Posts from — October 2011
“All that has enriched and honoured the life of all nations in all history will be brought in to enrich the new ceation. The new creation will not be a blank page, as if God will simply crumple up the whole of human historical life in this creation and toss it in the cosmic bin, and then hand us a new sheet to start all over again. The new creation will start with the unimagineable reservoir of all that human civilization has accomplished in the old creation – but purged, cleansed, disinfected, sanctified and blessed. And we shall have eternity to enjoy it and to build upon it in ways we cannot dream of now as we will exercise the powers of creativity of our redeemed humanity.
Think of the prospect! All human culture, language, literature, art, music, science, business, sport, technological achievement, – actual and potential — all available to us. All of it with the poison of evil and sin sucked out of it forever. All of it glorifying God. All of it under his loving and approving smile. All of it for us to enjoy with God and indeed being enjoyed by God. And all eternity for us to explore it, understand it, appreciate it, and expand it.
If this is the new creation that the Bible promises, you can understand why I don’t want just to ‘go to heaven when I die.’ Who wants just heaven, when God promises heaven and earth?”
- Christopher Wright, The God I Don’t Understand
October 30, 2011 No Comments
Though written nearly 20 years ago, the points raised in this article by composer J.A.C. Redford remain applicable and timely for Christians working in the arts today. I’ve posted an excerpt in the past and am grateful for Mr. Redford’s permission to reprint his article in its entirety.
This article by J.A.C. Redford first appeared in The Life (A Publication of the Creative Trust, Vol. 4 – Fall 1991/Winter 1992)
God placed a “Help Wanted” ad in the June 16, 1989 edition of CHRISTIANITY TODAY. It wasn’t immediately recognizable as such and it didn’t appear in the classifieds. In fact, it was stuck at the end of an editorial by then senior editor, John Akers. But I believe that God was behind it. Here is how it ran:
“Where are the creative men and women – the writers, the artists, the filmmakers – who will capture the imagination of our confused world in the name of Christ? Where are those who will expose by their work the vanities and contradictions of our age, and affirm with all the skill they can muster that only in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge?
In recent decades, evangelicals have begun to reenter academic disciplines they once abdicated. But unless we communicate to our generation through the book and other art forms that influence it, our convictions will continue to be judged irrelevant, unworthy of examination by modern secular man. May God raise up those who will fill this gap.”
On first reading these words, my reaction was simply: “Where do I sign up? Lord, let me be one of those artists!” These thoughts have since risen to a torrent of ideas with their source in a long held and deeply felt vocation in music. I’m grateful for this opportunity to put some of them into print.
It’s easy to answer Akers’ first question glibly. Where are the “creative men and women?” Just step into any Christian bookstore and consider the seemingly endless shelves of books and impressive music displays. Surely these represent a dynamic creative force at work in the evangelical community. Aren’t there more than enough new books written every year? And a thriving gospel music industry? To some, Akers’ question may seem merely superfluous.
And yet, without diminishing the contribution of a single faith-driven author or musician, the question doesn’t end in the Christian bookstore. With Diogenes-like persistence, Akers presses the point further to ask which of them “will capture the imagination of our confused world.” This qualification raises the stakes considerably.
Certainly there are a few, perhaps even many who have already answered this call. But are there enough and is their impact sufficiently potent? The rapidly declining state of our culture indicates otherwise. If there is a Christian leaven in this lump, its impact seems rather inconsequential. And a second look at those bookstore shelves reveals that the lion’s share of Christian creativity is devoted to “preaching to the choir,” a necessary and noble task, but only half the task at hand.
Moreover, the evangelical witness to the world is often hamstrung by insular jargon and limited range. Practical and devotional works abound, but where is the poetry that arrests the senses in Jesus’ name? Christian rock proliferates, but where are the contemporary oratorios and symphonic works that celebrate the life of faith? Where are the skillfully devised stories that expose “the vanities and contradictions of our age” and reveal – not just to Christians, but to the world at large – “the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” that dwell uniquely in Christ? Where are the paintings, the films? In short, where is the sort of art that will capture the imagination of the movers and shapers of our world? Everyone can offer a few sterling examples in response, but the list is all too short and they often look like anomalies to the secular mind, rather than part of a whole fabric of Christian expression.
