Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Art For God's Sake

I subscribe to Chip Stam's Worship Quote of the Week, and this weeks quote made me stop and think. How do we view and understand the art?

There are many reasons why some churches have a negative view of the arts. Art trades in images, and images easily lend themselves to idolatry. Artists know this from their own experience. In their work they encounter the glory at the foundation of things, and they feel its power over the heart. . . .

Yet even Christians who are dismissive of art continue to use it. Doing so is inescapable. Every time we build a sanctuary, arrange furniture in a room, or produce a brochure, we are making artistic decisions. Even if we are not artists in our primary vocation, there is an inescapable artistic aspect to our daily experience. The question becomes, therefore, whether as Christians we will aspire to high aesthetic standards. All too often we settle for something that is functional, but not beautiful. We gravitate toward what is familiar, popular, or commercial, with little regard for the enduring values of artistic excellence. Sometimes what we produce can be describe only as KITSCH—tacky artwork of poor quality that appeals to low tastes. The average Christian bookstore is full of the stuff, as the real artist will tell us, if only we will listen.

Ultimately this kind of art dishonors God because it is not in keeping with the truth and beauty of his character. It also undermines the church's gospel message of salvation in Christ. Art has tremendous power to shape culture and touch the human heart. Its artifacts embody the ideas and desires of the coming generation. This means that what is happening in the arts today is prophetic of what will happen in our culture tomorrow. It also means that when Christians abandon the artistic community, we lose a significant opportunity to communicate Christ to our culture. Furthermore, when we settle for trivial expressions of the truth in worship and art, we ourselves are diminished, as we suffer a loss of transcendence. What we need to recover (or possibly discover for the first time) is a full biblical understanding of the arts—not for art's sake, but for God's sake. Then we will be able to produce better art that more effectively testifies to the truth about God and his grace. This goal is important and not just for artists, but for everyone else made in God's image and in need of redemption.

—Philip Graham Ryken, ART FOR GOD'S SAKE: A CALL TO RECOVER THE ARTS. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006, p. 11, 13-14. ISBN10: 1-59638-007-1. The author looks at a biblical view of art by examining Exodus 31 where God calls Bezalel and Oholiab as artists to work on the tabernacle.
I hope you have a different perspective on that "artwork" hanging in your church.

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