In this series we’ve been exploring answers as to why millions of American Evangelicals have produced so few examples of quality art in any artistic category, seeing first that in large part this is because of limited (or distorted) views of Biblical teaching (or a failure to act on the implications of its teachings), despite the fact that Scripture instructs Christians in “every good work” (2 Tim. 3: 16-17), which necessarily includes the making of art.
We’ve also looked at the negative effects of shallow or distorted views of the doctrines of Creation and Eschatology, which lead to denigrations of the physical world and time as proper theaters of God’s Purposes, encouraging a pessimism about history, seeing it as Satan’s realm which must be escaped from instead of redeemed and fulfilled.
We looked as well at the results of sub-Scriptural perspectives on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, seeing that misunderstandings or rejections of the Three Persons of the One God destroy the possibility of any Scriptural justification of symbols being revelatory of both multiple meanings and unified meaning at the same time.
Trinitarian confusion leads to muddled ideas as well of the reflected Mystery of the Image of God in men, to views of men as simplistic machines subject to quick-fix techniques, and to man as being incapable of reflecting God in multi-faceted ways, resulting in overly simplistic representations in artforms.
Last issue, we began a consideration of the implications of the doctrine of the Incarnation of Christ, which teaches us that Jesus was both fully God and fully Man simultaneously, with no confusion between His Natures, both of which co-inhered to form One Person in a great Mystery. We saw that this Truth, that God has eternally joined Himself to a human body, soul and spirit means that God not only is not opposed to matter, but that matter was made for, and inescapably involves, spiritual expression.
We also saw that this concept of Incarnation, that matter and spirit were made for each other, as evidenced in the Divine/Human Christ Jesus, was scandalous in Christ’s Time on earth, as it violated the dualistic belief of neo-Platonism (the dominant worldview of the Classical era) that matter and spirit were opposed to each other, and were incompatible with each other.
Unfortunately, this basic idea of dualism, that spirit is superior to and incompatible with the material world, and was imported into the Church by educated converts who misread both Scripture and the world in neo-Platonic terms, even though they believed in the Biblical Revelation of Jesus’ Divine/Human Incarnation. Not considering the implications of the Incarnation, their dualism resulted in a withdrawal from the “sin-infected” physical world as much as possible, which was the mainspring of the growth of ascetic monasticism.
Throughout the Church’s history, dualism and Incarnationalism have struggled for dominance among believers, and in the aftermath of the Reformation, Pietism arose and adopted dualism as its view of the world, injecting it into the Evangelical Church, where it has become the primary perspective of American Evangelicals.
This has led Evangelicals in their theology, experience and art, to emphasize only “spiritual” aspects of life, things like prayer, worship, evangelism, etc., and to de-emphasize as unspiritual or unimportant the regular, quotidian things of life, things like work, politics, economics and so forth, seeing them as areas which were only important if explicitly “spiritual” themes could be foisted upon them.
The arts, seen as being too sensual and worldly, were reduced to the status of propaganda. Their only real justification being to function as glorified gospel tracts, with music being privileged, since worship services require songs. But dance, architecture, acting, all the more visceral and physical arts, came to be largely viewed with suspicion, relegated to the realm of the “secular,” as being so worldly that they were only possibly “spiritual,” and likely not “spiritual,” so were ignored and distrusted.
Are these sub-spiritual arenas? Are they less spiritual than prayer? Are there more and less spiritual aspects of life? How does the Incarnation answer these questions? Lord willing, we’ll examine these questions next issue…
The way I see it Chris Wighaman
Have you ever had “one of those days?” You know the ones. You wake up a little “off” and go out to your car only to find you left the lights on all night and it will not start. By the time you make it to work/school you are late and you have missed something important. Since you were in a rush you forgot to bring the lunch you packed the night before and instead skip it (never a good idea). Then someone comes by and makes a snide comment about your performance so far today. Let’s take stock of your day so far: You’re feeling some pressure, the stomach is rumbling and everyone around you is potentially really annoying. Into this setting the Apostle Paul has this to say:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:4-7]
Sometimes I read that and think: “Oh barf. Is he serious? Does he know what kind of day I am having?” He doesn’t even pose this as a suggestion! Paul simply states “Rejoice. Always.” He clearly has no idea how hard my life can be sometimes.
Paul writes this letter from prison where he awaits his execution. His crime, as far as I can tell, it was just the fact he couldn’t stop telling people about Jesus. According to church tradition he was beheaded a short time later. He was writing to a people who, by all accounts, loved God and followed Jesus. They too must have been persecuted because at this time Christianity was illegal. Paul, who knew hard times, tells the people of Philippi to celebrate in Christ! No matter their circumstances, they are to rejoice as they are an example to all in gentleness, trusting God in everything and they are given a peace that we cannot comprehend.
We have never had it so easy. Our lives are sometimes complicated, but rarely is our life at risk. These people who bravely stood up for Christ are our example. We too can embrace the challenges in life and choose to rejoice in everything. This small act would serve as an example to everyone around us that we are truly followers of Christ.
with Greg Tucker
A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.
—1 Corinthians 11:28
Minutes before officiating a wedding in Southern California, a horrified event coordinator ran to my side and blurted out, “The elements! I forgot to buy elements for the couple’s first Communion!”
Elements in that church meant bread and grape juice. I peeked into the auditorium and sure enough, on a small table sat one empty cup and one empty plate. No elements. To make matters worse, a survey of the backstage room produced little more than a Snickers bar and a can of Sprite.
Like baptism and marriage itself, Holy Communion is a sacrament in the Christian church. That means, to paraphrase legendary anchorman Ron Burgundy, it’s kind of a big deal. The idea of pulling The Lord’s Supper out of a snack machine was unsettling, but our options had run out. So with the couple’s permission (and my silent decision to cash their check immediately), that’s what we did.
Years later the topic of wedding traditions came up, and my friend Kenneth Grider shared his objection to Communion being offered exclusively to a bride and groom. Now, Kenneth helped translate the NIV, so I take his thoughts seriously. In the course of conversation I shared about my near-disastrous incident, and waited for his assessment. After a moment of thoughtful silence Kenneth responded, “Then I think everyone in the room should have had Snickers and Sprite.”
We love our traditions, don’t we? When Jesus initiated the original Lord’s Supper in Luke 22, he took the bread and cup then instructed, “When you do this, do it in remembrance of me.” Surely his emphasis was on the word remembrance, and not this. “This” in the equation can change. “This” could be macaroni and water — or anything else, I suppose — unless we’re doing it to be gimmicky.
Using less than ideal elements can never strip Holy Communion of its power, when all Jesus asked in the first place was that we remember Him. One thing’s for sure: He remembers us.
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