A Letter to a Confused Christian Artist

Hey Melissa, thanks for writing to me explaining your situation. I can definitely sympathize with you. At one point in life I was in a similar position that you are in now, of course I wasn’t an artist! (Nonetheless I was feeling called to a less “eternal” vocation). Just like you, people around me were disappointed in me that I had drifted from the only thing that matters: ministry within the church. They saw this as the only eternally significant vocation, so when they heard that I was considering doing something else they were quite disappointed in me. I understand that people at your church are making you feel this way too. They say that being an artist instead of a minister is a vocation of less worth in God’s eyes. I want to help you understand that its not. Being an artist is no less valuable in God’s kingdom than being a minister is! Hopefully I can show you this in my brief response to you.

Recently I have been reading some lectures delivered by Abraham Kuyper at Princeton over 100 years ago. Kuyper was a jack of all trades. He wrote theological works, edited a newspaper, founded a university, and he was even Prime minster of the Netherlands. I mention this because like you he was very concerned for ministry but he also had “secular” vocations. Kuyper’s lectures at Princeton were compiled into a book called Lectures on Calvinism.

In this book he describes Calvinism as a life system, which means that it is a system which includes answers to our questions regarding our relation to God, humanity, and the world. Central to Kuyper is his understanding of humanity’s relationship to God. In fact this is what his entire second lecture, “Calvinism and Religion,” is devoted to. He says that humans tend to make religion for the sake of themselves, but in reality true religion is always for the sake of God. Yes it is a blessing for humans, but it does not exist for the sake of humans.[1] He says that all of creation exists for the sake of God; it exists to glorify him. In saying this Kuyper places himself squarely within the Reformed tradition which has placed an emphasis on God’s sovereignty and his glory. Since everything that exists is for the sake of God, “then it follows that the whole creation must give glory to God.”[2] Because all things exist for the glory of God, true religion cannot be confined to a church building. God is present in all of life, since he is sovereign there is no sphere of human life in which God does not demand glory. Thus when humans do anything, whether it be agriculture, industry, commerce, science, or even art they are employed in God’s service in order to bring glory to God. So you see since God is sovereign over all things, not just “religious” things God will get the glory when you do art for his glory.

In his fifth lecture, Kuyper takes up the topic of “Calvinism and Art,” if you get a chance you should read it! In case you don’t get a chance let me tell you what he says. He quotes Calvin saying that art is one of the richest gifts of God to mankind, and that it is a universal human phenomenon.[3] In this chapter he takes on three major issues. First he answers why Calvinism did not develop a distinctive art style. His answer is that Calvinism reached a stage of religion which no longer relied on symbols to express religion, instead as a purely spiritual religion, it did not need to rely upon art to represent its truths.[4]

The second issue he takes on is the place of art within the Calvinistic worldview. Here he says that through art we glorify God, ennoble human life, and bring pleasure to others.[5] He says that these are all good goals, and that art helps us bring about these goals. He also says that art reminds us of the gospel. He says that art reveals to humans a higher reality than what we see in this sinful and corrupted world.[6] This is a good thing, because in art we see beauty and are reminded of God’s good and perfect creation, yet we are also reminded that this beauty was lost at the fall. However in the midst of all this, art’s beauty gives us hope, it helps us anticipate God’s restoration of his creation. So art can help people see the gospel!

The third issue that Kuyper takes up is about what Calvinism has done in order to promote the arts. Here he says that Calvinism helped set art free from the guardianship of the church.[7] He says that art used to be confined to holy spheres, just like religion used to be confined to the walls of a cathedral, but Calvinism set both art and religion free! Another way that Kuyper mentions that Calvinism has helped art is through its articulation of the doctrine of common grace. (Pay attention this is very relevant to your situation!) Art is a gift that God gives generously to believers and unbelievers. Thus it is part of being human. If God deemed it so good to give it to Christians and non-Christians then we should not be quick to dismiss it as unworthy of our attention.

Finally, he also mentions the concept of the cultural mandate. Prior to the fall God has made it so that human beings would create culture that would glorify him. This mandate to create God glorifying culture continues even after the fall. Kuyper says that God “has ordained for humanity all sorts of life utterances (science, politics, religion, etc.), among these art occupies a quite independent place.”[8] Thus even God has made it so that he would be glorified through all our cultural production not only by religion but also by science, commerce, politics, and even art!

I hope that what I have written (or better yet what Kuyper has written) has helped you in your predicament. Hopefully now you can respond to those who doubt your decision and you will also feel more at peace personally. If you ever begin to doubt yourself just remind yourself that the God you serve is not merely the God of the sacred or the religious. Our God is sovereign! He is sovereign over every sphere of life and He intends to be glorified through all of these spheres. So when you are making art you are doing what humanity was meant to do, bring every sphere under Christ’s sovereignty for the sake of his glory. So don’t doubt yourself! In creating art you are participating in God’s common grace, you are fulfilling God’s cultural mandate, and you are declaring his sovereignty over every sphere of human life! I hope this helped! I will be praying for you Melissa!

[For honesty’s sake I want to point out (if you can’t already tell), that this is not an actual letter to an actual Christian artist named Melissa. This was an exercise performed in a class I had on Christ and Culture.)


[1] Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 45.

[2] Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 52.

[3] Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 143-4.

[4] Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 146-7.

[5] Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 153.

[6] Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 153.

[7] Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 157.

[8] Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 163.

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