A Small Book with a Large Message: “Art and the Bible”

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Christian art is the expression of the whole life of the whole person who is a Christian. What a Christian portrays in his art is the totality of life. Art is not to be solely a vehicle for some sort of  self-conscious evangelism. ~ Francis A Schaeffer

Francis A. Schaeffer was a great thinker. Having been dead for nearly 25 years now, it’s telling that his books and essays still resonate vigorously with so many. Schaeffer was well known for his writings and his establishment of the L’Abri community in Switzerland, a place that was established in the mid 50s to discuss philosophical and religious beliefs, and to pursue interests in art, music and literature. Honest questions have always been welcome there. The organization has expanded through the years and now has locations world wide.

art-and-the-bibleMark Heard, a recording artist sometimes discussed in the Rabbit Room, spent significant time studying under Schaeffer at L’Abri. Heard, Michael Card, and others in The Jesus Movement were influenced by Schaeffer’s ability to lend context and understanding to the cultural transformation occurring in the late 60s and early to mid 70s. Schaeffer used a biblical foundation to help Christians wrap their arms around an understanding of how to think critically. And in learning how to think, he was also teaching them how to live.

Art and the Bible, a foundational work for Christians in the arts, is a tiny book of distilled information. The book is concentrated and potent. Hardly a sentence is wasted. It’s under 100 pages and can easily be read in a couple of hours. I’m a slow reader and I finished it in one night.

The first essay discusses what the Bible has to say about art. As it turns out, it’s quite a lot. We are treated to a cornucopia of biblical references of art. Poetry, architecture, music, drama, dance, and sculpture are all found in scripture. I found it surprising and quietly joyful to find so many biblical references of art collected in one place. Not so surprisingly, Jesus referred to art. And thankfully, art is not prohibited in heaven:

And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire; and them that come off victorious from the beast, and from his image, and from the number of his name, standing by the sea of glass, having harps of God. And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, “Great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are thy ways, thou King of the ages.” Revelation 15:2-3

The second essay offers up a variety of useful perspectives on art, all of which lend context and understanding, and is particularly helpful to believers. As a prelude, Schaeffer notes that meaningful discussions of art should not be relegated to only “high art,” that is painting, sculpture, poetry, and classical music. He advances that more popular expressions of art—novels, theatre, movies, and popular music—should also be included in the discussion. Further, says Schaeffer, Christian living should be the believer’s greatest work of art.

How should creators and enjoyers of beauty comprehend and evaluate it? CCM artist Steve Camp created quite a ruckus several years ago with his call for reformation in the CCM industry with his 107 Theses. In the tradition of Luther, who nailed his 95 theses onto the door at Wittenberg in 1517, so Camp nailed his 107 theses on the door of CCM.

While Camp’s paper is largely an austere laundry list, Schaeffer’s approach is thoughtfully specific. He leads us through eleven distinct perspectives from which a believer might consider and evaluate art. Somehow, Schaeffer manages to provide us with a structure for artistic interpretation which is  both authoritative and thoughtful. While I read, I sensed Schaeffer’s passion and command of his topic. While I can’t say that I encountered any significant new epiphanies, I can say that I rounded up a lot of exclamation points for that which I already hold to be true.

Consider the first of the perspectives: “The Art Work as An Art Work.” Schaeffer suggests that “a work of art has value in itself.” It doesn’t need to be dissected intellectually or analyzed exhaustively to be appreciated (That’s not to say art should not be analyzed. For some of us, that’s more than half the fun). Says Schaeffer, art is something to be enjoyed. The Bible notes that art work in the tabernacle and the temple was for beauty.

Schaeffer weaves a wonderful web of logic for the value of art as art, which includes God as the Original Creator and man created in the image of God. I felt as if I were being mentored by an expert over the kitchen table, one who inherently understood my neophyte status, and modified his brilliance so I might easily grasp his words.

I highly recommend Art and the Bible. I felt as if I were privy to the life long thoughts of a soul brother who was patient, wise, and willing to share. I forced myself to read even slower than usual, so I might better retain its insight. This mini-primer isn’t as poetic as Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, another exceptionally insightful book  on Christian art, written by Madeleine L’Engle. While Schaeffer had the aptitude to pursue more flowery phraseology, in this book, we catch a glimpse of his theological underpinnings. If you are allergic to the word theology, please don’t let those negative connotations keep you away from this book. Far from dreary sermonettes, Schaeffer simply uses  theology as a framework by which we can more effectively understand the way in which God would have us to think about art.

