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21

OPEN BOOK

Views & Reviews

 

No. 21 Copyright (c) 1994 Biblical Horizons May, 1994

 

Words and Glory

by James B. Jordan

Arts and literature reviews in most evangelical Christian publications generally approach their subjects in terms of ideology. We are told whether or not the _lm or book is acceptable in terms of morals, sexual graphicness, and theological accuracy.

While there is de_nitely a place for such reviews, I fear that all too often such an approach simply reinforces the idea that the arts exist only as a surrogate form of communication. We turn the art “object” into words, and then analyze it as information.

While all art is related to words, artistry as such actually exists in another realm, the realm of glory. God Himself is surrounded by glory, which appears often in the Bible as a Chariot-Throne or Glory-Cloud around Him. Ezekiel 1 and Revelation 4-5 give us the most detailed pictures of this, but when we realize that the Tabernacle and Temple are architectural representations of this Glory-Throne environment, we can also see in them revelations of God’s visual, audible, and tangible glory.

When God’s glory appears to people in the Bible, we hear the sound of billions of angels singing, a sound like rushing waters or mighty winds. When this glory appears, we see a rainbow of colors, and the appearance of precious stones and metals. We smell the delightful scents of roast meat and incense. We touch precious cloths. We taste excellent bread and wine. These artistic features enhance the environment around the Godhead, and are not designed simply to communicate ideas.

Along these same lines, notice that the garments of Aaron are called “garments of glory and beauty,” not “garments of symbolism and typology” (Exodus 28:2). They are “holy garments,” and that is their “word-aspect,” but they are also beautiful garments, and that is their “spirit-aspect.”

Theologically we should say that as the Spirit glori_es the Son (the Word of God), so art glori_es words; but as each of us is a little word created in the image of the Divine Word, so art glori_es us as persons, and glori_es human life. Or we could put it this way, to the same e_ect: The Spirit glori_es the Person of the Father, and the Word of the Son. Thus, the arts are related to words and communication, but they are also more generally related to environment and human life. The arts enhance both our persons and our words, both our environments and our communications. But as the Spirit never exists for Himself alone, so there can never be “art for art’s sake.”

We can press this Trinitarian foundation of the arts one step further. The Spirit proceeds from the Father and also from the Word, and never from only one. In human life, glory is produced by a person and by his thoughts. Thus every artistic object made by the image of God has a human dimension of glory and a “word dimension” of content. In the artist’s labor, these are conjoined, but as we experience the artist’s work, we can separate them. We can separate Mapplethorpe’s brilliant photographic techniques from his sometimes-disgusting subject matter and _lthy intentions. We can separate the decent ideas sung about in Christian pop music from its tawdry and inferior musical style. For a true analysis, we must take both aspects into consideration.

Glorifications Versus Debasement

Because of sin, the arts sometimes do not serve to glorify but to debase. Sinful men make their environments ugly, and create ugly art to “enhance” their ugly words. But since all men are still God’s images, no men are able to live with such ugliness all the time. Thus, even in the most debased of human cultures, there is still some beauty.

Also, in view of the sinful and fallen condition of the world, artists who are committed to glory and beauty will sometimes used debased techniques to portray ugliness, in order to reveal some aspect of the human condition.

All of this is to say that when we analyze a piece of art, we must look not only at the content (the “word dimension”) but also at the artistic element. A novel, painting, or piece of music is not to be analyzed as good or evil when it comes to its artistry, but should be analyzed as excellent or poor in terms of its glory. The word-aspect of a piece of art may be good or evil; but the glory-aspect is either excellent or poor. There is no such thing as an evil rhythm, an evil chord progression, an evil smell, or an evil color scheme; but there are certainly poor rhythms, chord progressions, smells, and color schemes.

Realizing this enables us to see why Christians can and should enjoy works of art produced by unbelievers, even when the unbelievers have an evil intention. Unbelievers are still made in God’s image, and in a Christian society they also have the bene_t of the social discipline of the gospel under the mediatorial kingship of Jesus Christ. Thus, an unbeliever with evil intentions, like Wagner, can produce beautiful music that Christians can and should enjoy.

In the Church, the symbolism of architecture focuses on the word-aspect (the table, pulpit, throne, and font) by placing these in the center, but the overall design of the building is also important as a way of enhancing the place of worship. Similarly, vocal music glori_es the words of Scripture, while instrumental music enhances the environment.

When we consider the arts, we must consider not only the words associated with a particular artistic object, custom, or experience, but also the glory and beauty connected with it. Both content and glory are important to God, and both should be important to us as well.

