Category Archives: music

“Death Has Lost Its Sting” by Sojourn


The War of Art

I appreciate this from Steven Pressfield in The War of Art

“The following is a list, in no particular order, of those activities that most commonly elicit Resistance:

1) The pursuit of any calling in writing, painting, music, film, dance, or any creative art, however marginal or unconventional.

2) The launching of any entrepreneurial venture or enterprise, for profit or otherwise.

3) Any diet or health regimen.

4) Any program of spiritual advancement.

5) Any activity who aim is tighter abdominals.

6) Any course or program designed to overcome an unwholesome habit or addiction.

7) Education of every kind.

8) Any act of political, moral, or ethical courage, including the decision to change for the better some unworthy pattern of thought or conduct in ourselves.

9) The Undertaking of any enterprise or endeavor whose aim is to help others.

10) Any act that entails commitment of the heart. The decision to get married, to have a child, to weather a rocky patch in a relationship.

11) The taking of any principled stand in the face of adversity.

In other words, any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity. Or, expressed another way, any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower. Any of these will elicit Resistance.” 

Continue reading


Why Do We Sing In Church? [Part 3]

Singing

Singing Cultivates a Heart of Thanksgiving

“And be thankful… singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. [17] And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:15-17).

“Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:19-20)

Another element of singing is thanksgiving. We sing to one another making melody to the Lord in our hearts (not just in our ears), giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:19b-20 cf. Col. 3:16).As we sing rich theological songs we come to see the glories that God has brought to us through Jesus and the regenerating work of the Spirit.

As we sing songs of praise to the Lord the song we make with our hearts is more important than the sound we make with our voices. Singing teaches and transforms us as we thank God for who He is and all He has done. As we thank God for who He is it serves a dual purpose, it also reminds us, we are so prone to forget (and thus, as the song says, “prone to wonder”). As we tell God that He is worthy we ourselves are reminded afresh that God is worthy.

Many of us sadly have a very shallow view of God. In the words of William Lane Craig, we have “a defective concept of God.” We sometimes view God

“as sort of a big chap up there and we appreciate him and we look up to him and so forth, but I think we don’t really understand why we worship God which is to adore God as the supreme good… He is the highest good. He is the paradigm of goodness. That is to say, God’s nature defines what goodness is. It is not as though God lives up to some external standard and does a good job at being good. He is goodness itself. Therefore, he is to be worshiped and adored because he is the highest good.”[i]

So we see that “worship is an active response to God whereby we declare His worth. Worship is not passive, but is participative. Worship is not simply a mood; it is a response. Worship is not just a feeling; it is a declaration.”[ii] That’s in part why were told to make a joyful noise to the LORD, even when we don’t feel like it (Ps. 66:1; 81:1; 95:1, 2; 98:4, 6; 100:1). “Praise Him for His mighty deeds; praise Him according to His excellent greatness! Praise Him with trumpet sound; praise Him with lute and harp!” (Ps. 150:2-3).

We sing because we are thankful (Eph. 5:19b-20) even in the midst of suffering (see Acts 16:25). We do not merely work ourselves up into a frenzy but are moved into orderly worship by the Spirit as we have the eyes of our hearts enlightened (cf. Eph. 1:15-23). Again, we sing with our spirit, but we sing with our mind also (1 Cor. 14:15). Notice that when we look at the book of Nehemiah we see that revival came to God’s people in part through understanding the Scriptures and a retelling of God’s abundant grace to His people (Neh. 8:1ff).

When we sing songs to God we are not just thinking. We are not just singing for the sake of singing or just edifying each other. We are recounting God’s truth and goodness and being moved anew to thanksgiving (cf. Ps. 78). We are declaring God’s worth.

God is worthy not just of songs about Him, but songs of praise to Him.[iii] We may sing country songs, pop songs, etc. but those songs do not consciously praise anyone or anything. As we sing songs of praise we are consciously praising God, realizing He alone is worthy. We are purposely thanking God for all He is and has done. So, even when we don’t feel like it, we should still sing songs of hearty praise to the LORD. He is worthy!

Conclusion
So, what are some goals we have for our singing? We strive to build each other up (1 Cor. 14:26), be filled with God’s Word (Col. 3:16), be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18ff), be a testimony to an unbelieving world (1 Cor. 14:24-15), and gives thanks to God for all He is and has done for us (Eph. 5:20). It is our joy to sing but we are also commanded to sing (cf. Ps. 100:1-2). Singing is serious. So, let’s do as Psalm 47:6 says:

“Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!”

_______________

[i] Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/what-is-worship#ixzz3pnGBNLGy.

[ii] Ronald Allen and Gordan Borror, Worship, Rediscovering the Missing Jewel [Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1982], 16.

[iii] “Since God is neither an a-personal truth…, contemplation is not appropriate as a way of relating to God. Adoration is. To adore God is not simply to behold the truth in a disinterested way, but to affirm one’s allegiance to God by praising God for his deeds in creation and redemption” (“Reflections on a Christian way of Being-in-the-World,” 209. Italics mine).


Why Do We Sing In Church? [Part 2]

Singing

Singing Transforms Us

“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,… Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,… singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Col. 3:15-16).

 “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Eph. 5:18-19).

God uses singing to transform us because when we sing God’s truth the Word of Christ dwells in us richly. When we exalt Christ and God’s truth in song we teach ourselves what to desire. We see the glory of Christ and the Spirit tunes our hearts to sing God’s praise. Intentional singing (not haphazard but meditative and prayerful) leads to being transformed by the renewal of our mind (cf. Rom. 12:1-2; notice we offer up our bodies so we see cognition, violation, and emotion all involved in songs of worship and a life of worship). We behold Christ and are thus slowly transformed into His image (2 Cor. 3:18; Col. 3:10). We are sanctified by the word of Christ, as we sing of Christ (Jn. 17:17).

