As unfortunate as it is, we live in a postmodern world of relativity with a desire to follow the ever-changing winds of emotions. Postmodernists believe in a world where truth is not necessarily knowable but can be experienced in a plethora of capacities. The lack of a particular standard of truth results in a countless assortment of paths with equal justification to explore in the journey of life.
The effects of this loss of a plumb line of truth and goodness leave the church with an inability to expose sin. With no universal right and wrong or good and evil, there are hardly any grounds to discount the ideas of pluralism and universalism. It appears culture is moving past logical arguments and scientific evidence for the foundation of belief and lifestyle choices. The focus has shifted from knowing the truth to experiencing inner peace.
How are we to connect with our current culture? Compelling others to experience God through art could be the most effective way for our current culture to take steps toward knowing God.
Father John Cihak once said, “In contemporary America, most people are not moved by claims of truth or goodness. Relativism has made truth to be whatever you want, thereby turning the good into whatever makes you feel good. So how can you engage the average nonbeliever? How can you place him on the road that would lead him back to the Truth and the Good? Show him beauty”. When people are not convinced by truth or goodness, how will we show them beauty? This is a question for the modern-day Church.
What is the course of action once beauty is lost? Following an age of pain and suffering, cultures generally return with what is known as a “renaissance”. I believe the church needs a Christian renaissance–––a rediscovery of Beauty.
The definition of beauty is a highly debated topic. What truly is beautiful and how can we know it? The recognition of some sort of goodness or truth within art or the lack of both transcending concepts infers there must be some standard of beauty, that being God. If God is the standard of Beauty, what does this transcendental look like tangibly? One of the greatest mediums to experience true Beauty is through art. We should not neglect this in the church due to its effective ability to portray the Goodness and Truth of God.
Art is important for spiritual experience. There is a distinct difference between the experience of walking through the halls of the Sistine Chapel and the undergoing of the empty walls of the modern-day church. Contemporary churches can almost be mistaken for corporate businesses when they should exemplify the beauty of the God they serve. There is an explicit lack of artistic experience of God visually in our churches today. I fear the church has lost the desire to experience God through beauty. It is both important to know God and experience Him.
It is evident we have developed the understanding of what knowing God looks like through sermons from the pulpit. Clearly, Christians are participating in knowing more of God through the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit working through His shepherds. The reasons for the Church to be leery of over emphasizing the role of the Spirit of the Word are valid, because the relationship with God should be a balance of knowing and experiencing God.
Man is fallen and can embrace the Spirit of the Word arbitrarily with the consequence of crossing lines due to personal justification based on a feeling rather than the truth derived from Scripture. With too much spirit led understanding, we can miss the intended purpose of Scripture passages and make the moral judgement calls blurry. Man has been guilty of over aestheticizing religion. The unfortunate result of this over-aestheticizing of religion has created a far too individualistic and loose understanding of the objective truths. Although this is a potential risk, it can easily be avoided by remaining grounded in the Scriptures.
In the times of Luther and Calvin, the question was posed as to whether music causes too great of a distraction or pursuit of secular values among the Christian church. Luther recognized the power music had in relaying the truth through a beautiful medium which interacted with the soul in a way a sermon could not. Music and visual art both provide a different outlet to relate to human beings beyond simply speaking.
When regarding older beautiful chapels, people at one time were simply drawn to church to see something beautiful or to fulfill the presumed sacraments of prayer or to attend holy day services. This can be seen in various novels written by profound authors such as Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. In one scene in particular, we find Jake and Brett at church praying, despite their lack of relationship with God or religious affiliation. Everyone at one point innately questions the possibility of a higher power and is drawn to what is beautiful. This should be experienced in the church.
We have neglected to utilize art for fear of over-aestheticizing religion and embracing a distracting and theologically unsound experience of the spirit. In the process, we are losing the whole aesthetic experience of God. Art is capable of moving the heart. When gazing at “The Creation of Man” by Michelangelo, the eyes are presented with a clear and moving image of God breathing life into His creation. Anyone can gaze on the image and question prior disillusions of a higher being or strengthen belief in God from the pure aesthetic experience combined with the moving content of the piece.
I might even make the claim that it is wrong to not produce art. Matthew 25 records Jesus and the parable of the talents. It speaks of three individuals who were given a number of talents according to their abilities. Those who took their talents and produced more were blessed and praised by their master. The one who hid his talent was punished by the master. God generously gives his children gifts with the expectation that we will bring glory to Him through the developing and stewarding of those talents. Christians should be producing art and using it to encourage and inspire the Church.
We are also called to do everything to the glory of God. If we are creating beautiful pieces through a particular medium, it should be moral and holy. If the piece is both good and beautiful, shouldn’t it bless the viewer and be placed in a position to draw all the more glory to God? The church should be adorned with art in order to evoke the love of God and others. Art has the potential to compel the audience to feel and act based on those emotions. The effect of this aesthetic experience should be inspiration and internal passion directed towards God.
Exodus 31:1 displays the story of the tabernacle in its beginning stages. God unmistakably directs the people to produce a beautiful residence for the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies. The purpose being to utilize art and to glorify God. Shouldn’t we do the same?
That being said, art is one of the most effective ways the corporate Church can connect with our postmodern culture to expose Beauty and inevitably Truth and Goodness. The Church needs to recognize this outlet in which to draw our emotional and experience-driven culture.
Art creates a gateway to make a connection between an idea and the rational mind which was previously ineffable. Due to westernized Christian fear of secularization or overemphasis of subjective experience, the Church has neglected the tool art can serve in displaying the Gospel in a soul satisfying and appealing way. Art has the potential to revolutionize the persona of Christianity and our method of outreach, so why not encourage this exploration in the modern-day church?