I work with college students so a discussion regarding Christianity and the arts is a typical occurrence. About a month ago it came up in a different way that I was used to. I was used to being asked, what should Christian involvement in the arts look like? However this time I was asked a completely different question. One student asked me: “If God wants to meet me through the reading of scriptures, which is His word, then why would I ever want to read anything else especially fiction?” I was stumped for a second because I have never heard anyone say that we should not read anything else besides the Bible. The answer I gave him as to why we need to appreciate artistic endeavors like fiction, even though it is not explicitly Christian reminds me a lot of what Kuyper has to say about the arts.
Kuyper quotes Calvin saying that “all the arts come from God and are to be respected as divine intentions.” The creative impulse within humanity comes from God. Through his common grace God has given art to cultures across the world, even though the individuals in that culture might not be regenerate. In addition to being a gift of common grace, Christians have the ability to see art as a gift from God, thus they can glorify God because he is a gracious giver of gifts. In other words God’s gift of the arts points us towards him. God’s gift of Art shows us the wholeness and the beauty that is apparent in this world—especially that this beauty is a God-ordained beauty.” Calvin’s says that “art reveals to us a higher reality than is offer by this sinful world.” This higher reality that is revealed leaves us longing for something greater because we see that we live in a sinful world. The fact that there is something transcendental about art points us to the gospel. This reminds me of a sermon I once heard by Tim Keller, in which he was referring to something that C.S. Lewis said; namely that we love good stories because they remind us of the true story, the gospel. I think that this is one more reason to believe that art should be thought of as common grace, because it points all people to truth/reality even though they might be blind to see it.
Because art is a gift of common grace, this means that it is not limited to the religious sphere. Thus Christians are allowed, and even encouraged to make art which is not explicitly Christian. So when a piece of fiction that is not explicitly Christian is compared to a non-Christian’s work of fiction, it might seem that they are not completely different. This is fine and appropriate because a Christian’s life is not limited to merely the sacred, the line between secular and sacred does not exist for the Christian since all falls under Christ’s sovereignty. However, there will be some differences, differences in the author’s motives for writing, and differences in how their worldviews play out in their writings. A non-Christians writing will be idolatrous, because it is not done for the sake of God, and a Christian’s writing (hopefully) will not be idolatrous because it is done for the sake of God’s glory.
3 thoughts on “Calvin, College Students, and the Arts”
“the line between secular and sacred does not exist for a Christian” I couldn’t have said it better myself…
As someone from a secular college with an English degree attending a conservative seminary I can tell you that the appreciation of the arts is certainly waning among Christians. I can’t tell you how many people i know that only read Christian books and I only rarely encounter Christians that grasp the value of the arts. Glad you encouraged your student to engage the arts.
Please find a beautiful essay on Art, Beauty and Love.