This Has Nothing to Do with the Instrumental Music Controversy at All. Really.

It’s amazing how we delight in creativity. It’s because, I believe, the creative side of humans is very much in the image of God. When we delight in the arts, we delight in a spark of God that remains in us despite our sinful, broken nature.

You see, one of the great mistakes of the Reformed branch of Protestantism has been to push creativity to the back and elevate logic and reason as the most spiritual of all human traits. And the Restoration Movement was founded by Calvinists. And while they left much of their Calvinism behind, they certainly kept the Reformed/Calvinistic culture of intellectualism at the expense of creativity and the arts. I mean, just look at our buildings!

Take our windows. Please. Stained glass is rejected as being, well, you know, like “the denominations,” or some such non-answer. Lately, we’ve allowed stained glass that’s entirely non-representational, even though not too many decades ago we decried the evils of abstract art.

But we allow pictures of Jesus in our Bibles and in our Sunday school classes. We just don’t allow him in stained glass or in the sanctuaryauditorium — not that the auditorium is in any sense holy.

It’s all very Gnostic — this notion that the material is unholy and the spiritual is holy or that the flesh is inherently incapable of perfection — and so in need of grace — while our intellects can be perfected and so there’s no need for grace for doctrinal sin. And our Gnosticism leads us to see art as less worthy, less holy, and less appropriate in our worship. After all, what has God to do with creativity? He just cares whether we get the answers right. (I blame the public schools for inculcating this sense of what is worthy and what is not. Well, not really. But they’ve strongly reinforced Gnostic attitudes that were already there.)

Life is preparation for the Great True-False Test in the Sky. Wasting time with the arts just takes away from time that could be spent learning why the Jehovah’s Witnesses are wrong.

We are not dualistic beings, and we shouldn’t have a dualistic doctrine. It’s all part of our broken, fallen nature and all in need of grace. And it can all be good, and none will ever be good enough to avoid the need for grace. The voices that sing words are no more inherently holy than the hands that play instruments. It’s all creative. It’s all worship, because it all comes from the creative part of God that remains in us. We best worship God by most being like God. And that’s serious theology.

(2 Cor 3:18)  And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his [image] with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

(Rom 8:29)  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the [image] of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

(Col 3:9-10)  Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

The over-arching theme of the Bible is God’s redemptive work to restore humans to the image of God in which they were made in Genesis 1. And in Genesis 1, the one characteristic of God that is most prominent is his creativity.

And that’s why we delight in creativity. There’s something in us that yearns to be restored fully to God’s image. And when we experience the creative, our hearts leap at recognition of what we could be and what we will become. And for those who understand, even the most non-religious creative experiences are, well, religious, and they can even move us to worship.

The arts change how we look at the world because they help us see and celebrate that bit of God that’s in all of us.

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34 Responses

  1. And in Genesis 1, the one characteristic of God that is most prominent is his creativity.

    And it’s not just that he made something out of nothing. There is a definite artistic flair in God’s creation. Among the innumerable breathtaking views in creation, consider Yosemite, or the Grand Canyon, or a Caribbean island, or a wildflower, or the Horsehead Nebulae… And it’s not just visual art. Listen to the birds in the spring! God is the ultimate artist.

  2. jay, weren’t you a math major? isn’t this all a little too artsy and out there for you to be writing about? you don’t do interpretive dance in the privacy of your own home, do you?

  3. Awesome post, but I don’t think you had enough logic and reason to back up your claims (tongue in cheek). This really needs to be preached from the pulpit. I think its why Churches of Christ basically are filled with people all cut from the same cloth for the most part. We are predominantly logic and reason people.(we certainly need those people) But all our lives we have downplayed that creative side and for some us we are uncomfortable with the creatiive talents of others because we don’t posess it or have never fostered it. We have all these tools at our disposal, with technology and raw talent at our disposal, but largely are not using them. Plus, we are not drawing people in with these artistic abilities, when they could benefit from our logic and reason and vice versa.

    I had a crisis of faith some time ago when the logic and reason side of me was slapped silly . During a study of eschatology/Israel, I realized I had been wrong. Furthermore, I had many questions I simply could not answer. I was somewhat depressed. The end result, however was freedom. I was forced to realize that my study of scripture was not going to solve all my questions and that a certain degree of ambiguity is healthy.

