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A Christian View of Art

  1. In view of creation
    1. The biblical account of creation supplies us with the only valid basis for a proper understanding of the origin, existence, function, and explanation of art.
      1. Art is not a fluke of the evolutionary process. It is part of the image of God in which man was created.

      2. Man’s aesthetic being is patterned after God’s aesthetic being. Animals and machines do not produce or appreciate art. But man as God’s image-hearer is both an art-maker and an art-appreciator. Art is part of human existence from the very beginning because it is based on the Creator-creature relationship.

      3. Man as image-bearer was given the cultural mandate in Genesis 1:28-30. Man’s art was intended to be a vital part of his obedience to this mandate.

      4. After the work of creation was finished, God looked over all He had made and “behold, it was very good,” i.e., the creation was beautiful as well as perfect.

        The goodness of the creation means that no art medium is intrinsically evil. We must never say that any particular combination of sounds, forms, colors, or textures is intrinsically evil. Too many Christians have fallen into a Platonic view of reality in which matter is viewed as being evil. Thus some fundamentalists have taught that certain types of music and certain art forms of modern art are intrinsically un-Christian, evil and Satanic.


      5. Christian art should, at times, reflect the original creation in all of its beauty, form, harmony and goodness. Example: David wrote psalms which celebrate creation by using the medium of poetry, song and instrumental music (Ps. 8; 19; 89; 100, etc.). Franz Joseph Haydn’s Creation is another good example of an artistic display of the beauty of the original creation.

      6. Creation alone supplies us with a valid basis upon which to explain the origin, existence, function and diversification of color. The theory of evolution can never explain why a black cow will eat green grass and produce white milk. The Christian knows that color is here in all of its diversification simply because God likes color.

    2. Beauty is ultimately in the eye of the Beholder - God the Creator. God Himself is the original artist who is the aesthetic pattern for man who was created in God’s image. There is an aesthetic aspect to God’s being and work.
      1. When we look at the world of color and form which God created (such as a beautiful sunset), we must confess that God is the great Painter.

      2. When we examine the shape of the mountains, the different forms of animal and plant life, and the human body, we know that God is the great Sculptor.

      3. When we read in the Scripture that God surrounds Himself with angelic choirs and the songs of redeemed sinners, that the angelic choirs sang their heavenly music at the birth of Christ, that the stars sing for joy, that God made musical instruments in heaven to be played continuously before Him, and that God has commanded men to worship Him through music, we know that He is the great Musician (Rev. 5:8; 14:1-3; Luke 2:13, 14; Job 38:7; Ps. 30:4; 33:3).

      4. When we examine the literary forms within Scripture, we find beautiful poetry, prayer, prose, praise and proclamation. Thus we must confess that God is the great Poet and Writer.

    3. Art is not for art’s sake. Art ultimately exists for God’s glory for He is here and is not silent. Thus the bird singing in the forest where no human ear can hear is still beautiful because God hears it. The desert flower which no human eye has ever seen is still beautiful because God sees it.

  2. In view of the fall

    1. The biblical account of the fall supplies us with the only valid way to understand the origin and existence of ugliness, evil, pain, suffering, chaos, war, death, sorrow, etc. What is now is not what originally was.

    2. The aesthetic aspect of the image of God in man was corrupted by man’s fall into sin, for the fall polluted every aspect of man’s being. Man’s aesthetic abilities are now used against God instead of for God. Thus we find the rise of apostate art which finds its climax in idolatry where the art object is worshiped as God. Idolatry reveals that man now worships the creature instead of the Creator (Rom. 1:18-25).

    3. Christian art should, at times, reflect the ugliness and the death of man which sin causes. It should reveal the misery, agony, and pain of hell. It should point to the ultimate despair of a life without God. Christian art should portray the horror of hopeless sinners in the past who were the recipients of the great judgments of God against sin. Example: the flood.

    4. Christian art should supply the mediums through which the people of God can express their own despair, conviction of sin, confusion, pain, discouragement, etc. We need “songs in the night,” songs when loved ones die, songs of confession of sin. The psalms give us many examples of this kind of art (Ps. 51, etc.)

    5. The Christian artist should aesthetically surpass the pessimistic existentialist artist when it comes to portraying the despair, ugliness and hopelessness of man. The doctrine of total depravity as taught in such places as Ephesians 2:1-3, 12 is more realistic and frightening than anything the humanists can come up with. We need aesthetically to confront man with the ugliness and horror of his rebellion against God and with the reality of divine judgment against sin.

  3. In view of redemption
    1. We are to reclaim every square inch of this world for Christ. Every thought and talent is to be redeemed unto God’s glory for all of life is to be lived for Him (I Cor. 10:31; II Cor. 10:5). All of culture is to be conquered for Christ. Even though sin makes it impossible to attain total perfection in this life, Christians are given the Spirit of God to execute this mandate as much as possible in all of culture. When Jesus returns and creates a new earth, then the redeemed will fulfill the original mandate given to Adam. Our wildest dreams cannot comprehend the wondrous art which shall be produced by the glorified saints in the eternal state.

