The Place of Art in the Christian Life
Dear LifeSharers, April 2014
“What is the place of art in the Christian life?” That’s the question the late Presbyterian apologist Francis Schaeffer sought to answer in his 1973 book, Art and the Bible. It was just a little book (less than a hundred pages) but it was really helpful to me. Here’s the basic element of Schaeffer’s answer. “As evangelical Christians, we have tended to relegate art to the very fringe of life… Despite our constant talk about the lordship of Christ, we have narrowed its scope to a very small area of reality. We have misunderstood the concept of the lordship of Christ over the whole man and the whole of the universe and have not taken to us the riches that the Bible gives us for ourselves…and for our culture.”
Becoming a Christian brings us to God. But it also brings us back to being fully human, to be the persons God intended us to be. And art, beauty, creativity, significance, sharing -- these are all a part of that original (and rejuvenated) humanness. The Lord made us to be makers. He designed us (fearfully and wonderfully) to be designers. Remember, God placed Adam in the midst of creation not only to tame and organize it but also to enrich and beautify it.
However, also inside us is the God-given ability to appreciate the artistic creations of others. It wasn’t good for Adam to be alone. The Triune God placed man into a relationship, one that involved love and teamwork. Thus, we are not to be egocentric about matters of art. Some persons write poetry. Others play the piano. Some tend to their flower garden while still others paint pictures, dance, work in wood or clay or leather, etc. But whatever artistry we do as individuals, we are all gifted by God to humbly, unselfishly appreciate the creativity of others.
Now the apostle Paul has an important comment to add about this matter. He writes in Philippians 4:8 that believers are to dwell on those things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent and praiseworthy. This doesn’t only involve Bible study or meditating on the virtues of God. It is all of life. Including art…relationships…your job…your entertainment choices. Living as a restored human, a new creature in Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit and bringing your whole lifestyle under His lordship, will make a world of difference. And make no mistake, it will certainly set you apart from the world. You will be that peculiar people, that royal priesthood, that salt and light that you are supposed to be.
Claire and I have a deep appreciation for the arts. For instance, we have an awful lot of art in our home. We have several original paintings by Carol Coppi and Leonard Johnson as well as a few from Jacki Newell, all excellent artists who we are honored to have as good friends. We also have some prints of paintings by the same people and from the American realist painter, Edward Hopper. We have paintings I’ve picked up from street artists in Moscow and Warsaw, a Civil War quilt made by Sunny Everett (another friend) which is alternately draped over our couch or the wooden railing leading up to the living room, and decorative items I’ve bought in Calcutta, London, Ougadougou, Krakow, Minsk, and other places. There are, in fact, many beautiful things in our home -- not expensive things but deeply treasured nonetheless. And the art that explodes here at the Christmas season? That’s another story altogether!
But these decorations are not the only art that enriches our lives. There are the old record albums which contain the great music of Western civilization: Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Frankie Valli & the 4 Seasons. Our library, though full of history and theology and other non-fiction genres, also contains hundreds of volumes of “fine art” -- novels, plays, collections of poetry. We also enjoy the dramatic arts immensely, particularly old movies and programs from radio’s Golden Age.
Now, I’m afraid that when it comes to individual art skills, neither of us score very high. We do not play a musical instrument, sing, paint, dance, knit, scrapbook, whittle, or build anything. Claire does sew, cook and work with flowers and she does all of those things very well. In fact, on those rare occasions when she has time, she’s artistic enough to make very pretty headbands and bracelets. Me? I write a bit. But again, when it comes to appreciating art and beauty made by others, we’re as solid as they come.
Looking back through the long years of Vital Signs Ministries, one can find many artistic evidences as well. Early on there was Barb Malek’s drama, “Voices of Ramah.” There was that Christmas Celebration where the ancient Saint Nicholas showed up to give the evening sermon. There were the annual radio broadcasts of “The Christmas of the Talking Animals.” I suppose, there was even a certain amount of artistry in the “Vital Signs” radio programs themselves. There are the one-act pro-life plays distributed through print and cyberspace and which are still available on the VSM website. And serving as writer and narrator for Patrice Kabore’s film about Colonel Saye Zerbo, former President of Burkina Faso, makes the arts category too.
There was certainly artistry involved in the campaign against Methodist Hospital which led to the huge national success of The Pastor’s Protest Against Abortion. Music and crafts were a big part of our many years of service to the residents of Mercy Care Center and Immanuel Fontenelle nursing home. We also have been aware of form as well as function in the design of our literature booth, our cyberspace sites, and the new greeting cards we’re using for correspondence -- cards that feature our photographs of our flowers. And I mustn’t forget that Vital Signs has the most colorful, winsome signs and banners of any pro-life activists in the country. We want our signs to be an effective complement to our sidewalk counseling and other public witness. And thanks to Pat Osborne, that’s been the case for over 30 years. Oh yes, one other thing I shouldn’t leave out. There is now the music, photographs, and narration which make up our 23 volumes of “When Swing Was King.” That’s probably our favorite of all.
Yes, Vital Signs is very passionate about truth. And about life and love and joy. But we are passionate about beauty too. All of these, in fact, are inseparable because they are all expressions of the Triune God. And it is only as we reflect them all, consistently and at the same time, will we be demonstrating the lordship of Jesus Christ and have the chance to re-build a culture of life here in the West. Thank you so much for partnering with us in this great challenge.