 

The Bride as Artist

by James B. Jordan

Genesis 2:15 says that the _rst man was commissioned by God to dress and to keep the garden. The garden was located within the land of Eden, which was one among many lands on the earth according to Genesis 2:8-14. The garden was the place where God would meet with the man on the _rst day of the week. Since the man was made on the 6th day, and the next day was the sabbath, the _rst day of man’s week would be the sabbath, the day of the Lord. In the garden were two special “sacramental” trees, and from the garden the waters _owed to water the whole earth. All of these facts serve to show us that the garden was the sanctuary, the place of worship.

In worship, God calls us and renews covenant with us. Our place is to say “amen,” which is to a_rm the primacy of God in all of life. This is what the _rst man, the _rst priest of the _rst sanctuary, was called to do on the _rst day of the week at the center of the world.

The man was told to dress and to keep the garden. Keeping is literally guarding, and dressing is beautifying. The man was to guard and beautify the garden-sanctuary. By extension, he was to guard and beautify the land and the world as well: in other words, his home and his workplace.

The association between guarding and beautifying is important. Contrary to Francis Schae_er’s contention, the arts are seldom prophetic in character. The arts rather tend to reinforce (guard) ideas and customs that are current in society. They reinforce these ideas and customs by beautifying them, with the result that people don’t want to change their customs because they are emotionally attached to them via their artistic enhancement. (Visual arts in particular always re_ect the mindsets of previous generations.)

We see this when we try to change the music in the Church. The gospel-song style of music enhances and reinforces (guards by beautifying) the sentimental theology of 19th and early 20th century soft-evangelicalism. Even when people have improved their theology, they are often artistically attached to these gospel songs and thus are unwilling to enter fully into better theology and practice.

Modern art claims to be prophetic, but it is not. Modern “chaotic” art and music simply dressed and guarded “modern” (early 20th century) ideas, or actually the ideas of Kant several generations earlier. If such artistic expressions were not in tune with culture and custom, the artists would be completely ignored. In the middle part of the 20th century, playwrites like Horton Foote who wrote clean plays about common life were ignored, and composers who wrote pretty music went unheard.

The Importance of the Woman

Now we notice that God said that it was not good for the man to be alone in this task. God determined to make a helper suited to the man (Genesis 2:18). In context, the woman is to help the priest guard and beautify the sanctuary, home, and workplace. Two things we need to notice from this.

First of all, the woman is in the garden. That means that the man is to guard and beautify her. As regards the Church, this means that the Adam is to guard and beautify the Bride, something the _rst Adam failed to do, but which the Last Adam does perfectly. In accordance with this, the o_cers who represent the Last Adam in the Church must be men, who guard and beautify the congregation, which is theologically feminine.

In the home and workplace, it is the man’s task to guard and beautify the woman. We see this in the Song of Solomon. It is the duty of all men everywhere, and it is a duty that has most often been rejected. The history of the world is a history of men exploiting, degrading, and abusing women. We speak of “wife-beating” as if it were something other than assault. If a man assaults another man in the street, it is a crime, but if a man assaults his wife at home, in most cultures it is his “right.” Christianity has reversed this trend to a degree, but there is much left to do. In Christian cultures, it is the women who are adorned in beautiful clothes and jewelry, while in non-Christian cultures the men strut as peacocks.

Second, the women is given to help the man guard and beautify the world, including the world of the sanctuary (worship). As the Song of Deborah (Judges 5) shows, it is particularly as mothers that women become _erce guardians, but the Bible does not restrict their guarding work only to the home. Deaconesses will help the elders guard the holiness of the Church.

But I wish to make another point about the woman as “helper” needed by the man. The arts are not simply a masculine pursuit. The Christian artist needs the feminine perspective if he or she is going to be fruitful. Outside of Christianity, artists tend toward homosexuality, and I believe this is precisely because in their hearts men reject God and His command to take the woman as helper. It has only been in Christian cultures that women have begun to blossom as writers, artists, and musicians–and there is still much progress to be made in this area.

The importance of the woman’s perspective in art must be seen _rst of all in worship. In worship there are three dimensions. First, the Spirit comes alongside the Bride and calls her to become herself. The Spirit and the Bride call others into the Church, and in worship the Spirit leads the Bride to confess sin and become whole, before proceeding further in worship. The Spirit is, so to speak, the Divine Matchmaker who prepares the Bride for the Groom (like the eunuch in Esther 2:10-12 & 3:15–save that the Spirit is not at all powerless!).

Then the Bride is led by the Spirit into dialogue with the Son. In this dialogue, the congregation is feminine before her Lord and Husband. We impoverish the arts of worship if we do not make full use of the contributions of women in this area, because the woman’s intuitions (when renewed by the Spirit) are wonderfully suited to help the men respond to Christ properly in praise and adoration. (Also, in my opinion it is important for women to “vote” in the Church, because they have good instincts when it comes to selecting the men who will represent the Divine Husband to the congregation.)

