Developing visual awareness will move us away from simplistic extremes.

Every artist, teacher, or connoisseur of art cringes at the statement, “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.” Unfortunately, this seems to be the banner statement of many Christians today. But it need not be.

We have seen an increase in religious publications on the subject of the arts during the past few years. There has been little consensus among authors, however, and opinions have ranged from the simplistic notion that older forms of art are incapable of communicating with modern man to the absurd suggestion that modern art is a Communist plot to subvert Western civilization. The calamitous result of such unproductive overstatements is a growing threat to a clear, scriptural perception of the arts and the formulation of positions based on little more than kneejerk backlash.

The interesting property of a kneejerk reflex is that the nerve impulse does not trouble the brain, but simply evokes a reaction. On one side of this tug-of-war is a large body of Christians who have fallen prey to the Puritan distrust of the senses spawned by a dualistic view of creation (sacred vs. secular). They arrive at the threshold of an art museum anticipating works that tell a lovely story or evoke a sentimental flush. When set before a painting consisting of nothing more than color and paint on canvas, a typical reaction is to backpedal for the exit. After all, in Rembrandt’s Simeon in the Temple one can see the whole story of Mary and Joseph and Simeon holding the baby Jesus, and almost hear Simeon say, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace …”

At the other end of the spectrum are those Christians who have discovered that man, being in the image ...

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