The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

Message and Meaning

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The very first verse of the Bible tells us that “God created.” Twenty-six verses later we also learn that man was created in God’s image: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). The implications and ramifications of this simple truth have sparked debate and discussion about what it really means to be “in God’s image,” but one thing is certain: man creates because God created first. “Being in the image of the Creator, we are called upon to have creativity. In fact, it is part of the image of God to be creative, or to have creativity. We never find an animal, non-man, making a work of art. On the other hand, we never find men anywhere in the world or in any culture in the world who do not produce art...Creativity is intrinsic to our ‘mannishness.’”[1]

There is a sense in which the creation itself is a work of art. When God spoke the heavens and the earth into existence and filled them on the ensuing six days with stars, planets, birds, fish, animals, plants and people, He was making a statement about Who He is. Paul makes this point rather clear in Romans 1 when he argues that unbelievers suppress God’s plain truth in unrighteousness. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). Jesus uses a similar argument when He is discussing the “birth from above” with Nicodemus. “Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:11-12). Likewise, Psalm 19 states: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” The creation points to the Creator. God filled His grand canvas of the universe with colors, shapes, lights, sounds, smells, and tastes which all work in unison to proclaim His glory.

However, if the creation itself was enough to testify to the whole truth of God’s nature—His grace, compassion, and love—we would never have needed the Bible. The fact of the matter is that we can never fully understand a work of art without knowing something about the artist. “The old theologians and scientists spoke of the Book of God and the Book of Nature. God has written both the Bible and the created order, and human beings are obliged to read them both.”[2] In fact, as Francis Schaeffer points out, Christians are obliged to read everything through the light of Scripture:

Some artists may not know that they are consciously showing forth a world-view. Nonetheless, a world-view usually does show through from the body of their work. Even those works which were constructed under the principle of art for art’s sake often imply a world-view—even the world-view that there is no meaning is a message. In any case, whether the artist is conscious of the world-view or not, to the extent that it is there it must come under the judgment of the Word of God.[3]

Because of cultural opposition and antagonism to the Christian message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Christians have largely come to view art with suspicion. The very mention of the word in many Christian circles automatically means something negative, something to be avoided at all costs. Christians who have bought into this way of thinking have also bought into Platonic dualism, where the spiritual world is the ideal and the physical world is merely a distraction. Because of this antimony, those brave Christians who do happen to venture out into the big, bad, world of art and creativity tend to do so only to communicate a message. In other words, the art becomes a servant to the message. The artist becomes so worried that his art will be misunderstood that he goes to great lengths to make sure that this never happens. In filmmaking, I have referred to this as the “Billy Graham Model” (for an explanation, see my Facing the Giants review), but the principle holds true in all art forms.

Thomas Kinkade’s landscape paintings are a great example of this pietistic dualism. Although they communicate beauty and lushness, they often have no direct connection to the “real world.” Imagine the stark message that Kinkade could communicate if he would drip blood off the doorpost of one of his idyllic mountain cottages. This extreme contrast of beauty and brokenness is one that Peter Paul Rubens uses to great effect in his Massacre of the Innocents painting. Compare one of Kinkade’s landscapes to his recent Nascar Thunder! painting and I believe you will instantly see the difference. Because Kinkade was not trying so hard to communicate a “Christian” message with his Nascar painting, his true artistic ability is able to speak much more relevantly to the real world of “beauty and brokenness.” The message actually becomes much more clear because it is being reinforced by the art, not defining it.

Footnotes:
[1]
Francis Schaeffer, “Art and the Bible,” The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1982), 2: 394.
[2]
Gene Edward Veith, “God as author,” WORLD Magazine, May 3/10, 2008, 29.
[3]
Schaeffer, “Art and the Bible,” 2: 401.

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