Finally, united to the Son by marriage and “one _esh” with Him, the congregation participates in the dialogue between the Son and the Father. From this perspective, we are all sons, and here the masculine perspective is needed as a contribution to the art of worship.

What is true of worship must also be true of all of life, as we do God’s will on earth as we have learned to do it in heaven. The beauti_cation of life is every bit as much the woman’s task as it is the man’s, and the man is called upon to appreciate fully the woman’s contribution. Sadly, in the history of the world, perverse de_nitions of manhood and of womanhood have arisen, and these have warped the Church all too often.

 

The Enoch Factor

by James B. Jordan

After Cain murdered Abel and was driven out of the land of Eden, we read that he had a son whom he named Enoch, and that he founded a city that he also named Enoch (Genesis 4:17). The city, we are told, was named for his son.

This was the _rst city ever built, but it will not be the last. The last city is the New Jerusalem, built by God the Father, and “named” for His Son. As Enoch was prince of the city of Enoch, so Christ is the Prince of the holy city.

The _rst city was built on the blood of a murdered brother. The last city is also built on the blood of a murdered younger brother, the Ultimate Younger Brother, Jesus Christ. Throughout the Bible we see younger brothers replacing older brothers because the older brother is unfaithful: Seth replaced Cain, Isaac replaced Ishmael, Jacob replaced Esau, Joseph replaced his brothers, David replaced his, etc. Jesus was the last Adam, the _nal younger brother, and His death is the foundation for the City of God.

Enoch did not plant a garden and then let it grow into a city. In this he was setting a course di_erent from God’s. If we follow the history of the garden concept in the Bible, we _nd that Abraham and the patriarchs worshipped at oasis-sanctuaries characterized by altars, trees, and wells. Later, these elements were organized into a formal tent-centered sanctuary, the Tabernacle, as a place of worship. Still later, the Tabernacle grew into the Temple, and the Temple is set in a city, Jerusalem. In this way, God grows the city out of the garden. God grows a civilization up from the roots of agriculture.

Enoch started with a city. That means he started with a tyranny. The city becomes a place that conquers and enslaves the “peasants” and “serfs” of the agricultural countryside. Because the tyrant-city has no root it cannot last, but while it lasts it is brutal.

Enoch’s sin was like Adam’s. God had told Adam and Eve that every tree was for them to eat (Genesis 1:29). Thus, they could _gure out that the forbidden tree was only temporarily forbidden. Their sin was that they would not wait for God’s permission. Similarly, Enoch was unwilling to work patiently and grow a city out of a garden. He jumped forward and tried to seize the _nal fruits of generations of labor: the glory of a city.

For a variety of reasons, the heathen often make more rapid initial cultural gains than do the righteous. The heathen are willing to enslave other people to work for them. The heathen don’t take one day in seven to rest. The heathen expend no psychological energy in repentance and striving against sin. Thus, the heathen get there _rst. This is what I call “the Enoch Factor.”

We see the Enoch Factor in Genesis 4. Not only did Cain build the _rst city, but his descendants became “fathers” (experts, teachers) of the sciences of animal husbandry, music, and metallurgy. The _rst poem in the Bible is put on the lips of a descendant of Cain (Genesis 4:20-24).

The Enoch Factor means that very often great advances in technique (not in philosophy) come from pagan sources. Usually the heathen get there _rst, and then the believers come after. Practically speaking, what does this mean?

First, it means that Christians must not be overwhelmed by the technological and artistic prowess of the heathen. In our society today, the best artists and technicians are almost never believers. We know from the Bible, however, that they have no root and will burn out. Our city is built more slowly, but it will endure forever. As history matures, Christianity will more and more become culturally dominant, and more and more we will see Christians “getting there first” in the arts and sciences.

Second, it means that Christians often must learn technique from the heathen. How foolish would it have been for Israelite herdsmen to refuse to manage their animals well, just because it was pagan Jabal who developed many fundamental techniques! And how sad if David had refused to learn music because Jubal got there _rst!

Now think about what this may mean. Often pietistic Christians are critical of their brethren in the arts because artistic Christians rub shoulders with degenerate heathen. Indeed, a Christian artist may have to apprentice himself to a degenerate heathen. Are we mature enough to support our Christian brethren in this?

The arts are very powerful, because art enhances belief by means of emotion. Thus, the Christian who studies with Jubal must be very careful and be sure to keep separate the study of technique from the adoption of a philosophical outlook. Still, greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world, and the Christian is called to take dominion in all areas of life. We can learn from the world, and should be bold to do so.

The proper context for study of the techniques of Enoch is the Church. We need the teaching and sacramental community of a local church as a support base, a garden, the whole time we are studying in the world. Apart from such a context, we run the danger of being sucked in by the philosophy of Enoch.