Thursday, August 05, 2010

Tim Keller: On the Power of Art

The Church needs artists because without art we cannot reach the world. The simple fact is that the imagination 'gets you,' even when your reason is completely against the idea of God. "Imagination communicates," as Arthur Danto says, "indefinable but inescapable truth." Those who read a book or listen to music expose themselves to that inescapable truth. There is a sort of schizophrenia that occurs if you are listening to Bach and you hear the glory of God and yet your mind says there is no God and there is no meaning. You are committed to believing nothing means anything and yet the music comes in and takes you over with your imagination. When you listen to great music, you can't believe life is meaningless. Your heart knows what your mind is denying. We need Christian artists because we are never going to reach the world without great Christian art to go with great Christian talk.

--Tim Keller

20 comments:

Jacquelyn said...

Being creative in the truest, purest most beautiful sense is one of the clearest (tangible) reflections of God a person can leave here on earth. The human soul yearns for beauty and once a person humbly recognizes that there is nothing more beautiful than God in all His Holiness and that they in their sin are the antithesis to that great beauty they will yearn for forgiveness and reconciliation with God. So much more to say but the church needs to the source of the world's greatest and noblest art under the direction of the greatest Artist for the purpose of glorifying God and drawing in the world around us.

allenpeek said...

What Bible verse/passage can we look at to back up Keller’s statements below?

“without art we cannot reach the world…”

“…we are never going to reach the world without great Christian art to go with great Christian talk.”

I agree, “we are never going to reach the world without…Christian talk” (Romans 10:13-17; 1 Peter 1:18-25)

GOD’s Word teaches us that we WILL reach the world by no other means but through preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“…you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God…this word is the good news that was preached to you.” 1 Peter 1:23, 25 ESV

I’m not sure where to look in the Bible to back up Keller’s statements in regard to our inability to reach the world without great Christian art. Help me out.

Jacquelyn said...

Awesome question Allen and it totally got me thinking. Recently I've been studying Isaiah and have found that about 95% of it is poetry (in fact almost all the books of prophecy are primarily written in verse). It is also the most quoted book in the New Testament. You can't read through the gospels without reading the POETRY (art) of Isaiah and the rest of the prophets. I wrote a blog post about poetry in the Bible a while ago that goes into more detail. I hope more people weigh in on this discussion (ahem ... Pastor Tim), it's an incredibly interesting one!

Jacquelyn said...

Correction, the most quoted o.t. book is Psalms. Isaiah comes in 2nd.

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allenpeek said...

I agree with you Jacquelyn. It's safe to say that there is a lot of poetry found in the Bible - this is GOD's art. God is a God of beauty is He not?

Splendor and majesty are before Him,
Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.
Psalm 96:6

It’s clear that GOD loves beautiful art. The book of Exodus gives His instruction to the Israelites in the construction of the Tabernacle – talk about beautiful art!

BUT here is what is not clear to me in Keller’s statement. He’s clearly not talking about God’s art found in the Bible because he starts out by saying, “The Church needs artists…” And he finishes with, “We need Christian artists…” Is it that Keller believes that the Church cannot reach the world (“never going to reach the world”) for Christ without Christian artists? It would seem so. If this is the case, I disagree.

I think the Church has done a pretty good job of glorifying God through the arts. And I believe She will continue to do so. But even with that being said, the Church doesn’t NEED art to reach the world. God has given the Church the gospel message to herald as a means of reaching the world.

It is totally possible that I’m overlooking something. I just can’t think of any place in the Bible that teaches or even implies that the Church needs Christian artists to reach the world. I’m teachable. Point me in the right direction.

Jacquelyn said...

Allen, take a look at Isaiah 5. It's during the grape harvest and Isaiah sings a very timely and relevant song to convict and condemn his listeners. It is a biblical example of using an artistic methods to teach God's word. His listeners would have been hearing many songs about the harvest as they celebrated this time of year and would have been inclined to listen to a message and a messenger that communicated in a culturally appropriate way -- using art. Listen to Handel's Messiah sometime and ask yourself how many people have heard the gospel through his music that would otherwise have shut their ears. I think art sweetens the message in a way that doesn't undermine the gospel but reaches listeners who would otherwise never bother. Why wouldn't a church use every method possible to reach their community for Christ? In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
Paul tells us "I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some." Shouldn't we do the same?

nannykim said...

