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Restoration of Art for God’s Glory

by Lydia Kelliney

“The dance reflects the movement of God, which also moves us upon the earth. The drama presupposes the holy play between God and man. Verbal art is the hymn of praise in which the Eternal and his works are represented. Architecture reveals to us the lines of the well-built city of God’s creation. Music is the echo of the eternal Gloria.”[1]

In the current tumultuous state of our world, many people turn to forms of art to express their voice, particularly the voice of freedom. However, in the Middle Eastern context, an apprehension exists about intertwining art with what is related to religion, faith, and therefore God. During my ministry among youth with my congregation in Egypt, young individuals would occasionally pose inquiries, questioning the permissibility (halal or haram) of secular songs, contemplating the compatibility of art with faith and holiness, and deliberating the appropriateness of placing pictures within our Protestant churches, among other similar questions.

In the forthcoming lines, I explore the potential for art to be a force in redeeming creation, by exploring theological perspectives that suggest art can be elevated to glorify God—an outcome achievable only through the transformative power of the Holy Spirit.

In his analysis of the Calvinistic principles toward the use – but not abuse (which was protested by John Calvin) – of art,[2] Abraham Kuyper considers sanctified uses of art. Calvinism held that art originated in the Holy Spirit and served as a means of comfort in our present lives, enabling us to see beyond the human sinful existence a much broader and more glorious reality. The Calvinistic principle that “All life is to be redeemed” holds that “all life” – including church, family, art, science, etc. – is under the sovereignty of God. In other words, it is not only the church, nor the spiritual aspects of life, that are under “His Kingdom.” In this sense, in terms of art, God’s redemption directs art back to the first purpose of its existence, which is the proclamation of the glory of God. Kuyper distinguishes between the roles of the three hypostases of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) in his explanation of gifts and talents. According to his explanation, gifts and talents come from the Father, and are disposed for each person by the Son, and spark in every human being from above through the Holy Spirit.[3] Therefore, the ultimate goal for the Holy Spirit is “leading the whole creation to its destiny, the final purpose of which is the glory of God.”[4]

Visual arts, for example, play a crucial role in conveying messages and exerting a substantial influence on the process of visual communication. The significance of their involvement in leading movements of change, deeply rooted in society, can be likened to a fire sparked by the Holy Spirit. This ignition takes place through the union of the power bestowed by the Holy Spirit upon artists’ thoughts and fingers, as they engage with materials like brushes and colors on a blank canvas. The beauty we observe in different forms of art, not just visual, creates a connection between the artwork and people. This beauty is not solely generated by the artist’s skill or intellect but by the Creator’s Spirit. This is because God’s role as the Creator of all that is good, along with the sovereignty of God, contradicts the possibility of Satan creating something beautiful on his own. Even man cannot create beauty without being created in the image of the original Artist.[5] Through the Holy Spirit, man can use and create what was made available to him by the Creator. The Holy Spirit works in creation, renewing it using the potential He puts in both the gifted persons and the materials, together proclaiming the beauty that can be made and glorifying the original Creator.[6]

The neo-Calvinism movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries considered that art is a manifestation of God’s presence in His kingdom and there is no dualism between nature and God’s common grace which works to speak of the beauty God has done. Art provides prophetic glimmerings of the New Jerusalem, a “preliminary scintillation” of what is to come; therefore, creating art can make us homesick for beauty.[7] God’s stated purpose for Adam in Genesis 2:15 was “the LORD God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.”[8] This verse speaks of the cultural mandate contained in human vocation on Earth. To fulfill God’s intention for humans, man has first to reconcile with the Earth, love her, and subordinate all of his abilities to keep her beautiful. For the artist, his mission is connected with “this very physical and this-worldly story of creation that Scripture narrates,”[9] to reveal to humanity the beauty and glory of God in this world and to transform humanity into His likeness and genuine image.

There are other voices that perceive art as having the potential to contribute to the redemption of creation, ultimately serving to glorify God. Trevor Hart, for example, highlights the analogy between the creative work and Jesus’ cry in Galatians 4:6 “Abba, Father.” Hart considers responsible creative artwork as an echo of this dynamic cry to the Father, since, by the Holy Spirit, the artist can share in moving the creation toward its true end, which is glorifying God.[10] Thus, the grace and privilege given to artists is that the Holy Spirit enlivens their creativity in order to celebrate the timeless mysteries of the cosmos and its Creator. During this announcement, artists join Christ in exclaiming, “Abba, Father!” in solidarity with his cry for a permanent association with God. Humans are able to work as artists within creation as Christ uses His artistry to transfigure our flesh and turn it to the glory of the Father through Spirit-inspired artistry. In doing so, artists join Christ in expressing “Abba, Father!” in unity with his longing for a lasting connection with God. Therefore, artists’ work is allowed to be both physical and spiritual.[11]

