A review of Francis Schaeffer’s Art in the Bible, Essay One, from Art and the Bible
Schaeffer begins his essay, Art in the Bible, by looking at the question, “What is the place of art in the Christian life?” Schaeffer explores how evangelicals have been notorious for “relegating the arts to the very fringe of life.” He takes an honest look at the sacred/secular divide and how Christians talk about the Lordship of Christ, but often do not allow God to be Lord of all of life, including the arts. Schaeffer says, “The Lordship of Christ over the whole of life means that there are no platonic areas in Christianity, no dichotomy or hierarchy between the body and the soul.”
Schaeffer offers up four basic concepts from the scriptures to help us along in our understanding of the place of art in the Christian life. These for axioms are: one, God made the whole man, or person; two, in Christ the whole man is redeemed; three, Christ is the Lord of the whole man now and the Lord of the whole Christian life; and four, and lastly, in the future as Christ comes back, the body will be raised from the dead and the whole man [person] will have a whole redemption.” Schaeffer’s desire in this framework is a holistic look at the whole person and the whole life under the Lordship of Christ.
Schaeffer makes the point that humanity has been created in the image of the creator God and that we reflect the image of the creator in our dominion and creativity. He says, “True spirituality means the Lordship of Christ over the total [person].” Schaeffer confidently makes the point, “If Christianity is really true, then it involves the whole [person], including [their] intellect and creativeness. Christianity is not just ‘dogmatically’ true or ‘doctrinally’ true. Rather, it is true to what is there, true in the whole area of the whole [person] in all of life.”
Schaeffer makes the case that the Lordship of Jesus includes the arts. He writes, “The lordship of Christ should include an interest in the arts” He continues, “A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God, not just as tracts, mind you, but as things of beauty to the praise of God. An art work can be a doxology in itself.” Schaeffer goes on to point out the arguments against the arts, the main ones being the issue of idolatry and the creation of graven images.
There are those who believe that the scriptures speak against the arts, or at least believe that the scriptures are silent when it comes to the topic of the arts. Nothing could be further from the truth. Schaeffer builds a case for the arts from the scriptures beginning with the command to have no graven images. He explains this commandment as a warning against idol worship and unpacks this as its true intent and meaning. Schaeffer says, “Only God is to be worshipped. Thus the commandment is not against making art but against worshiping anything other than God and specifically against worshiping art.”
Schaeffer goes on to build a Biblical case for the arts from the scriptures, which happen to be full of art of all kinds. He makes the point that scripture does not contradict itself and points to the art in the tabernacle and the temple, which God instructed to have created. The art in the tabernacle includes “almost every form of representational art that men have ever known.” says Schaeffer. God commanded this creativity and set the patterns in place to ensure His artistic direction (see Exodus 25, 28, and 37). Schaeffer also explores the art presented in the temple, which God had directed and inspired (see 1 Chronicles 28; 2 Chronicles 3 and 4; and 1 Kings 6 and 7).
Schaeffer surveys the fact that art takes on many forms throughout the scriptures. All types of art is represented within the Bible; there is practical art and architecture, there is realistic representational art, there is abstract and imaginative art, there are examples of both functional and non-functional art in the scriptures, and there are examples of both religious art and non-religious art. In looking at “secular art,” Schaeffer says, “The factor which makes art Christian is not that it necessarily deals with religious subject matter.”
Schaeffer looks at Jesus’ use of the brazen serpent, a work of representational art, to illustrate His own crucifixion (see Numbers 21). He also looks at the poetry of scripture in David’s poem or song in 2 Samuel 23 and in the psalms of scripture. Not only was David a poet, he was a musician as well. Schaeffer says of David, “The writing of poetry, the making of a beautiful instrument, the tuning of it so that its music can be filled with beauty—David did all these things as a spiritual exercise to the praise of God.”
Schaeffer looks at music and David leading choruses in 1 Chronicles 23:5, he says, “And art breaks forth with all its beauty, all its strength, all its communication and all its glory.” When speaking of “creativity in praise of God,” and “music upon music, art upon art,” Schaeffer says, it is “all carried to a high order of art at God’s command. And when you begin to understand this sort of thing, suddenly you can begin to breathe, and all the terrible pressure that has been put on us by making art something less than spiritual suddenly begins to disappear.”
Schaeffer begins to conclude his essay, Art and the Bible, by making the point that art does not stop in the scriptures with the end of this lifetime, but continues on. He also asserts that there is no spiritual separation of the arts between the here and the hereafter. He says, “Art does not stop at the gate of heaven. Art forms are carried right into heaven. Is there any platonic separation here? Not a bit.”
At the end of the essay, Art in the Bible, Francis Schaeffer goes on to describe a mural in the art museum at Neuchatel painted by the Swiss artist Paul Robert, which illustrates the goodness and beauty of art and God’s desire for art both on earth and in heaven:
“In the background of this mural he pictured Neuchatel, the lake on which it is situated and even the art museum which contains the mural. In the foreground near the bottom is a great dragon wounded to the death. Underneath the dragon is the vile and the ugly—the pornographic and the rebellious. Near the top Jesus is seen coming in the sky with his endless hosts. On the left side is a beautiful stairway, and on the stairway are young and beautiful men and women carrying the symbols of the various forms of art—architecture, music, and so forth. And as they are carrying them up and away from the dragon to the present to Christ, Christ is coming down to accept them.”