A Biblical Basis for the Arts

I've begun work on my book proposal for Baker and I realize that one of the best things I can do at this early stage is to open myself up to the generous and honest critique of others. If my desire is to serve the church, then I must allow the church to speak into this process at all stages. I presume too much, and to my own great loss, to believe that I've understood the matter sufficiently. One never in fact understands anything sufficiently, we are always "on the way," as Mark would put it in his gospel. But my part is to always aim at clarity and cogency. My work is to make the argument coherent. But it is only with the help of others that I will be able to see what I cannot alone see--where it is fuzzy, where it is scattered and ungrounded.

To that end I'd like to drop each of my outlines here and ask for input. In this case:

What biblical questions do you feel would be most important to address in the matter of the arts?

For the record, the three centers around which I want to wind my argument are "What is art?", "What does it mean to be an artist?" and "What is the place of the arts in the church?" The six frameworks through which these questions will be passed are 1) biblical, 2) theological, 3) philosophical, 4) spiritual, 5) ecclesial, and 6) missional. The goal is that by the end of the book artists will better understand their identity and their place in the world and church leaders will understand more clearly both how to love artists and how to incorporate well the arts into the life of the church.

One final note. It will be helpful to remember that this outline is the barest skeleton of what might end up being 20-30 pages of material. Also, the chapter cannot pretend to present a comprehensive treatment of the biblical question. It must however address the fundamental issues in such a way that the reader experiences an integrating effect upon his or her internal world.

A Biblical Basis for the Arts: Jesus the Word & Icon of God

A. Introduction

1. What kind of book is the Bible?
a. It is a religious book (not an aesthetics book)
b. It is a literary book (hermeneutics)
c. It is a carefully arranged book (biblical theology)
d. It is a wondrous book (doxology)
e. It is a book of dialectical relations (paradox and mystery)

2. Two aims

B. Genesis 1 and 2: creative acts, creative words

1. Comments on Genesis 1 and 2: words and ideas, truth and meaning

2. Gen. 1-2 as foundational text for the arts

C. The Temple as Biblical motif

1. Bezalel and the tabernacle (Exod. 31:1-11; 35:30-36:7)

2. Solomon and the temple (1 Kings 5-8)

3. Ezekiel and the vision of a temple (Ezek. 40 – 43:11)

4. St. John and the new temple (Rev. 21-22)

D. The Psalter: Israel’s hymn book

1. Poetry

2. Music

3. Dance

E. Jesus the Word and Icon of God

1. The idea of the Logos

2. The person of the Logos

3. The idea of the Icon

4. The person of the Icon

5. Observations

F. Jesus the story-teller and metaphor-user

1. Jesus’ stories

2. Observations

3. Jesus’ metaphors

4. Observations

G. In the end

1. The poetic vision of St. John

2. The Christian and the imagination

3. Concluding thoughts


Jim Janknegt said…
Dear David,

Best wishes on your book project. Perhaps I am not understanding your outline but I do not see historical anywhere unless it will be under ecclisial. The contemporary issue of church and it's relationship to art did not drop out of the sky but came about as a result of decisions made in the context of history. If one makes a wrong turn at a fork in the road, going forward will not correct the journey. At some point one must go backwards and find the place the wrong turn was made. Is there a need for repentance by the church and it's leadership in regard to how it has approached art and artists? Has the role of the artist in the church and the world really changed? Or did the church move out from underneath the artist dooming him to a life of secular pursuits? Maybe this is outside the scope of your book. Perhaps you could retitle it : "A Basis for the Arts in Scripture and Tradition"
: )
Tim Stewart said…

You know, I also have a few ideas about art and artists, and I realized that I had better not read your outlines and ideas so that I don't accidentally borrow any of your insights! So then my second thought was that when I get some of my ideas in decent enough shape for public perusal, I'd show them to you because I think you'd certainly be one to appreciate these kinds of musings; but then I decided I didn't want you to accidentally borrow any of my insights! :-)

Adelphos sou,
Rosie Perera said…
I can't wait to read your book! It sounds like it's going to be a wonderful contribution to the theology of the arts, and a great tool for artists and pastors and laypeople alike. A fine outline - very concise and well-organized.

One issue I don't see you addressing, though, is the whole question of idolatry (art violating the second commandment) that plagued the church in history. I should think you would have to acknowledge how Scripture portrays the arts when they are used sinfully, as a result of the Fall (e.g., the idol carvers Isaiah pokes fun at, and the women who did weaving for Asherah in 2 Kgs 23:7). Again, this might be beyond the scope of your book, but it would be good to at least footnote the negative side of the arts in Scripture so as not to be open to accusations of one-sidedness.
Adam said…
Hey yo!

