Sproul on the Arts Report #2
R. C. Sproul: Recovering the Beauty of the Arts
“Art for Whose Sake?”
In our adult Sunday school class, we are watching a series of lectures by R. C. Sproul on the Christian and the arts. I'm summarizing them and writing my responses. Here is an index to these posts. Today's post is a summary.
In Church history, there have been various reaction against formalism, externalism, and ritualism. The OT prophets & the 16th-cent reformers spoke against these abuse of art. But the OT prophets were NOT iconoclasts. They did not want to get rid of the externals; the forms and externals of the Temple, etc., were ordained by God. The problem was not with ritual, form, or externality, but with what people were doing with them.
Any ritual may lose its meaning by mindless repetitions. But the cure for formalist/externalism is not to get rid of them, but to RE-FORM them and re-associate the Word to the Sign.
God always adds Sacrament to Word. He adds images, dramas, festivals, physical elements, to the verbal. As soon as you lose the verbal content, the externals degenerate into something godless.
The OT prophets also kept the externals because—you cannot get rid of externals. There is no possible escape from art.
There is no escape from externals in worship, because worship always takes place somewhere.
Every form is an art form. Every art form communicates something.
The most functional piece of furniture, for instance, still has elements that are purely for style, for aesthetic appeal, that are not strictly necessary for functionality. Our clothing does not just hide our nakedness and protect us from the elements, but also expresses style. It is not purely utilitarian. God designed the robes of the priesthood for beauty. When we say we want to look nice, we are making a statement about art.
All forms are art forms, and every art form communicates something.
If I walk into a church that is completely plain and unadorned, that communicates a message to me! Removing “churchiness” from a building is itself an artistic, interpretive choice. A Catholic Cathedral evokes an overwhelming sense of awe and of the sacred. The form draws the spirit heavenward. The dark entrance leads into a sanctuary full of light, communicating the idea of the light of the presence of God. It is full of symbols of transcendence and holiness.
Does it matter where we worship Him, as long as we worship in spirit and in truth? No, as long as you really are! Don't forget that even a tent or a hovel communicates something! Remember, no matter what you do, you are choosing an art form, and it is communicating something to the people around you. The very smell of the church building can communicate the scent of death, or a smell of fresh life!
So each church needs to ask: Why do we have the forms that we have? What are we communicating?
There is a current crisis in the church, thinking that “art is worldly”; but you can't escape art! The forms are added to the verbal content and the intellectual ideas we are conveying. Every church as a liturgy, every church has externals, every church has forms.
The issue is whether the forms are good forms, whether they are beautiful forms, and whether they are truthful forms. THE QUESTION ISN'T WHETHER OR NOT WE WILL HAVE ART: IT IS WHETHER WE WILL HAVE GOOD ART, OR BAD ART. Whether it's beautiful, or ugly; symphony or cacophony; order or disorder. Therefore, it is important for the Christian community to study the Beautiful. God is the foundation of truth because God Himself is True. God is the foundation of goodness because God Himself is Good. God is the foundation of beauty because God Himself is Beautiful. He Himself is an artist.