This school year I have been taking a course on Philosophy, and my term paper happens to be on the question What is Truth? I started out with much fear and trembling and intense feelings of the paltriness of my mind, wondering how on earth I could produce a worthwhile ten- to thirteen-page essay on such a difficult topic. I've actually found, however, that writing this report is easier than my other essay for History, primarily because of the large amount of literature on the topic. The issue of objective versus subjective Truth has been around for ages, expressed by Pilate so famously in his brief, skeptical question to Jesus: "What is Truth?" Nowadays, with destructive postmodernist philosophy strong in the world and in the Church, the common answer is that there is no truth. Or, at least, there is no objective Truth. Truth is what you make it to be; it's all a matter of perspective.
This view has worked itself into the modern Church with alarming success, resulting in the widespread belief among professing believers that the Bible is not God's objective Word and does not need to be obeyed. Phrases like "Well, that's true for you..." and "That's just your opinion" tumble easily out of the mouths of the majority of professing Christians. This disbelief (usually subconscious) in the existence of objective Truth in the moral realm then also manifests itself in the types of entertainment that are accepted - in music, literature, art, what-have-you - because if there is no objective Truth, there is no standard and everything is simply a matter of personal opinion.
It's understandable that because of this ecclesiastically-accepted postmodernism, more reformed churches react against it and begin to lay down rules as to what things Christians should listen to or compose, read or write, admire or draw. We begin to see the development of the use of "Christian" as an adjective - "Christian" novels, "Christian" music, etc. - and even if what are termed "secular" forms of entertainment are not wholly condemned, we are encouraged to stay primarily within those categories labeled "Christian." These are considered healthy and safe and God-honoring.
Unfortunately, this reaction to the looseness of modern Christian morality is just that - a reaction. It moves to the other end of the spectrum and begins to construct definitions of "good" and "bad," "healthy" and "unhealthy," "God-pleasing" and "God-dishonoring," that are not found in the Scriptures. Some body of officials is set up to say that this book is good because the author mentions God a few times, but that book is bad because the characters don't profess to be Christians. That music is bad because it uses drums, but this music is sacred because it is in the hymnbook. But do all men not have the Imago Dei? And isn't it possible that the image of God that they bear comes out in a beautiful or powerful or even truthful way in their work, whether or not they are a believer? Paul himself quoted a pagan poet in addressing the Athenians and gave the man credit for speaking truth. Is it not possible for a thinking Christian to find diamonds of truth in the works of Plato or of Marcus Aurelius; in Charles Dickens and in Shakespeare; in works of fiction and works of history?
But you might say, "Well, surely there are a great many bad books and music and art in the world." And I say yes, most certainly; and there are a great many bad books and music and art that call themselves Christian, too. The point is not to be lulled into comfort by tags and labels, not to be trusting because a CD has "CCM" on it or because a novel is in the Christian fiction part of Barnes & Noble. Believers must be thinking men and women - thinking and fearless. When you combine a sanctified mind with trust in God, there is not only no danger in "secular" works, but you will often find good challenges and truths.
In case you think I am saying that Christians can benefit by every genre of book and style of music and ought to read and listen indiscriminately, I'm not. I think that being critical of what you read is as important as being critical as you read. But this critical thinking should not be guided by what the Higher Ups have in their great and boundless wisdom termed "Christian"; it should be guided by a firm knowledge (and by that I mean a scriptural and well-considered knowledge) of objective good and bad.
Naturally, the first question is of the morality of any work. If the lyrics of the song are obscene or the content of a book is immoral, there is no reason for a believer to waste his time in listening to the music or reading the book. But something may be decent without passing the test of objective worth; it may simply not be any good. Personally, I think many "Christian" novels fall into this category. (Sadly, most of the ones I have read fail to pass the first test, either.) The plot is so old that the author is not just beating the dead horse, he is, as my sister likes to say, "beating the greasy patch where the horse used to be." Or the writing is flimsy and unpolished, with no beauty or truth or impact. In one area or another, or perhaps a whole bunch, the book isn't good. Why waste time with such a thing when there are thousands of other objectively good books to be read and enjoyed? Or perhaps a song is clean - perhaps even a rendition of a hymn - but the music is discordant, or the singer's voice is horrid. Is this beauty? Is this worth spending time listening to?
The very fact of the presence of the Imago Dei in mankind that I mentioned earlier demands better things than this. We ought to search for beauty and cherish it when we find it, and not be content to sit in the mud and make pies. It may be that subjectively you don't care for Bach or for Jane Austen, but the mind should be attuned to the objective worth of such works of art. In I Corinthians Paul talks about the wisdom of God and the unsearchable, unknowable depths of His mind, then says powerfully and succinctly: "But we have the mind of Christ." That is a deep thing, having the mind of Christ. I cannot imagine that having this mind of Christ, we are meant to let it stagnate by remaining always in our comfort zone and never exercising the power we have through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We ought always to be searching out good things and enjoying them as gifts from God, and honoring Him in that enjoyment as the Giver of every good gift.