Art and the Gospel

The following post is by contributor Asa Hart

Of late, I have been taking an interest in Sojourn Community Church here in Louisville.  I have been quite taken by the artistic thrust which the church puts forward.  This emphasis has not only caught my attention, but the whole city!  As I was inviting my barber to church the other day, she had heard of Sojourn’s artistic bent as well.  She was dying to see what was going on there!  However, it seems that not everyone shares my excitement on the issue of art.  After my visit, I came home and recounted the experience to my roommate.  Given that we are both wanna-be theologians who have no dates, we spent the evening in a theological discussion over the matter.

The position which I maintain is that art is not simply a cosmetic luxury for the church, but a necessary avenue of worship (for the community and not for the artist alone) and a testimony of the Gospel.  My roommate’s position is not that art is wrong, but that spending resources and time on art rather than on preaching and missions is wrong.  My roommate, who in fairness should be allowed to present his argument (open invitation), holds that all the endeavors of the Church should find their end in Gospel proclamation.  I completely agree with this last point, but I hold that the avenues in which we proclaim the Gospel should not be restricted to the pulpit and the tongue, not that these avenues should be abated by any means (I hate that Francis of Assissi quote which everyone seems to be convinced is canon).  Art influences the mind and sparks the tongue into discussion.  If you disagree with me, let us view the effect of movies on culture. 

Dostoevsky pointed out that at first art reflects and mimics life, but eventually life will reflect and mimic art.  The cycle closes out with life deriving its very meaning for existence from art.  Observe this pattern in the role Hollywood played in the normalization of homosexuality.  Homosexuality was once whispered in movies.  Before long it was winked at in jokes and spoofs, and now it is celebrated openly.  Here’s a scary thought – the last year’s movies have introduced a new moral low to maintain something of the shock value (beastiality, child rape, etc.) which can no longer be achieved through blatant homosexual overtones.  If the end result of humanism is depression and nihilism (as per Francis Schaeffer), is it any wonder that recent movies have come to this conclusion before our culture has (i.e. No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, The Dark Night)?

Art is not only paintings, sculptures, and songs but also the architecture, writings, and furniture of a given culture or community.  Art conveys the views and the message of the Church.  Frankie Schaeffer claimed that the lack of ornate architecture and the presence of “vomit colored carpet” served as his reasons for leaving the Protestant Church.  According to Schaeffer, these shortcomings are reflective of shallow theology and an overemphasis upon the immanence of God.  Touche’! 

What are your views of Art and the Gospel?  More to come on this one in the future…

-Asa

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Art and the Gospel

  1. Noah

    A few thoughts concerning how the Gospel and art interact…

    Upon reading this post I was challenged to think about an issue that does not enter my realm of thought much, art. As most know, I am a practical guy who observes most objects in my life from a standpoint of utility and I don’t mind the vomit carpet as long as it gets the job done. I am, however, fortunate enough to have a roommate who balances me out, sort of like Asa’s but prettier (no offense Brad). That said, though I am struggling to understand God’s full use of creativity through the arts it is clear that we have a beautiful and creative God. In Scripture we see a God who uses such works as Creation and the tabernacle to reveal Himself to mankind. But chief among these artistic renderings is the Word of God. Without going into a long disection of verses I will suffice to say that the Word is God’s primary means of relating to one another, and such creations as pictures and music are supplementary but play important roles. With Jesus Christ as the beautiful image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3) and His pinnacle description being the very Word of God we see a complete picture of the Gospel and God’s relation to mankind.
    Now if I were to ask myself the question of whether or not I would want art, minus the spoken word, in a place of emphasis in say, Kenwood Baptist Church, I would say yes to the degree that it clearly conveys the truth of the Creator. I would also point out that the question of time and resources going towards art to proclaim the Gospel is a silly question because it is only in a wealthy nation that one would care about such petty things as furniture and carpet. Responsibility and neatness is one thing, but not to be taken too far. For most of the Believers throughout history the luxury of asking this question is nonexistent. The meeting together is what is important, not the building. The enjoyment of God and not the stimulation of lights. I love the thought of paintings and sculptures to convey the Gospel truth of God’s Word, but beware lest we have too much time and money to dress up an ornate structure or buy specific furniture to convey a message, for then we are in danger of misplaced priorities. I believe good theology will produce responsible and creative people, but if I had had to choose where to put my money, lets just say I would not be a regular attender at the Sistine Chapel.

    One last thing to note would be that it is no surprise protestantism as a whole would shy away from art exposure since the Roman Catholic Church had raised icons and architecture to such an ungodly prominence.

  2. asadawg

    I would like to point out (along with Allen Ross in Recalling the Hope of Glory) the Israelites ornate artistry involved in the crafting of the temple and tabernacle as well as the articles of worship. Gospel proclamation is important, but in the same way the Gospel transforms our lives and morality, it should transform our tastes, creativity, and craftsmanship.

    Now if we can agree that music is art, and that music is useful in worship, why then would we discriminate between music artists and other artists? Are musicians the only artists who can use their creativity for worship in the Church and Gospel proclamation? Certainly, musicians were present in the temple worship of Israel… so was artistry and craftsmanship. Why is it that you would not be a regular attender at the Sistine Chapel? Why do you prefer to spend your money on a guy with a guitar and not a guy with a chisel? I’m not saying that everyone should have both… I’m just saying that such discrimination is not legitimate. I highly value music and hymns in the Church and think that music should be preserved in the Church at all costs… but if we have the opportunity to invite the community to worship through other medium then we should. If we can proclaim the Gospel through more than just tongue and song, then we should as well.

    -Asa

  3. Josh Philpot

    I think that this comment by Martin Luther contributes:

    “When man’s natural musical ability is whetted and polished to the extent that it becomes an art, then do we note with great surprise the great and perfect wisdom of God in music, which is, after all, His product and His gift; we marvel when we hear music in which one voice sings a simple melody, while three, four, or five other voices play and trip lustily around the voice that sings its simple melody and adorn this simple melody wonderfully with artistic musical effects, thus reminding us of a heavenly dance, where all meet in a spirit of friendliness, caress and embrace. A person who gives this some thought and yet does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs.” (Martin Luther, 1538, in his foreword to a collection of chorale motets)

    I would like to post more on this topic, but I think that I’m out of time for the day. Maybe more can be said later!

    – Josh

  4. Noah

    Both comments are good insights…I think I can say with confidence that the Bible places music in a place of honor in the fact that there are multiple commands in Scripture from singing a new song to the Lord (the Psalms) to speaking to one another in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Eph 5). I am not aware of any other place in Scripture, save the tabernacle in Exodus, where God’s people were commanded to “use the chisel”. I say this only to differentiate between music and other art concerning roles in the church. I do completely agree that using other forms of art are enriching and useful, and I am curious how one would go about implmenting that in the church assembly. Not having been to sojourn myself some examples might help me wrap my mind around it more. I could put up some money for the guy with the chisel, but most art that I have beheld came with a price tag more than I am even willing to pay the guitarist.

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