Francis Schaeffer has long been one of my most favorite authors. As I make my way through his books, I am always astounded at the wisdom of this man and his continued legacy, in both Christianity and the wider world. Two constants in his books are 1) the emphasis on worldview, and 2) utilizing art to demonstrate the lessons of worldview. I was surprised to find this book, then, which combines the two together into one volume. While it is short, it asks the necessary question: how should Christians, with a Christian worldview, see art?
The first lesson that Schaeffer presents is that art communicates worldview. He says that even those who create art for “art’s sake” do not neglect this true fact; behind every work lies a worldview, whether the artist is cognizant of that fact or not. This is true of the human forms, for example, of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. The humans there are anatomically correct, to a fault, which demonstrates the emphasis of that era (the Enlightenment) on a new understanding of reason and science. It is also true of the nihilism (the lack of belief in anything consequential in human existence) of Martin Heidegger. All art conveys worldivew.
This second lesson is that there is a Christian perspective to art; in other words, there is a Christian worldview that can be present in art. Schaeffer spends most of the first half explaining why Christians should not denigrate art because the Bible presents the usefulness of it. For example, there are blue pomegranates on the robes of the priests of Israel. There are no blue pomegranates in nature; and yet, they are present not for practical reasons but for the esthetic. Further, the Song of Solomon is poetry and can be understood as a beautiful piece of literature. The Bible supports art, and therefore the Christian should be able to appreciate it.
Third, Schaeffer spends the second half of the book understanding the Christian role in doing just that: appreciating and understanding art. He uses 11 miniature lessons to explain this. Here are some highlights: Schaeffer speaks about the three different levels of art and worldview: 1) art created through a Christian worldview (the best it understands the whole person [fallen and yet inherently full of worth]); 2) art through whom the artist believes he see’s through the Christian worldview and yet does not (e.g., Thomas Kinkade painted Christian themes and yet died due to alcoholism); 3) art created without the Christian worldview. In another section, Schaeffer speaks on art and change. Since art changes throughout the years (it is not static like doctrine), Christians should understand and appreciate the medium through which the time supports. For example, the ancient Israelites did not watch movies or television. And yet, just because we can enjoy art through these mediums does not mean we shouldn’t because our ancient predecessors didn’t. In a more controversial analogy, this is often debated in church about worship. Should we only sing psalms and hymns in worship? Schaeffer would argue (and I would agree) that we should adopt the styles of the time in regards to music and art.
This is a short overview of this short book. But I believe it is even more critical to understand art and how to interpret it today than in previous times. Pick up this book.