Some will say that this is not a job for artists but for preachers or evangelists. After all, isn’t truth communicated objectively? And isn’t the Bible enough? Why do we need fiction and poetry and film to muddy the pond with ambiguities? Others may question the necessity of capturing the imagination at all. Won’t God draw those who are His through the Holy Spirit? Imagination doesn’t enter into the bargain. It may be further argued that art appeals only to the elite. Hasn’t God entrusted His gospel to the “weak and foolish?” Isn’t any attempt by Christians to invade the arts like playing a futile and idolatrous game on foreign turf?
In response to these legitimate concerns, we must first recognize that objective truth nearly always requires illustration before anyone can fully understand or apply it. The Bible itself is a book of stories – God did not see fit to deliver a work of systematic theology, though we frequently wish He had. There is no better example than Jesus’ use of parables. In one important sense, art is simply a refined means of illustration. And the Holy Spirit is fully able to travel on our works as well as our words. Ephesians 2:10 tells us that we are God’s “poiema,” His poems, works of art created in grace to walk in good works ourselves, signaling His presence in a benighted world. While it’s true that we have this treasure in earthen vessels, the quality of our work in either the moral or aesthetic realms has real bearing on the effectiveness of our witness. Art is not about elitism as much as it is about quality – quality of content as well as quality of communication. Excellence must never become foreign turf for the follower of Jesus Christ.
Ultimately, however, the most important reason for a bold and widespread Christian witness in the arena of the arts is that the need among the lost is so achingly deep. While in London last May, after recording the orchestral arrangements for Michael Card’s Christmas album, “The Promise,” I enjoyed visiting the Tate Gallery. I spent a gloriously intense morning on what seemed a pilgrimage through the landscape of English art. I was inspired by the democratic morality of Hogarth, the rugged natural beauty of Constable, the rowdy mysticism of Blake, and the apocalyptic visions of John Martin. I was struck with poignance by the wistful pre-Raphaelite women and rejoiced at the “spasmodic tricks of radiance” in the work of the impressionists, delighting as well in the jangling colors and jostling shapes of the post-impressionists and early cubists. Many of these works reflect the influence of a Judeo-Christian consensus, if not a particular artist’s specifically Christian world view and I was profoundly grateful for the heritage of faith that they represent.
The Tate’s main building is divided in two by a long inner court. So far, I had spent my time on one side of the museum. I was looking forward to visiting the adjoining Turner wing that afternoon, but first I wanted to take in the late 20th century works that hung in the galleries on the opposite side. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, that relatively short walk across the marbled court proved to be a giant leap into a wholly other universe, a smoking Gehenna writhing with the leering demons and mutilated corpses of modernism. The walls were strung with nightmares. To the left of the doorway in the first room I entered was a huge black- dominated painting of Baal and on the right was another featuring the fish god, presumably Dagon. I have never before been so struck with the enormous contrast between the fundamental assumptions of modernity and those values that historically preceded them.
A broad survey of contemporary art, music and literature reveals a deep spiritual sickness has infected our culture. In the visual arts, the notorious works of Andres Serrano and Robert Mapplethorpe are symptomatic, but so is the mind-numbing repetition of minimalism in the concert hall. Fiction such as “American Psycho” seeks to blaze new trails in torture and degradation and films like “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover” are largely obsessed with ugliness and despair, mistaking these for authenticity.
The issues can’t be reduced to simple dichotomies: representationalism vs. abstraction, literalism vs. symbolism, consonance vs. dissonance or commercialism vs. elitism. Art has always thrived on the tensions between these poles. Our culture is facing a crisis of content that under-girds all of our contexts and presuppositions across the board. Christians are by no means the only ones to have noticed this. Outside the evangelical community, astute and acerbic critics such as Robert Hughes in the field of painting, Samuel Lipman in music and Michael Medved in film have pointedly observed the collapse of the arts in our time.
