Gospel Art: Explanation, Application, and Implication
In a previous essay, I made the case that Christian art should be defined, quite literally, as art about Christ.  Truly Christ-ian art, though it comes in various ways, shapes, and forms, is always ultimately about the gospel of Jesus Christ, the message “of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3): that Christ the Son of God, the sovereign Lord over all things, became a man, died for our sins, rose again, and is someday returning to judge the world and to gather up the church that He died to save. 
I contend that this is not a limiting definition, for two reasons. First, since Christ is the ultimate reality in the universe, and all things belong to him (Colossians 1:16), there is no topic or theme in art that falls outside of Christ’s domain, and therefore there is no topic or theme in art that cannot be addressed in a way that organically refers back to Christ. Second, Christians are fond of saying that the gospel changes everything. Throughout his letters, the Apostle Paul, the one who called the gospel the message “of first importance,” shows that the gospel has life-changing implications for every facet and sphere of life, from the life of the mind and the heart, to the life of the church community, and ultimately to the life of the surrounding culture(s). The gospel should change the way we speak, argue, reconcile, work, rest, eat, drink, marry, raise children, spend money, and participate in local and national politics—and, by extension, how we make and receive works of art.
Therefore, if Christian art is defined as art about the gospel of Christ, we need not think of this definition as constricting our creative freedoms. (Shouldn’t it rather be emboldening and energizing? What message is greater and more profound than the gospel? What message but the gospel has the power to change hearts and communities? What else is there that the Christian would rather talk about? Or what else is there that the gospel itself does not have something to say about?) The church—and the world around it—needs art that can explain the gospel. However, if the gospel is so all-encompassing, the church and the world also need art that can apply the gospel to the life of the listener/reader/viewer, and art that can suggest what implications the gospel has for everything from public policy to pop culture. Any given work of Christian art could be about gospel explanation, gospel application, or gospel implications, or all of the above. If we really understand the magnitude and inexhaustibility of the gospel in any of these three areas, let alone in all three of them combined, we could hardly call the task of the Christian artist uninteresting or unexciting.
Listening for the Gospel in the Albums of Andy Mineo
One Christian artist who seems to understand this point, and certainly illustrates it very well, is the rapper Andy Mineo. His 2013 debut album, Heroes for Sale, contains all three elements of Christian art—gospel explanation, application, and implications—but it particularly excels at the first two, explaining what the gospel is and applying it to Mineo’s own daily fight to repent of sin and put his faith in Christ. In Heroes for Sale, the content and importance of the gospel is obvious.
Mineo’s 2015 sophomore album, Uncomfortable, however, is more complicated. Uncomfortable lacks the lengthy and explicit expositions of gospel truths peppered throughout Heroes for Sale. There are fewer direct references to Christ or the cross. However, I do not think we should jump to conclude that Mineo has or is starting to “sell out” or stray from the message of first importance. Rather, by studying the lyrics of both Heroes for Sale and Uncomfortable, I hope to show that both are doing the work of speaking the gospel to the church and to whoever else is listening, though they fight that battle on two different fronts. While the former is clearly marked by gospel explanation and application on one side of the spectrum, the latter, though it is more subtle, is nevertheless deeply marked by a concern for gospel implications on the other side of the spectrum.
Heroes for Sale: The Gospel in the Life of a Believer
Andy Mineo’s Heroes for Sale is about a fallen man living in a fallen world who is learning—to use an idiom popular among Christians—to preach the gospel to himself in his sins and sufferings. In Heroes for Sale, Mineo shows how the gospel does indeed change everything in the life of a believer.
In the opening track, “Superhuman,” the gospel frees Mineo to confess his own sins and weaknesses. After all, the gospel already reveals our fallen condition, for if we were strong enough to save ourselves, we would not need the gospel. “I’m just another beggar pointing y’all to where the bread is.” “I’m just a product of grace that still in the process, / And I don’t gotta be great, because my God is.”
In “Caught Dreaming,” the gospel reassures Mineo of the faithfulness of God even in the midst of his own unfaithfulness. “I wanna make it to the end, let me remain faithful, / All because you're faithful to me, yeah, I'm grateful, / My mistakes can never stop the choice you made to adopt me, / The holes in your hands are the proof that you'll never drop me.”
In “Bitter” and “Still Bleeding,” the gospel gives Mineo a reason to forgive those who sin against him. Indeed, to refuse to forgive is to deny the gospel. “If I got unforgiveness in my heart, / Then there really ain't no room for love, / . . . [I]f I hold a grudge, I don't show He's risen” (“Bitter”). However, the gospel not only gives him a reason to forgive, it also enables and empowers that forgiveness: “I ain't even got it inside me to give forgiveness, / I gotta find it at the place where he said it's finished” (“Still Bleeding”).
In “Shallow,” the gospel demolishes worldly ideas of romance and attraction. In “Wild Things,” the gospel drives Mineo to live his life in community with non-Christians so that they can see the gospel at work and come to know Christ themselves. In “Curious,” the gospel provides contentment and peace in the face of regrets and nagging what-if's. In “Tug of War,” a brutally honest song about struggling with sexual sin, the gospel offers a greater pleasure than “the empty promises of sin,” and the blood of Christ offers complete cleansing from every guilty stain. In “Death Has Died,” the resurrection hope of the gospel is an anchor in the storms of life and in the face of death.
The entire album is best summed up by the lines from the classic hymn sung at the beginning of the first track:
Come ye sinners poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore,
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Grace requires nothing more.
I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms,
In the arms of my dear Savior,
There are ten thousand charms. 
