Faith without art is dead. Or is certainly much weaker than it needs to be. Why? Think of the role art plays in a typical worship service you attend. There we learn:
Art has the power to help us worship.
Who hasn’t had their heart stirred by a song or hymn? Who hasn’t found the reading of a psalm or other scripture powerful enough to dislodge anger or doubt or anxiety just with its words?
Several generations ago, Christians in vast numbers got out of the art game. Dancing became a taboo, even though dance is a human art form endorsed by the Bible. (You’ve maybe heard the joke: Why are Christians against premarital sex? Because it leads to dancing.)
As Hollywood started to hit its stride in the 40s and 50s, Christians in large numbers started saying, “Christians shouldn’t go to movies.” And we turned that art form over to others. “Christians shouldn’t listen to rock music.” And we turned that art form over to others.
All the while cutting off our nose to spit our face, because with each art form we surrendered, we lost one more way to communicate the beauty and truth of God to our world. Christians need to be in the arts, at every level, in every form.
Art has the power to teach us.
Jesus could have just said, “Show compassion to those who are victimized by violence.” But instead, he spun the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus could have said simply, “Forgive one another.” Instead, he told the story of the Prodigal Son.
Why did Jesus do that? Jesus could have simply said, “Remember my death on the cross.” Instead he gave us bread and wine as symbols of his death, and said, “Do this to remember me.”
The Bible could have been written in just straight narrative. But instead God uses all types of literary forms in its pages: history, and letters, and poetry, and songs. Why all this art? Because art is a tool God uses to reach us and teach us.
For centuries during the Middle Ages, most people in Europe were illiterate. They couldn’t even read their Bibles. Thank God they could worship in cathedrals and chapels that were designed to lift the worshipper’s gaze heavenwards. Thank God for stain glass windows, and statues, and paintings which told the story of the life, death and resurrection of the Son of God. And shame on those early Protestants who, in their zeal to distance themselves from all things “Catholic”, diminished and even destroyed art, removing it from their sanctuaries.
And with art’s power to teach comes this:
Art has the power to weaken or strengthen our character.
Parents should read lots of good stories to their children. Good stories do what scolding or lecturing can never do. They make us want to be good.
Chuck Colson points out in his book, “How Now Shall We Live” that children’s moral choices are not based on abstract standards of right and wrong but on the people they admire and want to be like. Good stories provide us with models to follow and heroes to look up to.
My life was forever changed in my first year in college. After an early conversion to Christ at the age of 11, I drifted away from God in high school. But in the fall of my first college semester, I watched the movie “Ben-Hur” with Charlton Heston, and by its end, I was sitting alone in the student lounge, crying my eyes out, asking Jesus to take me back and make me his again, once and for all.
The art you feed your soul with – the movies you watch, the music you listen to, the pictures you look at – will invariably determine the man or woman you will become.
God created the arts for humanity. They belong to you and me. If ever we are to redeem this culture and bring it back to God, it will not happen unless we reclaim the power of art for Jesus Christ.
Bear Clifton is a pastor, writer and screenwriter. His blogs and devotionals can be enjoyed at his ministry website: trainyourselfministry.com and his writing website: blclifton.com. Bear is the author of “Train Yourself To Be Godly: A 40 Day Journey Toward Sexual Wholeness”, “Ben-Hur: The Odyssey”, and “A Sparrow Could Fall”, all available through Amazon.