I see a conflict of ideas from the desire in the emerging church to be creative, tell the story and foster a re-discovery of mystery and the activity of the arts. I love this new movement to tell the story of the gospel as well as the proposition. Where in evangelical circles the arts seem limited because of an over-focused over-emphasis on proposition which at times turn art into blatant propaganda the emerging church has problems with art, too.
The very ideas of being postmodern and finding and expressing the narrative makes for fertile soil for a musician to write music. It breaths life into the visual arts–whether film or photography or painting. I am a hack at painting (see the photo), but I love to do it. I love photography, too. One concept in discerning what is good art that seems to impact is the idea of form, composition, structure and technique.
Free expression without the tools, is a mess. Have you ever sat through a recital of "a tonal" music? Yikes. That kind of music is so deconstructed that there is absolutely no form and therefore it is very hard to have any story telling aspect associated with it. Without a scale, or even repetition it fails to move the listener or even the musician forward.
I have a jazz music background, and in that you learn "improv" where you can be pretty deconstructed but there is form, believe it or not. We learn the "II-V-I" progression and simply repeat the form in some way. There are scales that have form like the Lydian scale. That scale can be improvised but really only over certain harmonic structures otherwise it would move so far from any form that it would cease to move people forward. The joy in jazz music is at its pinnacle when technique, form and freedom are all in balance. Sounds like a balance worth seeing in theology and faith practice!
The emerging church wishes to deconstruct, but when form is completely removed, it loses forward motion and cannot tell a story. After all, stories have plots and villains and highs and lows. In our evangelical world artists are stifled by a misunderstanding of the importance of the narrative. How in the world can you create without a plot line to express? But, the emerging church seems like it could equally be difficult for us artists.
If you want structure, form and balance you might be seen as one who is too rigid to fit in. The idea of self expression might overwhelm the subculture in a way that really gifted artists would have to wait in line behind the consensus of people who just took up painting a week ago. The value is not really telling a story in that case–at least not effectively. It would be like "a tonal" music.
In conclusion, I think Lincoln Brewster represents a Christian musical artist who can stand on his own in the real world of musical ideas. He has a voice. Yet, can we embrace an artist like him in our local churches? Would we either make him a propaganda tool or make him stand in line behind the guys who strum three chords?
The very gifted people I know need the church community and often are not understood, appreciated or challenged. We need to learn how to tell the story and tell it very well! We need these artists, musicians, writers, thinkers and creatives if we really want to impact our culture of which language they expertly speak.