Jesus reasons with us in Matthew 6:19-24 about desire. He shows that what is in our best interest, i.e. what we should desire, is laying up treasure in heaven. He tells us specifically in verse 21 that what we desire, i.e. “treasure,” will bring the rest of us along (i.e. “heart”). Our battle is thus the battle of treasuring, desiring. It is clear then that right and good worship is vital because it exalts and holds before us our chief end. Songs of worship are teleological teachers. If our worship has as its object the wrong thing we will thus go wrong in innumerable ways (cf. Rom. 1:18-32).

“Our chosen actions are always the result of deeply held beliefs about the truest and most beautiful sources of life.”[i] So we see that “Worship is a battle—the battle of two lovers. To worship our Worthy Groom we have to put off the mindset of the flesh that conforms us to the world ruled by the False Seducer. We have to put on the mindset of the Spirit by being transformed through renewing our minds, our inner rational control center of images and ideas about the source of life.”[ii] And so we sing. We remind ourselves, sing to ourselves, and others, that God alone is worthy. Notice also that it is not just the Christian that worships, all people do. And all people have things—whether music, movies, or some other form of media—that holds before them and glorifies their chief end of life (e.g. the gangster has a certain type of rap music that glorifies their view of the good life).

Keeping our chief end in view, or the correct biblically informed chief end in view, is difficult. Truly, in the world we live in

“There is a ‘downward pressure’ continually in operation, which seeks to take that which is penultimate, and make it ultimate… The antidote to such ‘downward pressure’ is the continual eschatological emphasis of word and sacrament, of prayer and praise, and of koinonia [fellowship] lived in the present in light of the age to come.”[iii]

Thus we must focus on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (see Phil. 4:8).[iv] We must keep “the good,” the true good—God and His truth ever before us.[v]

We need deep and substantive reflection and celebration. We need to work at fostering worship of the one true God. John Piper rightly says,

“It is… superior satisfaction in future grace that breaks the power of lust [or addiction, etc.]. With all eternity hanging in the balance, we fight the fight of faith. Our chief enemy is the lie that says sin will make our future happier. Our chief weapon is the truth that says God will make our future happier… We must fight [our sin] with a massive promise of superior happiness. We must swallow up the little flicker of lust’s pleasure in the conflagration of holy satisfaction.”[vi]

Where do we turn for this? “The role of God’s Word is to feed faith’s appetite for God. And, in doing this, it weans [our] heart away from the deceptive taste of [temptation].”[vii] Therefore, we must feast on Scripture. And singing is an especially useful tool to help the word of Christ dwell in us richly (Col. 3:16). Singing songs and hymns and spiritual songs in Christian community is very important because, as C.S. Lewis said, “What is concrete but immaterial can be kept in view only by painful effort.”[viii] We need each other and we need music to shake us awake to unseen realities. That’s why we’re told—commanded even when we don’t feel like it—to make a joyful noise to the LORD (Ps. 66:1; 81:1; 95:1, 2; 98:4, 6; 100:1),[ix] even at times using clashing cymbals (Ps. 150:5).

We’re told to sing because when we sing with our voice our whole body, and I would argue, our whole self (i.e. our heart) reverberates with the truth of what we sing. When we sing lyrics, whether good or bad, they get into us and shape us. We are essentially preaching to ourselves, teaching ourselves, telling our self what we should desire, we are holding up a vision of prospering and “the good.”[x] If we are driving down the highway listening to Taylor Swift, Blink 182, or Eminem it has a very real potential to shape us. We, at least, very often, internalize what we are singing. We imagine and feel not only the rhythm and tone but what the whole artistic message is putting forth. Music shapes us by implanting seeds of desire.

We are to be filled with the Spirit, instead of being drunk with alcohol or high on drugs, in part through singing (Eph. 5:15-20).[xi] We sing because it is the means and the fruit of being indwelled by the Spirit and it is the means and the fruit of having the peace of Christ rule in our hearts (see Eph. 5:17-21; Col. 3:15-17). Thus,

“Worship is one of the most transforming activities for us to engage in as Christians… When we become duly impressed with God our lives change because the things that matter to us change. We no longer want some of the things we previously desired. An overridding and overwelming passion for God himself, God’s people, and God’s kingdom purposes in this world replace those desires. True worship happens when we get a glimpse of God–who he is and what he is about–and just stand there in awe of him, being impressed and transformed down to the very depths of our being by the magnificent vision of the glory of our heavenly Father.”[xii]

Truly, we must use a collaboration of means to remind ourselves that it is the LORD God, the Maker of heaven and earth, alone that can meet our every need. We must use good songs, good stories, the Bible, Christian community, logic, etc. to stir up our (correct) desires for the LORD and all the good He is and has for us. We must take care least there be an unworthy thought in our heart (Deut. 15:9). We must pursue things that bring light and life and reject what is rank in ruin and worthlessness (see e.g. Ps. 101).

Truly, wherever our treasure (i.e. desire, view of “the good,” or our view of the good life) is, our heart (“heart” in Scripture has to do with our whole self; cognition, volition, emotions) will be also (Matt. 6:21; Lk. 12:34).[xiii] Thus, we must work at fostering worship of the one true God. That is why we sing. It holds the goodness of God before us. It transforms us.

“Ever singing, march we onward,
victors in the midst of strife;
joyful music leads us sunward,
in the triumph song of life.”[xiv]

_________________

[i] Robert W. Kellermen, Soul Physicians, 191.

[ii] Ibid., 188.

[iii] Doe, Created for Worship, 236.

[iv] Cf. Payne, The Healing Presence, 140.