But what is the antidote to all of this? Certainly not boycotts and petitions. These political strategies may have the short-term effect of “cleansing the outside of the cup,” but they are powerless to change the heart, from whence issues the evil according to Jesus. Furthermore, political action can even be counterproductive, reinforcing the secular view that Christian faith is “irrelevant” and “unworthy of examination.”
Nor does the answer lie in a retreat to so-called “traditional American values.” Some look back with nostalgia on the decade of the 50’s, yearning for a return to national innocence and bliss. But mounting evidence of childhood abuse and other serious family dysfunctions among the yuppies suggests that a darker scenario was unfolding under the placid surface: a lot of Ozzie Nelson types must have doffed their cardigans to molest their daughters and what many fathers apparently knew best was suppressed rage and devouring denial.
What we need is a fresh work of God, a “new song,” radical revival from the roots up and the inside out. And I believe we also need a Christian renaissance in the arts to drive God’s truth home to the hungry heart of secular man.
In the Middle Ages, illiteracy was common. The “good news” had to be told with pictures and stories, stained glass windows and mystery plays on the cathedral steps. In our contemporary western culture, virtually everyone can read. We live in the “age of information” and are inundated with millions of words and ideas every day. But ironically we must choose not to read the greater part of them. One consequence of this selective disregard is that words and ideas are trivialized – the sense of their meaning and power is lost. Moving pictures via television and film have replaced the written word as the most potent medium of our generation. A friend, teaching at a prominent Christian prep school, recently observed that his students saw 25 movies for every book they read. The influence of such media in shaping the character of the next generation can hardly be calculated. Is it any surprise that our culture is experiencing a corresponding erosion of confidence in God’s Word? Our civilization has become spiritually illiterate. We need new stained glass windows and new mystery plays to speak to the lost in ways they can understand and appreciate.
Yet many Christians have abandoned the arena of the arts to the “infidels,” favoring a strategy of quarantine over inoculation. It’s not hard to understand why. The tensions of working in a demanding and competitive field alongside those who do not share Christian values can be exhausting. To say nothing of the inherent frustration of submitting to the judgment of critics who are quite blind to Him who is at the crux of all art made by genuine Christians. But territory yielded in the arts is territory of the heart and casualties among the lost are too great a price to pay for our comfort. Nor is the creation of Christian cultural ghettos a viable answer. Quarantine cannot work when the disease is already among us, as it has been since the Fall. Spiritual inoculation is our only real defense, but it also makes possible an effective offense, by allowing us to move freely throughout a corrupt world, bearing the healing balm of redemptive life, just as Jesus commanded.
I believe a Christian renaissance in the arts must be firmly grounded in three basic principles:
First, the fact of “Christ in us.” Christian artists must first be genuine Christians and genuine Christians will not be able to make other than art infused with faith in Christ. It will inevitably “flame out like shining from shook foil.” There is no shortcut to or substitute for a deep and abiding attachment to the Vine. Jesus says “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). This is a non-negotiable prerequisite.
Secondly, there must be a continuous striving for excellence of vision, expression and craft on the part of Christian artists and a recognition and support of excellence among all believers. This is a scriptural imperative. Paul tells disciples of Christ “whatever is true, whatever is notable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice” (Phil 4:8-9). Where the arts are concerned, it maybe this aspect more than any other that will draw the world to the One who is the Truth. Excellence earns the respect that serves as a bridge between secular preoccupations and the Word of God. But to accomplish this, many Christians must learn to revalue excellence in the arts themselves. God, who insisted on the best with regard to the construction of His tabernacle, even in the unforgiving Sinai wilderness, must be appalled at the cheap trinkets that are paraded about in His name today. There is such a thing as aesthetic accountability. We must learn to value that which Paul so eloquently outlined.