Writes Schaeffer, “A Christian should use the arts to the glory of God, not just as tracts, mind you, but as things of beauty to the praise of God.”


15 Comments

  1. Mary O'Keefe

    Curt,
    Didn’t know you were a writer! Great review. Read this one many years ago. Even before the “How Should We Then Live” series came out, my husband, Steve and I traveled to Minneapolis as a young married couple to meet Francis and Edith. We stayed there at the U.S. L’Abri, which was a block in downtown Minn., with young believers who opened their homes to us, one of whom gave a beautiful room for us to stay in, in the dead of winter. The ministry was not one of the highly funded televangelistic ones, therefore, the room was icy cold. However, the hospitality was very warm.
    We met with Dr. Schaeffer for 2 sessions, one attended by both Steve and I, and the other, a one-on-one with Steve, while I spent time with Edith and the women.
    This was a transformational time in our lives, and we devoured all of the Schaeffers’ books. Dr. Schaeffer wrote a beautiful letter to us and signed our complete edition of his collected works. Edith did the same.
    We’re now reading Frank Schaeffer’s “Crazy for God” which is a tell all about the Schaeffer family. Very interesting indeed, if you were into them at all.
    I highly recommend the book for the candor alone.
    Thanks for sharing your review. The internet sure makes a small world even smaller!
    Sincerely,
    Mary O

  2. rick from ga

    Thanks, brother. A fine job of review: you’ve nicely weaved your authentic perspective with a taste of the material. It left me wanting to revisit these essays that first nudged me toward art school. ~r

  3. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Curt, well written review that makes me want to get on Amazon and order the book (and I will, this very day). I’ve read the first of a five volume series of Schaeffer’s complete works, starting on the second soon, and love his style and content.

    L’Engle’s Walking on Water, Lewis’s “An Experiment in Criticism,” and Dorothy Sayers’s “The Mind of the Maker” have all had a big influence on the way I perceive the arts and make music. I can’t wait to read another shade of perspective. Thanks for this.

  4. Chris Slaten

    Thank you, Curt. Is this supposed to be in the store? I didn’t see it there. I was hoping to buy it and read it during my vacation next week. I’ll check somewhere else if it is not supposed to be here, but I’d rather support this site. “Walking on Water” was a formative read for me and I look forward to anything else that may help deepen my perspective on this. Great review.
    Peace,
    Chris

  5. Tony Heringer

    Mary,

    FYI – If you want to hear Frank talk about the book, go here: http://stevebrownetc.com/podcasts/steve-brown-etc/steve-frank-schaeffer-on-crazy-for-god/

    It is a conversation between Frank and Steve Brown (who knew Frank and Edith). Candor to be sure, but from what he says in the interview a thoughtful look at the “Religious Right.”

    I haven’t read the book or any of Schaeffer’s work. The closest I’ve come is attending L’Abri in Atlanta as a new believer with a couple of guys who were discipling me and my kids attended a private school heavily influenced by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay’s book “For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School” (required reading back when we joined the school) – a good book from what I recall.

    Curt,

    Thanks for the review. I look forward to reading this book and the books you and Ron noted above.

  6. Curt McLey

    @curtmcley

    Mary – Your experience with L’Abri is fascinating. I hoped that we might receive a reply from somebody that had first hand experience at L’Abri, I’m amazed it came from somebody in my own backyard.

    I learned about Frank Schaeffer’s Crazy for God while researching for this article. In listening to the podcast link that Tony provided, it sounds as if the the book was written fairly and respectfully, but with an eye on the truth.

    How odd, Mary, that we’ve known each other for many years, yet these topics never came up (though I do remember having a conversation with you about Keith Green). I’m really glad you found The Rabbit Room and I am really happy that you chimed in. Please check in again.

    Rick – Thanks for the supportive feedback, Rick. You have mentioned your art background in passing. One day, when things calm down for you, I look forward to hearing more about that.

    Ron – One other book I’ve read that was also useful is called Addicted to Mediocrity — 20th Century Christians and the Arts. Interestingly enough, it was written by the aforementioned Frank Schaeffer, when he was known as “Franky.” It may have been Frank’s first book. I read it many moons ago and it was recommended by none other than our proprietor, Andrew Peterson (Thanks, AP).