Love this quote---and I just stole it to apply to something I have been thinking about. Thanks.

Troy said...

Allen,
I don't think Keller is saying that the church needs artists at the exclusion of other ministries. I think he is simply saying that art is another way to glorify God and minister to the culture. I think he is essentially saying that the way that art communicates to and touches people is different than traditional ministries of the church. It is a cultural "language" that is largely underutilized in ministries. I think what he means is "the Church needs artists because without art we cannot reach the [whole] world." Note I added "whole". We are going to have problems reaching an unreached people group without using their "language". This is a very strategic statement.
If we take the simple example of how Tolkien ministered to C.S. Lewis. C.S. Lewis (athiest at the time) once complained to Tolkien that "...myths are lies, though lies breathed through silver". Lewis admitted that there was something engaging and transcendant and beautiful in these myths (breathed through silver) but even the best story was just that... a story. Tolkien pointed C.S. Lewis to the Story behind all of the stories.

Patrick W. Curles wrote about this:
"There are truths, Tolkien said, that are beyond us, transcendent truths, about beauty, truth, honor, etc. There are truths that man knows exist, but they cannot be seen - they are immaterial, but no less real, to us."

"All the other myths of the world, Tolkien said, are a mixture of truth and error - truth because they are written by those made by and for God - error because written by those alienated by God. But the Bible is the one true myth. It is a true accounting of truth, while everything else we do is mimicking. This perspective was decisive in Lewis’ conversion to Christianity."

Lewis was exactly one of those people that Keller is talking about who was ministered to by (in this case) myths.

allenpeek said...

Sorry gang! I’ve been working a ton and I haven’t had the time to respond. I do appreciate the dialog. You guys rock!

It may be that I’m just being overly sensitive to Keller’s statement, reading more into it than what I should. But so much of Evangelicalism today pays lip service to the spoken message of the gospel and places all the emphasis on Christians doing anything other than speaking the message. You know, “preach the gospel and if necessary, use words.” I’m weary of it all.

The other tendency of Evangelicals is to think we have to “sell” the gospel. Dress it up! As if to say that before we speak the gospel, “sweeten the deal.” Maybe even make it more palatable for those who might not otherwise listen. You know that it’s true. Maybe that’s not what Keller is saying here but in the context of what most Evangelical leaders are doing today, it’s hard not to be skeptical.

There has still been no Biblical support presented here for Keller’s statements.

“The Church needs artists because without art we cannot reach the world. [AND]
We need Christian artists because we are never going to reach the world without great Christian art to go with great Christian talk.”

Says who?

It is true, 1 Corinthians 9 tells us that God has given His Church a stewardship to preach the gospel message. As Christians, God has so changed us that He has made us willing to lay down our freedom we have in Christ, becoming a servant to all, in order that we might proclaim the gospel to them and they might become saved. Paul says that the Christian will be culturally sensitive to those we are trying to reach (with the gospel not anything else) and willing to forsake our freedom in Christ so as not to offend people by our freedom.

But this is hardly Biblical support for Keller’s statement. In context, isn’t Paul’s emphasis on preaching the gospel (vv. 16, 18)? It seems to me that the Holy Spirit here, as always, is being consistent with the rest of the Bible. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation!

Keller’s statement should read, ‘The Church needs the gospel because without the gospel we cannot reach the world. We need more Christians sharing their faith because we are never going to reach the world with out the gospel and Christians who speak it.’ Even in this statement I see something that isn’t quite right. Does God really NEED us? No! He need’s no one. He needs nothing to accomplish His purposes. Not even Christians willing to proclaim His gospel, much less – art. But nevertheless, “it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21b). The gospel is the means God has given His Church to reach the world.

Jacquelyn, I still agree with you. Isaiah 5 is an excellent example of what you and I agreed upon earlier – God’s Word contains poetry and song (art). There is art in God’s Word – period. But I must make a distinction here.

The art we see in Isaiah and other parts of the Bible is, “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). The Bible says that God’s Word (art found in Its pages), “was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom 5:4). The Bible also says that, “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:20-21). Can the same be said of the art of men outside of the pages of Scripture? I think not.

allenpeek said...

