Christianity and the Arts
“Art” includes paintings, sculpture, drawings, dance, theater, architecture, decorating, music, literature, movies, etc.
Jesus Christ “is Lord of all” (Ac 10:36), and He is to have the preeminence in everything (Col 1:18). Everything is to be done “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col 3:17). We are to “do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). These commands certainly include art. Biblically, art cannot be viewed as religiously neutral.
Every culture “will be either a demonstration of faith or of apostasy, either a God-glorifying or a God-defying culture. Culture is simply the service of God in our lives; it is religion externalized.”
J. Gresham Machen, one of the greatest defenders of the Christian faith in the twentieth century, proclaimed, “Modern culture is a mighty force. It is either subservient to the gospel or else it is the deadliest enemy of the gospel.”
With this in mind, what tests can disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ use to judge whether the various expressions of art are good or evil?
Discerning the arts: 9 tests
1. Worldview test. Which worldview is it based upon — Christian or non-Christian? (There are no other options!) There is no religious, intellectual, or ethical neutrality! (Mt 12:30; Lk 11:23; Mt 22:37; Col 1:18; 2 Cor 10:5; Ro 12:2; Eph 4:23; Ro 8:5). Christians do not think as the world thinks, or live as the world lives (Dt 18:9; Eph 4:17-20; 2 Cor 6:14-18; 1 Jn 2:15-17).
Examples of non-Christian worldviews:
— all is spirit (e.g., Hinduism, New Age, pantheism) (Lion King, Powder, Pocahontas, Star Wars “force”);
• materialism/naturalism — all is matter (e.g., atheism).
It is commonly acknowledged that literature, such as poetry, is “candy-coated” philosophy. Ask epistemological (theory of knowledge) questions, e.g.: “What is the nature of truth (absolute — the same for all people in all places for all time — or relative)?” “What is their ultimate authority?”
Ask metaphysical (reality) questions, e.g., “What is the nature of man (free? basically good? an animal?)?”
Keep in mind that all non-Christian worldviews are irrational and self-contradictory. Non-Christians cannot live by what they profess to believe.
2. Theological test. Is the message sound theologically? What does it teach regarding: the truthfulness, infallibility, and authority of the Bible? God’s absolute sovereignty? God’s righteous law? God’s demand for holiness, justice, and truth? Man’s depravity? The total Lordship of Jesus Christ? Etc.
3. Ethical test. Is the primary purpose to glorify God (1 Cor 10:31)? Does it edify (Phil 4:8)?
“Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:13).
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things” (Phil 4:8).
(Note: Edification requires intelligible lyrics; cf. 1 Cor 14:16-23.)
“Do not love the world nor the things in theworld. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the
world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever” (1 Jn 2:15-17).
Example. The most frequent messages in secular rock and rap music are:
• lawlessness, rebellion, and anarchy against all God-ordained authorities;
• violence (e.g., murder, mayhem, suicide);
• sexual immorality and perversions (e.g., sodomy, rape, incest, bestiality);
• Eastern religions and occultism (e.g., Satanism, witchcraft) (Dt 7:26; Ac 19:18-19);
“Nor shall you bring an abomination into your house, lest you be doomed to destruction like it. You shall utterly detest it and utterly abhor it, for it is an accursed thing” (Dt 7:26).
• blasphemy (mocking Jesus Christ, the Bible, and Christianity);
• drug abuse (mind-altering and mood-altering drugs).
The underlying ethical philosophies in rock and rap music are usually relativism and hedonism.
Ask questions to expose their philosophy of ethics, e.g.: “What is the nature of good and evil?” “What is the standard for ethics (right and wrong)?” (Note: A music group’s message is conveyed not only through its music, but also by its lifestyle.)
4. Esthetic test. Does it reflect something of God’s creativity and the beauty and ordered design of His creation (Ex 28:40)?
• “modern art” lacks beauty and order because it postulates an impersonal, chance universe;
• music characterized by deafening volume, heavy repetitive beat, dissonance without melodic resolution (e.g., Eastern music), and nonsense lyrics. Such music dulls the mind and the senses, and it may produce hypnotic and/or demonic trances.
5. Hero test. Does it exalt ungodly persons as role models to be imitated? (Cf. 3 Jn 11; Heb 13:7).
“Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God” (3 Jn 11).
“Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct” (Heb 13:7).
People become like their heroes/teachers (Lk 6:40).
6. Fellowship test. Is it motivated by a desire for peer acceptance and popularity? (Ja 4:4; Ro 12:1f; 1 Cor 15:33; Pr 13:20).
“Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to
be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (Ja 4:4).
“Do not be deceived: Evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Cor 15:33).
“He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Pr 13:20).
