A Theology of Art in 2 Minutes

Is there a way to envision “Christian art” as something more than misty fairytale cottages or contrived plotlines where typecast God-haters join in a tearful Jesus anthem before the credits roll?

The first time we meet God in the story of Scripture, we meet him as an Artist. “Created” is the first verb in the first sentence on the Bible’s first page. Out of the flurry of God’s imagination, the heavens and the earth burst into existence and teem with diversity and beauty. God could have easily spoken a monochrome cosmos into being. He could have made an all-gray universe—gray planets, gray animals, gray-on-gray rainbows in a gray sky. Even oranges would be called “grays.” This Graytopia could’ve been perfectly efficient and functional from an engineering perspective. Why, then, make our multi-hued universe?

 

Many of us who have seen “Christian paintings,” watched “Christian movies,” and heard “Christian music” may be skeptical about Christian art. As Gregory Thornbury has quipped, “Christianity is the greatest of all nouns, but the lamest of all adjectives.”

But is there a way to envision “Christian art” as something more than misty fairytale cottages or contrived plotlines where typecast God-haters join in a tearful Jesus anthem before the credits roll?

I believe there is, but it won’t happen unless we first develop a more robust theology of art. Here is a brief, two-minute sketch of what that might look like.

God Is an Artist

The first time we meet God in the story of Scripture, we meet him as an Artist. “Created” is the first verb in the first sentence on the Bible’s first page. Out of the flurry of God’s imagination, the heavens and the earth burst into existence and teem with diversity and beauty. God could have easily spoken a monochrome cosmos into being. He could have made an all-gray universe—gray planets, gray animals, gray-on-gray rainbows in a gray sky. Even oranges would be called “grays.” This Graytopia could’ve been perfectly efficient and functional from an engineering perspective. Why, then, make our multi-hued universe? Why the color spectrum? Why red strawberries, orange oranges, and yellow lemons? Why mandarinfish, peacocks, and chameleons? Because, as Genesis 1 repeats seven times, “God saw that it was good.” Evidently, God cares about more than efficiency and functionality. He also cares about beauty.

Taylor University philosophy professor James Spiegel has made the case that when God said “it was good,” he was not making a moral, legal, political, or prudential claim. He was making an aesthetic claim. It’s not like saying that the boy who ate all his vegetables “was good” for obeying Mommy, or the Magna Carta “was good” for society, or the Large Hadron Collider “was good” for quantum research. It’s more like beholding a Titian canvas or a sunset over the Pacific and saying, “That’s good.” And God made this aesthetic declaration even before he made Adam and Eve! It follows, then, that something can be truly beautiful even if no human being is around to behold and declare it so. Beauty, then, is not merely something we as humans dream up (though thankfully we can); it’s also something we can discover, something beyond and even before us.

Read More