Sunday, May 30, 2010

death for freedom

Tomorrow is Memorial Day in the US. I did some wiki research and noted a couple interesting things about the day:
  1. The first people to celebrate the day were "formerly enslaved" people immediately following the Civil War, on May 1, 1865. The date was later changed to May 30.
  2. In 1971, the holiday was moved to the last Monday in May, a change that is still resisted by many veterans, who argue that "this has contributed a lot to the general public's nonchalant observance of Memorial Day"
Remembering is something many people these days would rather not spend time doing. I myself confess to this tendency. Yet it is an important part of our culture and identity, and should shape who we are today. It seems we should strive to remember well.

Today is Sunday. There are many similarities between this day and Memorial Day. This day is for remembering and celebrating Christ's death which brought life. We are the formerly enslaved people. This day is also one that people often celebrate nonchalantly. How are you actively remembering Christ's work today?

But Sunday is different from Memorial Day. Sunday ultimately celebrates life and defeat of death, for Christ did not stay dead! As the bible joyfully cries:
"Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?"
Will you joyfully remember with me today?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


You may or may not have noticed, but I didn't post this weekend. I am fine :) but was away for the weekend. For today I found a good Heisenberg quotation to make you think:
We have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Art for God's Sake (Part II)

A theology of Art

Ultimately our standards for art should come from our understanding of God. As Ryken writes,

What we believe about art is based on what we believe about God. Art is what it is because God is who he is.

He emphasizes that because of the character of God, we should seek, in our artistic endevours, to make things that are good, true, and beautiful. In addition to this, our goal is to give him glory.

Since God is so infinitely beautiful, all our art is rightly dedicated to his glory. What comes from him should return to his praise.

Ryken also points to passages of scripture which speak more specifically about art as a vocation, or career. He spends a good deal of time discussing Exodus 31, where God gives detailed instructions about how the tabernacle is to be made, and appoints and gifts two specific men for overseeing this task.

One thing to be learned from this passage, for instance, is that we should not think "that certain forms of art are more godly than others", such as (in the visual arts) representational or symbolic art versus abstract or even non-representational art. He points out that the art of the temple included all of these kinds of art.

Finally, he addresses the theology of the crucifixion. How do we deal with the ugliness of the cross?

“The cross screams against all the sensibilities of his divine aesthetic. God did this because it was the only way that he could save us. […] In order to save his lost creation, God sent his Son right into all the absurdity and alienation.

For all eternity the body of Jesus will bear reminders of the suffering he endured for sin – now transformed into glorious beauty…

With an understanding of God’s beauty and love of beauty comes a deeper appreciation of both the sacrifice of the cross (and thus his love for us!) and the artistry of salvation.

A vision for “Christian” art

Because of God's character, art by Christians should be similarly good, true, and beautiful. This is the opposite of it being superficial or naïve. Ryken explains:

Modern and postmodern art often claim to tell the truth about the pain and absurdity of human existence, but that is only part of the story. The Christian approach to the human condition is more complete, and for that reason more hopeful (and ultimately more truthful). Christian artists celebrate the essential goodness of the world that God has made, being true to what is there. Such a celebration is not a form of naïve idealism, but of healthy realism. At the same time, Christian artists also lament the ugly intrusion of evil into a world that is warped by sin, mourning the lost beauties of a fallen paradise. When truly Christian art portrays the sufferings of fallen humanity, it always does so with a tragic sensibility […] There is a sense not only of what we are, but also of what we were: creatures made to be like God.
Finally, Christian art can reflect the redemptive nature of God's work with humanity. I think this is a beautiful vision art. As Ryken states,

Even better, there is a sense of what we can become. Christian art is redemptive […].

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Art for God's Sake (Part I)

A dear friend has graciously lent me a book entitled Art for God's Sake, by Philip Graham Ryken. It is a short book which briefly discusses some of the theology of why Christians value and create art. It was helpful to think about how the close ties between human art and very character of God. It also provides a vision for the possibilities of art made by followers of Christ.

As I wrote this post, I found myself writing in three categories: A Call to the Church, A Theology of Art, and A Vision for "Christian" Art. I have decided to post the first topic today, and the other two next week.

A Call to the Church
This book is clearly addressed to those in the church. Although Ryken reveals himself to be more of a theologian than an artist, his intent to build up the church is clear, and I think it is worth listening to what he has to say.

Ryken first addresses why the church in general has been skeptical of, and even at times rejected, the arts. I found the following to be a good insight:
More recently, many Christians have objected to art on the grounds that it is dominated by an anti-Christian view of the world. They rightly perceive that over the last century or more many artists, writers, and musicians have become increasingly cynical about the possibility of knowing truth. [...] Art has also suffered a tragic loss of sacred beauty, as many modern and postmodern artists have been attracted instead to absurdity, irrationality, and even cruelty. [...] a good deal of contemporary art is the art of alienation, which, if it is true at all, is true only about the disorder of a world damaged by our depravity. God can use transgressive art to awaken the conscience and arouse a desire for a better world. But as a general rule, such artwork does not reveal the redemptive possibilities of a world that, although fallen, has been visited by God and is destined for his glory.

The church must acknowledge this, but not assume that the art of followers of Christ must be like this. The implication is that there is hope - yes, even need- for art. We must develop and embrace a vision for Christian art.

Ryken also points out the need for Christians to value good art, warning us of some of the grievous consequences when we don't.
All too often we settle for something that is functional, but not beautiful. [...] Ultimately this kind of art dishonors God because it is not in keeping with the truth and beauty of his character. It also undermines the church's gospel message of salvation in Christ. [...] Furthermore, when we settle for trivial expressions of the truth in worship and art, we ourselves are diminished, as we suffer a loss of transcendence.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, art is a part of our churches and our lives. The question is, does it reflect who God is and bring glory to him? We must be thoughtful and careful with our art, striving for excellence and for art that comes out of a true understanding of who God is and his workings in our world. This is something I think is too often excused: we do not feel comfortable excusing our ignorance about God – why would we with art? Ryken cautions:
The problem with some modern and postmodern art is that it seeks to offer truth at the expense of beauty. It tells the truth only about ugliness and alienation, leaving out the beauty of creation and redemption. A good deal of so-called Christian art tends to have the opposite problem. It tries to show beauty without admitting the truth about sin, and to that extent it is false. Think of all the bright, sentimental landscapes that portray an ideal world unaffected by the Fall, or the light, cheery melodies that characterize the Christian life as one of undiminished happiness. Such a world may be nice to imagine, but it is not the world God sent his Son to save.
As a church we must be more intentional with respect to the arts. Next week I will write on a more hopeful note, about a better theology of and vision for Christian art.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

has praying gone out of style? (or was it every in style?)

I have a quantum exam tomorrow but I have started a new book this week so I think I will briefly quote from that. The book is called Praying and it is co-authored by Packer and Nystrom. This section, however, is a quotation from "A Call to Prayer" by John Charles Ryle (1852). Here are a few excerpts which struck me:

Have you forgotten that it is not fashionable to pray? It is one of the things that many would be rather ashamed to own....

Praying and sinning will never live together in the same heart. Prayer will consume sin, or sin will choke prayer. I cannot forget this. I look at men's lives. I believe that few pray.

Brethren who pray, if I know anything of a Christian's heart, you are often sick of your own prayers... The devil has special wrath against us when he sees us on our knees...

... Whatever else you make a business of, make a business of prayer.

Tell me what a man's prayers are, and I will soon tell you the state of his soul. Prayer is the spiritual pulse... Oh, let us keep an eye continually upon our private devotions.