“The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.”—Francis Schaeffer
The arts are jam-packed with bold statements. Laurel Gasque said this more simply, “Art, the silent one, speaks volumes.” Some of the statements the arts make are about God. These statements are sometimes implicit and are often explicit. Some of these proclamations about God the artist is conscious of, and some are unconscious. The absence of God and/or affronts to God and to religion in the arts also communicates a worldview or belief system. It is in this communication, the stated and the unstated, the explicit and the implicit, that the arts can contribute to our understanding of humanity and theology.
Art is not unbiased in its existence. Art has an agenda. Art evokes a response in us, and the artist typically has a purpose or goal in mind for his or her art. In art’s very essence as a created work, art makes assertions about God, either positively or adversely. Art is not static. Art is fluid and subject to its creator and admirers, as well as to its cultural context. The artist brings him or herself to art as does the spectator. As Howard Zinn said, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.” Art is transporting us somewhere from our current positions or perspectives.
Theology can and does enlighten the arts, as well. Hans Rookmaaker said this best: “Art cannot be used to show the validity of Christianity; it should rather be the reverse.” Our beliefs or worldviews can dictate the art we gravitate toward, appreciate and create. Our beliefs about God also can dictate whether we participate in the arts at all. We may be so cautious about the arts that we neglect them for sole devotion to God, seeking to be unhindered by the arts out of fear that they are incompatible with our beliefs about God.
In the opposite extreme, art can become our religion or an idol. Art can become an end in itself. As “Art is my Religion” blog stated: “The galleries were so quiet…It was like being in a church dedicated to art, and I truly felt the reverence that the paintings demanded…I wished I’d been with someone I knew, so I could turn to them and say: Aren’t people amazing? Look what we can do!” In this instance, art points no further than humanity and is elevated to religion and worship without the thought of God or of God’s gifting of creativity.
So why would a Christian study or participate in the arts?
Tim Keller said, “The Church needs artists because without art we cannot reach the world. The simple fact is that the imagination ‘gets you,’ even when your reason is completely against the idea of God.” According to Keller, art has an evangelistic purpose and value. We can come to know God through creativity and imagination. While we may agree with this statement, there is more to the importance of art than evangelism. Keller likely would agree there are many other values to the arts than evangelism.
According to Francis Schaeffer in Art and the Bible, “If Christianity is really true, then it involves the whole [person], including [their] intellect and creativeness. Christianity is not just dogmatically true or doctrinally true. Rather, it is true to what is there, true in the whole area of the whole [person] in all of life.” This statement seems to propose that we should engage in the arts and study art and creativity to be whole people. Simply put, without exerting our creativity, we cease to be whole or integrated human beings or whole Christians for that matter.
Jeremy Begbie, professor of theology at Duke Divinity School, said, “Art can show us the possibility of transformation through the interplay of tradition and innovation and of order and disorder.” According to this insight about art, the Christian should partake in the arts to experience the possibilities of transformation in the ordinary and the extraordinary and in the constancy and chaos of life. Art addresses the issues of the interplay of order and disorder in our lives and illuminates beauty, moving us toward transformation.
According to Calvin Seerveld, “Art is not a means to an end; it is not a function of something else. Art stands or falls on its own artistic contribution in God’s world, to think of art, or practice it, as a tool for some other purpose is to sell it out to a technocratic bent of mind, damning it to a permanent identity crisis and reducing it to a kind of colonial status at the beck and call of touring VIPs for approved cultural missions.” It appears Seerveld is asserting here that art is art and should be appreciated on its own merit apart from ulterior motivations or agendas.
Regardless of these reasons for the Christian’s study or participation in the arts, or any other rationale, we must not neglect the beauty that God has created or the truth that we ourselves were created in the Creator’s own image. We also have been given the mandate to cultivate and to care for God’s creation as stewards, and this cultivation include the arts. There is something particularly creative, even artistic, in the very nature of who we are as image bearers. We have been tasked with a creative vocation in our call to this stewardship (See Gen. 1—3).
God created the world and said that it was good. Our creativity is a reflection of God’s creativity and goodness. This creativity is a blessing that God has gifted us with. As John Calvin said, “The invention of the arts, and other things which serve the common use and convenience of life, is a gift of God by no means to be despised.” Creativity and creation is God’s work of art and is intended to be good and beautiful.
Creation and creativity are reflections of a creative, beautiful and good God. Martin Buber put it this way, “Creation is not a hurdle on the road to God; it is the road itself.” Creation draws us to God on its paved road of beauty. Creativity and the arts are God’s invitation for humanity to meet God and join with God in His beautiful work of redemption and restoration. We were created and commissioned by God’s design to be creators as His image bearers. We get to be creative in the art of our lives, participating fully in God’s restoration and work—to God’s own glory.
We need the arts. Art is significant and should be considered because it directs us toward how we see God. As Emmanuel Garibay noted, “Images are important because they are reflections of how people see their God.” Adrienne Dengerink Chaplin said, “Art can enable us to see more, feel deeper and understand better and is (if it is permitted to be) highly entertaining and diverting.” Art is profound as it leads us to God and practical as it helps us to see more clearly, feel more deeply, understand and be entertained.
We need artists just as we need the arts, as Rosie Perera asserts, “We need the sensitivity of the artist to bring to light what has gone unnoticed in our humdrum everyday experience, so that we notice things for the first time.” Eugene Peterson also says this about artists, “Artists have always held a prominent place in bringing the message of the gospel to life and making it personally present to us.” Art, and those who create art, communicate the gospel and transcendence through the inspiration of the God of creativity who inspires the art and the artist.
So why would a Christian study or participate in the arts? Gene Veith captured the Christian’s role in the arts when he said, “That the arts are corrupt does not mean that Christians can abandon them. On the contrary, the corruption of the arts means Christians dare not abandon them any longer.” As Christians, we cannot abandon what the enemy has corrupted in the fall. We must reclaim the arts. God has gifted us with the arts and they are His. The arts are a tool for us to participate with God in His great artwork of restoration and re-creation. We must reclaim the arts for God’s kingdom purposes and for His glory.
Robbie Pruitt loves Jesus, youth ministry, the great outdoors, writing poetry and writing about theology, discipleship and leadership. He has been in ministry more than 17 years and graduated from Trinity School for Ministry with a Diploma in Christian Ministry and from Columbia International University with a B.A. in Bible and General Studies and a minor in Youth Ministry. Follow his blogs at Robbie.Pruitt.Blogspot.com and RobbiePruitt.com and connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.