The Arts and Christian Education

By Sharene Duncombe

The fact that you’re reading The Renewanation Review magazine means you probably know that the vision of this organization is “to see culture transformed by giving millions of children a Christian worldview education.” You probably also know that Renewanation’s primary method of accomplishing that mission is to help children receive a full-time Christian education. We passionately desire to educate the minds and the hearts of our young people so that they can change culture. However, although Christian schools tend greatly to exceed their secular alternatives in academic matters, the Christian community has failed to fully embrace a complete understanding of what it means to educate the heart. For the most part, we’ve perceived this to simply entail moral education. Unfortunately, we understand that simply knowing right from wrong rarely succeeds in producing desirable behavior. Real change comes from inspiration, and inspiration is often found in the realm of the arts. If Christians sincerely want to change culture, doing so will require a much greater appreciation and investment in the artistic development of our children.

How can art transform culture? The answer to this question may be answered in both ideological and practical terms. First of all, the arts may and should glorify God. Men are made in the image of God; God is the Creator and like Him, men also create. It is not a question if men create: they will and do. The apropos question is “What will we create?” Francis Schaeffer notes, “The arts …do have a place in the Christian life—they are not peripheral… The Lordship of Christ should include an interest in the arts… An artwork can be a doxology in itself.” Do we want to train our young people to worship God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength? Then we must teach them how to do so with the creativity with which God endowed them.

Secondly, the arts have practical application. Francis Bacon, the celebrated scientist and devout Anglican, wrote, “Man by the fall fell at the same time from his state of innocence and from his dominion over nature. Both of these losses, however, can even in this life be in some part repaired; the former by religion and faith, the latter by the arts and sciences.”  1 In short, Bacon understood what few Christians seem to comprehend: the arts serve a pragmatic purpose for the Christian. The arts are a valuable tool available to the Christian working to subdue all of creation to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Artists make the television shows about which Christians disapprove. Artists write the books on the New York Times Bestsellers List. Artists make the music we don’t want our young people to hear. Andy Crouch, in his book, Culture Making, rightly explains, “The only way cultures truly change is through the introduction of new cultural goods.”  2 So, if Christians truly desire to change culture, ranting and raving over the latest cultural “no-no” simply won’t do the trick. We need to create.

When it comes to art, Christian standards need to be high. Although alternatives to secular art exist in particular genres (most notably music), the real goal isn’t the creation of a long list of Christian alternatives. Instead, we want and the world needs Christians who create so compellingly that their good works saturate culture, becoming the standard rather than simply secondary alternatives. Cookie-cutter fiction, predictable film, and homogenous music doesn’t measure up. To raise the bar, consider Dante’s “Inferno,” Handel’s “Messiah,” or Michelangelo’s “David.” This is originality; this is culture changing; this is true Christian art. Although my examples are centuries old, my point still holds: we want authentic art with lasting cultural value, not fleeting, commercial stand-ins.

    How can we encourage culture changing creativity in our young people?

  1. Own your artistic biases. When the church imposes extra-biblical values on creative freedom by approving and rejecting particular genres or styles, we relinquish the opportunity to impact culture. Sadly, many young artists fail to reach creative maturity within the church because the church fails to value artistic diversity. We present them with a false dichotomy: deny your individual creativity or deny the church. Is it any wonder that many young artists leave the church and pursue more accepting environments? In short, the Christian community must learn to protect and foster artistic freedom.
  2. Insist on technical excellence. There is a grammar (a set of rules) to every skill, but too often modern artistic training ignores those rules in the interest of “fun” and “creativity.” Mature, creative excellence stands firmly on the foundational knowledge of its predecessors. Christian artistic training should insist that artists master the grammar of their genre. Beware of “mushy, feel good” training that bypasses basic skill development.
  3. Provide artistic inspiration. If your child has artistic leanings, you should make it a priority to encourage those inclinations. For example, many times the arts flourish in community. Perhaps you could find or even initiate a Christian artistic community in your area. In the absence of a physical community, online options are available. Beyond that, invest in books and classes. Visit museums. Attend the theatre. Enjoy a concert. Read a book with your student and discuss it. Join a book club. Don’t let cost deter you; many low cost and free choices can be found. The local library is an excellent resource!
  4. Consider how you can help your local school develop a robust arts program. Unfortunately, funding issues prevent many Christian schools from investing in the wide-ranging creative capacity of their students. This problem can be remedied when parents, concerned individuals, and the Christian community as a whole begin to see the value of artistic education. Sponsor a contest. Hold a fundraiser. Provide public opportunities for creative expression. Encourage high standards. Mentor a young artist. I’m sure you can think of more ideas to foster creativity in your school!

As I close this article, I want to challenge you to think what it would mean for culture if high-caliber artists possessing a Christian worldview became the norm. Consider how you feel when enveloped in the beauty of God’s creation. Perhaps you’ve walked on the ocean’s edge or stood in the forest, high on a majestic mountain. God’s creation fills us with joy and wonder, doesn’t it? It enriches and ennobles us. And although man’s work will never rival God’s work, we can emulate Him. We are made in His image. We have the culture-changing power to erase the ugliness of destructive, sinful art. If we invest in the creative capacity of our young people, we can fill the world with beauty and goodness. Michael Medved, the American journalist and political commentator, said, “Savvy observers occasionally note television’s resemblance to the weather: Everybody loves to complain about it, but nobody can fix it.”  3 Fortunately, while some might say the same for all types of creative endeavors, we know that Medved and those who concur with him are wrong—by God’s grace, we can do something about it. The only question is, “Will we?”


Footnotes
1. Schaeffer, Francis A. “Art and the Bible.” A Christian View of the Bible as Truth. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1982. Print.
2. Crouch, Andy. Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling. Downer’s Grove: IVP Books, 2008. Print.
3. “Michael Medved Quotes.” Brainy Quote. Web. 4 January 2014.


This article originally appeared in The Renewanation Review® magazine. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted here by permission of Renewanation. For more information regarding Renewanation, visit renewanation.org.