We Need a Vertical and Horizontal Theology of Art and Culture

love neighborIn what has been called the “Great Commandment” of Mark 12:28-31 and Matthew 22:34–40, Jesus tells us that we must love the Lord our God and love our neighbors.

Artists that want to be used by God need to embrace both the vertical and horizontal aspects of this love.

Art certainly can be a “vertical” expression of our worship of God. We should compose and play music, paint, draw, write, sculpt, photograph, film, etc. objects that directly worship God. Art that celebrates God is very important to the life of the church, for these artistic expressions are capable of moving hearts in ways that didactic teaching rarely does, making disciples through praise and worship. It is one of the primary ways that we fulfill the first of the two-part commandment—we are to love the Lord our God.

But there is a second part to that commandment that many in the evangelical church have missed when it comes to the arts. Not only are we to create art that expresses our love for God, we are to create art that expresses love for neighbor. Art is not just for the praise of God, it is to be an instrument for good to our neighbors.

J. Nathan Corbitt and Vivian Nix-Early correctly state,
“Christian artists should indeed ‘lift holy hands in praise of God’ with their arts in the sanctuary and in their lives, but they should also be challenged and encouraged to give others ‘a cup of water’ in Jesus’ name and put a song in people’s hearts through the arts in the streets outside the sanctuary…Excellent worship demands excellent love and forcefully propels this love out of the sanctuary and into the public square.” (Taking it to the Streets: Using the Arts to Transform Your Community, Baker Books, 2003, pp. 20, 21.
Nicholas Wolterstorff’s book on Art is appropriately titled Art in Action. In it, he states,
“Works of art equip us for action. And the range of actions for which they equip us is very nearly as broad as the range of human action itself…Art—so often thought of as a way of getting out of the world—is man’s way of acting in the world.” (pp. 4, 5)
This week, we will end this series dealing with Christian theology as it relates to popular art and cultural engagement by looking at ways that art can “love neighbors” through being creative, prophetic, redemptive, and through offering hope.

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