  4. As to Jay Guin doing interpretive dance.

    The mental image of Jay in a tutu is, well, disturbing.

    –GATidwell

  5. James Spiegel has a wonderful article “Aesthetics and Worship,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 2.4 (Winter 1998): 40-56, in which he concludes:

    “The Christian church, once the leader of the arts, is now scarcely taken seriously in artistic communities. Worse yet, the formal worship of Christians is compromised by mediocrity in this area. Our problem, however, is not for lack of inspiration, as the scriptures are brimming with aesthetic instructions, from the Genesis creation account to the hymns of Revelation, not to mention the nature of the Biblical writings themselves. We must recapture a truly Christian vision for the arts, and strive mightily to be aesthetically virtuous. The duties of the church pertain not only to goodness but to beauty as well.”

  6. I love you Jay, but to blame drab buildings and the absence of anything that smacks of denominationalism on Calvinism is a stretch.

    Presbyterians for instance have traditionally had pretty elaborate buildings, especially when compared to coc buildings.

    I agree with you about the intellectualism associated with the Reformed branch of Christianity. Maybe they have gone too far in that direction. And, maybe if RM folks had done more thinking, been a bit more inclined to study, some of the legendary problems in our movement would not have happened.

    I love Ravi Zacharias’s ministry tag line “Let my people think”. Critical thinking is an exercise we need to learn.

    Royce

    Royce

  7. [The church] must recapture a truly Christian vision for the arts, and strive mightily to be aesthetically virtuous. The duties of the church pertain not only to goodness but to beauty as well.

    Yes, just not in the times when the church is actually together.

    There must be no creativity, no improvisation, no freedom during those times.

    The church should create beautiful music – just don’t play it.

    The church should create beautiful paintings – just don’t display it.

    The church should create beautiful stories – just don’t tell them to the church.

    There is no place for that kind of thing in the assembly of the saints.

  8. There might be some truth in the premise of this message. However, I sometimes have a hard time listening when the subject becomes another avenue for criticizing the churches of Christ.

    I can resonate with messages calling for improvements.
    I build up defenses when the message is about what was wrong with the past.

  9. Jay’s prejudice toward Calvinists shows a lot in his posts. This especially is seen a lot when Jay speaks about the Restoration Movement. Anything Jay says negative about the RM to Jay it is why not blame this on the Calvinist so the RM won’t be seen as being negative of themselves.

    Jay may say the word unity, but his constant criticism of others reeks of divisiveness.

  10. If anyone is interested the essay Gregory quotes, I found it online here:

    http://www.sbts.edu/media/publications/sbjt/sbjt_1998winter6.pdf

  11. I don’t think the message is about what was wrong in the past.

    It is about what is wrong right now.

    That’s obviously related to the past, but if all we do is talk about how great the past was, why would anyone ever want to change anything?

  12. Grr. Stupid HTML typo. I didn’t mean for the latter half of that comment to be in bold. It looks like I was shouting, and that was not at all my intent. I just forgot to close the bold command on my second about.

  13. don’t feel bad, nick. the rest of us don’t know how to bold things with html at all. but that is a very aesthetically pleasing thing to know how to do…

  14. LOL It’s pretty easy.

    See the funky thing at the end of my second “about”?

    HTML uses the greater than & less than characters to enclose commands.

    the letter b or the word strong is the command to turn text bold

    HTML uses the forward slash to say, “Stop doing that.” You attach it to the front of the command (the way you see it in my comment above, where I made the mistake), and it stops the corresponding command. So everything between the b and the /b gets made bold.

    use the letter “i” in the same way to italicize

    use the work “blockquote” in the same way to quote a block of text.

    Turning text into hyperlinks is a bit more complicated, but if anyone is interested, I’ll try to come up with a quick explanation.

  15. Often, our thought processes are reflections of past events.

    Please let me reminisce a little.

    The scene is a church picnic in the early seventies. The conversation is among our youth group. The topic is who among us has the best parents.