I think it would be great -- if at all possible -- to not just deal with lofty theological concepts of art in your book, but really ground it in the practical issues artists deal with today, particularly questions about "nudity, profanity, and violence," which you talked about in your CT articles, but I still feel like you could go deeper with that and ground it in the scriptures as best you can. For example, "What does the Bible say about nudity? Why did Adam and Eve cover themselves? Did the work of CHrist do anything to alter the need to cover ourselves? Why do Christians still need to cover themselves today?" If you can get the biblical "why", then you can answer the question, "Is nudity in art okay."

Perhaps it could be a chapter on "Art and Sin". As an actor, this is a particularly difficult question because I'm not just writing about sin or painting sin, I am actually DOING it! I am nude, I am cursing, I am being violent. It is typically said, "In certain contexts nudity is considered sin, in other contexts it isn't, such as with your spouse, parents, or a doctor. Art is one of those contexts." The problem is that if art becomes a context in which things that are normally considered sin are not sin, where do you draw the line? A kiss is okay. A nude scene is okay. A nude kissing scene is okay. Is sex okay if it is done in an "artful" way?

Even if you need to set down a foundation of Christian presuppositions to work from (such as "Christianity is not about doing things and not doing things, it is about loving. Love first, then what you do comes out of that love.), I think that would be very valid and important. We need people like you to share with us your wisdom, and we need easy access to something like this in a book.

End Rant...lol.
This promises to be an excellent, relevant book. I don’t usually read non-fiction, but if it’s as good as its organization and as interesting as your blog writing, I’ll have to! :)

I have a question on one point at the end, about “The poetic vision of St. John.” One of the most beautiful and terrible questions in art about visions is the problem of ineffability. Will you talk about the limitations of art, about how far short it falls of really representing a supernatural reality? If you discuss literature, do you feel you’ll have to wrestle with Derrida et al and their slurping the soul out of words, therefore exacerbating the dilemma of expressing things immortal? Do you think that language is inadequate to talk about/describe (which are two different things) spiritual realities, and if so, then isn’t writing about them a distortion? Or do you think that words, poor shadows of Biblical language and of The Word Himself, are enough? God uses words to communicate with mankind; are words good enough for human beings to communicate to one another about God?

Or am I just adding yet another topic to the increasing list of topics your commenters are insisting you must cover?! :)
Jim: I am leaving a historical analysis beyond the purview of the book. I don't have the expertise to give it an honest treatment. It'll make its way in and out of the other chapters, but I'm afraid I will have to wait till my knowledge of history has grown up before I say anything boldly.

But I agree with you. The church must know its past self so that it can become a reforming present self for the sake of a renewing future self. In regards Tradition, I will do my best to convince the reader to take it seriously, but I will probably have to assume a predominantly evangelical readership and adjust accordingly.

I will say this, though. All Christians, Protestant, RCC and EO, recognize the Scriptures as a primary authority. On this the early church fathers are practically unanimous. Thus it behooves every believer artist to know the Bible well and to read it alongside all the great saints, past and present, whose primary calling has been to study, teach, and deliver well in the service of the church.

Rosie: the one thing I've gone back and forth on with myself is whether I will add a section on the so-called prohibition of images in Deuteronomy. I'm inclined to do it, as an exercise in both exegesis and biblical theology. It's been a knotty problem for the church all throughout and it won't cease to give every generation of believers a rousing headache.

Adam: I don't think I'm going to be able to devote a chapter exclusively to nudity, profanity, and violence, but knowing me, I'll probably sprinkle my illustrations with a bit of holy naughtiness. I also hope that I'll have provided a sufficient grounding so that artists can then make their own, Holy Spirit-led deductions about the specific "moral" questions they will each face in their artistic work.

Sorina: my one thought about ineffability is this. God is the one who gave us the capacity to speak, to use words. So while we must always bow our heads in humility before the transcendent Majesty, it is He who created us with the capacity not only to use words intelligently with each other but also with him.

Case in point: Jesus. He AS GOD speaks, we understand. The disciples and the apostle Paul speak back to him and about him, he understands, we understand. It's a subjective-objective dynamic, and a wonderfully mysterious one, but not a futile exercise, not if you take the biblical assumptions seriously.
Stejahen said…
Hey, I just started reading your blog, these outlines look excellent. As for questions, one big one that I haven’t found an answer to is the whole nudity question, Nude Figure drawing seems to be the basis of drawing people (and thus painting people). I'd love to see this explored in depth; it's usually either shied away form or not given much response/exegesis.

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