[v] In Aristotle’s terms our view of “the good” is reshaped by knowledge. Aristotle says, “All knowledge and every choice have some good as the object of their longing” (1095a14 Page 4 for in Aristotle’s Nicomachean EthicsTrans. Robert C. Bartlett and Susan D. Collins [The University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 2011]). “Aristotle famously argues that all human beings do everything for the sake of what seems or is held to be good” (Ibid., 309). Augustine used the term summum bonum, “supreme good.” It took him years of searching to find it but when he found the summum bonum he said “you made us for yourself and our hearts our find no peace until they rest in you” (Augustine, Confessions, 21).And, in catechismal terms, if our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever (From the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism). it will necessarily have a specific impact on our lives. That is just the way we are as humans. We all, without exception, live towards our chief end, our view of the “good life.” However, this is messy, there are many things and ideas which vie for this place. Thus the importance of “knowledge” rightly directed (i.e. wisdom), “worship,” and “practice;” all of which inform, play off, and undergird the others. Romans 12:2 says that we are transformed by the renewal of our minds, and so we are. However, what we do with our bodies is also important. Notice that in Romans 12:1 we are told to present our bodies as living sacrifices. As humans transformation through practices of mind and body are not mutually exclusive. Rather, what we do with our mind and what we do with our body are closely linked together and have a continual corresponding effect on the other (cf. Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, 647 and John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans, 321).

[vi] Piper, Future Grace, 336.

[vii] Ibid., 335.

[viii] C.S. Lewis, Letter to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1963), 114.

[ix] “Worship isn’t merely a yes to the God who saves, but also a resounding and furious no to lies that echo in the mountains around us. The church gathers like exiles and pilgrims, collected out of a world that isn’t our home, and looks hopefully toward a future. Our songs and prayers are a foretaste of that future, and even as we practice them, they shape us for our future home” (Mike Cosper, Rhythms of Grace: How the Church’s Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel [Wheaton: Crossway, 2013] 104).

[x] “Music gets ‘in’ us in ways that other forms of discourse rarely do. A song gets absorbed into our imagination in a way that mere texts rarely do… Song seems to have a privileged channel to our imagination, to our kardia, because it involves our body in a unique way… Perhaps it is by hymns, songs, and choruses that the word of Christ ‘dwells in us richly’” (Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 171).

[xi] “At the conclusion of a passage warning against irrationality and sins of flesh—Paul urges singing and music making… Augustine says: ‘Irrationality is bad. Sensuality is bad. Therefore, be careful about music.’ Paul on the other hand says, ‘Foolishness is bad. Sensuality is bad. Therefore, you had better sing’” (Steven R. Guthrie, “Singing, In the Body and In the Spirit,” 638).

[xii] Richard E. Averbeck, “Spirit, Community, and Mission: A Biblical Theology for Spiritual Formation,” 38 in the Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care).  I think Eph. 5:17-21 is noteworthy here. See also “Singing, in the Body and in the Spirit” by Steven R. Guthrie in JETS and “Being the Fullness of God in Christ by the Spirit” by Timothy G. Gombis in Tyndale Bulletin. 

[xiii] “Disordered action is a reflection and fruit of disordered desire” (Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 177)

[xiv] “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.”


Why Do We Sing In Church? [Part 1]

 

Introduction
A lot of times we find it hard to engage in singing at church. There are a lot of things to distract us: funny unfamiliar phrases, me singing off-key in front of you, and a thousand other things. Why sing? Why purposely engage in worship?

Singing at Sunday gatherings is basically one-third of what we do. Why do we do it? Why does so much time go into singing? Why have a worship team? Why should so many dedicate so much time so that we can sing songs? There are a lot of reasons. We will only look at three below; the three “T’s” of singing within the church. Singing teaches us, transforms us, and helps us cultivate a heart of thanksgiving.

Singing Teaches Us

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Col. 3:16).

“Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Eph. 5:19).

Singing teaches us. But how? First, what is singing and what is music? Dicionary.com says singing is “to utter words or sounds in succession with musical modulations of the voice; vocalize melodically.” Music is “an art of sound in time that expresses ideas and emotions in significant forms through the elements of rhythm, melody, harmony, and color.”[i] So, singing can “expresses ideas and emotion” in a unique way. In a way that informational teaching cannot. I can teach on the fact that God sent His Son to die for us but singing that same truth will impact us diffrently. Take these lines for example:[ii]

“And when I think that God, his Son not sparing,
Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in,
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.”[iii]

Singing and music hold the glories of Christ before us in a unique and powerful way.

Singing is a form of communicating ideas and emotions with voice and tune. Music is a gift. Music has the distinct ability to focus truth with laser precision. Music in Scripture is thus rightly placed in the same category as other speech gifts (see 1 Cor. 14:15, 26).

It is widely known that music has a special ability to affect people emotionally. It can help men march into war or weep at a funeral. Music is a powerful and precious gift but should not be wrongly used to stir peoples’ emotions up. That is, we desire the Spirit to move and transform people by the content of the song, not merely by the contours of the song. We are to sing praise with our spirit, and our mind also (1 Cor. 14:15). So it’s important that when people are moved in Christian worship that they “be moved by the impact of the truth on the mind and conscience. Any attempt to bypass these is both wrong and dangerous.”[iv]

1 Corinthians 14:26 tells us that “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” So when we “come together” we have “a hymn” for the purpose of “building up” each other. Thus, one of the reasons we sing and play various instruments is for the purpose of building each other up.

The “word of Christ dwells in us richly” not just through listening to preaching, talking with friends, or even through the memorization of scripture, but also through “singing” (Col. 3:16). Thabiti Anyabwile has said, “Singing is the moving van taking the Word of Christ into the temple of our lives.” Notice that when we sing more of our whole person is involved—our intellect, emotion, and violation. It should be our desire when we worship to involve as much of our self as we can. This may sound strange but I believe it is accurate.

