A.W. Tozer once said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us” (Knowledge of the Holy). In the same way, Philip Ryken persuasively argues in Art for God’s Sake that “What we believe about art is based on what we believe about God. Art is what it is because God is who he is” (53). Ryken uses this statement to set the foundation that the reason we are artists is because God is an artist.
Art is what it is because God is who he is.
The book’s main purpose is to show why art is important in the church. Ryken wants the readers to see the benefit and value of the arts and why they matter in the church community. In order to show this, he argues, “The proper basis for such thinking is the Bible, which affirms the value of art while at the same time protecting it from the corrupting effects of sin” (17).
In order to prove this position, Ryken outlines a four point Christian theology of the arts: “(1) The artist’s call and gift come from God; (2) God loves all kids of art; (3) God maintains high standards for goodness, truth, and beauty; and (4) art is for the glory of God” (18). Throughout the rest of the book he will use these four points to convince the reader that all aspects of art for the Christian artist is an expression of how they view God.
Art for the Christian artists is an expression of how they view God.
Ryken illustrates the first point through the story of the building and design of the Tabernacle. God called two specific men to be the designers and creatives who would make his earthly dwelling place. In the description given in the Scriptures there are guidelines for these men to follow and yet also freedom for creative interpretation. Ryken’s point is that God did not give these men everything they needed but gave them enough guidelines to follow in order to create something that was beautiful. But not only did he give them directions he also equipped them to fulfill their requirements. “Artists are called and gifted – personally, by name – to write, paint, sing, play, and dance to the glory of God” (25).
In order to create to the glory of God means that there are certain guidelines in which to stay to create something that God blesses. Not all art falls inside these conditions. As Ryken says, “God has a high standard for art, and obviously he does not and cannot endorse the content of work that is pornographic or propagandistic, or that violates his character in some other way. What is meant instead is that God blesses a rich variety of art forms” (29).
What is the definition of good art?
Ryken is an advocate of creating all types of art. His argument is in the form of motivating artists to not only critique but to create good art. The question is, what is his definition of good art? And his answer is that which pleases God and brings him glory.
There is no distinction between that which is secular and what which is sacred. To Ryken no one type of art is more godly than another. He argues that the distinction which some Christians make is not accurate. “They make a sharp distinction between the sacred and the secular, not recognizing that so-called secular art is an exploration of the world that God has made, and therefore has its place in deepening our understanding of God’s person and work”
There is a very real difference between good art and bad art as Ryken says, but it is not something that is explicitly stated in Scripture. Instead the artist must be aware of what is good art by looking at the world in which we live and noticing what God has created. These are real live expressions of what God considers to be good art.
Art is an incarnation of the truth.
“Art is an incarnation of the truth” (39). Incarnation is a term which the Christian community holds dear as it explains the mystery of God with us in Jesus Christ. Incarnation is the literal embodiment of something that is not normally human in nature. Art is an example of how truth, which is not physical in nature, is brought into the physical realm and displays a message in a way that is physical.
The artist is responsible to create art which is redemptive. “They [the artists] create images of grace, awakening a desire for the new heavens and the new earth by anticipating the possibilities of redemption in Christ” (41). Ryken claims the reason for creating art is not just a form of self-expression, “but for the service of others and the glory of God” (50). This is art for God’s sake.
Once the artist takes ownership of the truth and uses their abilities to share the truth about God they are then able to reclaim the arts and begin to restore them to their true potential and purpose (58). All this is for the glory of God because it is for his sake that we create.
His conclusion is that because each artist is called and gifted by God they are therefore compelled to create art which displays God’s image in the world. He ends by saying “What we believe about art is based on what we believe about God. Art is what it is because God is who he is” (53). Just like Ryken said, the artist expresses what they believe about God in their creations and designs and this in turn shows the most important part of who we are as Tozer pointed out in his book.