To conclude, although the entire universe in its essence is derived from God’s will and is regarded as His piece of art, the realm of beauty, as a creation of God, is consistently mistreated by human sin. The Trinitarian community shares in creating and gifting art to this world and asks those who are gifted to keep and to develop what was given to humanity. The Holy Spirit empowers both materials and artists, leading to the creation of artwork that reflects God’s presence in the world. This inclusive perspective acknowledges the role of common grace, extending to all humanity, in highlighting the beauty and sanctity inherent in artistic expression, whether secular or religious. Thus, we can recognize these forms of art as touched by the Holy Spirit, revealing a universal sense of Christ’s redemption. This understanding challenges traditional notions of what is considered halal or haram in art, prompting us to view all creative endeavors as manifestations of God’s creative power. Rather than seeing certain forms of art as going against religious teachings – influenced by our Protestant iconoclasm heritage that limits our appreciation of God’s creativity in making humanity as eikon, small representations of Himself – we can instead see art as the opportunity it is to celebrate the beauty and diversity of God’s creation.

Lydia Kelliney is an Egyptian scholar who serves as an assistant lecturer in the New Testament department at the ABTS. She is interested in theology and the arts, with a focus on the visual exegesis of the Gospel narratives.

 

[1]Richard Viladesau, Theological Aesthetics: God in Imagination, Beauty, and Art (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 27.

[2]Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism (Grand Rapids, Michigan: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing company, 1931), 152.

[3]Abraham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit, trans. John Hendrik de Vries (Grand Rapids, Michigan: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing company, 1946), 39.

[4]Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit, 22.

[5]Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, 155.

[6] Steve Bishop, “Abraham Kuyper’s Nascent Views on Art,” November 1, 2019.

[7] Steve Bishop, “Abraham Kuyper’s Nascent Views on Art.

[8] Genesis 2:15, KJV.

[9] See William A Dyrness, Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue (Baker Academic, 2001), ?.

[10] Dyrness, Visual Faith, 91-4.

[11] Dyrness, Visual Faith, 93.

2 Comments

  1. Peter in MENA Region. says:

    A great discussion point thank you.
    Having entered the world as a cradle Catholic, I was baptised as a baby, made my first confession and Communion then four months later I was confirmed. All while I was only 7 years old. I maintained my belief finally denying my faith in my late teens to late 20s.

    I returned to the Catholic faith and belief in the Trinity as my eldest daughter started primary school. After the loss of my son 3 days before his 4th birthday. There were so many questions of Why? Having failed to find any answers I finally accepted a faith that was totally blind, as I could not get the answers to my questions

    I was led to University through God. While at University and in the year I hit fifty, I moved from Roman Catholicism to Evangelicalism, the three University chaplains amusingly thought I had jumped from the frying pan into the fire.

    One of the hardest issues I have struggled with has been art in the ways of paintings and statues. Having gone to Lourdes in France 20 times in 15years, initially As a sick pilgrim but the majority as a “stagier” (helper). Where do I stand? I personally feel there are some answers in this piece. I find the use of icons, paintings, statues, music and other artistic forms, not as something to worship for itself, but as an aid and reminder of who I am praying to.

    Now living in a majority Muslim country with the majority of the minority following the Coptic Orthodox tradition, I found I had saved the article on my phone and read it while staying at the St. Paul Monestry guest house on the Red Sea. A building full of Art in many forms together with the Monestry itself, there was much to remind us to pray to God the Father Son and Holy Spirit. Together with the man made imagery there included the God made beauty of the coast, sea and mountains, even the desert between sea and mountain had a beauty of its own.

  2. Lydia Kelliney says:

    Thank you for sharing your deeply personal journey with faith. It’s remarkable how your experiences have shaped your beliefs over time. Your journey from Catholicism to Evangelicalism and the challenges you’ve encountered along the way, particularly regarding art and symbolism, reflect the complexity and depth of faith.

    Your perspective on using art as a tool for prayer and reflection is insightful. Indeed, art can serve as a powerful reminder of the divine and aid in deepening one’s connection to God. Your description of your surroundings in a majority Muslim country, with its rich artistic heritage and natural beauty, underscores the universality of spiritual experiences and the diverse ways in which people express their devotion.

    Thank you again for sharing your story. It’s a testament to the resilience and ever-evolving nature of faith

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