We are physical people; we’re not just souls. We have bodies. So, I believe physical actions (see kinesthetic learning) are important while we sing. When you worship kneel, clap, raise your hands, bow your head, and even dance! We see precedence for these things in Scripture (Ps. 2:12; 47:1; 95:6; 134:1-2; 150:4). Of course, everything should be done “decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40).

We must consciously think hard about what the song is communicating (thus we use our mind/cognition; 1 Cor. 14:15). We should thus also be greatly impacted by it (emotions). And as we worship our violation should be actively engaged as well (both in short-term kinesthetic acts and by long-term acts of service like ministering to orphans and widows). That is, we should actively pray for God’s truth to impact us, we should actively contemplate why God’s truth is amazing, we should actively think about the emotional response we should have, and we should actively evaluate how our everyday life should be reshaped in light of God’s truth.

The question could be asked, “To whom do we sing? I thought that when we gather and sing together, we sing praise to God. So how is teaching part of our songs of worship? How does singing teach us?”

Perhaps surprisingly, we see from Scripture that there are two audiences. We sing to “one another” and we “make music in our hearts to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19). Music has both a horizontal and vertical element to it. Music has the function of edifying and transforming us from the inside out as we meditate on and proclaim God’s truth (cf. 17:17) and it also thanks God for who He is and what He has done.

As we sing praise to God we are also teaching our brothers and sisters (and even ourselves). As we sing in unison we are united in the teachings of the church. We are confessing truth. We are telling others of the gospel and the wonders of God. We are also internalizing God’s truth for ourselves. We are hiding God’s truth in our heart. We are letting Christ and His truth take up residence within us. We are teaching ourselves what to treasure and love.[v]

We give roughly one-third of our Sunday gatherings to singing songs of worship because singing these songs not only teaches but also transforms us. How does God use singing to transform us? …See Part Two

__________________

[i] Dictionary.com.

[ii] However, I do not mean that teaching is not important. Instead, I believe they compliment each other.

[iii] “How Great Thou Art.”

[iv] Noel Doe, Created For Worship, 235 see also Jonathan Edwards very important book Religious Affections. John Calvin said, “We should be very careful that our ears be not more attentive to the melody than our minds to the spiritual meaning of the words” (Institutes book III, 895).

[v] “Music gets ‘in’ us in ways that other forms of discourse rarely do. A song gets absorbed into our imagination in a way that mere texts rarely do… Song seems to have a privileged channel to our imagination, to our kardia, because it involves our body in a unique way… Perhaps it is by hymns, songs, and choruses that the word of Christ ‘dwells in us richly’” (Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 171).


A (Very) Brief History of Art and the Church [Part I]

christ-898330__340

The Christian Church has a long and varied heritage when it comes to art.[1] That being the case, it is instructive for us to briefly understand some of the issues involved. This will help us better grasp the Church’s present situation when it comes art.

Christians, at first, as a small unpopular and often persecuted group did not produce works of art that were distinctly Christian or had an impact on secular culture. Early Christian art mainly used pagan vocabulary to express Christian sentiment.[2] “Until roughly A.D. 200 most visual imagery was found in catacombs, the burial places (and sometime hiding places) of Christians.”[3]

“In the third century, as Christianity become more established, marble imagery appeared, though it continued to portray the same images used by the early Christians.”[4] However, the biggest change came with the conversion of Constantine the Great (in 312), the Roman Emperor, and the Edict of Milan (in 313) when Christianity was granted religious toleration within the Roman Empire. After the edict, Christians were free to publically display their faith through art and architecture. After this period we begin to see Christian art flourish.

By 574 we see amazing buildings with huge mosaics depicting scenes from the Old and New Testament  being dedicated (like San Vitale). The murals and mosaics were especially important because many people were illiterate and did not have Scripture in their language (e.g. the Mass was in Latin). Although, images were helpful in promoting worship some also saw the use of images as dangerous.

“Images, no matter how discretely chosen, come freighted with conscious or subliminal memories; no matter how limited their projected use, they burn indelible outlines into the mind… Images not only express convictions, they alter feelings and end up justifying convictions.”[5]

One of the dangerous, for some, was the veneration of icons. There are three stages in the development of icons. First, “As the emperor’s image represented the presence of the emperor, Christ’s image, or the image of a saint, came to serve as a kind of ‘proxy’ for their presence.”[6] These images assisted the veneration of the saints. Second, there was a rise in the use of imagery in private devotions. People began to go on pilgrimages to shrines or churches. “The third stage occurred at the end of the seventh century, when portraits or images of Christ and the saints began to appear as isolated frontal figures” and “by the beginning of the eighth century it had become common practice to venerate these images, which meant that honor paid to the image honored the person represented.”[7]

These developments brought controversy to the Church. “The practice in the East of venerating the image of Christ inevitably caused those accustomed to a more symbolic orientation to react. Christians who opposed the use of images in worship generally felt that these objects marginalized the work of Christ.”[8] In fact the controversy got so bad that in 730 Emperor Leo II destroyed the “images of Christ, his mother, and the saints.”[9]

Clearly then, the Church took art and the use of images in various forms very seriously.

“The icon… was much more than an aesthetic image to grace the church and stimulate holy thoughts. It was something that expressed deeply held theological convictions, and it was meant to move the viewer to love and serve God. In many respects, an icon was theology in a visual form, and the practice of making an icon itself represented a spiritual discipline.”[10]

However, did the Church cross the line of making idols that were so clearly and vehemently condemned by the prophets in the Old Testament (e.g. Is. 44:12-20)?

