Sunday, December 31, 2006

Originality as Unbiblical

Craftsmanship, and not originality, was the emphasis in the arts prior to Romanticism and the Enlightenment. Certainly an artist was praised for imaginative ideas, but the value of those ideas rested in how the artist treated and developed those ideas and crafted them into something profound. The quality of the idea was dependent on its suitability for development.

An artist striving to be original by necessity ignores or rebels against the history and development of their art. This denial flies in the face of the biblical ideas of learning from the past, passing along wisdom, and respecting the clouds of witnesses who have gone before.

An artist motivated to be original, by definition, is more interested in personal glory than the glory of God. The impulse to be different for the sake of being different has no place in a biblical concept of the arts.

Scripture does not deny the opportunity to be creative, but the emphasis and purpose is far different than our concept of originality. Craftsmanship, as an artistic trait, is much more in line with the biblical notion of the arts—and a far more difficult endeavor requiring the exercising of wisdom and ability. The idea of taking various materials, gathering them, remolding and blending them, and ultimately enlarging them is the bringing of order inherent in craftsmanship—an opportunity to act as a sub-creator.

One need only to evaluate the twentieth century art which used originality as its basis to see how far originality takes true art away from a biblical standard.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Why Christians Should Read Music

Martin Luther once said, “Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.” He insisted on a prominent role of music in the education of children—especially those training to be pastors. As we see in the time of J.S. Bach, the modern Enlightenment ideals began the erosion of music education in favor of more “academic” subjects.

Ignorance of the basic elements of music is comparable to illiteracy. Not being able to read seriously hampers one’s ability to read Scripture for oneself; not being able to read music hinders one’s ability to worship.

Worship serves to bind a group of people into a community. Utilizing music that can be sung in parts serves as a valuable tool to this end and implies some knowledge of music and its mechanics. Part singing leaves little room for individual self expression, improvisation, or selfishness and thus encourages the growth of the covenantal community by removing the focus from self and directing it to God. Part singing encourages a sense of belonging, community and reliance.

Belonging is encouraged by the very necessity of each of the harmonic parts being sung. The individual has the sense of being an integral component of something beyond just their voice part. There exists the sense of being needed.

Community is developed in the need to incorporate individual singing with the other parts. It develops an awareness of what the other members of the community are singing as well as building bonds between the parts. Reliance on one another contributes greatly to the sense of community.

Reliance is evident in the need to depend upon the surrounding people as the individual parts are sung. This is apparent when physically divided into voice parts and surrounded by people singing the same notes or when standing next to a different voice part and relying on one another for pitch, intonation, and entrances.

From the time of David, music has played a prominent role in the worship of God. Participation in that worship is crucial for the health of the Church. Too often we are “worshiped at” as opposed to being led in corporate worship.

As G.K. Chesterton wrote in Heretics, “But if we look at the progress of our scientific civilization we see a gradual increase everywhere of the specialist over the popular function. Once men sang together round a table in chorus; now one man sings alone, for the absurd reason that he can sing better. If scientific civilization goes on (which is most improbable) only one man will laugh, because he can laugh better than the rest.”

We pay people to sing for us, act for us, play sports for us, read for us, and we move farther and farther to the sidelines of life. Educating the people of God in how to sing will encourage the return to the center of worship life with greater understanding and ability in offering our best gifts to the Lord.

Music is the art of the prophets and the gift of God. —Martin Luther

Artistic Credo

This is a fun post to re-do since I usually get a lot of comments. It is intended to be a discussion starter.

I believe that beauty is an attribute of God and is therefore a theological issue.
I believe that beauty and excellence are objective and that the Bible provides the standard for what is beautiful and excellent.
I believe that since there is a biblical objective standard for what is beautiful and excellent that this should apply especially in areas of worship.
I believe that an understanding of beauty enables a greater understanding of the nature and character of God.
I believe that the arts are worldview incarnate.
I believe that goodness, truth, and beauty are Trinitarian concepts and that each element requires the relationship of the other two for complete understanding.
I believe that the saints need to know how to read music and how to sing for the sake of the worship of God.
I believe that we should know, respect, and utilize the arts of the past as we continue to create new art that is historically informed but also biblically creative.
I believe that originality is not a biblical notion.
I believe that we weaken our understanding of art when we try to apply a narrative structure on all works instead of trying to understand music as music, painting as painting, etc.
I believe Philippians 4:8 provides a strident critique of the actions of many modern Christians as they dabble in secular culture.
I believe that the Church abdicated its rightful place as the leader of culture.
I believe that the Church no longer knows how to train and equip artists because we have adopted a secular view of the arts.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Questionable Creatures

Pauline Baynes’s newest book is a fascinating exploration of a bestiary—both visually and in her descriptions. My review of the book for Reformation21 is posted here.

