Tuesday, October 28, 2014

According to the Pattern

“Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.  Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.” (Exodus 25:8-9)

There is probably no better subject for sparking controversy these days than "art" as expressed in pictures and sculptures.  Even among Christians there seems to be serious disagreement about what true art is, what are the standards for art, and whether Christians should be involved in art at all.

It may be tempting for homeschooling parents to ignore the whole problem by either avoiding art altogether or simply doing the "exposure" thing — show your kids a lot of famous art and let them figure out the rest. 

But Christian parents are called to something higher than that.  God Himself commanded beautiful and skillful art for the tabernacle and temple. Art makes a major impact on our culture.  At least a rudimentary knowledge of the arts is desirable in training a child to be a person of godly influence when he grows up.  

First, let’s define our terms.  "The arts" refers collectively to things like pictures, movies, photography, music and sometimes architecture.  "Visual Art" usually refers more specifically to something illustrative or decorative, usually a painting, drawing, or sculpture.  In this article I will be focusing on visual art, rather than all of the arts. 

Visual art is more than simple creativity.  A true work of art requires some skill and talent. It usually conveys a message, however vague, that sparks emotions.  And generally, good art is understandable and therefore enduring.  A chair spattered with paint might be creative, but it requires little skill and no talent.  It conveys no understandable message (beyond a klutzy painter) and rarely sparks emotions other than confusion.  Furthermore, spattered chairs (and other modern examples of so-called "art") are hardly ever enduring.

So what are the biblical standards for art?  

Are there any? 

Yes, indeed!  Nearly every artist you talk to will tell you that they want their art to inspire their audience to think about something.  The Bible is very clear about what we should be thinking on.  "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things."  (Philippians 4:8)  That’s pretty comprehensive!

A painting of a hideous, unreal scene is neither true nor lovely.  Statues or paintings that are obscene or immodest are neither excellent nor praiseworthy.  When we start applying these biblical adverbs to art, it quickly becomes apparent what is good and what is not.

"But wait," someone will say.  "The Bible talks about sin and suffering too — that falls in the category of 'true.'  A painting of a naked person or a dead animal is true and conveys the fallenness of our world."

That is a valid point.  But we must keep something in mind.  While any unsaved person can see and convey the consequences of sin in our world, only a Christian can see the big picture of ultimate salvation and redemption for all who will trust in Christ.  We have been given the Great Commission to share this big picture.  Therefore, it is a Christian’s responsibility to show not only the hopelessness of sin, but also the hope of salvation.  When we create or immerse ourselves in art that only focuses on sin — a naked person — or only focuses on suffering — a dead animal — we are leaving out the punch line, the end of the story.  We are leaving out the gospel.

So let’s make this practical.  How does a Mom or Dad who knows little about art teach this important subject in a way that is godly?

First, children should be exposed to art that is good.  This means not only good content, but technical excellence as well.  In our city, the Bob Jones Museum and Gallery has many well-recognized, biblical and beautiful paintings.  Our city art museum also sometimes has displays of great works of art (though we have to use judgment as to which exhibits are appropriate).  Every area of the country has some good art museums and exhibits.  On your vacations, check out art museums in the areas you are visiting.  Let your children see the enduring, "the greats."

We also collected a few of those big beautiful picture books of art. Some were the works of one artist, others were compilations of an era or genre. This made it easy for us to look up questions we had about art in general or great artists in particular.

Teach your children how to discern good art based on biblical principles.  My parents never let us see obscene or disturbing art when we were young (and we still avoid it if possible), but they did let us see some of the silly and pointless modern "art."  They helped us to understand the futile thinking that prompted these so-called artists to chop up a block of wood and pompously name it "Lost."  They showed us the pointlessness of sticking up some slabs of metal to supposedly illustrate "dynamic spatial interaction."  And they also helped us to analyze famous works from good artists, pointing out techniques that show beauty and truth. 