The art we see God using in the Bible isn’t in the same category of Handel’s Messiah. Yes – Handel’s Messiah glorifies God. I own Handel’s Messiah and I love to listen to it. But I don’t believe that God’s Word gives us license to say that Handel’s Messiah is, “breathed out by God…” It cannot be accurately stated that, Christian music artist, Chris Tomlin writes music/lyrics that is, “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12). Handel’s Messiah and Chris Tomlin’s music are some of my favorites. But we must make the distinction between God’s Word (and the art found in it) and all other manmade art.

Again, I just don’t see anything in the pages of the Bible that teach that the Church cannot reach the world without Christian artists. I just don’t see it.

I heard once that if you want to check the validity of a person’s premise for their argument, substitute something else in its place and see how it works. The premise being asserted by Keller is that the Church cannot reach the world without Christian artists. Try Keller’s premise with Christian farmers instead of Christian artists. What about Christian football players or Christian Highway Patrolmen? What about Christian astronauts, Christian music artists, mimes, actors, multimedia specialists, dancers, clowns? If you substitute these into Keller’s statements it ends up sounding pretty of silly. I believe it ends up sound silly because Keller’s premise is silly and more importantly, unbiblical. We don’t NEED Christian artist to reach the world. All that the Church NEEDS to reach the world was given to Her – the gospel.

Again, we must make a distinction between the wisdom of man and the wisdom of God. The wisdom of man says that there is a way to sweeten the gospel for listeners who would never otherwise bother.

Paul said, And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 1 Cor 2:1–5),

The quote below is from the ESV Study Bible.

“The art of rhetorical persuasion was highly valued in the Greco-Roman world, and professional orators frequented large cities like Corinth, giving impressive displays of their ability to entertain and instruct. Paul's proclamation of the gospel failed to measure up to these standards. This failure, however, served to place the spotlight on the power of the message itself (see also 2:1–5), for the Holy Spirit so empowered Paul's words that they awakened faith in Christ (cf. James 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23–25) and changed people's very hearts and lives.”

The quote below is from the Geneva Study Bible.

“The reason why he did not use the pomp of words and fancy speech: because it was God's will to bring the world to his obedience by that way, by which the most foolish among men might understand that this work was done by God himself, without the skill of man. Therefore as salvation is set forth to us in the Gospel by the cross of Christ, which nothing is more contemptible than, and more far from life, so God would have the manner of the preaching of the cross, most different from those means with which men do use to draw and entice others, either to hear or believe: therefore it pleased him by a certain kind of most wise folly, to triumph over the most foolish wisdom of the world, as he had said before by Isaiah that he would. And by this we may gather that both these teachers who were puffed up with ambitious eloquence, and also their hearers, strayed far away from the goal and mark of their calling.”

allenpeek said...

It seemed Paul avoided using the rhetoric (art) of the day and simply preached Christ crucified. If we try to apply 1 Cor 9 (become all things to all men) the way it is applied most of the time by Evangelicals today, Paul should have used the art of rhetoric because this is the language/art of the people.

So why didn’t the Apostle become all things to these people in this sense? He didn’t want his listeners to put stock in him but in Christ. Bottom line, He trusted God that the gospel message simply proclaimed will accomplish all that God determines it to accomplish.

In my opinion we would do well to forsake all other methods and do the same. It also seems that there is a way to preach the gospel while at the same time the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. Are you sure that there is a way to use art to sweeten the gospel without undermining the gospel?

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 1 Corinthians 1:17

Just because the Apostle Paul was a tentmaker and Pharisee (Acts 18:3: Phil 3:5) doesn’t mean that he also needed to be a Christian artist in order to reach artists for Christ. I’m sure he would do all that He could to reach them. But in the end it had nothing to do with what the Apostle Paul was or was not. Paul understood that it is GOD who inwardly calls whom He will, in spite of who we are (1 Thess 1:5 ; 2 Thess 2:14) through the outward call of the gospel he preached.

Does the gospel need help?

