Art in the Life of Faith

God thinks we need it. Do we?

I praise the threefold
Trinity as God,
Who is one and three,
A single power in unity,
His attributes a single mystery,
One God to praise.
Great King, I praise you,
Great your glory.
Your praise is true;
I am the one who praises you.
Poetry’s welfare
Is in Elohim’s care.

  - Early Welsh[1]

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
 “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works, to work in gold, in silver, in bronze, in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of workmanship.

  - Exodus 31.1-5

The culture of pre-Christian Celtic Ireland made powerful use of the arts, especially poetry. Celtic wise men and teachers used poetry to relate the great stories of their ancestors, and to preserve the traditions of their religious and social lives. For pre-Christian Celts, to be human was to be poetic, if only as a participant in the poetry of the community.

When the Celts began to come to Christ in the fifth and sixth centuries, they did not relinquish their love for art and poetry. One of the lasting legacies of the Celtic Revival (ca. 430-800 AD) is the many beautiful expressions of Christian faith, crafted in the arts – poetry, music, sculpture, painting, calligraphy, story-telling, and everyday arts.

Celtic Christians embraced the great tradition of pre-Christian Celtic art and transformed it, creating new kinds of art – liturgical vessels, spiritual verse, illuminated manuscripts, and carved crosses – and imposing a Christian and Biblical narrative onto their inherited cultural traditions. They did not radically depart from the artistic heritage of their pre-Christian Celtic forebears, but used the transformed modes of pagan culture to declare the glories of the Gospel.

Celtic Christians understood that God gave the gifts of art, and they rejoiced to possess, improve, employ, and enjoy them. For Celtic Christians, the welfare of all the arts was in the hands of God, as our Welsh poet acknowledged.

It makes sense, of course, that God would be Lord of the arts. Being Himself all beauty, goodness, and truth, He approves things beautiful, good, and true as reflections or refractions of His character. As Paul Johnson explained in his book, The Creators, He Who created all things made human beings in His own image, so that we, too, should create and enjoy works of art, and offer our art up to God to honor Him.

But our rationalistic, materialistic, and narcissistic age, coupled with a poisonous democratic spirit in the arts, has diminished the importance of the arts for most people. For most of us, the arts are merely optional. We could count on one hand the number of minutes invested in understanding and appreciating the arts during the past year.

Yet if we have no place in our Christian lives for poetry, music, meditation on great works of art, contemplation of beautiful architecture, and all the other grand and glorious gifts of art God has given – even to those who rebel against Him (Ps. 68.18; cf. Eph. 4.8) – then we are less the people we could be as His image-bearers. And we’re depriving ourselves of a world of wonder, imagination, beauty, and the knowledge of God.

Indifference to the arts is not a virtue in the Kingdom of the God of all arts. We can increase in the knowledge of God through the arts, and thus we can use the arts to enjoy and glorify Him.

He in Whose hands is the welfare of poetry would use poetry – and all the arts – to enrich your experience of and witness for Him. Are you willing?

For reflection
1. How would you describe the role of the arts in your life at this time?

2. What’s one thing you could do to let the arts have more of a place in your walk with and work for the Lord?

Psalm 115.12-18 (Plainfield: Nothing but the Blood of Jesus)
Blessings from our gracious Lord –
         Ever to His Name be glory!
Shall attend us evermore –
         Ever to Your Name be glory!
Bless all who fear You, Lord, all who obey Your Word,
All who Your Name adore:
         Ever to Your Name be glory!

Grant us, Savior, sure increase –
         Ever to Your Name be glory!
Bless us with eternal peace –
         Ever to Your Name be glory!
Heaven and earth are Yours; let every soul adore
And bless You evermore:
         Ever to Your Name be glory!

Teach me to enjoy the arts, O Lord, so that, enjoying them, I may…

Art in Christian Life
In case you missed our brief ReVision study on the place of art in the life of faith, you can download Art in Christian Life by clicking here.

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T. M. Moore
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All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


[1] Davies, p. 268.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore