A Distinctively Christian Appreciation of the Arts

Andrew Wyeth, one of America’s most renowned realist painters of the twentieth century, had an uncanny ability to capture the solemn nature of the rural American life with painstakingly controlled brushstrokes and a muted color palette. One of Wyeth’s most intriguing and iconic paintings is titled Christina’s World (1948). The central focus of the work is a brunette female lying in a field with her left hand struggling toward her far-off farmhouse. The figure in the painting is modeled after Wyeth’s neighbor, Anna Olson. Olson suffered from a degenerative muscular disorder that limited her to crawling around her house and family land.

There is nothing loud or wildly fantastic about the subject matter of Christina’s World. The power of the painting is held in what might be called the familiar whisper of beauty, a sense of the deep struggle in longing for home. It is a whisper that we cannot ignore. Like Christina’s World, beautiful art is never viewed with indifference. As philosopher Roger Scruton has noted, “Beauty demands to be noticed; it speaks directly to us like the voice of an intimate friend.” There is a sense in which all good art gives a certain voice to beauty. As C.S. Lewis reminds us in The Weight of Glory, beauty and art point beyond themselves. Beauty comes through as “the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

R.C. Sproul’s apt observation of the place of art in the life of a Christian still rings true today: “In the Christian community,” he argued, “there seems to be a negative attitude toward art.” Many believers think that art is unworthy of a Christian, as if art were something worldly, an illegitimate enterprise for Christians to engage in and reflect upon. Yet, as Hans Rookmaker rightly pointed out, art’s justification is found in the way God made the world. To put it plainly, art is its own justification. Why else would it be that humanity alone has been endowed with the ability to appreciate art and experience beauty? Why has God made it so that art like Christina’s World provokes a deep longing that is found in all of us? No living creatures other than human beings would be deeply moved by standing before Wyeth’s painting at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. These reflective questions call for a distinctly Christian answer. What is the deep soul stirring that beautiful art brings to the surface of our conscience?

As Christians, we understand that the beginning of art is found in the act of creation in the Genesis account. In creation, God uniquely fashioned human beings in His image as aesthetic creatures possessed with a distinct capacity to experience and appreciate beauty and the ability to cultivate and create beautiful things. The artistic instinct is a universal human phenomenon. Art is embedded in our image-bearing nature. However, the Christian understands that art does not originate from man apart from God. Beauty in art is, therefore, a gift of common grace from God that has been made accessible and comprehensible to all people.

For the Christian in particular, art can be experienced as an analogical signpost bearing witness to the Author of all that is beautiful. As human beings, we care about beauty and the arts because our Creator God is beautiful and is the source of all beauty (Pss. 27:4, 50:2). Moreover, in creation, God intentionally fashioned our world as an artist—a divine artist who benevolently chose to endow our earthly experience with beauty (see Rom. 1:20). As an act of self-disclosure, creation itself declares the beauty of God (Ps. 19:1). In the creation of art, the artist mimics the creative work of God in disclosing a particular viewpoint of the world to be apprehended by the viewer. The interaction between the artist and the audience is that of mutual consent. There is something to be communicated, and art is the vehicle of communication.

If art truly serves as a signpost, a map, then we as Christians are called to be the guides.

Throughout human history, the arts have played a significant role in man’s effort to build a meaningful world. One could argue that the history of civilization can be traced through the arts. Nicholas Wolterstorff argued that the act of creating beautiful things involves the presentation of an alternative world or worldview to be considered by its audience. Implicit in this idea is that beautiful things stand between the artist and the audience and communicate by evoking emotion, conveying truth, and illuminating human experience. The best of art is, among other things, presented for contemplation. Art is a place where meaning can be created, explored, and discovered.

At the same time, art is to be discerned. In Acts 17, when Paul was confronted with the idolatrous art of Athens, he became deeply distressed and pointed them to the one true God in whom all of their longings could be met. In examining the things that their artists had created, Paul was able to exegete their culture and uncover the deep desires of their hearts. One principle implicit in this Acts 17 exchange is the truth that art helps cultivate the ability to discern a deeper sense of our human existence and experience. Art allows us to transcend ourselves and see things as they are from different perspectives, thus enabling us to find common ground for interaction. Art, therefore, inclines us to respond more sensitively to the world around us for the purpose of understanding. When specific pieces of art, music, and literature resonate with the masses, it should provoke our attention and study.

Even so, art is not exempt from the fall; indeed, it is often an instrument of the falleness of the world. But art can also be an instrument of redemptive dialogue in our world that is fallen yet undergoing cosmic redemption. As Abraham Kuyper reminded us, “in spite of sin by virtue of common grace, [the arts] have continued to shine in human nature, [so] it plainly follows that art can both inspire both believers and unbelievers, and that God remains sovereign to impart it, in his good pleasure.” What we must understand is that the beauties of this world and even the longings expressed in art are a whisper to our souls that there is something beyond the physical order.

Therefore, art, like beauty, is both a gift and a map. It is a gift to be enjoyed and a map to be followed back to the source of the beauty with glorious praise. The Christian must appreciate art because it is often the vehicle for which truth, experience, and longings are expressed. Christians must seek to engage in understanding the arts because they provide a window to see how the God-given longings of humanity are expressed from generation to generation. Beautiful pieces of art such as Christina’s World may bring to the surface the shared sense of longing for home that all human beings feel deep within their souls, but the Christian is the one who can point beyond the longing itself toward the God who can fulfill all of these desires in “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:16). If art truly serves as a signpost, a map, then we as Christians are called to be the guides.

Dr. Matthew Z. Capps is senior pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Apex, N.C. He is author of Hebrews: A 12 Week Study.

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Christian Love Defined

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Hey TD!

I read this devotion from Tabletalk recently and thought I should pass it on to you. It’s based on a chapter of Scripture I memorized long ago and recite each week to this day. May it help you in your “love” life! – Arthur

John 15:12–13

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

 

In an age when love is frequently lauded but often misunderstood, we must have a proper view of love. Modern culture bombards us with messages telling us that love is a mere feeling, that we will never disapprove of those whom we truly love, and that everything done in the name of love is right. But the Scriptures instruct us otherwise. God’s Word makes it clear that true love is costly.

Jesus, in today’s passage, emphasizes the cost of love. Having told us to abide in His love (John 15:1–11), Jesus begins to unfold what abiding in His love looks like. Love means loving others as Jesus has loved us, particularly in laying down our lives for our friends (vv. 12–13). Our Savior obviously makes an allusion here to His atoning death on the cross that turns away the wrath of God (Rom. 3:21–26), and this means we must first consider what laying down our lives for our friends does not entail. After all, none of us is the spotless Lamb of God sent to save sinners, so none of us can lay down our lives in exactly the same manner as Jesus. Christian theologians have long recognized this truth. Augustine of Hippo, for example, comments on it at length in a sermon on today’s passage.

We cannot love others as Jesus has loved us in the sense of atoning for their sin; however, there are other ways in which we can imitate the love of Christ. For example, Christ loved us so much that He was willing to leave His place of glory with the Father in order to pay for our sins on the cross (Phil. 2:5–11). We, likewise, can refuse to exploit our privileges in order to meet the needs of others. Furthermore, Jesus spent His life in service to others, healing the sick and teaching God’s truth. Similarly, we can spend our lives in service to others, helping even those who seem the least deserving of our assistance and pointing people to Christ.

Some of us may literally have to die in order to save another person’s life, but that will be rare. More likely, we will lay down our lives in a multitude of smaller ways. Parents can set aside their right to rest quietly after a hard day of work in order to spend time with their children. Employers, when appropriate, can refrain from giving overly harsh but deserved criticism of employees in order to work alongside them and help them improve. Retirees can give up part of the spare time they labored years to earn in order to volunteer at their churches. Whatever our station in life, we should look for ways to spend our lives for the sake of others.

 

CORAM DEO Living before the face of God

Christian love is costly, and it looks for ways to give of itself to others. Every day, there are little ways we can sacrifice some of our rights and privileges in order to love others, especially those in the body of Christ. Let us look this day to give up something in order to do good to another person.


FOR FURTHER STUDY
  • Ruth 4
  • Song of Solomon 8:6
  • Mark 14:3–9
  • 1 John 3:16–18

Are We Eating “Processed Religion”?

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That’s a good point, isn’t it, TD?

Yet, that seems to be something we are fighting each other about.  “TD is too intense, too long, too deep” et al are the cries of those who want TD studies to be lighter, simpler, and more bite-sized for easier consumption. But is that really what God wants from us? Is that what’s going to help get you through high school growing spiritually stronger each year? This is something we all at TD, both students and leaders alike, need to consider and pray through, and then act upon. I believe the following article brings some insight into the discussion. – Arthur

Some years ago, after watching a documentary that extols the virtues of juicing, I experimented with doing a juice fast. I started buying produce by the bushel and tried all sorts of juice recipes. My kitchen hummed with the sound of my juicer or my trusty Ninja blender.

It was fun for a while—a short while. The process was messy and time consuming, and cleaning the juicer was a pain. So I started buying bottled juice instead, but that was boring and expensive. I gave up before long.

One of the reasons I undertook the experiment had to do with taste. I’ve always been a picky eater, and I began to suspect that part of the reason for this had to do with what I had done to my ability to taste. I had subsisted for so long on processed, artificial food that I could not taste or appreciate more subtle (and natural) flavors. I had burned out my taste buds. So, I wanted to take some time when I was ingesting only natural foods in hopes that I could learn to appreciate real flavors.

Sometimes, when I survey the state of American Christianity, I am reminded of this reason for my juice fast. Many Christians are feeding themselves with the spiritual equivalent of processed food. It is processed religion: light shows and rock bands in place of reverent worship, self-help books masquerading as edification, and self-focused comedy shows presented as sermons.

Processed religion is often attractive. But it has been heavily refined in order to be highly palatable, so it provides only a short-term boost without much lasting nutrition. Like a sugar rush, it carries you on for a while, but it cannot sustain you over the long term. Even the best of it is spiritual milk, but we are called to move on to spiritual meat (1 Cor. 3:1–2; Heb. 5:12–14).

As I had burned out my taste buds on processed food, I fear that we are at risk of burning out our spiritual taste buds when we subsist on processed religion. We are called to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8), to “come to the waters,” and to “eat” (Isa. 55:1). But the flavors of biblical religion can be subtle, and they take time to appreciate. A quiet time of prayer, the solemnity of the Lord’s Supper, the gravity of a well-crafted, biblical sermon—these are the things that nourish our souls.

God has prescribed in His Word the things that will satisfy our spirits, because He knows better than we do what is good for us. He has provided for us the ordinary means of grace—the Word, the sacraments, and prayer—as the simple, methodical, steady diet that will allow us to grow in grace over time. When we come and eat and drink of the deep, fulfilling richness of God’s means of grace, we will be satisfied

When we concentrate on the God-ordained means of our spiritual nourishment, we can grow to appreciate them as the genuine food that they are, and we will want nothing else. And unlike my juice fast, they—and God—will not disappoint us.

TD Fri/Sat – TD Invited to Ask Anything at UCLA!

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Hey TD!

Friday

This Friday, we will have the privilege to attend the Ask Anything Tour at UCLA, hosted by Ligonier Ministries. Dr. Albert Mohler, a world-class prolific author, radio host, TV guest (ABC, NBC, CNN, FOX), newspaper contributor (Washington Post, USA Today, Wall St. Journal), social commentator, theologian, seminary president, and Ligonier Teaching Fellow will be inviting non–church going students, skeptics, and atheists to literally ask anything pertaining to life, faith, Christianity, culture, etc.  It will be a profound time.

This is not an event churches are invited to. It is an event for the skeptic and unbeliever. However, TD has been granted permission to attend.

If you have RSVP’d with your small group leader already, you are in.  If you have not but would like to go, let your leader know IMMEDIATELY and we’ll see if we have space for you. If we do, we’ll let you know when to meet and where.  The event is at UCLA from 7:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.

If you are not going with us, there will be no TD meeting at church.

Saturday Morning

TD has also been granted permission to attend Truth and Consequences, a training event to help equip Christian college students to defend the claims of Christ, to explain to unbelievers that Jesus is the way of salvation, and how to know Him more fully. Trainers will be Drs. Albert Mohler, Stephen Nichols, and Burk Parsons.

Again, if you signed up with your small group leader, you’re in. If not, please let them know ASAP and we’ll see if we have space. The event is from 9 a.m. – Noon

We look forward to seeing you this weekend!

Remembering RC Sproul (MUST reading)

Short video of clips of RC proclaiming the gospel through the years

Hi TD Family,

I’ve thought about, gave thanks for, and ached for RC everyday since I first learned of his hospitalization and then ensuing Homecoming.  I’ve reminisced fondly over our times spent together, enjoying not only fine food, but hearing him explain to us the finer details of our Real Food, our faith in Christ.

My family will remember his gentleness and frivolity with our kids over the decades.  He loved kids, knew how to make them feel comfortable, and knew how to make them laugh.  He’s the one who taught us the unique “Give me five … up high … down low … ” ritual that I use with young ones today.

RC was also sincerely humble, not taking himself too seriously, often making fun of himself.  He once was excited to tell us, “As I came out of the shower this morning, do you know what Vesta (his wife) said to me? She said, ‘When I married you, I knew I was marrying an athlete, I just didn’t know it was going to be a sumo wrestler!'” We howled in laughter together.

I have often had people address me as Pastor or Pastor Arthur, have assumed I went to seminary, or comment that they couldn’t believe that I didn’t go to seminary.  More than anyone, I owe that to RC Sproul, whose calling and vision was to bring the seminary to the layman, to bridge the gap between seminary and Sunday School.  I am the fruit of what RC envisioned, a lay theologian on the street or in the field, as it were.

I commuted for work from South Pasadena to Orange County from 1990 – 1997, before opening up my Pasadena office.  I have often called my little blue Honda Civic my seminary, for it was there that I had stacks of theological courses taught by RC Sproul sitting in my passenger seat.  Each day, for nearly an hour’s drive each way, I would listen to the audio cassette tapes over and over again, hanging on RC’s teaching and being increasingly blown away with each listen … of the same lesson!  For hundreds of hours, I listened and learned from RC, meeting ultimately with … God.

It was RC that alerted me to the fact that in order to really maximize what you get out of a lecture, you need to listen to it about a dozen times.  I have found that to be true and lament when I see Christians think they know what a passage in the Bible says because they have read that passage before or have heard a message on that passage already.

In the absence of any older spiritual mentors at church for me, RC was like a surrogate spiritual father to me; not directly, but certainly indirectly.  Thus, it was a distinct privilege and joy to interview RC for you at TD a few years ago when we did the “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” series.

It is a great interview that is personal, honest, real, and very candid.  There are things that will surprise you.  We typically receive about 20 – 25 views a day on the TD blog.  In the last few days, we have received well over 2,200 views, primarily driven by these interviews.  Some have linked them to their blogs.

I am also giving you the links to some extraordinary tributes from extraordinary people that are MUST READS.  They will not only give you more depth to understanding RC, but will also help you grow in living out your Christian life. – Arthur

Arthur’s Interview With RC

A Personal Conversation With RC Sproul, Pt. 1

A Personal Conversation With RC Sproul, Pt. 2

A Personal Conversation With RC Sproul, Pt. 3

MUST READ Tributes to RC

Steven Lawson’s Tribute to RC (this one is especially good)

John Piper’s Tribute to RC 

Joni Eareckson Tada’s Tribute to RC

Sinclair Ferguson’s Tribute to RC

John MacArthur’s Tribute to RC

Al Mohler’s Tribute to RC

RC’s Biography

Stephen Nichols

 

TD’er, are you a Christian that both society and the church can listen to?