Finally, a Christian renaissance cannot occur without the broad networking of those who make up the body of Christ. Nehemiah makes a fascinating aside in describing the circumstances surrounding the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem. He writes that the singers brought together for that festive occasion had already “built villages for themselves around Jerusalem” (Neh 12:29). It’s almost as if they were already gathered and waiting for Nehemiah’s call. They seem to have understood that “a cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Eccl 4:9-12). Rather than competing for shares of a limited market, Christian artists must work together to press the peace of Christ into the world.
But it’s not just the artists that must come together. After reading Akers’ editorial, I wanted to ask a follow-up question: “Where are the patrons who will make the work of Christian artists possible?” Artists have families to support and bills to pay like everyone else. The evangelical community has often fallen short in this area, telling the artist “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” while doing nothing about his needs (Jas 2:16). The arts cannot survive without patrons. Christians with resources need to see the arts as a legitimate avenue for contribution. And believers who are able should be willing to invest in literature, music and painting by Christian artists.
But the participation of the faithful does not hinge on monetary support. Christians working in the arts desperately need the encouragement of other Christians who will stand in the gap with them. Yet there seems to be a basic misunderstanding, influenced by the world’s corrupt view, that undermines the church’s encouragement of the artist, namely that art is all about the luxury of self-expression. Christians need to know that self-expression is only part of the picture. Art is also about communication and most artists feel the drive to communicate as strongly as they do to express themselves. Furthermore, these twin drives are both essential components in the acts of worship and evangelism. If we can see this connection, perhaps we can begin to understand why an artist’s work is no mere luxury, but actually a ministry which fills unique and authentic needs in the body of Christ as well as in the world. With this understanding, a partnership between the artist and the church can be achieved, a true blending of gifts which must happen before a Christian renaissance in the arts can ever take place. If partnerships of this sort begin to form, nothing will be able to keep the leaven of hope from spreading throughout our culture.
Additionally, it is only in a loving environment that an artist can be free to risk failure, something he must be able to do in order to create truly excellent work. This strikes at the heart of the tension between the gospel of grace and contemporary culture which has little patience with failure. But we must rise to the occasion and insist on “living dangerously in the hands of God” rather than by the twisted performance orientation of a works-based secular religion of success.
To believers who already sense a vocation in the arts, Akers’ thoughts aren’t new, but rather a reaffirmation, a fresh call to arms. We need to hear such clarion calls from time to time to shore up our sagging spirits in the warfare for the hearts and minds of men. May the trumpet give a clear call, a certain sound of faith and redemption even as the clouds grow dark and threatening around us. “May God raise up those who will fill this gap” and may He also raise up those who will stand in the gap with them.
An edited version of this article was published in The Door (July-August 1992, #124).
October 27, 2011 1 Comment
“What makes art Christian art? Is it simply Christian artists painting biblical subjects like Jeremiah? Or, by attaching a halo, does that suddenly make something Christian art? Must the artist’s subject be religious to be Christian? I don’t think so. There is a certain sense in which art is its own justification. If art is good art, if it is true art, if it is beautiful art, then it is bearing witness to the Author of the good, the true, and the beautiful.”
- R.C. Sproul, Lifeviews
October 23, 2011 No Comments
…and Hark! A Vagrant.
October 22, 2011 No Comments
This is one of the sweetest YouTube videos I’ve seen in awhile.
From the video description: “An elderly couple walked into the lobby of the Mayo Clinic for a checkup and spotted a piano. They’ve been married for 62 years and he’ll be 90 this year. Check out this impromptu performance. We are only as old as we feel, it’s all attitude.”
October 20, 2011 No Comments
“The music of the saints, rightly done, is universal and evangelistic. The music of the saints, wrongly done, becomes “church music,” set off in a ghetto of its own — perhaps to be respected and perhaps despised, but always isolated . . .
