment on a work of art based on your own preferences or personal convictions.

But does this claim stand up to scrutiny? Is there really no criteria by which to judge art?

Years ago, as a cross-cultural missionary, I was introduced to Darrow Miller’s first book, Discipling Nations. I came to page 169 and was stunned to read the following:

Cultural relativism poses one of the greatest challenges to human development in our generation. As taught in the “soft sciences” of psychology, sociology and anthropology, it holds that the values in one culture are no better (or worse) than those in another.

Why was I stunned? Because missionary anthropology as I had learned it regarded cultural relativism as the gold standard for cross-cultural service. Now here was someone challenging that in print!

And rightly so. Darrow’s observation about culture applies to art, one expression of culture. If we affirm that God exists, that the universe is real, that objective truth and morals are based in created reality … why wouldn’t we also acknowledge the concept of objective beauty, i.e. that which is established by the nature of God?

All beauty springs from God’s nature. At the same time, hideous evil has existed ever since Genesis 3. Our art may reflect either. Humans, made in God’s image, are co-creators with God. We paint. We compose. We sculpt. We write. Our works can express beauty. They can also perpetuate the hideous.

All that is to introduce an interesting contrast between two art practices which recently crossed the DNA radar. One is driven by contemporary society rooted in secularism: subjective, relativist, and abstract. The other is framed by the cultural trinity.

Our friend, Rick Pearcey, pointed us to one destructive “art form”: classes to teach pole dancing to children.

For the second, art that edifies children and communities, see our recent post about Culture House.

– Gary Brumbelow


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Gary is the Disciple Nations Alliance editorial manager. He manages Darrow Miller and Friends and serves as editor and co-writer on various book projects. For eight years Gary served as a cross-cultural church planting missionary among First Nations people of Canada. His career also includes 14 years as executive director of InterAct Ministries, an Oregon-based church-planting organization in Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. Gary is a graduate of Grace University, earned an MA from Wheaton College and a Graduate Studies Diploma from Western Seminary. He lives near Portland, Oregon with his wife, Valerie. They have two married sons and twelve grandchildren. In addition to his work with the DNA, Gary serves as the pastor of Troutdale Community Church.

1 Comment

  1. Jon Davis Jr.

    October 1, 2012 - 1:48 pm

    I’ve spent a lot of time in the “missions” world.

    One thing that is drilled into one’s head all the time is “respect other cultures.” It is said that too often missionaries have tried to impose their home culture on the culture they are trying to reach as a condition of accepting Christ and His ways.

    I agree in general with that emphasis.

    What is missing sometimes, however, is the idea that some things about culture are just preference and custom, while others can be right or wrong!

    In other words, it is true that the neutral aspects of someone’s culture should be respected and even honored; while on the other hand things that are not neutral will ultimately need to be confronted!