Listeners who would otherwise never bother do not need art. They need faithful Christians to do what our Lord has called us to do – communicate, with our mouth, the message of everlasting life to them. The rest is up to God. The gospel is the means, not art.

Paul said, When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia.

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. 2 Cor 2:12-17

Listeners, who would never otherwise bother, like the rest of us before our conversion, are dead in trespasses and sins, and in the hands of God. Salvation is of the LORD. Art reaches and saves no one. There is no amount of sweetening we can or should attempt to add to the gospel message. If listeners who would never otherwise bother reject our message, it is NOT because we fail to use art or anything else. They don’t bother and reject our message because it is a stumbling stone of offense that brings eternal death (cf. 1 Pet. 2:6–8) to them. We must not be peddlers of God’s word but as men and women of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak the gospel in Christ. Nothing more, nothing less.

Again, I agree there is power in art. Christians always have and always will glorify God through it. But the “power” of art doesn’t save anyone. This power is given a lowercase “p”. The Power that reaches the world is God and His gospel (John 3:8; Mark 16:20; 1 Corinthians 2:4).

Again, What Bible verse/passage can we look at to back up Keller’s statements? I’m open to correction.

allenpeek said...

Troy, I’m only taking Keller’s quote at face value. What does it say? Or should I ask, what doesn’t it say? Shouldn’t a mention of the gospel be found in the context of a statement about the Church “reaching the world”? He did mention “great Christian talk” at the end of the paragraph. Maybe I should give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he meant the gospel.

But, we live in a time when so many Evangelicals are taught, “preach the gospel and when necessary, use words.” The emphasis is not put on heralding the gospel to our communities but on social justice. I may be overly sensitive but Keller is a Bible teacher; I guess I just expect him to be clearer when it comes to such important matters.

Troy - I challenge you to back up your statement with Scripture. “We are going to have problems reaching an unreached people group without using their “language””. Please show me in the pages of the Bible where it is taught or even implied that the Church will have problems reaching an unreached people group without using art.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ transcends all time, people, customs, cultural boundaries…everything. To say that the Church needs art to reach an unreached people group is nothing more than contextualizing the gospel. What I see in the New Testament is the early Church faithfully delivering the message that was given to them. They weren’t trying to apply man’s wisdom in how to go about reaching the world. They were just living out their Christian lives and heralding the good news. I see the transcendent message being faithfully heralded by believers. These believers trusted God that if they were to reach the world, it would have to be by His wisdom and power – not how well they were able to figure out their culture and/or speak their language.

Rest assured, you have God’s Word on it, this so called art-loving unreached people group will not be reached by means of art. Paul said, “I am determined to know nothing among you except Christ and Him crucified.” Either we believe God’s Word or we put our trust in man’s wisdom.

In Acts 2:5, we see a crowd dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. The Apostle Peter wasn’t concerned with knowing who these people were. He knew they were Hell bound sinners in despite need of a Savoir. He didn’t seek to contextualize the Gospel to the Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians. Peter standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“Without art we cannot reach the [whole] world”

This may be strategic but, in my opinion, it is founded on the wisdom of men and not the wisdom of GOD because I don’t see it in any place in the Bible. Please show me and I’ll be quick to confess my error.

I’m not a deep thinker. I have a hard time digesting hardly anything written by C.S. Lewis or Tolkkien. I need a simple transcendent message. And God, in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son and He has provided all that was necessary for His Church to reach the world. He’s given us the simple message of Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Anecdotal stories of Lewis and Tolkkien and speculation about what Keller meant are all insufficient to convince me that art/myth is what the Church needs to reach the world. Please show me Scripture.

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17

Jeff said...

Sorry, but I disagree with your statement about art. It is the Holy Spirit not art that allows us to reach people

Troy said...

Allen,
I guess I am still not clear of the controversy. I think you are perhaps assigning more exclusivity to Keller's statement than is due. I think he is simply pointing out that the creativity that God gave us at creation (unique to us...after all one of Adam's first tasks was to name the animals...talk about needing a creative streak in you), reflect Him and in many cases can truly humble us. That is what a beautiful cathedral, song, painting, opera, etc. does for many. And that is an opportunity....

