Art and the Gospel, part 2

It is important that we are not misled by a red herring that says that an emphasis on art in the Church is directly connected to a selfish and stingy heart. I know men who preach the Gospel out of selfish envy and vain conceit. I know men who collect books and study theology with visions of accolades and glory dancing through their heads (I confess my guilt). I know men (and have read of some) who give ostentatiously and sacrificially as Ananias and Sapphira did. I know men and women who have sacrificed much on the mission field, some of whom anticipate and long for the praise of men when they go in and out the door of the churches they visit. Don’t you dare think for a moment that because you are not prone to idolatry and selfishness in one area or that because you avoid one form of idolatry through the stifling of God-given talent that you avoid such sins altogether!

“Worship that is acceptable to God is self-abasing, not self exalting.” This is from Allen Ross’ Recalling the Hope of Glory. This statement rings true in all aspects of life, and there is a rightness about it that resonates within our hearts, (hopefully) humbling us as we read it. And then we see that the prayer of the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 was not an exercise in godliness, but a self-glorifying mantra bent on misconstruing one’s own self-image (and conversely robbing God of His glory). The art we produce as believers must not be guilty of such a charge. There certainly is something wrong with large productions within the Church which are bent on making man feel good about man. This can take the form of plays, sculptures, music… and outreach programs, missions (Matt. 23:15; Phil. 1:15), tithes (Matt. 6:1-4), and prayer. But the Church should and must be patrons of God-honoring, Christ-exalting art!

Jan van Eyck’s painting the Adoration of the Lamb is a wonderful example of such art. How rich the theological tones of the atonement which were beautifully stroked into this work! It is impossible for a believer to view such a painting without its vivid potrayal effectively etching a breathing theology into our heads! C. J. Mahaney once said that worship music was take-home theology for the Church to easily memorize. How true! Does not a van Eyck’s painting work to the same end? How destitute our churches are when it comes to beautiful stained-glass theology lessons! Art is not to our detriment but will aid in building the strength of the Church!

I have not yet delved into the idea of man as the image bearer of God. God is creative! He made the universe in fact! Man is to bear such an image with excellence in all his craftsmanship and works of dominion over creation.

Do not stifle such an opportunity in your churches, and yet do not let them run with reckless abandon. We must be guided by the Word of God, always checking our hearts to guard against the folly of idolatry which we are always so prone to wander into.

– Asa



Filed under Christian Theology, Culture

2 responses to “Art and the Gospel, part 2

  1. crandallbreland

    Asa. Well said. I have been moved by Ross’s “Recalling the Hope of Glory” myself. Although that book may not be your sole motivation toward such thoughts, I am glad to see you quoting him. Worship, for Israel, was rich with sobering and intense imagery, sounds, and smells. All of these aided the worshipper as he drew nearer to the presence of God. You mentioned this in the first part of this little series. I read a book about the Ascension that built its chapters around various paintings of the Ascension. Although our art does not direct our theology, I have to say that this book awakened more than just my intellectual senses and enabled me to visualize and imagine the ascension more fully than I ever had before. This ‘filling up’ of our imagination needs to be pursued in the church, and I think art paired with proclamation, can aid in this imagination and result in a greater edification for the body of Christ.

  2. noahbran

    Good post Asa. I think we can all agree that preaching, music, or prayer are subject to abuse just as much as art is.
    Most will also agree that art is to be used as a means of proclaiming the wonderful Gospel message and as expression of worship to our creative Creator. The question remains: How is art (specifically visual art) to be used in this way by the church? What can serve as some normative examples in the church where all come together in corprate worship of God through the gift of art?

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