Whate're My God Ordains

Since I'm re-posting blogs, I was reminded of what a wonderful hymn text this is for the New Year:

On Sunday, 22 May 2005, I had the great privilege of leading the graduation ceremony for two of my students. Following is a portion of the charge that I gave them:

Over the past several months, one hymn has recurred in my thoughts—Whate’er My God Ordains is Right—a 17th century German chorale. In God’s good providence I was reminded of this hymn before the storms of life gathered, and, as such, it provided a great source of comfort and strength. I shared this text with my class several months ago, but it is worth the repetition. As such, I offer this hymn to you as my charge:

Whate’er my God ordains is right: His holy will abideth;
I will be still whate’er He doth; And follow where He guideth;
He is my God; though dark my road,
He holds me that I shall not fall: Wherefore to Him I leave it all.

Whate’er my God ordains is right: He never will deceive me;
He leads me by the proper path: I know He will not leave me.
I take, content, what He hath sent;
His hand can turn my griefs away, And patiently I wait His day.

As we have looked at history these previous two years, studying ancient and modern times, what a comfort it is to know that God has ordained the future as well as the past. His holy will abideth in all things, and no matter how dark the road before us, his holy will is good and for our good.

I know no other way to make sense of history than to understand it as His story: he has set the stage, prepared the actors, and written the script. All attempts to view history from other perspectives fail in their ability to explain events and ultimately lead to hopelessness. Our great hope lies in the fact that God holds history in his hand, that He is good--all of the time, and that we may follow where He guides. He indeed holds us that we shall not fall. Ultimately it is not up to us but to leave it all to Him.

As you see the trouble around you, as you fear for the future and question the stability of the world situation, know that God is in control. As you see the Church struggle to be the Church and neighbors fail to live in community, know that this life is not hopeless. Such a knowledge influences the way that you will live your life. You are called by God to subdue the earth and to take dominion over it. In everything that God has called you to do--washing dishes, mowing the grass, rearing children, learning--do it all for His glory and with a view of spreading his kingdom throughout the earth. Extend the Garden of Eden in your sphere of influence. Do not fall victim to the secular dichotomy between the spiritual and the physical. All of life is spiritual.

As Martin Luther once wrote, if I knew the Lord was returning tomorrow, I would plant a tree today. A proper understanding of God’s providential hand--not only in history but in our own lives--enables you to live your daily life in hope, not fear, and in purpose, not despair.

Whate’er my God ordains is right: His loving thought attends me;
No poison can be in the cup That my Physician sends me.
My God is true; each morn anew
I’ll trust His grace unending, My life to Him commending.

Whate’er my God ordains is right: He is my Friend and Father;
He suffers naught to do me harm, Though many storms may gather,
Now I may know both joy and woe,
Some day I shall see clearly That He hath loved me dearly.

Whate’er my God ordains is right: Though now this cup, in drinking,
May bitter seem to my faint heart, I take it, all unshrinking.
My God is true; each morn anew
Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart, And pain and sorrow shall depart.

As we face the “whys” of life--pain, sorrow, and death--we should just as quickly ask about the other “whys” of life--why is there health and joy and the promise of new life? Make no mistake, there will be storms in this life⎯and we have faced some of those even this past year. But rejoice in His grace unending, the newness of each morning, and the assurance that He loves you dearly--no matter what the circumstances may be. This is where we rest securely in Romans 8:28, that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose. Indeed, the cup that he causes us to drink may at the time seem bitter, but the sweet comfort of His good purpose shall cause the departure of pain and sorrow.

In addition, we know that he chastens and disciplines those he loves as a father does the son in whom he delights. Once again, we rest in the arms of his mercy and grace.

Whate’er my God ordains is right: Here shall my stand be taken;
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine, Yet I am not forsaken.
My Father’s care is round me there;
He holds me that I shall not fall: And so to Him I leave it all.

In the words of Job, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.” And later Job says, “Why should I put my life in my own hand? Though God slay me, yet I will hope in him.” Indeed, we are not forsaken and our Father’s care does encompass round about us. Even in the valley of the shadow of death, His right hand holds us fast.

I consider it to be one of the great blessings of my life to have spent the last two years with you on a path of learning and to also share that journey with your families. I feel like I am the beneficiary of our discipling relationship, for you two have taught me so much. In God’s good providence we have walked together and shared life, and we will continue to do so in the future.

God is good, and he has blessed our time together. I commend you to His faithfulness, His love, and His great goodness that no matter the circumstances of the coming years, you are not forsaken and you shall not fall. His good providences and hard providences serve to remind us of His sustaining grace and provide the framework through which to live our lives to His glory.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Due to technical difficulties, I have been unable to post on my blog for the last month. Unfortunately, in re-establishing the blog, I have lost all archived articles from February to November 2006.

I need your help! If you happened to save one of the blog articles from that time period, would you please send it back in so that I can re-post it?

Thank you!