    One by one, people offered their opinion on which of us had the best Christian parents. There were many candidates. The group concluded it must be the parents of Tom and Jim (names changed) who were also in the conversation. They were beaming with pride.

    Then the conversation switched to people complaining about their own parents. With each complaint, both Tom and Jim said their parents do the same thing. I watched the looks on their faces go from a happy pride to disillusionment.

    Guess who you will find worshiping God each week today. Those who complained about their parents. Tom and Jim dropped out soon after high school although their older brother became a preacher.

    Yes, there are weeds in every church. Yes, we read the complaints here and can observe some of the same phenomenon at our local places.

    In the end, constant criticizing creates more harm than good.

  16. nick, thanks for teaching me how to use html to bold and italicize and the like. and i’d love to know how to make a hyperlink, but i don’t want to take up jay’s space on his post. can you email me? or is it easy to find it on the internet? i’ve never bothered to look. my email is “harrisons in geita” without the spaces and it’s at gmail.

  17. i totally messed that up…

  18. Your scenario is a beautiful illustration of the Post hoc, ergo propter hoc logical fallacy.

    Tom and Jim discovered that their parents were human, and then they dropped out of church. Therefore, their discovery that their parents were human caused them to drop out of church. Thus, never mention anything’s faults, because people will give up on it.

    It seems, then, that the only thing we’re allowed to criticize is criticism itself.

  19. Looks like you just forgot to close your commands, but you’re on the right track!

    Alright, on to hyperlinks. It’s not a long explanation – I just had to investigate a bit to figure out the quickest way to explain it. And for purposes of this explanation, parentheses will play the role of the “greater than” and “less than” symbols.

    Alright, let’s pretend that we’re really interested in HTML, so we want to read HTML for Dummies

    Here’s the construction to create that hyperlink.

    (a href=”http://www.amazon.com/HTML-Dummies-Ed-Tittel/dp/076450214X”)HTML For Dummies(/a)

    the letter “a” stands for anchor, which is a foundational concept in HTML that I haven’t learned yet 🙂 I don’t know WHY it works, just THAT it works.

    “href” stands for hypertext reference

    quotation marks, like greater than & less than symbols, must be very carefully used. Notice that we have placed the actual page address in quotation marks. We’re still just manipulating a single string of text: the title HTML For Dummies. We’re just doing more things to it, which makes the initial command more complex.

    1) we’re turning it into an anchor – that’s the (a part

    2) we’re anchoring that string of text to a particular hypertext reference – that’s the href=”http://www.amazon.com/HTML-Dummies-Ed-Tittel/dp/076450214X”)

    Don’t forget the greater than symbol after the closequote

    3) we’re limiting the size of the anchor to that particular string of text – that’s the (/a) part after the text string.

    Put it all together, replace the parentheses with the proper symbols, and you get: HTML For Dummies

    Try it out on something! 🙂

  20. Catholic church here in Oklahoma City (well Warr Acres) has a too anatomically realistic crucifix.

    Their rational and artistic sides are currently interacting.

    Budgets can be short.

    I’d spend the money on making the most of the acoustics in the auditorium.

  21. I looked this story up.

    http://newsok.com/warr-acres-catholic-church-has-crucifix-some-say-shows-exposed-genitals-of-jesus/article/3453833?custom_click=rss

    I don’t think the problem is that it is too anatomically realistic.

    This issue is the phalic nature of the depiction of the Lord’s stomach. (You have to see it to understand.)

    Many years ago the image of a Wildcat used by the University of Kentucky was altered because some people felt the cat’s tongue looked to much like a… well you know.

    Then the was a tower in the castle on Disney’s Little Mermaid poster that had to be changed for a similar reason.

    This stuff happen’s a lot. The debate that ensues is always over whether or not the artwork really looks like what everyone says it looks like or if people just have dirty minds which see things which aren’t there.

    In my opinon the crucifix in Warr Acres really looks like a… well you know. I can’t for the life of me understand why they just don’t alter it.

  22. ugh – why can’t I hit the greater-than symbol today! AUGH!

  23. “Life is preparation for the Great True-False Test in the Sky. Wasting time with the arts just takes away from time that could be spent learning why the Jehovah’s Witnesses are wrong.”

