Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Christian and the Arts

I've discovered that many folks of artistic bent feel that Christianity is at war with the arts. I've also found many Christians who think that the arts community is at war with Christ. Sadly, this has produced a lamentable season in which the Christian community is unaware that Christ is sovereign and Lord over all the arts.

Fortunately, there are many within the reformed community of churches who are trying to redress this situation -- there are serious artists and theologians who are working to produce good, God-honoring art. In our own way, we're trying to engage in this reflection at Covenant-First by having a celebration of the Arts on June 11. This celebration will feature an Art Show after worship and publication of a literary magazine. In part we're showing that the impulse to create is a basic human impulse, and indeed is a part of what it means to be made in the image of God.

However, we should not forget that beyond the avocational aspects of art, there are people called to art as a vocation. Consider Makoto Fujimura, whom I wrote about in an earlier post. He is a well respected artist and a serious Christian. His work is not "evangelistic" in the sense that he doesn't paint pictures of Jesus and he doesn't bludgeon his audience with his faith. However his work reflects the character of the world in which we live -- brimming full with grace and glory, sin and suffering, and the longing and hope for redemption.

Philip Ryken, Pastor of Tenth Presbyterian, has recently come out with a wonderful little essay on Art for God's sake (forwarded to me by Eagle and Child reader and Covenant-First member Rob Heidenreich). Ryken briefly and effectively explores scriptural teaching about the arts -- showing that creativity is a part of our nature - it is a part that needs redemption through Christ. Then he explores and validates the vocational calling of the artist. He follows that with a chapter calling us to use all forms of art in service to God's glory -- abstract expressionism, realism, impressionism, dance, music, theatre -- all can be used legitimately for God's own glory. But he finishes by saying that Christian art must have standards for excellence -- it must be glorifying to God by reflecting both truth and beauty. Much Christian art focuses on beauty without wrestling with the truth of the ugliness of sin. Much secular art focuses on the truth of the ugliness of sin without recognizing the beauty that God has created (and ultimately the truth of that hope of beauty)

Ryken makes a point that Christians must heed. The Christian artist does not need to make all his work evangelistic: “the way a Christian who makes cars glorifies God is not by painting ‘John 3:16’ on the hood. Rather, he glorifies God by making a good car. Similarly, the artist glorifies God by making good art, whether or not it contains an explicit gospel message.” (51) Art is a thing unto itself -- done right it will demonstrate deep reflection on the truth of creation, done wrong it becomes a third rate and not very enjoyable sermon.

I'm looking forward to reflecting more about art and the arts in the coming weeks as we lead up to this celebration of the arts.

Other related posts:
On enjoyment of arts vs looking for a message
Art as showing shadows of glory
Depravity, Dignity, and Art
Christianity and Art, take one

Soli Deo Gloria