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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.
Mark 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.”