Monday, March 20, 2017

Major and Minor Themes in Art with DJ Edwardson

Hello! I have DJ Edwardson here with us today to talk about Major and Minor Themes in art. It's a topic he suggested, and I really didn't know what he meant by it, but it sounded cool, so I had him send it to me. It is pretty cool. I'll let him tell you about it.

I met DJ Edwardson through the Christian Indie Black Friday sale the year before last, where I picked up one or two of his books, though I haven't had the chance to read them yet. I will say, however, that, having read this post, I'm now even more intrigued to read them.

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Major and Minor Themes in Art

art and the bible

Authors, and artists in general, put a great deal of time and effort into their work. And inherent in that work is a worldview. But not many authors seem to place as much emphasis on the message their work is sending as they do on the work itself. Some seem to be entirely unconscious of it.
“Art for art’s sake” is a phrase that seems to embody the personal philosophy of a great many authors. But this is a shame. Because art, like any other pursuit in life, can be used for good or bad, for weal or woe.

One worldview to rule them all

Worldviews are like the bones of our body. Everybody has them and they are what hold everything together. For those not familiar with the concept, for our purposes here, we’ll define worldview as the meaning we ascribe to life. Worldview answers fundamental questions like why we are here, what is wrong with the world, and how we can fix it.
You might think that fiction on the surface wouldn’t care as much about worldview. That it’s something for philosophy or theology to deal with. But every story says something about the world. Even the most mindless, chase scene filled, shoot-em-up story is saying something. Perhaps that life isn’t all that important, that all that matters is strength, skill, the survival of the fittest (or the most well armed), etc.
The point is, since every story is by definition communicating this overall message, what sort of message are we communicating with our art?

O me! o life!

One of the reasons worldview matters so much in fiction is because stories do not just have a worldview, but they shape the worldview of their readers. “Dead Poet’s Society”, which was a film, appropriately, about literature, is not exactly a flawless piece of art, but it had this unique quality: it was conscious of the role art plays in the shaping of our worldview.
In a classic scene, the teacher, played by Robin Williams, challenges his students to consider their purpose in life. He suggests that they are part of this great play called life and may write a verse in the great story of the human race. He then asks them, “What will your verse be?”

The minor theme

I am a Christian. For that reason everything I write comes from a Christian worldview. In his amazing work, Art and the Bible, he describes how the Christian worldview can be divided into two themes, the Major and the Minor.
The minor theme has to do we the reality of living in a broken world. There is pain. There is suffering. There is death. There is heartache. There is loss. These things afflict the Christian as well as the non-Christian.
This theme also describes the reality of man’s rebellion against God. We have enshrined ourselves as autonomous moral agents, as the captains of our souls. Our pride and willful disregard of our Creator keep us from knowing true joy and offer a fearful prospect for our eternal destiny.

The major Theme

The major theme is just the opposite. It revolves around hope and meaning. We are not just bags of atoms scattered by cosmic chance. God is real. He loves us. And he has called us to know Him and thus, true peace and happiness. Yes there may be troubles in this world, but, to quote Sam Gamgee, “Even darkness must pass.”
In addition, what is good and right can be known. They are not mere arbitrary social constructs, defined by the will to power. Because goodness flows from God, and God has placed his image in us, we may know the truth. And this truth may change and transform this Paradise Lost in which we live.

Mixing it up

If we are to give a full-orbed reflection of reality in our work as writers, we must strike the proper balance between these two themes. The major must be the major, but the minor must be given space as well. Most artists, Christian or non-Christian (and yes, you can be a non-Christian and produce Christian art) tend to emphasize one more strongly than they should.
Christians, for example, may be tempted to emphasize the major to the exclusion of the minor. Because the bible’s truth is so important, and so often overlooked in modern fiction, we feel the need to make an overt presentation of the gospel. We see this in the “salvation story” or in heavy-handed allegory. Such stories will come across as “preachy” to many who are not already Christians, and even to some who are.
I’m not saying that such works have no place, merely that they are not usually very good art.
But in an effort to counteract this, some Christians seem to swing in the opposite direction. They adopt the values and conventions of a the world. For these writers, the minor theme is all that matters. Christian ideas and principles and man’s need for a Savior, if they are there at all, are slapped on and shoehorned in, or twisted to fit with a non-biblical view of God.
The minor theme certainly reigns in the non-Christian arts. And the secular worldview dominates the western world. The idea of the lostness of humanity is more exalted today than perhaps it has ever been. Anti-heroes, sarcasm, and purposeless violence are the rule of the day.
abandoned room

Great art fuses the two

But great art, true art, must combine the two themes. Yes, the reality of the fallen world must be exposed. But we are not to rejoice in it. Instead we ought to mourn. But as the bible says, we do not mourn as those without hope. There is a great and glorious end to it all. Joy comes in the morning. Death has lost its sting. And we few, we happy few, have the privilege, nay the honor, to write of such glorious themes.
May we, like so many great writers of the past who understood these two themes so well, write stories that ring with authenticity and hope. May we open up a window to heaven, that shines light on people where they are, and not just where they need to be.
Those are the stories worth reading.


  1. Wow, thanks, DJ, for expressing so clearly what I've been feeling for years!

  2. Thanks, Katy. So glad you share in these ideals. I'd highly recommend reading the Francis Shaeffer's book I mentioned. I think it will be a great encouragement to you.

  3. Themes are the bane of my writerly existence, haha :D. I find them SUPER hard to weave into my stories, but sometimes they'll sneak their own way in if I just let them ;). Thank you for sharing this post with us! It was really helpful, and I'll be bookmarking it for future reference.

    ~ Savannah

  4. Whoa. That was awesome!! Thanks so much for that, DJ! :D
    This is one of those things I struggle with a bit myself: finding the balance between becoming heavy-handed with "the major theme", the Biblical parallels, the Gospel, etc. and "the minor theme", the ordinary, depressing, secular view of the world.
    I'm a Christian myself, so for me it's almost without question that Christian values will be in there, and most likely so will the Christian message. I don't tend to enjoy stories written by Christian authors that seem to purposefully take an entirely secular, Godless approach to things.
    But at the same time, even I can get a bit annoyed by stories that are overly preachy, or with awkwardly forced and obvious allegories in the spotlight.
    I think reading after the great like Lewis and Tolkien has made me this way.
    So that's where I try to follow the masters' examples: let your beliefs leak into the story, because they're going to, even if you don't mean it. Lewis once said that he never consciously intended for Narnia to be a Biblical parallel. He wasn't TRYING to write the Gospel into his stories. It just happened because it was something he believed strongly. Tolkien was the same way. All sorts of Christian ideas and applications fill his stories, yet it was never on purpose.
    I think that's the root cause of so many Christian authored stories being forced and preachy: they're focusing TOO much on how to jam a moral into the story, instead of allowing their beliefs and Christian messages to leak in, but naturally so.

    Sorry for rambling on this long, that's the Bilbo in me that likes to make speeches.
    And thanks again for this post, it was really great! :D

  5. Woah. That was deep. It sounds like something some of my professors would've said. Great post!

  6. Yes. Focus on what matters. Thanks for this reminder.


Hi! Now that you've read my post, hast thou any opinions that thou wouldst like to share? I'd love to hear them!

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