During the Early Renaissance, “a renewal in the arts was closely connected with reform movements that began springing up throughout western Europe.”[11] During this period many massive cathedrals were built (e.g. Salisbury Cathedral and Reims Cathedral).

“These great structures, which must have been extremely impressive amid the modest building around them, not only became the center of the social and religious life of the community but were actually intended to be a microcosm of the world. An image of the last judgment was frequently located over the central portal of the cathedral…, reminding those entering of God’s judgment, which was avoided only by eating the holy Eucharist. The space of the church represented the ‘ark of salvation.’ On either side of the portal were images of the prophets and apostles, on whose word rested the hope of God’s people.”[12]

During this period there were also seeds planted that would eventually rise up and challenge the extravagance of the Church and her art. We see this for example through the work of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic of Spain. For example, Francis and Dominic emphasized simplicity and mission.

Next, we will look at the impact of the Reformation on art within the Church. But at this point, it will be helpful for us to see what we can learn from what we have seen from history so far. So, here are a few questions to consider: 

  1. What are some dangerous to avoid when it comes to art and the church?
  2. What do you think about the extravagance of the church?
  3. What concerns should we have?
  4. What takeaways for our modern context of cinderblocks, cement, lights, and lasers?
  5. How did art serve the purpose of the early church?
  6. Can art still serve the purpose of the church? If so, how? 
  7. What should we be cautious of regarding art and the church?

__________________

[1] For a brief and interesting introduction see “The History of Liturgical Art.”

[2] William A. Dyrness, Visual Faith, 26.

[3] Dyrness, Visual Faith 26.

[4] Ibid., 27.

[5] Thomas Matthews, The Clash of the God, 11.

[6] Dyness, Visual Faith, 35.

[7] Ibid., 35.

[8] Ibid., 36.

[9] Ibid., 37.

[10] Ibid., 37.

[11] Ibid., 38.

[12] Ibid., 39-40.


What is Art?

So, what is art? That is a difficult question. Let’s look at some examples I’ve gathered. Art is…

…according to a dictionary:

The quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance

~dictionary.com 

…indefinable

You cannot define electricity. The same can be said of art. It is a kind of inner current in a human being, or something which needs no definition.

~Marcel Duchamp , French painter and sculptor

…imitation or creation

Art is the unceasing effort to compete with the beauty of flowers – and never succeeding.

~Marc Chagall, Russian-French artist

…creating beauty or harmony

Filling a space in a beautiful way. That’s what art means to me.

~Georgia O’Keefe, American painter

Art is harmony.

~Georges Seurat, French painter

…an expression of our innate desire to decorate

The intrinsic decorative urge should not be eradicated. It is one of humankinds deep-rooted primordial urges. Primitive people decorated their implements and cult objects with a desire to beautify and enhance… it is a sense emanating from the urge for perfection and creative accomplishment.

~Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Swiss multi-media, applied arts, performance artist, and textile designer

…something that reveals the essential or hidden truth

Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.

~Paul Klee, Swiss painter

 

…a blessed mistake, a misfiring

Art is like the feathers of a peacock; there is no ultimate reason for it. It is nothing more than a leftover impulse from our distant ancestors. It is a mere signal to potential mates that we have enough time, resources, and leisure to be able to waste time on extravagance.

~This seems to be the Darwinian view (cf. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, 253)

…thought expressed

To give a body and a perfect form to one’s thought, this—and only this—is to be an artist.

~Jacques-Louis David, French painter

…a source of calm in a chaotic world

What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter, an art which could be for every mental worker, for the businessman as well as the man of letters, for example, a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.

~Henri Matisse, French artist   

Art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos.

~Saul Bellow, American novelist

…self-expression or autobiography

What is art? Art grows out of grief and joy, but mainly grief. It is born of people’s lives.

~Edvard Munch, Norwegian artist

 All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.

~Federico Fellini, Italian film director

…communication of feelings

To evoke in oneself a feeling one has experienced, and…then, by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds or forms expressed in words, so to transmit that feeling—this is the activity of art.

~Leo Tolstoy, Russian author

Art has to move you and design does not, unless it’s a good design for a bus.

~David Hockney, British artist

 …labor

Art begins with resistance — at the point where resistance is overcome. No human masterpiece has ever been created without great labor.

~André Gide in Poétique

…philosophy

Above all, artists must not be only in art galleries or museums — they must be present in all possible activities. The artist must be the sponsor of thought in whatever endeavor people take on, at every level.

~ Michelangelo Pistoletto in Art’s Responsibility

…according to my favorite definition:

“One individual personality has definite or special talent for expressing, in some medium, what other personalities can hear, see, smell, feel, taste, understand, enjoy, be stimulated by, be involved in, find refreshment in, find satisfaction in, find fulfillment in, experience reality in, be agonized by, be pleased by, enter into, but which they could not produce themselves…

Art in various forms expresses and gives opportunity to others to share in, and respond to, things which would otherwise remain vague, empty yearnings. Art satisfies and fulfills something in the person creating and in those responding…

One person’s expression of art stimulates another person and brings about growth in understanding, sensitivity and appreciation.

~ Edith Schaeffer in The Hidden Art of Homemaking


“How Great Thou Art” -Lauren Daigle


Art through the Eyes of Faith

Drawing in water-colors

Introduction: How should we think about art? Why has art had such a varied history? What explains why we can relate to both “sad reflective art” as well as “joyous exuberant art”? How does art in its various forms sometimes make us yearn for something that seems out of reach?

These are big questions and questions that have been answered by many better minds than my own. However, I believe as we look to God’s Word as our guide we will be able to make some significant observations that will better position us to answer them.[1]

Let’s consider seven things from the storyline of Scripture.

