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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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.

Video – Ask Anything Tour @ UCLA

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TD in front of UCLA’s beautiful new Luskin Conference Center

Hey TD!

We had a wonderful time at UCLA two weekends ago with Ligonier Ministries, as we got to watch Al Mohler answer tough questions from a live public audience during Ligonier’s Ask Anything Tour on Friday night; and then we were taught by Mohler, Burk Parsons, and Stephen Nichols during Ligonier’s Truth and Consequences training on Saturday.  It was a faith building weekend that challenged us to work on our skill set in representing Christ better in the public square.

Here is the video of Friday night’s Ask Anything Tour, with a Table of Contents of questions below, so you can go to the question you’d like to hear:

2018 Ask Anything with Al Mohler @ UCLA – 3/2/18

27:30 Were there any big intellectual barriers to you coming to Christ?
30:00 The traditional answer to why evil exists is that God wants to demonstrate His character against the backdrop of evil. Did God have to send billions of people to hell to demonstrate His goodness to a few?
36:35 What is the biblical worldview on transgender-ism and gender identity ?
47:20 Does theistic evolution contradict the Bible?
53:00 How should Christians approach government? Are we to be passive, if submissive?
1:00:45 Why is Christianity right and the rest of the 2,999 wrong?
1:07:07 Do you agree with the apostle Paul when he describes same-sex attraction as, “degrading passions, un-natural affections, abominable, perversed, indecent and depraved”?
1:11:17 Should I take medication for depression, should I see a physician for it, and what should I advise my friends who struggle with this? How can I approach this biblically?
1:17:47 Given that the Bible holds that human life begins at conception, what are the ethics of conducting research with established human embryonic stem cell lines? These are many generations removed from initial destruction, and who bears culpability in such research?
1:25:10 How do you read so much and retain information effectively?
1:30:20 When would you recommend someone for seminary, and when is one ready for seminary?
1:36:12 How do you explain Christian denominations? Should there be and is there a correct one? Starting at
1:45:00, Mohler goes into short(ish) answers for time.
1:45:35 How can God be loving and send people to hell? Different than the first, if the system is inherently wrong, can we believe in God?
1:47:23 My wife and I are seeing many of our friends foregoing marriage, and children. Is this biblically wrong and do you think there will be consequences?
1:50:05 How can you assert the divinity of the Bible given the history that precedes the publication of it?
1:53:21 What’s a biblical response to systemic racism, especially in light of scripture being used to validate American slavery?
1:57:40 In light of recent events, while embracing the sovereignty of God and the free will of humanity, what good do the “thoughts and prayers” of Christians amidst chaos and violence offer?

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

 

RC Sproul (1939 – 2017) – He Fought the Good Fight

Video of RC’s surprise b-day greeting on my 50th

Hi TD,

It is with profound sadness that I inform you of the passing of one of the great ones, Dr. RC Sproul.  As giant a figure as he had become in Christendom for enabling the lay person access to the deep truths of God and powerfully and indelibly confronting us with His absolute and transcendent holiness, he was a humble, gracious, generous, funny, and loving man.  He was a hero to me and so, so instrumental in teaching me and helping to shape not only my theology, but my character.  He will be sorely missed.

In the video above, you can get a flavor of his warmth and kindness as he surprised me with a clever birthday greeting for my 50th this summer.

Please pray for his family, as they work through their loss.  They said they are weary, saddened, yet rejoicing for him.  Here’s why they are rejoicing:

We’ll be posting more from his life and ministry in the weeks ahead, so you too can be impacted and your faith deepened.

Here’s the official announcement:

Dr. R.C. Sproul, Called Home to the Lord

FROM  Dec 14, 2017 Category: Ministry News

Dr. R.C. Sproul went home to be with the Lord this afternoon around 3 p.m. surrounded by his wife, Vesta, and family in his hospital room in Altamonte Springs, Fla. He was 78. He died peacefully after being hospitalized twelve days ago due to severe respiratory difficulties exacerbated by the flu and complicated by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Known to millions of Christians as simply “R.C.,” he was used of the Lord to proclaim, teach, and defend the holiness of God in all its fullness. Through his teaching ministry, many of us learned that God is bigger than we knew, our sin is more deeply rooted than we imagined, and the grace of God in Jesus Christ is overwhelming.

God called R.C. to proclaim the gospel to as many people as possible. R.C. did this knowing the Lord did not need him. In fact, he wanted people to know the enduring, faithful witness of God’s servants throughout church history. God powerfully used R.C.’s ministry in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries to awaken people around the world to the truths of classical Christianity.

It belongs to others in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead to assess the impact of R.C.’s ministry in the history of the church. In this moment, we feel loss—immense sadness and profound loss—the loss of a pastor, a teacher, a leader, a brother-in-Christ, a friend.

R.C. now sees the object of his faith, the risen Christ, high and lifted up. He now hears the seraphim’s song before the throne, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

We will be publishing details about the memorial service and providing an opportunity to leave a note of appreciation for Dr. Sproul’s ministry at RCSproul.com in the coming hours.

Please Pray for RC Now – in serious condition

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Visiting with RC and his family last month

Hey TD’ers and TD Alum,

May I ask you to please stop for a moment and make a hearty petition to God, asking Him to help heal and restore health to my friend and a hero in my life, Dr. RC Sproul, who is sedated in the hospital in the Intensive Care Unit in serious condition.  His breathing is being supported by a ventilator and he has fluid in his lungs.

His daughter, Sherrie, told me this afternoon that he is a little more stable but is “not out of the woods.”  Please pray that God would lead him out of the woods.

In addition to being a world-class theologian that has helped countless number of Christians in the last four-plus decades to grow in awe and wonder and appreciation of the holiness of God, he is a really good guy.  He is gracious, kind, amazingly sharp and witty, very funny, and yet very humble.

Our entire high school Sunday School curriculum, from 9th – 12th grade comes from his teaching, and all of your Sunday School teachers and TD leaders have been profoundly impacted by his faithful teaching and unique ability to communicate difficult theology in a way that is profound yet understandable.

We were able to visit with RC and his family last month in Orlando (see picture above), and he was as sharp and gracious as ever.  Your prayers for RC, his wife, Vesta, and the rest of the family would be one way you can make a return contribution to him.

Thank you so much – Arthur