In high school, we learned how to analyze poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. Those who delved into the fine arts learned further how to evaluate music, theater, and art.
At church, pastors and sunday school teachers instruct us on how to interpret the bible. Some of us join bible studies and read books which further help us understand doctrine and theology.
Yet, during our education, it seems these two things rarely overlap. In fact, they often seem to collide. Many Christians think good, God-honoring, “Christian art” is a narrow field. With this view, one might believe that a God-honoring novel must be an allegory for a biblical story. Likewise, a “Christian” song must explicitly praise the name of God, and a godly painting must depict a cross.
In many ways this view contaminates our ability to appreciate art, which is a travesty. I think art (music, painting, theater, poetry, fiction, and much more) is the way mankind imitates God the creator. In the bible, dance, theater, music, poetry, sculpture and literature honor God. In the Pentateuch, the holy spirit inspires plans for multiple beautiful, artful works: the priests robes, the tabernacle, the brazen serpent, the arc of the covenant, and more.
The Lord cares deeply for beauty and has not limited his care for excellent art to explicitly religious material. Christ’s Lordship is over all of creation, including all of art. It is okay for a Christian to enjoy the technical excellence of a painting, declare it beautiful art, and disagree with the artist’s message. Why? Because the artist reflected God’s love for good, beautiful creations by creating an excellent painting.
Once we appreciate the beauty of a piece of artwork, I think it’s always a Christian’s duty to discern the worldview it portrays. This does not simply mean searching for surface level biblical content. Instead, the Christian views artwork through the gospel lens, and searches out biblical truths (both hidden and unhidden). A movie may be polluted with terribly immoral themes, but the Christian recognizes that this movie is an accurate portrayal of human brokenness because of the fall.
One caviot: it’s totally foolish to pull at strings, and make a piece of artwork say something it does not say. My goal instead would be to determine the artist’s message, and attempt to distinguish the truths from untruths in the artwork. I think many Christians falsely assume that there is no truth to be found in “secular” art; I believe it is rampant with beauty, and we ought search out truth and validate it!
When the body of Christ respects and engages art in authentic ways, we bridge gaps with well cultivated cultural sensitivity. This opens doors for meaningful conversations and our eyes to the evident glory of Christ all around us.