This weekend (Jan. 30) marks the birthday of the late writer, theologian and pastor, Francis Schaeffer. Though he died in 1984, his legacy remains as one of the great modern Christian thinkers, who was not only concerned about man’s relationship with God, but also man’s relationship with culture.
The author of more than 20 books, Schaeffer was known for mixing apologetics and a knowledge of art with his philosophical imperative that the two should not be separated.
Here’s a look at 12 of his most influential quotes about art, culture and why Christians should never stop engaging the two.
The Christian should be the person who is alive, whose imagination absolutely boils, which moves, which produces something a bit different from God’s world because God made us to be creative.
Christianity is not just involved with “salvation,” but with the total man in the total world. The Christian message begins with the existence of God forever, and then with creation. It does not begin with salvation. We must be thankful for salvation, but the Christian message is more than that. Man has a value because he is made in the image of God and thus man as man is an important subject for Christian art.
On Lordship Over Culture
As evangelical Christians, we have tended to relegate art to the very fringe of life. The rest of human life we feel is more important … We have misunderstood the concept of the lordship of Christ over the whole man and the whole of the universe and have not taken to us the riches that the Bible gives us for ourselves, for our lives, and for our culture
Christians . . . ought not to be threatened by fantasy and imagination. Great painting is not “photographic:” think of the Old Testament art commanded by God. There were blue pomegranates on the robes of the priest who went into the Holy of Holies. In nature there are no blue pomegranates. Christian artists do not need to be threatened by fantasy and imagination, for they have a basis for knowing the difference between them and the real world “out there.” The Christian is the really free person—he is free to have imagination. This too is our heritage. The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.
On Holistic Art
Christian art is the expression of the whole life of the whole person as a Christian. What a Christian portrays in his art is the totality of life. Art is not to be solely a vehicle for some sort of self-conscious evangelism.
On Different Viewpoints
We are not being true to the artist as a man if we consider his art work junk simply because we differ with his outlook on life. Christian schools, Christian parents, and Christian pastors often have turned off young people at just this point. Because the schools, the pastors, and the parents did not make a distinction between technical excellence and content, the whole of much great art has been rejected with scorn and ridicule. Instead, if the artist’s technical excellence is high, he is to be praised for this, even if we differ with his world view. Man must be treated fairly as man.
On ‘Evangelistic’ Art
A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God, not just as tracts, mind you, but as things of beauty to the praise of God. An art work can be a doxology in itself.
On Asking Big Questions
The ancients were afraid that if they went to the end of the earth they would fall off and be consumed by dragons. But once we understand that Christianity is true to what is there, true to the ultimate environment—the infinite, personal God who is really there—then our minds are freed. We can pursue any question and can be sure that we will not fall off the end of the earth.
Biblical orthodoxy without compassion is surely the ugliest thing in the world.
Truth carries with it confrontation. Truth demands confrontation; loving confrontation, but confrontation nevertheless.
On Communicating to Culture
Each generation of the church in each setting has the responsibility of communicating the gospel in understandable terms, considering the language and thought forms of that setting.
On ‘Good’ Art
As Christians, we must see that just because an artist—even a great artist—portrays a worldview in writing or on canvas, it does not mean that we should automatically accept that worldview. Good art heightens the impact of that worldview, but it does not make it true.
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.