The church I attend, of the Orthodox Presbyterian sort, is watching a series of lectures by R. C. Sproul on "art and theology" in its adult Sunday School class. This series is called "Recovering the Beauty of the Arts." There have already been four sessions, so I am behind in reporting on them. Be that as it may, here's a quick little summary of the first video.
The first lecture is "Lesson #1: Aesthetics in Recent History." That's rather badly titled, because this lesson includes a discussion of the arts in the Old Testament. Especially for a Presbyterian, that's not really recent history, but pretty much all of human history. In this lesson, Sproul gave a whirlwind tour of some attitudes towards the arts in church history, including:
- Old Testament condemnation of idolatrous uses of art and commendation of proper uses
- the 9th-century Iconoclasm controversy
- visual art serving as "books" for the illiterate in the Medieval European church
- the Reformation reviving a new iconoclasm; Luther thought people were addicted to images and needed a "time out" from visual art
- the Puritans [over-]reacted to the three misuses of artistic expression in worship.
Those three misuses are:
I'm not actually sure how they differ from one another; they all sound kind of the same to me.
But I skipped what Sproul started with, which was a great little talk about Goodness, Truth, & Beauty. He talked about that fact that various church traditions tend to emphasize one to the detriment of the others. I quite agree. My own "Reformed," "Evangelical" tradition definitely prioritizes "truth" (doctrine) over "goodness" (practice/morals/social justice) and both waaaaaaaaaay over "beauty" (the arts). Sproul said that the three above-mentioned abuses all substitute Beauty for Truth. The abuse of forms, he said, led to suspending their use.
Note that he only cover Church History. He didn't talk about how Romanticism, with its worship of the artist, may also be responsible for contemporary Christian fear of the arts. We may be over-reacting by failing to adequately appreciate artists. He did address the fact that Christian artists (by which he meant Christians in the arts -- which is quite a different animal, let me tell you) feel cut off from the Christian community. This is often because of a misconception that art is "worldly." Historically, of course -- and he noted this -- the Church has produced the greatest artists [of the "West," which he did not mention].
One of the greatest lines in his talk was "God Himself is Beautiful." Indeed. That alone is reason for us to make great art.
More later! Meanwhile, which does your church emphasize? Beauty, Truth, or Goodness?