    2. Redemption supplies us with the only valid basis for Christians going into the arts, for it is through Christ alone that we can escape from apostate art. Redeemed sinners respond aesthetically to God because the image of God is renewed within them (Eph. 4:24; 5:18, 19). The arts should be viewed as:
      1. The saints at worship, praise, rest, recreation, prayer, confession of sin, etc. (Ps. 19; 23; 51; 90; 100).
      2. The saints’ obedience to the culture mandate (Gen. 1:28).
      3. The saints’ stewardship of God-given talents (Matt. 25:14-30).
      4. The saints’ obedience to the mission mandate (Matt. 28:19, 20).

    3. Christian art should at times reflect the great moments in the history of redemption, the thanks, prayer, and praise of redeemed sinners, and the saints’ desire for the lost to be saved. Again, many of David’s psalms are artistic expressions of thankfulness to God for salvation (Ps. 103, etc.).

    4. From the standpoint of redemption, Christian art should at times reveal the following:

      1. God is there and is not silent.<br>
      2. There is hope, love, meaning, truth, etc.
      3. The beauty and dignity of Christ.
      4. There is order behind the chaos of life. God is still in control.
      5. The beauty that will be in the new creation.
      6. That the good will ultimately triumph over the evil.
      7. That the righteous will be vindicated.

    5. Christian artists engaged in evangelism should attempt to push sinners to despair in order to drive them to Christ. We should reveal both the ugliness of sin and the beauty of salvation. In this sense every artist is an evangelist to a lost, sick and dying world, for every Christian is scripturally called to evangelize his world for Christ.

    6. The Christian artist should be viewed as a prophet, priest and king to the people of God.

      1. As a prophet, he should convey the truth through his art.
      2. As a priest, he should lead God’s people in their worship of God through the arts.
      3. As a king, he should provide for the aesthetic needs of the people of God and protect them from apostate art which leads to idolatry.

    7. Perhaps it would be helpful to see that art has various functions. The following describes some of these functions. A given piece of art may have one, some, or all of these functions:

      1. “Cool” art: art aimed at creating a distinct mood, impression or emotion on those exposed to the art. Example: Psalm 150.
      2. “Hot” art: art aimed at communicating truth to the intellect. This can be called “message art.” Example: Psalm 1 and Proverbs.
      3. Reflective art: art which expresses and reflects the mood and emotional state of the artist. Example: Psalm 51.
      4. Aesthetic art: art aimed purely at the aesthetic sense of man. It is “beautiful” without being cool, hot or reflective. It is for entertainment purposes. This is art for beauty’s sake. Example: the art work in the tabernacle and temple (Exod. 25; II Chron. 3:6).
      5. Enrichment art, i.e., the “hidden art” of daily life: flower arrangements, table settings, attention to the selection of color of different foods, etc. This is art in which every home should be involved.

  4. Closing thoughts

    1. Is it proper to distinguish between secular and religious art?

      Answer: Yes/No. Yes, if you mean the distinction between art which portrays a biblical or “religious” event or scene and art which has a non-biblical subject as its focus. There is a difference between a picture showing the flood and one showing a country picnic.

      No, if you mean that only religious art is “Christian art.” Christian art is not restricted to events of biblical history, for the entire world is God’s world (Ps. 24).

      Also, all art is “religious” in the sense of being either apostate or God-glorifying. There is not any “secular” art in the sense of “neutral” art.


    2. Can a Christian artist do art to entertain people?

      Answer: We are to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. Entertainment and recreation are legitimate creature necessities and are, therefore, legitimate fields of work for the Christian. Those who are negative and suspicious of entertainment reveal a hidden strain of Platonic thinking.


    3. Should we judge a work of art on the basis of the life style of the artist?

      Answer: No, just as we can take a crooked stick and draw a straight line, even so wicked men can produce good art through common grace.


    4. Can a Christian artist do “cool,” reflective, or aesthetic art or must he restrict himself to portraying and conveying the gospel through “hot” art?

      Answer: The Christian is not restricted to any one particular function or form of art. A still life painting of a bowl of fruit is just as “Christian” as a painting of the crucifixion if it is done for God’s glory. The artist is not restricted to “hot” art.


    5. Is “good” art determined on the basis of the intent of the artist or on the amount of biblical truth it conveys?

      Answer: The quality of a work of art is not determined solely on the basis of the intent of the artist or the clarity of its message. A Christian artist can produce poor art even though he did it for God’s glory and tried to convey the gospel. The quality of art is determined by such aspects as Dr. Schaeffer has outlined in Art and the Bible or on what Dr. Kuyper has stated in his chapter on “Calvinism and Art” in Lectures on Calvinism. Schaeffer mentions the following criteria:

      1. Technical excellence
      2. Validity
      3. Intellectual content, the world view which comes through the art
      4. The integration of content and vehicle

This is an excerpt of Introduction to Defending the Faith by Robert Morey