The Arts & Theology: Part 1
“One cannot keep on evangelizing the world without interfering with the world’s culture…In Christ man is restored to God as cultural creature to serve his Maker in the world and as ruler over the world for God’s sake.”
-Henry R. Van Til, The Calvinistic Concept of Culture
Art is something that leaves an indelible mark on those who experience it. There is something about viewing an incredible painting that strikes something within. Or perhaps when a set of music or poetry stirs our hearts deeply and we know that we will never forget it. Humanity is formed with something deeply embedded in our hearts from a young age that simply wants to create in some form. Art has been a way of expressing one’s self in all generations and all cultures. We only need to give a child some paint and watch them simply make things just for the enjoyment of it. It can be experienced in a multitude of ways but there is no arguing that it has a powerful effect on those who experience it.
God has created us in His image and we are to reflect this aspect. What do we see in Genesis when God has created us? There are multiple discussions of what the imago dei (image of God) means in regards to our lives. I would submit that if we simply examine the text there is only one characteristic of God we see immediately. God creates. He creates the first day and the rest of the days shapes all the matter and separates it into something He deems “good.” We are created in the image of that God. We are created with that creativity yearning in our hearts and minds ready to be displayed. God gives Adam the task of cultivating the garden (Gen. 2:15) and naming the animals (Gen. 2:20). The world wasn’t merely there but in God’s eternal wisdom deemed it good. Done in a way that would reflect and glorify the maker. Art can express truths that appeal to the imago dei where our souls confirm something that our minds even neglect. That is why it is important.
Art can be the bridge that gaps our modernist (or Post depending where you are) world of putting all faith into what we see. Artists have the ability to bring an awe and wonder into something that is finite. One doctrine that has been used frequently as source for a Christian aesthetic is that of the Incarnation. Art in a way similar to Christ’s coming is able to embody an eternal truth wrapped up into concrete forms of our experience. Do not confuse what I am saying. I am not comparing Jesus to a form of art but simply showing how an inexpressible God can be shown in a way we can understand. That same way is how an artist uses their pen, brush, camera or voice to connect someone to something more beautiful than is immediately sensed naturally.
In addition to the scriptures in Genesis that display creativity I have always found it ironic that the first person who was anointed to do something was for creating. (Exodus 31:1-5) The first words Adam had spoken were in poetic form to his wife. The Bible contains multiple genres of literature notably poetry, short story, and parables. Songs are sung, harps are played, books are read, and poems are spoken all to the glory of God.
One final portion of scripture is in Revelation which gives us a picture of what the New Heaven and New Earth will somewhat be like. As opposed to the bad eschatology of the day we will not be floating in a cloud playing a harp and singing songs forever. We will be singing new songs (Revelation 5:9, 14:3) and creating works that display the splendor of our great King Jesus (Revelation 21:24,26). According to Abraham Kuyper we will be utilizing all the talents and skills we have now albeit to a much higher sense. He compared it to the abilities of a child as to that of the same person when older. That is how greatly advanced our abilities and talents will be then! What an amazing thought! That we will see better paintings than Michelangelo and Rembrandt, more beautiful composition than that of Beethoven, or poetry than that of the elegant Lil Wayne (or just check the radio for that one). In all seriousness our talents matter as will be investing in bringing God glory for all of eternity in various creative ways.
As believers in Christ we create out of an understanding that we have been saved by God not as a means to earn his approval. The gospel frees us from having to gain some type of stamp of approval from either the world or our eternal Father. I see Christians often doing this when referring to music and saying “Why wasn’t Jesus mentioned?” Or seeing things as “secular” as if God is not God of the entire earth not merely the Christian subculture. We are not that important that God needs us to save the world by throwing something overtly Christian into art.
I heard someone once say you can create art that reflects the light or art that shows you what that light now allows you to see. The standard some put on Christian artists would exempt even portions of scripture from being allowed in like Esther that doesn’t once or Ruth that does only once briefly. These do not overtly have theology systematically but one cannot view these without noticing God. This is a way in which artists can impact the world through it. We must not think that “faith book” tshirts and “Spirit” instead of Sprite but using the same logo should qualify. God commanded that whatever we do we should do it unto Him. Lazily switching up a modern logo to sterilize it for Jesus is mocking the eternal truth and beauty that God is worthy of. Are there dangers in some of this? Of course but you will have to read part 2 for that.