Four Fundamental Principles for a Christian Theology of the Arts
One good place to start constructing a biblical view of art is Exodus 31, where God calls two men (Bezalel and Oholiab) to be artist.
Then the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law with the atonement cover on it, and all the other furnishings of the tent— the table and its articles, the pure gold lampstand and all its accessories, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, the basin with its stand— and also the woven garments, both the sacred garments for Aaron the priest and the garments for his sons when they serve as priests, and the anointing oil and fragrant incense for the Holy Place. They are to make them just as I commanded you.” Exodus 31:1-11 (NIV)
This passage teaches at least four fundamental principles for a Christian theology of the arts: (1) The artist call and gift come from God; (2) God loves all kinds of art; (3) God maintains high standards for goodness, truth, and beauty; and (4) art is for the glory of God.
The Artist Call and Gift Come From God.
The calling of the artist reflects a deep truth about the character of God. God is the ultimate artist. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you Exodus 31:6. There are many facets an artist call. Skill refers to an artist innate talent but needs to be accompanied by intelligence; Intelligence or knowledge of the materials and medium being used. Craftsmanship demonstrates the artist technique, the difference between something being poorly executed or well made. Spiritual insight: and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— Exodus 31: 3 This is the first time in the Bible that such language is used and teaches us something important about the arts. Passion for the arts is a requirement, but alone is not sufficient. The gifts of someone who is truly gifted will be confirmed by those who are qualified to know. All of these are indications that an artist has been called by God
God Loves All Kinds of Art.
“All kinds” does not mean that all works of art are good or godly. God had high standards for art, and obviously cannot endorse the content that is pornographic or propagandistic, or that violates his character in any other way. What is meant instead is that God blesses a rich variety of art forms. In Exodus 31 God gives Bezalel a wide range of artistic gifts and says, “I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts- to make artistic design for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship” (Exodus 31:3-5).Most artists do their best work in a narrow specialty, but like Michelangelo or Mozart, these men had the rare ability to work with equal skill in various media. God sanctifies a wide spectrum of artistic gifts. Some Christians tend to think that certain forms of art are godlier than others, making a sharp distinction between secular and sacred. We need to recognize that so-called secular art is the exploration of God’s world and has a place in our deeper understanding of God’s person and work. Christians also tend to dismiss abstract art, especially as it has come to expression in modern art. Abstract art has God’s blessing as well as long as it is keeping with the perfections of his character.
God Maintains High Standards for Goodness, Truth and Beauty.
The latitude God gives to the arts does not mean anything goes. God has high standards for art, as he does everything else. Using Exodus 31 as a guide- and this is our third principle for thinking Christianity about the arts – God’s aesthetic standards include goodness, truth and beauty. These standards are not relative; they are absolute. Goodness is both an ethical and aesthetic standard. Christian artist should not make anything immoral and make art that demonstrates mastery of technique in a particular artistic discipline. Truth has always been one important criterion for art. Art is the incantation of the truth. It penetrates the surface of things to portray them as they really are. It can experience emotional and experiential truth. Modern and postmodern art often claim to portray the pain and absurdity of human existence. Christian artist approach the human condition in a more complete and hopeful manner with a sense of what we can become. Finally beauty is one of the artist highest priorities. God is a great lover of beauty. Truth and beauty are interconnected. We are always drawn to the beauty that endures – the truth of what we were, what we are, and what we can become in Christ.
Art is for the Glory of God.
A fourth principle a Christian theology of the arts is that art is for God’s sake. Artist sometimes talk about art for art’s sake. The problem is that artistry easily becomes idolatry, and when this happens, art is seen to exist only for its own sake and not for any higher purpose. When we experience art, we must ask the question: Whom does this glorify? Rather than dedicating their work to God some artist produce it for their own glory. Even Christian artist may succumb to pride for their recognition of their work. There is a reason for this: it is the best things in life that threaten to steal our worship, and art is such a wonderful gift that those who love it sometimes forget to praise its Giver. Artist can avoid making this mistake by acknowledging their artistic ability as a gift from God. They can avoid idolizing the arts by resisting any temptation to isolation and instead living in the Christian community, where a God-center orientation to life is the basis for daily discipleship, and where every earthly calling finds its true significance in relation to the higher calling of God. Making art is an expression of our love for God and love for our neighbor. What an artist makes tells us something about how they view the world. The art of a Christian ought to be consistent with a life of faith and Christ.
To Summarize, this is the Christian view of art: the artist is called and gifted by God – who loves all kinds of art; who maintains high aesthetic standards for goodness, truth, and beauty; and whose glory is art’s highest goal. We accept these principals because they are biblical, and also because they are true to God’s character. What we believe about art is based on what we believe about God. Art is what it is because God is who he is. Each of the four principles reveals something about God’s own divine being and attributes. What kind of art would be worthy of such a God? Only good art: art that works within the potentialities of creation to reflect the goodness of God’s being. Only true art: art that tells the truth about sin and is sensitive to the tragedy of suffering in a fallen world. Only beautiful art: art that incarnates the hope of our redemption and refuses to allow despair to serve as the ultimate perspective on human existence. Only glorious art: art that anticipates the coming of God’s glory in the person of Jesus Christ.