(Al Mohler on CNN – the Christian lady interviewed sounds like many Christians sound – well intentioned but unclear on how faith intersects with life)

Hi TD!

Where do you stand on the Roy-Moore-running-for-senate controversy, especially since much has to do with his faith and his actions?  Wait, you don’t know who Roy Moore is and what the issue is about?

Christians have often been accused by both society and the church for being insular, burying our heads in the sand, caring only for our own local churches, and for not knowing what’s really going on in society and not making much difference in it.  While that cannot legitimately be asserted for Christians as a whole, sadly, I think it can be said for a sizable portion of the God’s church.

One of our aims in TD is to help those of you who are desirous and willing to become more effective in representing the Lord in your future engagement with society as a resident of this world, yet as a citizen of Heaven. We see that poignant engagement encompassing a broader scope of societal impact than perhaps you’ve considered; we’re talking about future engagement in academia, the marketplace, the church, the arts, the public square.

One of our aims in TD is to help those of you who are desirous and willing to become more effective in representing the Lord in your future engagement with society as a resident of this world, yet as a citizen of Heaven.

One way to catch a vision of this is to watch and study those ahead of you who are doing it well.  That’s why we have consistently exposed TD’ers through the decades to those who are excelling in their callings and who have made significant impact both in society and in the church.  The two cannot be divorced.

Jesus said that the very greatest commandment that His children need to live by – everywhere, all the time – is to authentically love the Lord our God with the energy, fortitude, focus, intentionality, resolve, intensity, humility that we have; and that kind of love comes with a practical, tangible, meaningful love that impacts others’ lives in Jesus’s Name.  Again, the two cannot be divorced.  They are natural bed fellows.  When the first happens, the second naturally follows and, in fact, is a significant part of fulfilling the first.

One such Christian who is representing His Kingdom effectively in this way is R. Albert Mohler

One such Christian who is representing His Kingdom effectively in this way is R. Albert Mohler (or commonly referred to as Al Mohler), President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, author, social critic and host of the radio show, “The Briefing,”  frequent TV news interviewee, essayist, blogger, teacher, speaker, Ligonier Fellow, Christian apologist, and more importantly, faithful husband and father, and most importantly, child of God.

Take a look at his web site, read, listen, and let him help you grow, sharpen, expand, defend, and think as a Christ-follower:  Al Mohler’s website 

His CNN interview above on the Roy Moore issue is an example of  how a thoughtful, faithful Christian can represent Christ clearly and faithfully in the public arena while addressing public issues fairly and effectively.

This is not even public news yet (you are one of the first to know), but Dr. Mohler is coming out to UCLA to address questions of unbelievers, those in doubt, and serious questioners of the Christian faith at UCLA.  We at TD plan to be there to support and to learn from one of the best!  I’ll share more as the event draws nearer; but we can start praying for the impact of the event now.

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.  1 Peter 3:15

Let’s open our hearts and minds and hands and feet to let our God make us into who He wants us to be, to do what He wants us to do, TD! – Arthur

Happy Reformation Day! – The Reformation 500 Celebration

Reformation 500 Celebration

Happy Reformation Day, TD!

If you’re asking, “Reformation? Reformation Day? What?,” then this post is for you.  500 years ago today, October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his now famed 95 Theses that sparked the flame that spread throughout Europe and eventually … the world.

All over the world today, there have been celebrations, tributes, TV programs, articles written, video productions broadcast, and more to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  We invite you to watch a re-broadcast of Ligonier Ministries’ Reformation 500 Celebration to not only get a better theological and historical perspective of the Reformation, why God ordained it, it’s impact and need today, but also for needed reformation in our own lives.

In this celebration, you’ll get an animated history of the life of Martin Luther, new choral music written for the church (by RC Sproul and Jeff Lippencott), as well as terrific mini- messages (18 mins) addressing essential Reformation issues for our lives and our times.

Click above for the entire celebration or click below to watch the specific messages.  I encourage you to honor the Lord and what He did in the Reformation by watching at least one of the following videos. – Arthur