Of course the particular art in and of itself is nothing to be worshiped (that is not what he is saying). God has made us creative and aesthetic, and in His image. Why not use that gift to proclaim the Gospel and worship Him? And if it means using the mediums of art (which we have left very vague and have not defined) so be it.

So to answer your original question. I can't refer to a particular place in the Bible that literally says "the Church needs artists", although there are plenty of examples of God using art in the Bible. We have already discussed the Psalms, the temple,etc. If we look at the singular example of David. He played, wrote songs, danced and sung. Speaking of David, the prophet Nathan chose to use a short story (parable) to convict David. Why a "fictional" story? And of course in the New Testament Jesus used parables many times to teach as well. Why? Why use the format of a fictional story?

Of course I should say that there is a lot to criticize about art, but then there is a lot to criticize about the internet, the 21st century in general etc., but alas here we are typing away using the technology to discuss this topic, which I believe is another strategic medium to minister to people and glorify God (although I'm not going to be able to provide references in the Bible to the "internet" :).

Perhaps Keller needed to add an asterisk and footnote where he states "need" and "can't" and further explain that God being sovereign doesn't need any of us, but that is a topic for a different (and much longer) discussion.


Also remember Keller isn't an artist. He is preaching the Gospel in the city (specifically Manhattan), so this isn't an affirmation of anything that he is doing but a challenge to others. Interesting mission field. The big cities are a place that the Church has a minimal impact any more but is culturally "upstream", with significant influence on society Very strategic.

Whatever we do we are do do it unto the Lord. For those that are gifted, they should use their gifts to the glory of God.

My ramblings....

Tim said...

16 comments! I need to go on vacation a little more often.

Good discussion, friends. A few personal thoughts and reminders . . .

• I don't necessarily agree with or endorse everything I post.

• I posted this without personal comment, which maybe opened the door to this discussion.

• I'm got this from Pastor Al, but it was ripped from its larger context. I haven't asked him where he got it. I think context is important.

• I don't feel lead to defend Tim Keller's statement. He can be his own defender. If you want to ask him for Scripture support, I encourage you to do so.

• I posted the statement because I thought it was a thought provoking statement about the power and place of art in the Christian community. As a non-artist, I don't think much about art and its place. I was personally challenged and thought others might be.

See next comment for more. . . .

Tim said...

• For my part, on the one hand, I agree with Allen, regarding the centrality and necessity of the Word in God's Work of saving men and women. Salvation is of the Lord, and He chooses to use the Word as the central and primary means by which the Spirit regenerates dead hearts. Allen's scripture list is clear and convincing.

• At the same time, with Troy and others, I think its narrow to think that God doesn't also use a variety of other means in the sometimes long process of drawing folks to saving faith in Jesus Christ. It won't happen apart from the Word, but I think God uses other things, including art, as part of the process.

Scripture Support? How about these:

1. Creation Mandate, Genesis 1:28: This is a call and blessing of the entire human endeavor and expression under the sovereign lordship of God. God is a creative God and he invites us to join him in his creative work by fashioning the raw materials of creation into things beautiful and useful. When this done in submission to God and under the Lordship of Christ, God is glorified. God can and does use this to draw men and women to himself. I think this is clearly affirmed also in . . .

2. Matthew 5:13-16

Matt. 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty [again]? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.

Matt. 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;

Matt. 5:15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.

Matt. 5:16 “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

I'm convinced art and every other human effort and endeavor done under the Lordship of Christ, are ways we fulfill our role as salt and light in the world. . . they, too, are good works which others will see, and as a result, glorify our Father in heaven.

I take "glorify your Father in heaven" as referring to coming to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.

3. I Peter 2:12 echoes this same principle. . .

1Pet. 2:12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe [them], glorify God in the day of visitation.

• Philippians 2:15 sounds the same note.

Bottom line for me: God's Word is central and primary, but God is also pleased to use our lives, our talents, our creativity, our generosity, our sacrifices, our service, our hospitality, our art, our community together, etc, etc, to accomplish his saving work in the world. He doesn't need us, but he is pleased to use us.

I think that's the spirit of Keller's statement.

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shoemocks said...

Thanks for posting this quote by Tim Keller. Do you happen to know what the source is for the quote? If so, would you be able to email me any information you have? Thanks!