The Mind of Christ in His World: Part 2 (1)
Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon’s house, and stood before the gate. Acts 10.17
God and culture
We need to say a bit more about the role of culture in the renewing of our minds for maturity in the mind of Christ. Culture is inescapable, and it places enormous demands on the human mind – to understand, assess, consider how to use, etc. Human beings are made for culture. Culture consists of the things we make and use to define, sustain, and enrich our lives. Perhaps most of us don’t give much thought to how culture affects our thinking, or whether God reveals Himself in or through the culture of our lives.
Culture is everywhere. We can’t do without it, and we can’t escape it. And, as we have seen, God can leave a witness to Himself in the culture of our lives (Acts 14.17), and can dwell, after a fashion, even in the culture of those who despise and deny Him (Ps. 68.18; cf. Eph. 4.8).
But this is not the place to take on all culture and how it can contribute to the renewing of our minds. In this section of our study of a strong soul, we’re honing in on the mind as the second of three components to the soul. Minds shape and are shaped by culture. In this part of our study, we’ll focus on those forms of culture that lend themselves less to practical use and more to contemplation, reflection, and training our minds for beauty, goodness, and truth.
To be precise, I want to consider the role of the arts in helping us grow to maturity in the mind of Christ.
Art and meaning
In these days of “art after the end of art” (to borrow Arthur Danto’s apt phrase), it is fashionable to speak of works of art as having no meaning beyond themselves. Works of art – poems, paintings, performances, and so forth – are their own meaning. Art does not need to say anything; just by existing, art matters and should be honored.
This gets dangerously close to making a religion out of art, as Jacques Barzun warned in his book, The Use and Abuse of Art. There he explained, “art is power. It influences the mind, the nerves, the feelings, the soul…Art is deemed universally important because it helps men to live and to remember.”
No work of art can be completely devoid of meaning, for all art comes from an artist, and all artists are people with perspectives, points of view, and axes to grind. Art, therefore, can be a way of getting at meaning and truth, and thus, of shaping and renewing our minds. Obviously, for nurturing a sound mind after the mind of Christ, some works of art do this better than others. Art uses science, reason, and logic to create meaning, and in many ways, it can do more than other media in shaping our minds to think like Jesus.
This means something
Let’s consider Peter, as he ponders the vision God has just sent him. Whenever I come on this passage, I think of Richard Dreyfus in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, sculpting away at his mashed potatoes and muttering, “This means something.” All art means something; the more we know about art and the harder we work at understanding art, the more art can shape the way we see the world. This was certainly the case with the “artistic” vision Peter was shown in Acts 10.
Art has always played an important role in human experience, as even the most primitive cave paintings and rock carvings testify. As Paul Johnson argued in his book, Creators, human beings cannot help making art, because we are made in the image of God, the Great Creator. In the vision Peter saw, we can detect some of the aspects of the kind of art that can shape our minds for Christ and His Kingdom.
Why didn’t God just speak to Peter in an audible voice and say, “Go to Caesarea and lead this Gentile to Jesus: it’s OK”? Why this elaborate vision, with its images and frame, colors and textures, repetition and mystery?
Because works of art – like God’s vision to Peter – can make profound and lasting impacts as they lead us into the mind of Christ by many and varied means. Peter was stunned by what he observed. He didn’t understand it all, but he was persuaded that what he’d seen meant something, and that whatever it meant, it must have had something to do with the will of God.
So he pondered the vision, allowing it to unsettle his settled thoughts, reflecting on what he’d seen, associating that with what he knew about God’s truth, and waiting for the Lord to unfold and unpack the details over time. The more he thought about this work of art, the more it worked not only on his mind but on his heart as well, shaping his desires for what was about to unfold in Caesarea.
This is the way great art engages our minds and shapes them in new ways. We see or hear a powerful work of art; it makes a profound impression on our hearts and minds; then we take up further reflection, thinking over what we’ve seen, read, or heard, considering any ways it may interface with the Scriptures, and waiting on the Lord in prayer.
Many people will testify that some work of art made a profound impact on their lives – made them see the world differently, think about life from a new perspective, and reconfigure their worldview accordingly. Dare we, who seek to be renewed in the mind of Christ, fail to make use of this “universally important” resource?
Given that so many great works of art have been created by powerful Christian thinkers, and that these works are readily available for our reflection, any program for renewing the mind into the maturity of Christ’s mind must include some engagement with this aspect of the revelation of Jesus Christ in His world. “Art can do much,” Anne Bradstreet affirmed, but only if we engage it for the sake of nurturing a sound mind.
1. Has any work of art – painting, sculpture, architecture, music, poetry, or literature – made a profound impact on how you think or see the world? Explain.
2. Can you think of some ways God used the arts in Scripture to communicate Himself, His mind, or His will? Why did He do that?
3. With which forms of art are you most familiar, or do you find easiest and most profitable to engage? Why?
Next steps – Preparation: Study the vision God sent to Peter in Acts 10. Ponder it until the details are sharp in your mind. How did God intend this vision to shape Peter’s thinking? How should it affect yours?
T. M. Moore
Now you can receive our monthly Personal Mission Field Workshop through email on your desktop. Just click here, enter you email, and choose the teaching letters you’d like to receive, including the Personal Mission Field Workshop.
All the installments in this “Strong Souls” series are available in PDF by clicking here. Check out our newest feature, Readings from the Celtic Revival (click here).
Thanks for your prayers and support
If you find ReVision helpful in your walk with the Lord, please seek the Lord, asking Him whether you should contribute to the support of this ministry with your financial gifts. As the Lord leads, you can use the Contribute button at the website to give with a credit card, or you can send your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.
Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.