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” sojournchurch.com (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,” 9marks.org (April 23, 2014).

3 excellent new albums

I was blessed in the first half of 2008 to attend three separate conferences for college students. Each of the conferences were God-glorifying and soul-edifying and each of the conferences were marked by an excellence in musical worship. And to my great delight, studio recordings of each conference band allow me to relive the musical worship. Here they are (with links to iTunes):

1) Lu, or, Looked Upon by the Na Band (Na Conference; Louisville, KY). Watching Devon Kauflin lead worship with his dad Bob supporting him on keys was a neat experience at the 2008 New Attitude conference in Louisville. The songs played live at the conference and recorded in the studio on this album are deeply rooted in the cross of Christ. Track 11, “All I Have is Christ,” is fabulous. Lu (short for Looked Upon) is Wg (that is, worth getting). A superb album. Cross centeredness: A+. [UPDATE: You can download several live recordings from the conference here.]

2) Adore and Tremble by Daniel Renstrom (Missio Dei conference; Wake Forest, NC). My first trip to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. I had not heard of Daniel before the conference and really didn’t know him after the conference either. I thanked him in person for playing, and assumed he was *just* a gifted college ministry worship leader—until I returned home and received a copy of his album. I immediately recognized his songs featured at the conference. The lyrics include some beautiful, pure cross-centered statements. In the song “At the Cross” he sings, “At the cross, wrath was taken away, / and Christ was in our place. / What marvelous grace. / At the cross, justice was supplied, / by the blood of Christ.” And in the song “Where Could I Go” Daniel takes the cross and daily life and ties them together beautifully. Cross centeredness: A.

3) O For That Day by Enfield, the Resolved Band (Resolved Conference; Palm Springs, CA). The album features solid biblical lyrics and strings from beginning to end. And I listen to it from beginning to end on long drives and long walks. Hearing them play live was a great but the album itself sounds “live” too and you can get a sense of being at the conference (if you play the album loud enough). Though on the album you don’t get C.J. on drums like you do live. All said, it’s a great addition to a musical library (track 4 was written from Isaiah 6 and is worth the price of the entire album). Cross centeredness: B-.

Consider each of these three albums for your iPod as you seek to worship God throughout the day. Each will help foster worship to our gracious God. And each of these albums are reminders of the amazing depth of God’s gracious working in the hearts of a younger generation of Christians—in three diverse spheres in North America—who are writing, playing, and recording excellent God-exalting music.

How God must love to pour out the generous musical gifts (like those featured on these albums) to glorify Himself!

Savior CD from Sovereign Grace Music

Of all my favorite worship CDs I would rank Savior: Celebrating the Mystery of God Become Man from Sovereign Grace Music as one of my favorites (along with Songs for the Cross Centered Life and Valley of Vision). Savior was released in time for Christmas last year, though I found myself listening to the record all throughout the year.

Our good friend Bob Kauflin explains more about the project in this video.

More information about the Savior project can be found here.

And some bloggers qualify for a free copy of the CD. More info here.