Art To the Church; Art From the Church; Art Facing the Church

Harold Best

Harold M. Best is a musician, composer, and was for more than twenty-five years the dean of the Conservatory of Music at Wheaton College. He is the author of two important books: Music Through the Eyes of Faith (1993) and Unceasing Worship (2003).

Best explains the three postures of Christians and art in his lecture “Arts and Christianity,” using a triad I find helpful.

1: Art to the Church (artist as servant).

These are the Christian artists called to produce simple, accessible liturgical art. It is art humbled low, to wash the feet of Christ and congregants to the point that art becomes part of a synthesis, a servant of the Word aiming for robust corporate worship.

“Art for the church does not just mean art made expressly for use in corporate worship,” he clarified to me in a later email, “but for the church, individual by individual, at all times and all places, in its continuing worship.” This first category expands to include non-congregational music, like worship concerts and Christian radio.

2: Art from the Church (artist as prophet).

This is Christian art made for the unconverted. The Christian artist goes out into culture “as a rampant outspoken prophetic invader,” so loaded with creativity, she breaks out into the world, pushing herself to the edge of her imaginative originality, and with the expectation that such art will lead to getting knocked around a bit.

In this category, Best told me, Christians “should be more cutting-edge evangelistic in their public work instead of replicating or paralleling the stuff that is regularly experienced in corporate worship.”

3: Art facing the Church (artist as steward).

Just as the Church produces music for the unconverted, the world produces music facing Christians. This inescapable reality does not call for retreat but for Christian engagement, for believers to face culture squarely in order to learn and to appreciate art from non-Christians, “to learn, to copy, to adapt, to paraphrase, to reject, to debate with, and above all, to understand the difference between content and intent.” We debate the intent of the world’s art, while at the same time celebrating and learning from the artistic products themselves.*

“Christians should not keep soaking up Christian music all the time,” says Best, “they should be engaging in all kinds of music, for this is their responsibility in entering into that last part of the triad.” In fact, he divulged, “I tire a little of Christians being hooked on Christian radio, when they should be engaging with the world in what it is thinking, saying, singing, and promoting.”

Art to the church, art from the church, art facing the church — a helpful triad to distinguishing art forms, and what Christians are to do with them.

Sources and notes:

Harold Best, lecture, “Arts and Christianity” (MP3).

Harold Best, email to the author (May 25, 2016).

* Best’s neutrality of art form, here assumed, has been disputed by Ken Myers in “Music and Meaning: Some Forms Are Better than Others,” (April 23, 2014).

God’s Glory, Artistic Beauty, and Joyful Longings

Herman Bavinck

Herman Bavinck is one theologian who seems to have mastered the holistic Christian worldview as well as anyone, and it makes for glorious reading. I’m struck by how he weds the beauty of man-made art and the beauty of creation to show them both to be expressions of God’s glory, and then ties all that beauty to our joy, and then follows through to show how the piercing human longing for the re-creation of all things is there in the enjoyment of the created beauty.

One example comes from his excellent collection, Essays on Religion, Science, and Society (page 259):

We cannot express in words what a valuable gift the Creator of all things has granted to his children. He is the Lord of glory and spreads his beauty lavishly before our eyes in all his works. His name is precious in the whole earth, and while he did not leave us without a witness, he also fills our hearts with happiness when we observe that glory. . . .

Truly, awareness of beauty cannot be fully explained as “empathy”; when observing and enjoying true beauty, it is not man who bestows his affections and moods on the observed object, but it is God’s glory that meets and enlightens us in our perceptive spirits through the works of nature and art.

Humanity and the world are related because they are both related to God. The same reason, the same spirit, the same order lives in both. Beauty is the harmony that still shines through the chaos in the world; by God’s grace, beauty is observed, felt, translated by artists; it is prophecy and guarantee that this world is not destined for ruin but for glory — a glory for which there is a longing deep in every human heart.

Bavinck was beautifully wide-hearted, glory-thrilled, eschatologically-pointed.

(Note: You can find a complete list of Bavinck’s writings at

Lecrae on Lecrae’s Compromise


What would compromise look like in Lecrae’s career?

I asked him.

Last November, while he was in Minneapolis for a concert, Lecrae kindly agreed to answer some questions, and I thought it was the right time to ask the hardest question — the type of question everything inside of me hesitated to ask in the first place, but the type of hard question that ultimately works toward clarity on important issues.

My appreciation for Lecrae and his music was already high at the time, and it increased by his willingness to answer this:

You partner and record with gifted artists who are not Christians. Some fear this trajectory will lead to a compromising of the gospel, and so there’s a level of uncertainty among some Christians about your future. This is an opportunity for you to address the future. (1) What would a compromised message look like in Lecrae’s future? (2) What will a faithful message look like in Lecrae’s future?

Here’s his answer (3-minute audio):

On a related note, Phil Ryken published a helpful post over at TGC: “How to Discourage Artists in the Church.”