If our music is not having an effect upon the nations, we cannot change it by tinkering with the notes, or finding better songs. Rather, we need to sing to God, with overflowing hearts, and with a true and living faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and if we do, the music will do what only the Spirit of God can do with it.”
- Douglas Wilson, Learning to Sing Sea Water
October 16, 2011 No Comments
Ah, the ’80s. The decade of Chuck Taylors, Back to the Future, and Care Bears was also the decade of string quartets making unusual TV appearances.
Steve Martin and the American String Quartet
Steve Martin loves that cultural stuff.
Big Bird and the Kronos Quartet
With leather pants and a little Purple Haze, naturally.
Oscar the Grouch and the Tokyo String Quartet
Oscar the Grouch digs classical music…
Yo Yo Ma and the Sesame Street Chamber Music Society
Cellist Yo Yo Ma debuts an unusual Beethoven quartet with his unorthodox quartet.
October 13, 2011 No Comments
Doug and Margaret Nichols are a missionary couple I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with several times over the past several years. One of the most godly and humble couples I’ve met, they are a true example of what it means to selflessly live for the Lord.
Francis Schaeffer Sleeping on the Floor
In 1966, I joined Operation Mobilization for a year of ministry in France, but spent two years in India instead. While in London in the summer of ‘66 at a one-month OM orientation, I volunteered to work on a clean-up crew late one night. Around 12:30 am, I was sweeping the front steps of the conference center when an older gentleman approached and asked if this was the OM conference. I told him it was, but that almost everyone was in bed.
He had a small bag with him and was dressed very simply. He said he was attending the conference, so I said, “Let me see if I can find you a place to sleep.” Since there were many different age groups at OM, I thought he was an older OMer. I took him to the room where I had been sleeping on the floor with about 50 others and seeing that he had nothing to sleep on laid some padding and a blanket on the floor and gave him a towel for a pillow. He said it would be fine and that he appreciated it very much.
As he was preparing for bed, I asked him if he had eaten. He had not, as he had been traveling all day. I took him to the dining room, but it was locked, so after picking the lock, I found corn flakes, milk, bread, butter and jam – all of which he thanked me for.
As he ate and we began to fellowship, I asked where he was from. He said he and his wife had been working in Switzerland for several years in a ministry mainly to hippies and travelers. It was wonderful to talk to him and hear about his work and those who had come to Christ. When he finished eating, we turned in for the night.
The next day I was in trouble! The leaders of OM really got on my case. “Don’t you know who that man is on the floor next to you? It is Dr. Francis Schaeffer, the speaker for the conference!” I did not know we were going to have a speaker, nor did I know who Francis Schaeffer was, nor did I know they had a special room for him!
After Francis Schaeffer became well known because of his books and I had read more about him, I thought about this occasion many times – this gracious, kind, humble man of God sleeping on the floor with OM recruits! This was the kind of man I wanted to be.
Of course, I will never obtain the intellect, knowledge, or wisdom of Francis Schaeffer, but I can reach out to younger people and humbly minister to them in Christ’s name by living a life of humility. What about you?
— Doug Nichols (via)
October 11, 2011 No Comments
From photographer Andrew Zuckerman, a fascinating series of interviews from fifty musicians on creativity, inspiration, performance, and collaboration:
October 10, 2011 No Comments
“One difference between God’s work and man’s is, that, while God’s work cannot mean more than he meant, man’s must mean more than he meant. For in everything that God has made, there is layer upon layer of ascending significance; also he expresses the same thought in higher and higher kinds of that thought: it is God’s things, his embodied thoughts, which alone a man has to use, modified and adapted to his own purposes, for the expression of his thoughts; therefore he cannot help his words and figures falling into such combinations in the mind of another as he had himself not foreseen, so many are the thoughts allied to every other thought, so many are the relations involved in every figure, so many the facts hinted in every symbol.
A man may well himself discover truth in what he wrote; for he was dealing all the time with things that came from thoughts beyond his own.”
- George MacDonald, The Fantastic Imagination
October 9, 2011 No Comments