    Love it! And I enjoy your blog. Thanks for challenging us.

  24. Artists who are Christian should express their faith through their art. But this has little to do with church assemblies, it might seem. We do not do well to “dress up” our meeting places. At best, they are simple and plain so that attention is drawn to the lives of all members rather than to the talents of a few. It’s OUTSIDE our assemblies that art should flourish to the glory of God, except that talented singers and musicians and story-tellers should be given opportunity to use their talents to benefit the congregation. Yes?

  25. Danny D,

    Thanks.

    (Sorry being slow to respond. I’ve been studying for the Test.)

  26. James B,

    Yes, I majored in math. Yes, art does not come naturally to me — in the sense of actually doing art. I can’t compose, paint, draw, sculpt, DANCE (interpretively or othewise), but I can appreciate what other people do. I’m a big fan because I’m amazed that people can do that stuff at all.

    And we’ll not be talking about what I do in the privacy of my home.

  27. Donald N,

    What can I say? Logic is what I do. And it’s important to get the theology right. You see, if you justify art because it teaches Jesus, then we only celebrate paintings of the cross and scenes with an uplifting quote from Ezekiel in the corner. But if we see creativity as a celebration of God in us, then we see God in creativity itself — which greatly opens our eyes to see the beauty of God in many places where’d never otherwise think to look. Like sticking sticky notes on the wall.

  28. Greg,

    Disturbing indeed. I don’t do classical ballet. I’m more into crunk.

  29. Royce,

    You have to look at the state of Calvinism in the early 19th Century on the American frontier — which is where the Restoration Movement was formed. The American Baptists had roots in Congregationalism, had roots in Puritanism. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iconoclasm#Reformation_iconoclasm

    Early Presbyterians were careful to distinguish between the “church” (a term which designated the members) and the “meeting-house” which was the building in which the church met.[9] Until the late 19th century, very few Presbyterians ever referred to their buildings as “churches.” Presbyterians believed that meeting-houses (now called churches) are buildings to support the worship of God. The decor in some instances was austere so as not to detract from worship. Early Presbyterian meeting-houses were extremely plain. No stained glass, no elaborate furnishings, and no images were to be found in the meeting-house. The pulpit, often raised so as only to be accessible by a staircase, was the centerpiece of the building.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presbyterianism#Architecture

    Sound familiar?

  30. I stand corrected by the great one! Thanks for the clarification.

    By the way, I don’t share the view that you habitually attack Calvinism or Calvinists.

    Royce

  31. Anonymous wrote,

    Jay’s prejudice toward Calvinists shows a lot in his posts. This especially is seen a lot when Jay speaks about the Restoration Movement. Anything Jay says negative about the RM to Jay it is why not blame this on the Calvinist so the RM won’t be seen as being negative of themselves.

    Jay may say the word unity, but his constant criticism of others reeks of divisiveness.

    I don’t think it’s a fair criticism. It’s certainly true that I disagree with much of Calvinist soteriology, but that does not make me prejudiced. Some of my favorite writers are Calvinists. I enjoy John Piper and Mark Driscoll, for example.

    I do think it’s important for the RM to know its history. We often assume that we are the way we are because the apostles taught us to be that way. But much of how we are comes from the culture in which the RM was birthed.

    Some of that is Frontier Revivalism. Some is the Enlightenment. Some is the self-conception of Americans in the early 19th Century. Some is Calvinism. And you can find posts here where I refer to each of those sources — and others I’m sure.

    The point of mentioning Calvinism is to note that the culture isn’t 2,000 years old but 500 years old. That doesn’t make it wrong. It makes it not God given, and that gives permission to consider alternatives.

  32. I wonder if You have read Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water. She connects art with the Christian life in ways I think you would find interesting and helpful. I’ve been having similar thoughts to the ones you express here, but I hadn’t been able to think of them in a “big picture” sort of way. L’Engle’s book really helped bridge some of the gaps. Great stuff!

  33. Chris,

    I’m not familiar with it, but I see that the author also wrote A Wrinkle in Time, a favorite of mine in junior high. So it’s on my wish list — and I have a birthday coming up.

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