Developing a Theology of Art (Part 2)
In part 1 of “Developing a Theology of Art” I introduced the historical-redemptive paradigm in which the four major meta-narratives of the Biblical story becomes the basis of art. I stated that all art (Christian or not) some how connect back (unintentionally or intentionally) to one of the meta-themes of the Biblical story (Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration). I admit that in developing this theology, I am coming from previous worldview and theological commitments and that many will disagree with my thoughts. However, the goal in developing this theology of Art is to give language to artists (specifically Christian artists) who sense that their art is transcendent in nature but have no idea why. As well, it is also to give a paradigm to Christian artists realize that they don’t have to slap a “Jesus” label on their work in order for it to have Kingdom value. Their work, in it of itself, does have Kingdom value because it communicates the great meta-themes of God’s story.
In Part 1 my focus was on the artwork. In part 2 I want to focus in on the Christian artist. It is one thing to give artist and critics of art theological paradigm/language in evaluating, considering, and interpreting art and it’s another thing to help Christian artist understand their role in this world. In part 1 the goal was to give a language for art and in part 2 I want to address the role of a Christian artist in the world.
Theology of People
What is the role of a Christian artist? How does being an artist contribute to the realities of the Kingdom? Is the job of a Christian artist to simply created power point backgrounds, bulletin covers, and things to make the church more “seeker” friendly/trendy? What about their work that has nothing to do with the church; does that have any Kingdom value? What is the role of a Christian artist?
In understanding the role of a Christian artist we must understand the role of a Christian in general. More specifically, we must understand a theology of people. Why did God create humanity? Many churches do not have a clear theology of people. To them, the role of people on this Earth is to get more people to join them. This sort of becomes a giant pyramid scheme. Was God’s intention of creating man to simply have many “witness” to fellow man?
From the Genesis account see that man was to serve as regents on this Earth. Humanity was to have dominion over creation. The idea of dominion does not necessarily mean to exploit and use creation, but it carries the idea of ruling and tending. It is the idea of a king bringing order and care for his kingdom. Man was originally created to rule and care for creation with God.
But this narrative all changed with the fall of humanity and the introduction of sin into the world. Man lost his place as a regent and became slaves to sin. Colossians 1:13 points to the reality that humanity was no longer ruling but under the rule of the dominion of darkness. The role/identity of humanity was lost.
The only way humanity could come back to its original intention was through the process of redemption. This is exactly what happens on the cross. At the cross not only was man debt to God paid for but also through Christ’s resurrection humanity is adopted and restored to it’s role. As Christ rules, we are to rule with him (Eph. 1:20-22, 2:6). To a certain extent, we share in Christ’s role on this earth. This leads us to three specific roles of Christ on this earth that redeemed humanity is to share with Him.
This leads us first to the idea of the priesthood of all believers. In other words, every Christian shares in the priestly role of Christ. This is not a select few ordained clergy. In Christ, we are a royal priesthood. Generally, the role of a priest is a mediatorial role. Their work was to build bridges, bring understanding, bring meaning, evoke faith in others, bless, and bring grace. As Christ played a mediatorial role between God and man, redeem humanity share in that same role through worship, intercession, and service to others.
The second role is the idea of the prophet-hood of all believers. Christians share in the prophetic ministry of Jesus. The prophet Joel prophesied that there will come a day when the Spirit will be pour out on all people and they will prophesy. In the book of Acts, Peter confirms the fulfillment of this prophecy. Redeemed humanity is to prophesy. Every believer knows God through the Spirit and have access and understanding to His Word. Redeemed humanity stands as a prophetic voice in the world. As Christ was the voice of God to the world, redeemed humanity share in that voice to world. E.H. Oliver says this concerning the prophetic function of the church:
“The church does this by acting as conscience to society, by educating and inspiring, by pioneering new ministries, by studying to prevent rather than to cure, by transforming the helped into the helpers.”
The church (redeemed humanity) shares in being a voice to the things that God cares about on this world. Their mere presence and activity in the world is prophetic in a sense.
The third role is the role of a kingship of all believers. 1 Peter 2:9 calls believers, “A royal priesthood.” Yes redeemed humanity is a community of priests, but more specifically a “royal” priesthood. In Ephesians 2, redeemed humanity is seated with Christ. The idea is of being seated carries the idea of ruling. As co-rulers with Christ, redeemed humanities roles is to bring the Kingdom (the rule and reign of God) on Earth. The church is NOT the fullness of the Kingdom of God. Rather, the Kingdom of God is His rule and reign on earth. By bringing justice to this world, believers are living out and bringing the realities of the Kingdom. By bringing goodness and creativity to the world, believers are living out the realities of the Kingdom. This is only a part of what it means to rule with Christ.
The Artist as a Prophet, Priest, and King
If it is true that all redeemed humanity share in the Christ’s role as a prophet, priest, and king on this earth, the same ought to apply to the artist. More than just creating works of art and slapping a Jesus label on it, the role of a Christian artist is one of a prophet, priest and king.
As a priest, the artist’s role is that of a mediator. A priest builds bridges, brings understanding, brings blessings, and brings grace. As a Christian artist creates in their discipline, by bringing joy, encouragement, understanding, to this world they are fulfilling the role of a priest. When their work evokes faith and even deeper questions that could only be answered by God, they are fulfilling their role as a priest. As I’m writing this, I am thinking about my sister-in-laws sister. She’s an animator. No she does not work on Veggie Tales or any Christian cartoon show (that I’m aware of). But by simply creating animations that are entertaining and bring joy, that is doing good in this world that it does not deserve, ultimately bringing the grace of God to this world.
As a prophet, the artist’s role is that of being God’s voice on the Earth. This is a call of excellence in their work as well as a call to be the voice of God on Earth, communicating what God cares about. Their work is essential in being a prophetic voice to the world about who God is, what He cares about, and what His truth is all about. Works that expose the ugliness of systemic oppression, or the realities of the fall, or the grace found in ruins, are all prophetic voices. In part 1 of this topic, I mention that many artists create with a wayward voice. The redeemed artist creates with a prophetic voice. Not a voice about being lost but a voice about coming home. These are all prophetic acts of an artist.
As a king, the artist’s role is that of organizing and bringing order from disorder. The idea of order from disorder is meant to be in the most general sense. For an artist, technical excellence in their craft is a manifestation of this kingly role. The ability to raw materials that are not organized and to organize them with excellence into something with meaning is direct reflection of the King. An interior designer is a great example of a kingly role of an artist.
The prophet, priest, and king paradigm does not only apply to the artist but apply to all believers. It is from this paradigm that a person can begin to see how serving God does not always have to be ministry related. In fact, the priesthood/prophethood/kinghood of all believers ought to lead them to think about their specific vocation and how it is important to the Kingdom.