Christ is Lord over the whole of life. He is “the King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Revelation 19:16). Listen to the glorious voices sing that out in Handel’s “Messiah.” Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984), one of the most significant Evangelical leaders in the last half of the twentieth century, insisted on this luminous truth throughout all of his ministry as a pastor, writer, teacher, preacher, social critic, apologist, evangelist and activist. Art is under the lordship of Christ. We should be artists for King Jesus, using our God-given creativity. God is the Creator, and we are sub-creators as creatures. As Francis Schaeffer wrote in Art and the Bible:
“To create and applaud art is part of what it means to be human. We develop and cultivate culture for God’s glory and the good of our neighbor (Genesis 1-2; Psalm 8). We can bring beauty into the world as professional artists or in any sphere of life.”
If this is true, how might leaders in Christ’s church, God’s people, rightly engage and appreciate the arts? Pastors can teach and preach on what the Bible says about art. A good starting point is Francis Schaeffer’s small, but profound book I’ve already mentioned, Art and the Bible. I will draw upon his work in this essay.
God directed His people to make the tabernacle and temple beautiful for worship. The art was not merely functional, but decorative as well, a fact that Schaeffer addresses in detail. It was pleasing to God and people, not only pragmatic. Human artifacts are meant to be enjoyed, not merely used. As Schaeffer wrote:
“A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God, not just as tracts, mind you, but as things of beauty to the praise of God. An art work can be a doxology in itself.”
God summoned and inspired an artist to work on His beautiful and symbolically rich tabernacle.
See, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship, to make artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze, and in the cutting of stones for settings, and in the carving of wood, that he may work in all kinds of craftsmanship (Exodus 31:2-5).
Because God has given artistic gifts, being an artist can be a divine calling just as much as any other vocation. Creating art is a way to love God and our neighbor. Pastors can encourage artists in their congregations to pursue their art as a holy vocation, not simply as a job or as a hobby. Perhaps a dedicated group of Christian artists could be formed out of members of the congregation for mutual encouragement and professional development.
The Bible itself is artistic. It is not a drab collection of facts. It is written in different and appropriate genres of literature, such as gospels, psalms, proverbs, parables, letters, apocalyptic literature and more. Some of the most majestic and wise prose ever written is found in the Bible. I am thinking particularly of the book of Ecclesiastes (especially in the King James translation) and Paul’s discourse on love in 1 Corinthians. These men could write! Jesus’ teaching in the Beatitudes is not only morally profound, but artistically beautiful, given its memorable symmetry and fitting repetition.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:3-5).
God Himself is beautiful and the source and standard for all beauty. God is supremely good and lovely and is thus worthy of our full worship and adoration. Consider two Psalms: “Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth” (Psalm 96:9). “From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth” (Psalm 50:2). Should this not challenge us to make our houses of worship places of beauty as well? Whether or not we follow a liturgical tradition, our churches can be pleasing to the eye and aesthetically hospitable to all who come. Too often, churches have a worn out and second-hand quality about them that can demoralize a congregation.
The Greek philosophers spoke of “the good, the true and the beautiful,” but it is only the Hebrew-Christian Scriptures that reveal the triune God as the epitome and foundation of all three. The one true God is alive—full of goodness, truth and beauty that will never end. The American theologian and philosopher Jonathan Edwards captures this well:
“For as God is infinitely the greatest Being, so he is allowed to be infinitely the most beautiful and excellent: and all the beauty to be found throughout the whole creation is but the reflection of the diffused beams of that Being who hath an infinite fullness of brightness and glory; God . . . is the foundation and fountain of all being and all beauty.”
Beauty is not an abstract ideal or a mere figment of human whims but emanates from, and is based on, the character of Almighty God Himself. God is the giver of all good gifts, including those of artistic enjoyment (James 1:17). We find much artistic and moral ugliness in this fallen world, but it does not have the last word. Christian art should recognize this deep reality even if no one else does or even if it cuts against the grain of a debased contemporary culture.
Christian leaders should encourage artists in their congregations to use their God-given talents to the uttermost, either as a full-time vocation or otherwise. These artists should not be considered second-class citizens in the church simply because they are not pastors, chaplains, church staff workers, employees at parachurch ministries or missionaries.
Christians, whether artists or not, should radiate the divine beauty as well. As Schaeffer wrote in Art and the Bible:
“No work of art is more important than the Christian’s own life, and every Christian is called upon to be an artist in this sense. He may have no gift of writing, no gift of composing or singing, but each man has the gift of creativity in terms of the way he lives his life. In this sense, the Christian’s life is to be an artwork. The Christian’s life is to be a thing of truth and also a thing of beauty in the midst of a lost and despairing world.“
As church leaders teach a Christian view of art and the value of the artist’s calling, God will be pleased, and the richness and beauty of the Christian worldview will be displayed before the watching world.