Consider the Creator

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…” (Gen. 1:1). He made atoms and oceans, sunsets and frogs, butterflies and hogs. He made matter and motion, the stars in space and every trace of sand. He made my hands and yours too. God makes flowers and bees. God thought up nectar and the neurons that make emotion.

God created the wild crash of hydrogen and oxygen known as water; crystal clear and falls from the sky, and gives life. It’s like miraculous manna from heaven that we completely take for granted.

The only artist who is perfect in all forms of creativity—in technique, in originality, in knowledge, of the past and future, in versatility, in having perfect content to express as well as perfect expression of content, in communicating perfectly the wonders of all that exists as well as something about Himself, is of course God—the God who is Personal.[2]

God is the most majestic musician, supreme sculptor, wowing writer, and awesome artist. We can look at the flowers of the field and see that God is the most creative creator of clothing. He is the creator that gives creativity.“God is the Great Maker, the unique Creator. And all other creative activity derives from him.”[3]

God the Creator is the great Artist. He set the dome of the heavens and fashioned the universe. He created the music of the stars and set the heavenly bodies whirling in a great cosmic dance. He paints the sky of man’s earth with clouds and sunsets, and the ground with flowers and streams. He fashioned man out of dust of the earth. He tells the greatest love story of time and eternity, and unfolds it in a drama unlike any that man has ever created. He uses every art and every medium.[4]

Observation: Our creativity is contingent upon the Creator.[5] God is the great Creator and we merely reflect Him with our creations, as we will see.

Consider Creation

We see in the beginning that when God saw all He had made He pronounced, “very good” (Gen. 1:4; 10; 12; 18; 21; 25; 1:31). There was no sin, no death, and no problems. Man had perfect fellowship with God (cf. Gen. 3:8) and enjoyed God’s beautiful creation.

God’s creation shows us what God wants for us. He wants us to enjoy and take part in the creation that He has made very good. It shows us our intended design: fellowship with God and each other and the correct enjoyment and creative oversight of creation.

The heavens declare and shout forth the glory and beauty of God (Ps. 19:1-6). “Our God is beautiful in all his way; it is part of his perfection. This divine beauty has been woven into the fabric of creation, in the massive stars, inside the submicroscopic balance of the atom.”[6]

Observation: As we take in and enjoy beauty, whether Mozart, Norman Rockwell, or a brook basking in the sun, it points us back to our Creator for which we truly yearn. Even “photography is a longing for eternity, a desire for a lasting impact. When we blast our memories far and wide, we are hoping they will linger when we’re not present and maybe even when we’re gone. How odd that something seemingly instant can be rooted in a hunger for eternity.”[7]

Consider that we are Creative Creatures

What is man? A complex animal, more advanced through Darwinian Evolution? Are humans merely matter in motion?

We see the doctrine of the image of God,[8] the imago Dei, in various places in Scripture (Gen. 1:26-27; 5:1-3; 9:6; 1 Cor. 11:7 Col. 3:10; James 3:9). The most prominent is Genesis 1:27 that says, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”[9] “The ‘image (likeness) of God’ refers to a permanent aspect of our created nature, which was not affected by the fall. It is the special characteristic of the human race, which distinguishes us from other creatures.”[10]

So, “We are created in the likeness of the Creator… So we are, on a finite level, people who can create.”[11] 

We were made, in part, to create. We were made to work unhindered at the creative care of the creation. However, the plot thickens. A cosmic problem is introduced. Through man’s fall we see the crash and curse of creation, which explains why everything is no longer good and why our creative care is constrained.

Observation: We are creative creatures; that is part of what we do and how we reflect the image of our Creator. We see that because that is what we were created to do we thrive as individuals and as societies as we create.

Man was created that he might create. It is not a waste of man’s time to be creative, because this is what was made to be able to do. He was made in the image of a Creator, and given the capacity to create—on a finite level of course, needing to use the materials already created—but he is still the creature of a Creator.[12]

We were created in the image of God not to procrastinate but to be productive, to create and “subdue the earth.” When we are functioning according to our design, doing what God has given us to do, it is then that we prosper (and realize I do not mean financially, I mean teleologically).

Realize there are all sorts of types of creativity, one person creates cars, another creates music, and still another manages his restaurant in thoughtful ways.[13] The important observation here is not so much what we do but how we approach our tasks.

We should approach all we do with intentionality and skill. As Timothy Keller says, “our work can be a calling only if it is reimagined as a mission of service to something beyond merely our own interests. Thinking of work mainly as a means of self-fulfillment and self-realization slowly crushes a person and… undermines society itself.”[14]

Consider the Crash

Man disobeyed and rebelled (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:6) and this brought spiritual and physical death (Gen. 2:17; 3:19), pain (3:16-17), difficulties (3:18-19), and separation from God (3:23-24). This is the bad news that we all live in.

In Genesis 3:1-24 we see the Fall of humanity. We see various forms of death given birth to. We see “’an ever-growing avalanche of sin, a continually widening chasm between man and God’. It progresses from disobedience, to murder, to indiscriminate killing, to titanic lust, to total corruption, and uncontrolled violence.”[15] Sin truly brings a litany of death. “Disease, genetic disorders, famine, natural disasters, aging, and death itself are as much the result of sin as are oppression, war, crime, and violence. We have lost God’s shalom—physically, spiritually, socially, psychologically, culturally. Things now fall apart.”[16] Sin opens Pandora’s box and unleashes a horde of evil.

We have marred more than the mediocre; we have marred the Michelangelos of the world. We have marred superb beauty and made it unbelievably hideous.

To illustrate, if I ruin a “masterpiece” that my son made with paper, glue, and crayons, the ramifications will be far less than if I destroy the Mona Lisa.