These words reverberate throughout Heroes for Sale. The hope of Christ’s open arms is held out to the listener, and “sinners poor and needy, / weak and wounded, / sick and sore” are offered a gospel that cures every spiritual illness. The album explains the gospel again and again, and applies it to sins ranging from bitterness and lust to unbelief in God’s ability to save, calling the listener to repent and trust in the finished work of Christ.
Uncomfortable: The Gospel in the Life of a Culture
Mineo’s follow-up album, Uncomfortable, looks beyond the life of the individual believer and explores some of the gospel’s implications for life in the world. The songs of Uncomfortable revolve around the intertwined themes of self-centered, sinful comfort and selfless, risky, uncomfortable love. Though there is far less gospel explanation in Uncomfortable than in Heroes for Sale, still it is clear that it is the gospel of the love of Christ that should move us from comfort to discomfort for the sake of loving others.
In the opening, title track, Mineo confesses, “I think I got too comfortable.” This comfort is dangerous because it makes a person numb to spiritual realities. “He said it’s hard for a rich man to get to heaven, / When we feel like we don’t need God, then we forget him.” This leads Mineo to pray, “God prepare me for the war, / Comfort be the thing that’ll make a king fall” (“Uncomfortable”). One king that Mineo has in mind is King David (one of the tracks is called “David’s Roof”), who committed adultery with Bathsheba when he was idle, complacent, and the height of his political career. Mineo does not want to become like David, hence his repeated concern that he not fall into the trap of the glory-hunger and materialism of the music industry and thus ruin his Christian witness (“Desperados”; “Rat Race”; “Know That’s Right”).
However, comfort not only threatens to spoil Mineo’s career, but his closest relationships with others. In “Hear My Heart,” he confesses how he avoided his deaf sister rather than embracing the hard process of learning how to communicate with her. In “Ghost” and “Love,” Mineo faces the choice between protecting himself from others or being vulnerable in his marriage, his friendships, his church. The contrast between comfort and love is expressed succinctly in the words, “To truly love a person, the bravest act of the soul” (“Ghost”). Or, stated negatively, “if you wanna live a comfortable life, / Make sure you never love nobody, be selfish and never sacrifice” (“Uncomfortable”).
The scope of the album’s vision for uncomfortable love driving out self-seeking comfort expands even further, all the way to the national level, in “Vendetta.” In this stand-out track that most clearly ties all of the album’s themes and topics together, Mineo puts all of American society under the microscope, from its politicians, journalists, and celebrities, to its poorest members. It is the financially-motivated comfort-seeking of the former that leads to the destitution of the latter. However, Mineo does not exempt himself from this national disaster wrought by everyone seeking their own comfort, nor does he stop at worldly solutions for this disaster. One lengthy section from the song is well worth quoting in full. Mineo raps,
I got excess, others got need,
I gotta answer to God for all of these sneaks,
I got a hundred pairs, but only two feet,
God forgive me, I've been thinkin' 'bout me.
We point fingers at people who sin different, skin different,
But the same color we bleed,
You wanna know the real problem in America?
Always has been and it always will be, me.
If you had any other answer you've been deceived,
We've been lookin' for salvation in education, money, leaders, and policies,
But we got a bigger need.
We got a sin debt that we inherited,
We divide ourself by class, skin color, and our heritage,
Well our Creator bankrupted heaven so that we could all be there with our brothers and sisters.
In “Vendetta,” Mineo confesses how his own materialism hurts his neighbors, and claims his own responsibility for America’s future. He also declares that there is no lasting salvation for America outside of the gospel, for America’s greatest problem is not its economy, its race relations, or its politics, but the sin of each of its citizens against God. The implication is that where the gospel is received, societal reform will follow.
In this moment in the album where the gospel is most clearly explained, its implications for all of life are also most explicitly spelled out. In Uncomfortable, the gospel does not stop at saving and sanctifying individual sinners. Rather, the sacrificial love of Christ creates disciples who are likewise marked by a love that is ready to risk any discomfort for the good of others. This gospel love should “motivate [our] whole mission” (“Love”).
“Far As the Curse is Found”
In the song “Superhuman,” Andy Mineo refers to the gospel as “the grace that I talk about on all of records.” When Mineo uses the word “record,” it seems he uses it to refer not to whole albums but to individual songs.  I cannot say whether or not the gospel can be found in every single track of Mineo’s discography. Nevertheless, his albums, studied as unified wholes, are each thoroughly gospel-centered. Furthermore, though Heroes for Sale and Uncomfortable are distinctly different from each other in thematic concerns, not to mention in style, they are also complementary. Considered together, the two albums trace the gospel from its first effects in the life of the Christian to its far-reaching influences on everything else in Christ’s dominion. To quote another classic hymn, “He comes to make his blessings flow / Far as the curse is found.” 
To creatively show how Christ’s blessings reverse the curse of sin everywhere is, I believe, the task of the Christian artist. The wide thematic range and stylistic variety of Andy Mineo’s two albums only begins to suggest the unlimited possibilities of such an endeavor.
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- Robert Brown “Of Love and Lightbulbs: VeggieTales and the Power/Folly of the Gospel,” Robert Brown Presents, February 3, 2017. https://www.robertbrownpresents.com/essays/2017/2/3/of-love-and-lightbulbs-veggietales-and-the-powerfolly-of-the-gospel
- Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
- Joseph Hart, “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy” (1759).
- I make this claim based on how Mineo uses the word “record” in his annotations to his song lyrics on Genius.com. See https://genius.com/artists/Andy-mineo.
- Isaac Watts, “Joy to the World” (1719) .