Here, and nowhere else, is the real key to understanding our world, the heart of the matter, the crux of the good news told to man. There is meaning because God exists, and he created all things. (10)
"We are called upon to play a role in an immense drama"
Here, for Rookmaaker and for us who know that "this is eternal life, that we might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3), is the center of history and the sure promise of final victory. Here is the reason why, in Rookmaaker's excellent words, each of us can think about our work, our calling, and know that it is real and full of significance. Our actions have far wider results than we could ever have imagined. We are called upon to play a role in an immense drama, in the great tribulations of our era, as well as in the little adventures and battles, whether spiritual or material. This is no game, but reality itself. (12)
From this glorious introduction Rookmaaker proceeds to discuss our calling in this present world. Three aspects are considered: being Christians in a broken world; freedom within a framework, and finally, what Rookmaaker calls creative sharing of the gospel. In the context of a Christian's active or supportive consideration of the arts, the first two sections are most relevant, and we will review them most thoroughly (this does not mean that the third part is less important or does not contain anything of value to Christians contemplating art).
"Christians are called to be "salt in a decaying world."
Rookmaaker begins his overview of history with creation and the Fall, where "(t)he creation, now cursed by God, became subject to futility (Romans 8:20)." However, "(t)he cultural mandate, that all mankind was to develop and utilize this world, remained in force. God canceled neither his plans, nor his creation; he continues his great work of restoration."(16,17) Through history, men have chosen to work out this mandate either as would-be self-sufficient, autonomous, proud and lawless followers of Cain and Lamech, or else as would-be obedient children of God in the line of Seth and Enoch. While all human activity is infected by sin, and while the work of unbelievers may be individually and technically better than the work of
Christians, yet Christians are called to be "salt in a decaying world." A very important point made by Rookmaaker is that nonbelievers have no basis for unity among themselves, but that Christians do in "the communion of saints, "which is centered in and wholly proceeding from Christ. Science as well as great art was (and is) "a fruit of Christianity, which saw nature as separate from the God who had created it, and therefore open to exploration"(23). Because we have a God who transcends the world, being its creator out of nothing, we, unlike unbelievers, have an open universe in which real renewal is possible and indeed part of all reality. Because of the understanding of this corollary of Biblical creation, realised clearly and shared widely "in the seventeenth century, when there was a Christian consensus, art in northern Europe reached a peak that has never been surpassed" (23).
" life in Christ restores our possibility of living creatively"
Christ our Redeemer restores not only our souls for eternity, but also the broken relations within this present created world for the believer. Now "(a)lienation is unnecessary. Contact with reality at a deep level is part of the Christian's life. He enters into reality rather than escaping from it. The flight from reality is a mark of Eastern and classical mysticism, not of Christianity(67)."Thus the new life in Christ restores our possibility of living creatively" with the talents we have been given whether to sing, to paint, to build, or to manage a home. But in order to erect a building that is more than hay or stubble, we must let Christ produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. That is what it means to be truly human (68)."
When it comes to a particular creation like an invention or work of art, no fundamental difference (as compared to human creativity in general) is involved. An example given in the Bible is the work of Bezalel and Aholiab in Exodus 31 (69). Then Rookmaaker makes a statement which needs to be heeded in all its profoundness:
Creativity in any specific sense does not come of itself. Inspiration is necessary. Without inspiration, creativity becomes a continual search to find something new. This gift never comes automatically, although to the nonbeliever it comes unsought. It comes because God thinks a certain thing necessary for his creation, for the benefit of men, women, children, and animals (see Jonah 4: 11)
we need not think only of the work of the artist. We can also include the work of inventors. Surprisingly often these men describe how a long-sought solution has flashed upon them from outside, through inspiration, in a sudden moment of clarity. There is evidence of remarkable guidance in their research. R.E.D. Clark quotes men like Helmholz, Faraday, and Gauss, the latter asserting that although it was he himself who achieved certain results, he cannot explain how.
without God, without Christ, without the Spirit, our work lacks purpose. It becomes neutral and cold. This can be seen in Darwin's autobiography, wherein he describes how as a young man he used to love poetry and music, but that he can bear them no longer.... He notes that the loss of his taste for art has affected his happiness and certainly weakened his emotional life (70, 71).
Rookmaaker beautifully and thoroughly shows that there must be artistic freedom, but also that "we can never create in a merely individualistic way
Freedom never means sinful licentiousness
(73, 74)." He says that all ways of human creativity ("growing bulbs, designing a new car, building a computer" etc.) belongs to Christian culture, and they are "not a mechanical process; we could better describe (them) in organic terms, as the Bible does (75)."An entire chapter on "Authority and Permissiveness" is devoted to further clarify the Christian view on this subject.
The question is often asked by Christians whether to devote one's life to the arts is not really a sinful, hedonistic pastime since "it only gives pleasure." To this question Rookmaaker answers:
Art is not a religion, nor an activity relegated to a chosen few, nor a mere worldly, superfluous affair. None of these views of art does justice to the creativity with which God has endowed man. It is the ability to make something beautiful (as well as useful), just as God made the world beautiful and said, "It is good." Art as such needs no justification; rather, it demands a response, like that of the twenty-four elders in Revelation who worship God for the very act of creation itself
The supreme justification for all creation is that God has willed it to be.... If we do not see this, we are not far from accepting naturalist evolutionary theories, which are all based on functionalist assumptions....
In the same way, art needs no justification. It is meaningful in itself, not only as an evangelistic tool, or to serve a practical purpose, or to be didactic. Art must be free: free from politics (including church politics); free from traditions of the past, free from mode of the present, free from the judgment of the future; and free from our economic and social needs.... Christ died for us in order to restore our humanity, and to give meaning back to God's creation all of life is Christian, unless we would make Christ very small.
But if art needs no justification, it also does not follow that art is to be art for art's sake Nothing is simply autonomous the more (art) becomes engaged in reality, and the more concrete its manifold ties with our daily life, the more we will recognize that it needs no justification (113, 114, 115).
"God . . . is the God of the living and wants man to live."
In his "Letter to a Christian Artist" Rookmaaker expands further upon the tasks and meaning of art. Of particular blessing is the following joyful passage: Art has done its task when it provides the neighbor with things of beauty, a joy forever. Art has direct ties with life, living, joy, the depth of our being human, just by being art That is so because God, who created the possibility of art and who laid beauty in his creation, is the God of the living and wants man to live. God is the God of Life, the Life-giver (120).
If I had to choose only one statement out of the entire book for memorization, this would be it. What a beautiful, Biblically informed, Biblical creation-based and altogether edifying book! We recommend it most highly to all our readers.
Reviewed by Ellen Myers