Well, creation was intended to be a Mona Lisa; that is, it was intended to be supremely glorious. God’s creation was intended to be good, beautiful, and aesthetically pleasing to our senses, emotions, and intellect beyond what we can imagine.

We often think of this world as the way it is not as the way it was intended to be. If we could see a glimpse of what the Great Creator had in mind for His masterpiece, then we’d see that we “paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” We essentially killed a thousand Beethovens and blared white noise. We backfilled the Grand Canyon with gravel. We burned a hundred museums of art. We scorched our taste buds off our tongue. We took a wrecking ball to all the wonders of the world and razed a thousand gorgeous cities. We have brought cataclysmic chaos to the world.

Sin is not a light thing. We, as humans, were created in the image of God. We were to be like Christ, God in flesh (cf. Gen. 1:26-27). The world was meant to be supremely glorious, peaceful, and loving but instead it is disgusting and understandably repugnant to God. So, as we try to grasp the wonder of what has been marred we can begin to understand how serious the situation is and how terrible sin is.

The crash happened in Genesis 3, man disobeyed God and chaos and curse ensued. In the crash, we see what went wrong with us and the world.

Observation: The image we bare is tainted and marred. It’s like one of Winslow Homer’s famous watercolor paintings had a pail of acid poured on it. We can still trace the image but it’s faded. We need a master painter to repaint us.

It is important to observe that “The arts, which speak so subjectively and so very personally regarding who and what we are in relation to our Maker are very vulnerable to the distortion that sin has brought in the world.”[17] Even in the Bible art can be used to idolatrous ends. We, after the crash, often use creativity to de-create and desecrate the good world God has made.

We see that we often desire heaven and make hell. We want back in Eden and sometimes we express that, but sometimes we express the crash. We, in the words of Makoto Fujimura, “carry the dust of Eden in our DNA.”[18] Michael Card has said, “A thousand examples speak of a deep, inner hunger for beauty that, at its heart, is a hunger for God. We hunger for beauty because it is a beautiful God whom we serve.”[19] Yet, we are stuck on the outside of Eden.[20] We are stuck yearning.

Much art reflects on this theme, from superhero movies to angsty art, we know there was a fall. We know we live after the crash. We desire the new creation but many don’t know the answer. They don’t know Christ the Promised One.

Consider Christ

After the crash of creation, after the curse was introduced, there was a promise of a deliverer that would set all right again. At first, the promised offspring (Gen. 3:15) was vague; in fact, Eve rejoiced because she thought she had the offspring (4:1) but it was all for naught because Cain was the offspring of the serpent and killed his brother.

However, later on, we see Him who even the prophets longed to see (Matt. 13:17), we know that all Scripture finds its fulfillment in Jesus who is the long awaited Messiah (2 Cor. 1:20). The one that will crush the curse and bring in the new creation.

The Bible is a true story about God making the world, man messing it up, and God becoming a man to fix the world by not messing up. It is a story of Eden—exile—repeat. It is not until the true Adam, the true and righteous Son of God—Jesus—comes that this process is broken. All of Christ’s predeceases fell short; Adam, Noah, Abraham, Saul, David, Solomon, and the lambs, priests, and prophets could not fill Christ’s role.

Through Christ we see what God has done to put things right. Christ hung, outstretched on the tree, and bore the curse and will come again to bring His eternal reign when peace will be pervasive and joy will be tangible.

Jesus is the hero of the story. He takes upon Himself the curse and brings the new creation and friendship with God that we all yearn for.

The Cosmic Creator that flung the stars in place and knows them all by name cares to the point of crucifixion. He is the author that writes Himself into the story. He makes, He comes, He dies, and He rises again. And He’s coming back to recreate the world.

Observation: In Christ, first we see our Savior, but we see also see a profound example. Christ’s character as seen in the Gospels is one of creativity and compassion. He is expressive and real. He is harsh and gentle. 

Christ was honest to the reality of our current condition. He didn’t lighten the realities of the crash and the catastrophes that it created. However, He wasn’t hopeless either. He brought the world the solution they needed: Himself.

We too must understand our current condition and honestly and creatively communicate truth to the world.

Consider our Current Condition

It is important for us to correctly situate ourselves within our current condition. We, for instance, do not want to place ourselves within the new creation when we are still wheeling from the crash. In the same way, we don’t want to forget that Christ has came. We need to understand our current condition. We do not want to have an “over-realized eschatology” or an “under-realized eschatology.” We want to correctly grasp our situation and communicate the struggles and hopes that we have to the world.

Steve Turner has said, “It is not Christian to make art that assumes that the world is unblemished.”[21] It’s certainly true that the Kingdom has come in God’s Son. The light is shining and the darkness is passing away (1 Jn. 2:8) but it hasn’t passed away yet. We still live in a fallen world. Soon the darkness will be forever gone (Rev. 22:5) but for now it’s an element in our reality so to paint or portray reality means including “darkness.”

We must position ourselves after the Creator, the creation of all things, and the crash and curse of the cosmos, and we must remember that we were created as creative creatures to reflect our Creator. We must remember Christ, the hope of all the world. We must hope in Him and the new creation that He will bring at the consummation of His Kingdom.

We must not get stuck hopelessly on the crash and curse of the world, though to be in the world is to reflect realistically on its realities. Yet, we must not forget Christ and His coming Kingdom and the fact that we are not the center of the universe. So, “The Christian artist will often be an irritant, disturbing the anthropocentric view of the world that fallen nature naturally gravitates toward.”[22]

Observation: It is when we remember our current condition, all that has laid behind us and all that lays before us, that we can most profoundly and prophetically speak into our cultures. It is then that we can bring compassion and truth to bear and see God’s truth take root and change people and society.

