Christianity And The Arts
The only artist who is perfect in all forms of creativity . . . is of course God—the God who is Personal.
—Edith Schaeffer, Hidden Art (1971)
Come with me to the Alps and look at the snow-covered mountains.
There can be no question. God is interested in beauty.
—Francis A. Schaeffer, Art and the Bible (1973)
The God of Creation
The Bible has a lot to say, both directly and indirectly, about God’s love for beauty. Even a quick reading of Genesis 1 demonstrates the marvelous wisdom and power of God in creation. We see light spring out of darkness, vast reservoirs of water lifted into the heavens, massive landforms rise out of the sea. We see trees and grasses spring instantly from the earth to bud, blossom, and bear fruit in a day. We see the sun rise over the horizon for the first time, and the moon climb through the night sky pacing the sun.
We see stars set into constellations and galaxies. We see multi-hued fish and fowl swarm to fill the seas and skies. We see great dragons navigate the deep. We see beasts, cattle, and creeping things prowl and crawl and cavort through the meadows, fields, and rain forests of the new Earth. And, of course, we also see the first man and woman, unstained by the Fall, lift their eyes to heaven to hear the voice of God. The whole thing must have been staggering to behold. And it’s right here at this point that adjectives can’t live up to what they’re describing. In fact, philosophers of aesthetics could write long volumes simply on this first chapter of Genesis alone.
But behind Genesis 1, hidden in eternity, is the beauty and majesty of the Triune God Himself … Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s important to know that this God is simple in His essence. He’s doesn’t have “parts or pieces.” He isn’t partly this and partly that. He isn’t mostly this but a little bit of that. God’s essence is identical with His attributes. He is both truth and light. He is also beauty, glory, and joy.
But here’s the interesting thing:
This one, simple God exists eternally as three distinct Persons. From eternity, the Father begets the Son who then speaks the divine Word. From eternity, the Son is the Father’s only Begotten. This divine Logos is the brightness of the Father’s glory.
From this brief summary of Trinitarian theology, we can make some basic observations about the ontological foundations of the arts. First, God is coherent and rational. He is light, “and in him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn. 1:5). There are no dark corners in His being. He isn’t evolving or on His way to becoming anything new. He isn’t in process of being. In fact, there is no room in His mind for surprises. His attributes aren’t in competition. This all-wise and perfectly rational God is … at the same time and to the same degree … Joy, Beauty, and Delight.
Second, it is the nature of this God to reveal Himself. He expresses Himself both by Word and Spirit (He breathes life). God delights in this self-revelation and self-communication. He joys in shared beauty, glory, and truth.
We should then expect that this God would pour out His beauty and glory onto and into anything and anywhere He decides. We should expect then, that His creation would both reflect and declare His glory. We also should expect that His spoken and written Word would abound in beauty, wisdom, simplicity, and majesty.
Third, God is Trinity. He is true diversity in perfect unity. In God, unity and diversity are equally ultimate. The universals don’t swallow up the particulars. The particulars don’t destroy the universals. God’s nature is harmony, balance, perfect integration, complexity, simplicity, true community, and true individuality.
This is the God who chose to create the earth and more. The God who made the world, the God who speaks both beautifully and powerfully in His Word. We should expect God’s Word and God’s created world to be characterized by the same attributes.
It is no wonder, then, that when we open Scripture, we find that God speaks of Himself as a working Artisan or Artist. Get this: He’s a singer (Zeph. 3:17), a potter (Isa. 64:8), a gardener (Isa. 5:1-2), an engraver (Zech. 3:9), a jeweler (Isa. 54:11), an architect and builder (Heb. 11:10), and even a metal worker (Mal. 3:3).
God also speaks of Himself as a work of art: “In that day shall the LORD of hosts be for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty, unto the residue of his people” (Isa. 28:5). And, of course, in the first lines of Scripture, we read, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). God is the Artist who makes all things from nothing and who made no two things exactly alike. Literally everything God has made … speaks of His glory and power (Ps. 19).
Before Scripture ever says in so many words that God is Spirit, it shows us in great detail that God is Creator. From the very first chapter, Scripture is antithetically “at odds” with any Gnostic, Platonic or Neo-Platonic view of creation or of art. God made the world in all its wonder, beauty, intricacy, mystery, strangeness, and glory. In all these dimensions, creation declares God as He truly is. God made man in His very image. He also made man to know Him, to commune with Him and to live and work in His world. My guess is that this is the perfect place to begin any discussion of Christianity and the arts.
For Further Reading:
Herman Bavinck, The Doctrine of God (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1977).
Edith Schaeffer, Hidden Art (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1971).
Francis Schaeffer, Art and the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006).
Gene Edward Veith, State of the Arts, From Bezalel to Mapplethorpe (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991).
H.R. Rookmaker, Art Needs No Justification (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1979).
Leland Ryken, The Christian Imagination (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981).
Leland Ryken, The Liberated Imagination, Thinking Christianly About the Arts (Wheaton, IL: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1989).