In part one of this series we talked about what beauty is. This post will discuss how truth and beauty are dependent on one another and how it’s the job of the Church to tie the elusive knot between the two.
The arts belong to those who call Christ their king. Actually, they belong to him from whom all things came, through whom all things came, and for whom all things were made.1 And through our being reconciled to him by the cross we are heirs to it all.2
Yet, in many ways the Church has surrendered art to the culture around us. We’ve consistently made movies that are desperately uncreative, developed an uninspired mold for Christian radio, and we’ve succumbed to making every attempt at art “evangelistic”. Francis Schaeffer who wrote on this topic frequently said, “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.”3 God forbid we tell a fantastic story for the sake of telling a fantastic story, right?
Art, even without a gospel tract zip tied to its frame, is important to God because we are created in his image and he is the ultimate artist. That means anytime a human being is using his talents to create, he is reflecting his creator whether he likes it or not. This is the trap for our creative-yet-unbelieving friends, isn’t it? Even as they labor to disprove God through the arts of rhetoric and logic, for instance, they glorify him by using the tools he’s given. Forgive me for thinking this is adorable.
Art is an wonderful apologetic resource in this sense, too. It allows us to very clearly point to our nature as image bearers. I recently watched a remarkable video of a man painting a nature scene, sort of detached in outer space on a disc shaped piece of…planet, for lack of better description. I have no clue as to whether he was a Christian or not but he was certainly acting like one by using God’s tools that way. As he moved back and forth from one side of his canvas to the other, using paint brushes in both hands, divvying his attention between the painting and the paint, almost in a trance, and leaving me restless to see what his hands were translating from his mind, I could only think of how beautiful this reflection of God was. Here he is, a bizarre character, on a bizarre planet, in an increasingly bizarre story, and he has chosen to…paint? Why would he do that? Scripture tells us that at his very core, he’s an image bearer. He’s imitating his creator! To some degree the artist, Christian or otherwise, has shown an embrace to the mysterious world he lives in by suppressing his questions, if not for just a moment, and deciding to try his hand at creation using the standard God has given him.
There is an interesting remnant of that original mandate God gave Adam in the garden to “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”4 As we create, as this particular artist tried his hand at fashioning his own little world onto a blank canvas, he took part in fulfilling what it means to subdue the earth. He’s used a paint brush made of wood and hog hair, paint made from oils, pigments and solvents either found from the ground or made from things found in the ground. He exercised his dominion over the earth and used his tools to reflect God’s glory by making something beautiful and true.
As a Christian I’m fascinated by all kinds of people as they use their creativity this way. All over the world in different cultures and from different religious backgrounds people write poems, make films, sing songs, tell stories, and paint paintings. It’s important for us to press into this natural desire of humanity to be creative and ask the question, what mere “bag of cosmic stardust”, as the atheist describes man, would care to create such beautiful things? What good is there in the arts if we are a rogue, interstellar accident? The answer is that a mere bag of cosmic stardust would not care to do such things. There is no inherent good to the arts in an interstellar accident.
This is where truth and beauty meet. Our theology must fuel our creativity. Christians have the advantage here by knowing and loving the one true God, who, with no creative help spoke the universe into existence! Truth and beauty, theology and creativity need each other. Theologians so often lack the “feels” in their writing, leaving out the God given gift of passion and emotion in their work. On the other hand, so many artists have little knowledge of Christ and the depths of his goodness and thus lack the substance that gives their work eternal significance. The truth tellers need the artists and the artists need the truth tellers. Christian, you are the bridge between this gap. Truth and beauty are both required to accurately express to the world who God is, which is exactly what we are called to do. My favorite author of late, N.D. Wilson, articulated this well in an interview:
“If we Christians have the truth, and that truth is beautiful – more beautiful than any other message or religion out there – and then we present it in stammering, clumsy, irreverent, or ugly ways, well, we’re hypocrites. We’re living unfaithfully to the Truth. But if we live in a state of celebration and joy and gratitude, and if our words and our art and our presentations of that truth hit people like the smell of baking bread, then we’re getting somewhere.”5
Lean into your being created in the image of God by making really good art, then. Bring beauty to theology and bring substance to art. Make beautiful things, sing beautifully, write the best stories and be the best filmmaker. You have a theology that assures you that the ultimate artist has adopted you, cleansed you, loves you, sacrificed his son for you, and on top of all that has given you the tools you need to glorify him through your talents and passions. That’s freedom!
Rejoice in the fact that as we carry out Christ’s great commission by telling the truth we can point to all kinds of beauty to support our claims. God has been gracious to bury these creative secrets all over this planet for us to discover and use for his glory. Don’t leave the figurative gold and treasures for only the world to use. Be prepared to speak of God as the standard of truth and beauty. Be an image bearer and an artist after God’s own heart.
Article by Brian Riddle
1 Romans 11:36
2 Romans 8:17
3 Francis Schaeffer, Art and the Bible
4 Genesis 1:28
5 Truth and Beauty: A Conversation with N.D. Wilson, The Gospel Coalition