So, David Skeel says, “The most beautiful and memorable art will reflect the tensions and complexity that only Christianity can fully explain.”[23]

Consider the coming Consummation

When Jesus came the first time, He had no beauty or majesty. When He comes again His face will shine like the sun in full strength (Rev. 1:16). We were cast out of the garden in the beginning but as Jesus said to the thief on the cross, all those who go to Him will be let back in. For those in Christ, the story of history will have a happy ending (Rom. 8:29-39).

Through Jesus the Christ, we have the unwavering hope of a new creation (2 Peter 3:13). “The creation was subjected to futility” in Adam (Gen. 317-19) but in Christ “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:20-21). As Isaac Watts put it in “Joy to the World,”

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
 far as the curse is found.

The problem (all of them!) will be fixed and there will be no more sin (Rev. 21:27; 22:3; Matt. 13:41). Everything will be more right than it was ever wrong. We will see that God did, in fact, work all things together for good (Rom. 8:28). Christ will make a new creation and we will be like Him (1 Jn. 3:2; Rom. 8:29; 2 Peter 1:4). “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49). God will fulfill our deepest desires and we will finally live with Him in paradise in the end.

Jesus is the good news but the good news is not static it goes on and on and on; those in Christ live happily-ever-after. In contrast, God “will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers” (Matt. 13:41) and cast them into the pit of eternal fire (Rev. 20:14-15). The Lord will bring heaven down and establish His Kingdom that will not be shaken but will last forever and ever in perfect beauty and joy. 

Observation: Time is working itself down to a consummation; to a renewal of the creation, in fact, a new creation. Ever since Eden, this is what we have longed for and it is made available through Christ. However, many miss it. They look to the creature rather than to the Creator to find satisfaction, life, and joy.

As we carry out various creative tasks we can thoughtfully point people to what they need and why they need it. We can address the issue of the crash, our current condition, and Christ and the coming consummation. 

We can also know that art occupies a type of middle ground. In one way pointing backward (to creation) while planted firmly (in the current condition) and also pointing ahead (to the consummation). 

Conclusion: So, how should we think about art? 

As we carry out our creative tasks (whether or not it is typically labeled art or not) we reflect our Maker. We point to the reason and rhyme of the universe, especially when we reflect on and cause others to reflect on why, at times, there seems to be no reason and rhyme to the universe. 

Lastly, as we seek to be faithful and reflect God’s image we must look to Jesus. He is the Master. He is “painting” us in His image. The brushstrokes that stand out the most are “love the LORD your God with all you are” and “your neighbor as yourself.” It is through the application of those two brushstrokes that we look more and more as we were always supposed to look.

_______________________

[1] My word is very fallible but God’s Word is truth. This is important because, as William Dyrness, has said: ““Artistic issues are, according to the biblical perspective, profoundly theological from the beginning to end” (William A. Dyrness, Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue, 70).

[2] Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking, 14-15.

[3] Frank E. Gaebelein, The Christian, The Arts, and Truth, 72.

[4] W. S. LaSor, “Art” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 302.

[5] “Only God can imagine and make something out of nothing. In this sense, he is the only One who deserves the title of Creator. We are merely creative” (Harold M. Best in Michael Care, Scribbling in the Sand, 122).

[6] Michael Card, Scribbling in the Sand, 32.

[7] Craig Detweiler, iGods: How Technology Shapes Our Spiritual and Social Lives, 189.

[8] “That man by creation uniquely bears the divine image is a fundamental biblical doctrine—as also that this image is sullied by sin and that it is restored by divine salvation” (Carl F. H. Henry, “Man” in Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, 338).

[9] “The declaration that humanity bears God’s likeness is startling, awesome, and almost incredible, but what exactly does it mean?… Two primary, and not necessarily contradictory views are: (1) the substantive view, according to which humans share some aspects of the nature of God (intelligence, emotions, etc.); and (2) the functional view, according to which humans act like God in their divinely given role to rule the earth. The immediate context, with the language of dominion and subjugation, suggests that the functional interpretation is primary” (Köstenberger, God’s Design for Man and Woman, 29). I personally believe in a hybrid view. I believed in a functional view that implies the substantive view. That is, if we as humans are to function as vice-regents we must be endowed with the abilities to carry it out (e.g. intelligence, creativity, etc.).

[10] G. L. Bray, “Image of God” in NDBT, 576.

[11] Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking, 24.

[12] Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking, 24.

[13] I think for example of Chic-fil-a.

[14] Keller, Every Good Endeavor, 19. He also says “Everyone will be forgotten, nothing we do will make any difference, and all good endeavours, even the best, will come to naught. Unless there is God. If the God of the Bible exists, and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavour, even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever” (29).

[15] Revd Victor James Johnson, “Illustrating Evil – The Effect of the Fall as seen in Genesis 4-11,” 57 in Melanesian Journal of Theology 11-1&2 (1995).

[16] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Penguin Group, 2008), 177. “Disunion with God is reflected in disunion with others and with oneself” (Johnson, Foundations of Soul Care, 466).

[17] Frank E. Gaebelein, The Christian, The Arts, and Truth, 75.

[18] Makoto Fujimura, Refractions.

[19] Michael Card, Scribbling in the Sand, 32.

[20] “Christianity explains our inability to sustain transcendence as evidence that creation, and the creation, have been corrupted” (David Skeel, True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World, 88).

[21] Steve Turner, Imagine: a vision for Christians in the arts, 86. “To portray the world as a rose garden can be as misleading as portraying it as a cesspool” (Ibid., 58).

[22] Steve Turner, Imagine: a vision for Christians in the arts, 22.

[23] David Skeel, True Paradox: How Christianity Makes Sense of Our Complex World, 82.


“Beautiful Things” -Gungor


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