    Ron, thanks for the recommendation, “The Mind of the Maker,” by Dorothy Sayers. I will check it out.

    Chris – The books offered in The Rabbit Room store fluctuate, as Andy and Company find these jewels in the nooks and crannies of dusty, used book shops. Art and the Bible isn’t available in the store, but if you send me your address via e-mail, I’ll send you my copy to use for your vacation.

    Tony – Thanks for the link, Tony. I really truly enjoyed listening to that podcast. I also want to thank you for introducing me to Steve Brown. Before your earlier mention here, I had not heard his work. And I enjoy it. It was inspiring to hear Steve (“fundamentalist”) and Frank (now, closer to a “liberal”) laugh and discuss their way through what might be considered incendiary topics by some. Talk show hosts and believers in general would do well to model their discussions after such profitable discussions. Too, thanks for sharing your L’Abri experience.

  7. Stephen Lamb

    @stephen-lamb

    I would object to the use of the term “tell-all” in regards to Frank Schaeffer’s book, Crazy for God. It is a telling of his own story, an attempt to sort out where he is at now and why. Because of his family, sure, it includes details about the Schaeffer’s that some would prefer not to know, but those details are in no way the reason for the book being written. I personally found it helpful in sorting out some things from my background.

    Here’s one of the better reviews of Crazy for God, written by Michael Spencer.

  8. S. D. Smith

    @sdsmith

    I love this little book as well. Thanks for the post, Curt. I appreciate Francis Schaeffer deeply.

    Also: Hooray for Theology! No need to apologize for that.

    We can’t love God (the one who is there) and not love Theology. I am sad/disturbed by man-centered revulsion at the term.

  9. Aaron Roughton

    Thanks for the review, Curt. As usual, I’ve got reading to do…unless of course we can convince you to put all of the above recommendations on tape in your radio voice…

  10. Keith

    Finding Francis Schaeffer was well worth all the tuition I paid at Seminary. He was a true prophetic voice, I wonder what the Church would look like today if it had listened more closely to what he was saying at the time? It’s a shame that many times you find his books at the bottom of a bargain bin in a Christian bookstore, while the next pseudo-Christian self help book, or the latest Christian apocalyptic fiction work get their books stacked 8 feet high in the form of a pyramid and placed in the doorway of the store for promotion. He should be celebrated more, great article on a great book.

  11. Elsa

    I’d like to also recommend Edith Schaffer’s “The Hidden Art of Homemaking.” It’s a very practical and fascinating study on incorporating beauty and excellence into everyday life.

  12. Tony Heringer

    Curt,

    Steve Brown described as a ”fundamentalist cracks me up. I’m glad you enjoyed the show. I think Steve’s approach to that broadcast is similar to the one taken here in the Rabbit Room. He is one cool “old white guy” 🙂

  13. Curt McLey

    @curtmcley

    Stephen – Thanks for your perspective on this book. Rabbitheads that have been significantly influenced by Francis Schaeffer may wish to pick this one up. In the interview link that Tony posted, one gets a sense of the tone that Frank wishes to use when discussing his parents. He loves and respects them, but wants the truth to be told. Frank is simply and candidly telling his story, a large part of which involve his parents, of course.

    S.D. – Thanks for the reinforcement and your two cents.

    Aaron – One day, I will do a book on tape. I would love doing it. After being a jock for all of my high school career, in the last two years I added plays and speech contest to my activities. Something I really enjoyed doing was a reading a group of us did for 12 Angry Men. It was a lot of fun and we won our conference contest for readings with it.

    Robert – Thanks for weighing in. I hope you like the book.

    Keith – What’s that old saying, “The world knows the price of everything, but the value of nothing.” It’s always good to have your perspective.

    Elsa – Thank you for the book recommendation. I also ran across that one in my research. Thanks for calling our attention to it.

    Tony – “Fundamentalist” isn’t my term for Steve. In the program to which you linked us, he referred to himself as a “fundy” or maybe an “old fundy.” I haven’t listened to him long enough to about his specific leanings, for sure. I was just parroting what he said about himself.

  14. Tony Heringer

    Curt,

    Ah, well Steve is fond of saying he’s just to the right of Genghis Khan but when you listen to the man, I’d say he is a truly free man — fundamental in the truth but speaking it in love as we all should. Glad you enjoyed him and I’m looking forward to hearing him live this week-end at Perimeter.

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