With regard to clothing, hair, and jewelry of the artist, the following tests may be added:
7. Gender test. Does it honor the God-created sexual differentiation between males and females? (Gn 2:18-25; Dt 22:5; 1 Cor 11:14-16, 10).
“A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment, for all who do so are an
abomination to the LORD your God” (Dt 22:5).
8. Modesty test. Does it promote modesty (in contrast to lust and ostentation)? (1 Tim 2:9; 1 Pt 3:2-6).
9. Divine image test. Does it dignify man as the image of God?
• Tattoos and much body piercing violate God’s law against bodily disfigurement or scarring (Lv 19:28; 21:5; Dt 14:1; 1 Cor 6:19-20; 3:16-17).
Lv 19:28 nkjv ‘You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the LORD.
Lv 21:5-6 ‘They shall not make any bald place on their heads, nor shall they shave the edges of their beards nor make any
cuttings in their flesh. 6 ‘They shall be holy to their God and not profane the name of their God, for they offer the offerings of the LORD made by fire, and the bread of their God; therefore they shall be holy. (Cf. Ezk 44:20.)
Dt 14:1-2 “You are the children of the LORD your God; you shall not cut yourselves nor shave the front of your head for the dead. 2 “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.
1 Cor 6:19-20 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and
you are not your own? 20 For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.
1 Cor 3:16-17 Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.
• Earrings for men symbolize slavery and femininity (Ex 21:6; Dt 15:16-17), and are associated with idolatry (Gn 35:2, 4).
Sodomites and Afro-Americans (the latter having slavery roots and often growing up in a matriarchal subculture) have introduced this longstanding pagan custom into the U.S.A.
• Baldness (i.e., by shaving the head) was practiced in pagan peoples (e.g., Egyptians) and by false religions (e.g., Hinduism, Buddhism), but was forbidden to God’s covenant people (Lv 21:5; Dt 14:1); it is a symbol of mourning and enslavement.
• Dog collars obliterate the demarcation in the created order between man the image of God (who is God’s vice-regent in the earth) and the animal world which is not the image of God (Gn 1:26-28; Ps 8:5-6).
Is there any value in art produced by non-Christians?
1. Through God’s common goodness and by virtue of being created in God’s image, inconsistent unbelievers who borrow from the Christian worldview may occasionally produce esthetically beautiful art.
2. Limited exposure to our culture can be useful in our prayers (e.g., confessing sins, imprecatory prayers), our apologetics/evangelism, and our social activism. (Note: Christians do not need very much knowledge of evil [Gn 3:5; Rv 2:24; Eph 5:11-12]).
“And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret” (Eph 5:11-12).
Should Christians be involved with non-Christian art? If so, what extent?
Christ warned, “Take heed what you hear” (Mk 4:24).
1. Can I do it in faith (Ro 14:23) and to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31)? (Biblical recreation and pleasure have their place.)
2. Do I have the self-discipline to maintain moderation in how frequently I indulge in non-Christian art and in entertainment?
“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Cor 6:12).
3. Am I keeping my priorities straight: relationship with the Lord; my family; the covenant community to which I belong; other ministries and outreach?
4. Is too much exposure to non-Christian art dulling my conscience so that I am no longer outraged and grieved at sin (e.g., blasphemy, murder, sexual immorality, etc.; cf. Ezk 9:4)? In the New Testament the warnings, “Do not be deceived … ” or, “Let no one deceive you … ” almost always refer to issues of morality.
Pr 4:20-23, “My son, give attention to my words; Incline your ear to my sayings. 21 Do not let them depart from your eyes; Keep them in the midst of your heart; 22 For they are life to those who find them, And health to all their flesh. 23 Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.” (The eyes and the ears are the door to the heart.)
5. Does frequent exposure to non-Christian art cause me to become discouraged, focusing on the pervasiveness of sin so that I lose perspective on Christ conquering the nations?
6. Does frequent exposure to non-Christian art weaken my spiritual defenses and cause me to be more susceptible to temptation?
God commands us to run away from certain things: lust and sexual immorality (2 Tim 2:22; 1 Cor 6:18); idolatry (1 Cor 10:14); the love of money (1 Tim 6:11).
Christ’s lordship over our thoughts
Christians must fill their minds with godly thoughts:
Mt 22:37 (quoting Dt 6:5) Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.'”
Ro 12:2. “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Ro 8:5-8. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. 8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
2 Cor 10:4-5. “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ“
Phil 4:8. “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things.”
Christians must not merely copy the world’s art. Instead, Christians should produce art that is consistent with the Christian worldview. Such art will glorify the triune God, communicate truth, reflect the beauty of God’s created order, edify believers, and extend God’s kingdom.
God endorsed earrings for women (Ezk 16:12). Archaeology tells us that women’s earrings were for pierced ears (ABD, 3:827).