We learned to think through questions like, how does the artist use this painting to make me sad about, say, the crucifixion of Christ? How does this sculpture of a soldier show action even though it is technically static and lifeless? What is the artist purposely leaving out - and leaving in - his message to us?

Help your children to become skillful in their artistic creativity.  Not everyone has artistic talent.  But everyone can attain some degree of technical excellence. If nothing else, the experience of trying to create good art will help your children appreciate the hard work and dedication of other artists.

Young children can simply be encouraged to have fun with finger paints, play dough, and paint-by-numbers.  As children grow up they can be taught to consider things like realism, perspective, and color combinations.  Basic art training can then be a jumping-off point for applications in "the arts" — things like calligraphy, stenciling, pottery, photography, painting and scrapbooking.

The world looks on art as a selfish pursuit.  "I’m just expressing myself!"  But a Christian knows better.  Nothing, not even art, should be done selfishly.

Instead, we are to do everything for the glory of God (I Corinthians 10:31).  A picture is worth a thousand words. Parents would be wise to teach their children how to use these thousand-word statements to impact others for good.  When we create art that is according to the pattern of thinking God gives in His Word, it will glorify Him and bring people to know Him.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Samuel’s Sons

They brought the boy to Eli, and [Hannah] said to him, “As surely as you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord.  I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him.  So now I give him to the Lord.  For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord…. When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges for Israel….But his sons did not walk in his ways.  They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.”   (I Samuel 1:25-28, 8:1,3)

We live in a short-sighted generation.  Just look at the signs—“Buy now, pay later!”—to see that modern Americans are experts at mortgaging the future to pay for the present.  Unfortunately, this attitude often spills over into the education of our children.

I have had many conversations with people about homeschooling versus institutional schooling.  A statement I often hear is, “Well, Jimmy has been in Christian school all his life and he was a straight-A student.  He just graduated from high school and he’s doing great!”  I do not doubt the fact that a person can be institutionally educated and still turn out to be a well-functioning, not to mention godly, individual.  But we must be careful to look not only at the short-term results, but the long-term effects of institutionalization as well.

Not Much Difference
Many studies show that rates of cultural problems such as divorce and immorality are virtually the same for the Christian community as they are for the rest of society.  If Christian schools have been doing such a wonderful job of turning out godly people, why the same rate of moral breakdown in the Christian community?  I submit to you that it is part of the long-term fruit of institutionalizing children.  When children are taken out of the home for significant periods of their childhood, they grow up with limited ideas of how a godly home operates.

The prophet Samuel gives us an illustration of this long-term cycle.  Samuel was without a doubt personally one of the most godly men in the Old Testament.  He remained a faithful prophet of God to the end of his life.  But we find that he evidently was a failure as a father.  His sons were wicked, accepting bribes and perverting justice.  Why was he a poor father?  What more godly atmosphere could you grow up in than the temple, among the priests? 

No Examples
In the pages of I Samuel we find our answer.  Samuel had no long-term example of a godly father.  Eli, though personally a good man, did an extremely poor job of raising his sons.  They were so wicked that the Bible says God put them to death.  So Samuel, growing up at the temple, had no opportunity as a child to see how a godly father operates.  Small wonder that he had trouble raising his own children.

I do not wish to say that a parent is a “victim” of how he was raised and cannot be more godly that his own parents were.  Samuel and Eli were both responsible to God for how they raised their sons.  But why purposely bring up our future fathers and mothers with a “handicap?”  All actions have consequences and we would be blind indeed if we failed to see the consequences to the family of 100 years of institutional schools.

So consider this: the local Christian school might provide good academics.  It might provide good extra-curricular activities.  It probably provides godly teachers.  It might even provide socialization with Christian children.  But does the institutional environment of a school give your children a daily, nitty-gritty, first-hand demonstration of how a godly family operates? 

God provided the family as the model educational system.  We only have to look at our Christian culture to see the fruits of tampering with His plan.