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Lewis & Quark


Do Christians Always Produce Good Art?

     No man is right constantly. There is nothing more certain in the world, then that there is nothing certain. There is only one completely good, and that is God. That is why we treasure Scripture so much. It is holy, perfect, and infallible, as it proceeds from God through inspired men. All works of men are inferior to it. But as Augustine, the great Christian theologian, argues in his On Christian Doctrine, just because we love something more than another, that does not imply we hate the latter. He uses this argument in relation to the body, but it applies universally to any object of human desire. God’s act of salvation, as described in Romans and elsewhere, positively changes individuals. They become more in line with God’s law, they love to hear God’s word, and they desire God’s will in their life.
     These are general principles true of every believer, uniting them. Unity of believers, however, does not imply rejection of unbelievers. Suppose a friend of yours approaches you with a musical recommendation. They tell you this album is a wonderful work of art, but—the all-important but—predicts you will not listen to it because the artist himself doesn't claim to be Christian. Now, I know I would listen to it on my friend’s recommendation. But I hope to convince you that we all should take our friend up on his offer.
     As referenced previously, there is nothing certain in the world. No one is always one way or the other. People change. Circumstances change. The dichotomy of believers and unbelievers is regrettable, and ought to be changed as much as possible. Believers reach out to their unbelieving friends, hoping to be God’s tool in the salvation process. A plausible motivation for listening to my friend’s album they recommend could be evangelism. But this is a weak argument. If the album is a satanic, filthy album, taking God’s name in vain, cursing at every opportunity, I would be exposing myself to sin in the name of peace. Since I have a choice, that is completely wrong.
     Suppose the album is moderate or compatible with Christian truths. Only one song is explicit, the ideas presented are digestible, and the aesthetic form is beautiful and moving. (My favorite album of all time is this way.) Evangelism is still an unsatisfactory motivation. I gain a stronger relationship, perhaps, but the gospel can be preached without a consent to my friend’s wishes. There must be something intrinsically desirable about the art itself for a good choice to be made concerning listening to it or not. The elements of art are the creator, the artistic content, and the aesthetic form. My friend (an unbeliever) thinks the album is great. Why? Clearly he thinks the aesthetic form and content are high on his value system, or the art has raised the bar for it. With content, we cannot trust his judgment as an unbeliever. He may be right in many respects, but not for necessarily for correct reasons or perhaps accidentally. However, form is completely within his range of judgment. Salvation does not affect a person's capacity for aesthetic judgement. There are many unsaved but wonderfully talented art critics. God imparts in varying degrees the skill of judging beauty to all men, regardless of whether they eventually fall into Hell, or rise into Heaven.
      My friend mistakenly believes that I believe that good art must proceed from a person with a Christian understanding of the world, which is not the case. Some of the best art is Christian--think Flannery O'Connor, or Dante, or C.S. Lewis. It is a very Hellenistic ideal to believe beauty equals truth.  And on some level, it does. However, lies can be beautiful. Think of the Greek myths.  Beauty is not proper to truth. For example, take the works of Walt Whitman. “There was never any more inception than there is now, / Nor any more youth or age than there is now, / And will never be any more perfection than there is now, / Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.” As Augustine reprimands, “no one is so egregiously silly” (On Christian Doctrine Book I, chap. 9) as to deny the simultaneous beauty and error of the statement above. It would be more accurate to say that beauty equals reference to truth. The only way to know a lie is to know what the truth actually is.
     Everything advertises itself well--but not everything is good. Godliness and eloquence are very different things. It is possible to have one without the other. And if we have morality without eloquence, we are good in God's sight, and in all honesty, all the rest doesn't matter. A man without morality but with eloquence is dangerous and powerful, and has the power to sway people to his ends regardless of virtue. But without eloquence, we cannot help others or convince them capably of God's (and the right) ways. Both are important, but both are good and worthy of being sought. Matthew 6:33a says "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness ..." But also seek to communicate "the kingdom" well. Be educated and capable, and use them in service of God's righteousness. An album’s—or any work of art's—virtues are not dependent upon its creator’s virtues. It is dependent upon its creator’s skills, which can be used for good or evil. What I hope I can teach my friend, and do myself, is use those skills for good, and create works that are both good and beautiful.
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