The ANTI Church: Is there room for intellect and art within the church?
Over the course of history, the church has been at the forefront of shaping culture. And when it comes to shaping the future, few things hold the same power as education and art. Yet, there is a sentiment gaining momentum within the church suggesting that we don’t need these things – and intellectuals, artists, and introspective thinkers might just be feeling like the church is against them. So are we becoming…
I have, on more than one occasion, experienced a palpable anti-academic vibe from fellow members of the body of Christ. I am not sure where it originated or what its end game is, but the pursuit of academia is sometimes scoffed at in the name of ‘just doing what the bible says’. Of course, this sentiment carries with it all kinds of assumptions, not the least of which is that everyone observes and employs the same set of responsible hermeneutical principles when determining ‘what the Bible says’. But I digress. I honestly think one of the major questions we face as the twenty first century church is this: will we create space for intellectuals to thrive or will we opt to push them away?
I hope we create the space.
Unfortunately, the church has become riddled with curious clichés that somehow found their way into our vocabularies, worship services, and subculture without ever finding their way into our bible. I don’t mean to use this word with the negative connotation it usually comes with, but the modern church has often chosen to indoctrinate people rather than educate them. Indoctrination is always an inside job – so much so that it is quite difficult for anyone on the outside to understand what is going on inside-- and its chief enemy is critical thought. Education on the other hand is learning how to stand outside any body of knowledge and examine its validity objectively. I for one have supreme confidence that the story the Bible tells us about who God is, where we came from, what our purpose is, and what all of history is about, is the real story. We need critical thinkers to help us digest it, deal with its implications, break it down, teach it, etc.
I believe education is a worship form -- after all, part of the Shema is to love God with your whole mind. Check out what R.C. Sproul said about this issue when writing about Augustine:
“Augustine, in his passion for scholarship, was convinced that it was the duty of the Christian to learn as much as possible about as many things as possible. Since all truth is God's truth, all aspects of scientific inquiry are to be within the province of biblical and Christian learning. It was not by accident that the great discoveries of Western science were spearheaded by Christians who took seriously their responsibilities to exercise dominion over the earth in service to God. Rather than seeing learning, scholarship, and the pursuit of beauty as being ideas foreign to the Christian enterprise, the eighth-century revival [he is referring to Charlemagne], following the earlier lead of Augustine, saw a pursuit of God Himself in the pursuit of knowledge and of beauty. They saw that God is the source of all truth and of all beauty.”
For a long time I have sensed that the church is opposed to art. Others have sensed it too. This is strange since for hundreds of years the church was at the forefront of artistic expression. And why shouldn’t we be? Shouldn’t those who know the Creator on an intimate level be able to shape the raw material He gave us into things that are profound and provoking? It’s my opinion that this anti-art sentiment has been born of the contempt that some Christians have come to hold for the physical world and culture.
I’m convinced that we’ve settled for a cheap imitation of art – a manufactured type of expression that copies the mainstream instead of challenging it on an artistic level. I would even suggest that we are not living in our God given identities when we settle for manufacturing artificial, shallow art.
The amount of matter and energy in the universe is constant. We cannot create more or destroy what we already have. Genesis 1 claims boldly that YHWH is the Creator of the universe -- of all this matter and energy. We see Him thereafter interacting with this raw material, shaping the environment of the Earth so that it is able to sustain life. Then he gives humanity the role of being sub-creators. We too have the opportunity to shape this raw material. The question is whether we will shape it into an environment that breeds functionality or dysfunction.
Art comes in all kinds of forms – music, writing, dance, painting, film, architecture, lighting, drama, culinary, fashion, technology, cosmetology, landscaping – and essentially anything that involves creativity and innovation.
As we create art, we worship. We either worship the raw material we are shaping OR the God who created it. The church should contribute to the functionality of our world more than anyone else because we know the God who designs all things to work together in harmony.
Of course, the Holy Spirit plays an integral part in redeeming these things through us. I am aware that thousands of scholars, who hold a bunch of degrees and have spent their life studying the context of the bible, don’t believe a word of it. I am also aware that creativity and innovation, like everything else, can lead us to worshipping created things or the sub-creator. All this means to me is that we need more Spirit led people producing art and engaging the academics so we can restore them to being the life giving, worshipful expressions they are.