- The Arts In A Postmodern Society
- The Arts in a Postmodern Society, part 2
How should Christians use the arts to proclaim the gospel?
In the past, Europe enthroned reason. Seeing the terrible and devastating consequences, the West decided to adopt the even newer and more devastating attitude of irrationality. Can a Christian living in the midst of this post-Christian situation still proclaim the gospel? Yes! In fact, we need new ways of presenting the gospel message, ways that will engage the new issues being raised and the new European mentality.
One’s approach to this challenge may vary depending on the nature of each ministry or calling. From an artist’s point of view, it is not difficult to see the arts as an efficient tool for building bridges of communication, and preparing the way for spiritual renewal and transformation.
But we must start from the nature of the creative gift; we must see the Biblical perspective of art. If our art is to bring spiritual renewal and transformation, it cannot be limited to a religious context. Our approach should deal with the technical, aesthetic and ethical aspects of art, what it really is according to its natural conception and make up.
This presents a challenge, because many of us were taught to use art strictly as an evangelistic tool. When art becomes a tool, without consideration to the real nature of the creative gift, we have lost something precious.
A close look at the Bible on the subject of art and beauty will reveal the transcendent nature of art. If you read what other Christians in history have discovered about art you will be even more surprised. Saint Augustine, Dorothy Sayers, Francis Schaeffer, C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, Hans Rookmaaker and others have found that the “use” of the arts in the church cannot be the only reason God bestowed such an abundant and exuberant gift of creativity on every aspect of creation.
Creation proclaims God’s glory
Artistic sensitivity not only manifests itself naturally in everything man creates—a car, a chair, a pair of shoes, or an artistic masterpiece—but it is present all around us, wherever we fix our eyes on the world God has made. In the same way, nature proclaims the glory of God by being true to itself, without labels or special religious messages. The arts also glorify God by being true to the nature of the creative gift. It would be a great mistake to put a placard on the moon—“to the glory of God”—or write Bible verses on the leaves of trees, or make the birds sing hymns and choruses to proclaim God’s glory. Nature proclaims the glory of God, and often inspires people to think about the transcendent aspects of life, just by being true to itself, in a “natural” way.
What this means is that there is a Biblical perspective of life, a comprehensive Christian worldview that enables Christians to see the Lordship of Christ over all He has created and redeemed. As C. S. Lewis put it, “I believe in God as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I can see it, but because by it I can see everything else.” In this light, we see that cultivating our aesthetic sensitivity is a very important part of God´s plan to make us whole human beings, enabling us to fulfil His cultural mandate. The rules and techniques for creating beauty make the arts redemptive; they give us another view of God´s glorious and magnificent structure of the universe. In the process, they reveal to us subtle aspects of God´s character and love for His creation.
Artistic sensitivity is necessary to human growth
Science and the arts have similar effects. When we approach science—the laws that make up the physical world—with an open and unprejudiced mind, we come face to face with our Creator God. In similar fashion, as we develop our aesthetic sensitivity through the creation and contemplation of beauty, we grow into the complete human beings God made us to be. And this must be so. Just as our bodies are fed with food and our spirits with religious devotion, our intellect has to be fed with rational thoughts and ideas that help us understand God, ourselves, and the world around us. In fact, our soul and imagination have to be fed with the wonderful and enticing voluptuosity of art. Starving or neglecting any of these appetites, or denying their nature, will produce devastating consequences to our human nature.
So, cultivating our aesthetic sensitivity does not have to be done in a “religious” way, since by its very nature, art naturally rises into the spiritual. In that way, therefore, art does not need to be made “sacred” by Christians adding to it a religious undertone; art is already spiritual by its very nature, the nature God himself has given to it. Dressing art with an artificial cloth of religion is no different from using art for political propaganda. Both actions devalue its very nature.
Art and beauty are intrinsic to God’s nature
This does not mean there is no place for religious devotional art to sincerely express man´s adoration and gratitude to God. If a genuine Christian artist loves God with all his heart, he will love the world and the life God made just as he made it. He is not going to feel the need to reinvent the elements of creation, or give them a religious connotation, or dress them up to be more pleasing to God. That would be implying that God has made a mistake in His creation.
But, of course, none of this should be a surprise for a Christian. When we look into the actual nature of the creative gift, we realize that art and beauty are intrinsic to God´s nature. The Bible reveals God as not only holy, just, loving, omnipotent, omniscient, but also the supreme Creator. Everything He created was not only good, as He himself declared, but beautiful. (The Greek Old Testament uses kalos for “good,” a word which implies both good and beautiful at the same time.) And this is the only reason why everything we see in nature and the universe has the omnipresent quality of beauty.
- Hector J. Ramirez Martinez
For further reading on this subject, visit Ars Vitalis.
… to be continued