The Christian & Art
By Kemper Crabb
Why Evangelicals Make Bad Art
(Part the Twenty-Second)
We’ve been exploring in this series answers as to why millions of Evangelical Americans have produced so few examples of quality art in any artistic category, seeing that this is largely due to limited (and/or distorted) views of biblical teaching (or a failure to act on the implications of its teachings), despite the fact that Holy Writ instructs Christians in “every good work” (2 Tim. 3: 16-17), which works of necessity includes the making of art.
We looked at the negative effects of such theologically deficient perspectives on the doctrines of Creation and Eschatology, which result in denigrations of the physical world and time as appropriate theaters of God’s Purposes, encouraging pessimism concerning history, and viewing the world as Satan’s realm, which needs only to be escaped from rather than redeemed and fulfilled.
We saw also that sub-biblical views on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity led to a destruction of scriptural justification of symbol as simultaneously showing forth both multiple meanings and unified meaning. Such views lead as well to the reduction of men from the mysterious bearers of God’s Image to simplistic machines amenable to quick-fix formulae.
We then turned to look at the implications of the Incarnation of Christ, in which God, in the Second Person of the Trinity, joined Himself to a fully Human Nature and Body so that He could be the Perfect Sacrifice to atone for the sins of mankind by dying in fallen humanity’s place. This Eternal Joining of God to Man in Christ Jesus is summed up by the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) when it wrote that He is “at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood. Truly God and truly Man…”
Jesus is both fully God and fully Man at the same time, which is an eternal refutation of all views which hold that matter and spirit are at odds with each other, and shows that physical things are the proper arena for spirituality (Rom. 12:1-2), including things like the arts.
We also saw that Evangelicals, influenced by the demonic doctrine of Pietism’s belief that the spirit is superior to, and incompatible with, the physical, emphasize only “spiritual” aspects of life (defined as prayer, worship, evangelism, etc.) and de-emphasize as “unspiritual” and “secular” things like work, politics, economics, and art.
The arts are reduced to glorified gospel tracts, with music privileged, since worship requires song. However, dance, architecture, acting, etc., are ignored and distrusted as sub-spiritual.
The Incarnation, though, gives the lie to such suppositions. To be a Perfect Human Sacrifice for the sins of men, Jesus had to be fully Human, in every category of human life: body, mind, will, and spirit. His Incarnation involved every aspect of human life: physical, emotional, imaginative, and so forth.
St. Gregory Nazianzus (329-389 A.D.) recognized this when he wrote, “…what has not been assumed (e.g., taken up by Christ in His Humanity) has not been redeemed; it is what is united to His Divinity that is saved.” Jesus has assumed our full humanity, both in its nature and potential, and by so doing has shown that every part of human existence (except for sin, which is a twisting of God’s Good Created Human Categories) is meant to be a carrier of God’s Intended Holiness and Spirituality for humanity. This means that human physicality, emotion, imagination, sensuality, and artifice (the natural extension of human creativity; remember that Jesus was a carpenter, Who created artifacts and architecture) are all intended to be exercised to reflect and please their Creator.
Thus, even sensual, physical, imaginative, and creative aspects of human artistry, including dance, painting, photography, architecture, film-making, computer and graphic art, jewelry-making, etc., are not onlt fit practices for a Christian, but are necessary to the vocation of humanity before God.
We Christians must take seriously our Lord’s Incarnation and cast off the devilish idea that the body, the senses, and the arts are not proper and necessary mediums for man’s part in the task of the glorification of God. A refusal to see this truth and act upon it will keep the Church reduced to its current failure to fulfill its artistic task of glorification in our time.
The Way I See it
“We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing Him directly just as He knows us!”
1 Corinthians 13:12 [The Message]
Have you ever driven through a heavy fog? Two years ago, while driving a group down to Mexico for a mission trip, we were driving a stretch of highway in Utah where the weather tends to be very strange year ‘round. Sudden snow storms, thundering rain or – on this day – the thickest fog we had ever seen. It came out of nowhere and was suddenly all around us. As I began to slow the van I was driving … out of the fog emerged a semi parked in the middle of the road. We skidded to a stop just shy of the truck and ended up halfway in the median. I looked into the rearview mirror and saw the van traveling behind us coming fast … they had just hit the fog and had not yet seen us. I braced for impact and watched as I could see the driver’s realization that we were stopped in the road. At the last moment he veered into the grassy median and bounced along until safely stopping out of sight in the fog. We pulled ourselves into the median and drove the length of the stopped traffic. We discovered that we had been the first vehicles to stop before plowing into a line of 80 vans, trucks, cars and more than a few tipped semi-trucks.
Fog is surprisingly dangerous. It keeps us from seeing the important things in front of us and makes it difficult to navigate the path we are on. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul sums up our problem in closely following God on a day-to-day basis: we cannot see God clearly. Sometimes we have such difficulty in even seeing where God has been. There is so much going on around us that we lose our way in the fog of life. Paul’s answer is simple, yet profound. When we lose our way and can’t see God, our blind response is to love. Love is what keeps us on track and what helps us stay close to the God we long to see. Paul promises that one day we will see God clearly and we will know Him; but until then, when in doubt: love.
with Greg Tucker
A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor. — Proverbs 22:9
Who says the Big Guy doesn’t play games? For years He and I have fooled around with something I call God’s Fifty, and it’s a blast. Here’s how it goes: I keep a $50 bill tucked away in the back of my wallet, and whenever I feel I’m supposed to give it to someone, I do.
There are only two rules. First, I can’t know the individual; it only goes to strangers. Yesterday I handed the fifty to a young mom paying for groceries with food stamps. Before that, a hardworking kid who looked as though he needed encouragement. It went to a homeless guy recently, and I’m pretty sure that man spent five bucks on food and invested the rest in a NASDAQ stock called VDKA. No matter to me. My job was simply to give.
My second rule says the fifty never goes to a person who asks for it. My action is in response to God’s whisper, not man’s request.
As soon as the money is gone I immediately wait for God to put it back. It’s His, after all, so I figure He can replenish the thing. Maybe I’ll get a small job, or make a extra few bucks somewhere. One time I found $200 blowing down the street on a windy day, and the first 50 went into the back of my wallet. Thanks, God.
This game is something I learned from my dad, and I can only BEGIN to tell you how much fun it is – downright pleasurable, and somewhat addictive. Why don’t you fold up a five dollar bill and dedicate it to God’s service and see what happens? Play the game.
[ Greg Tucker is president of Tucker Signature Films in Beverly Hills, California, and pastors Hope Community Church of Anaheim. You can write him at TuckerG@mac.com ]
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