Can We Affirm the Good, True and Beautiful in the Art of Unbelievers?

Can We Affirm the Good, True and Beautiful in the Art of Unbelievers? August 15, 2012

In the amazing film Amadeus, the Viennese court composer Antonio Salieri becomes spiritually hardened because he cannot understand how God would allow the obviously pagan Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to be so incredibly talented while Salieri flounders as just a mediocre composer. There is a moment where he looks at the sheet music from Mozart and is astonished:

Was Salieri hearing the voice of God through the music of Mozart? Isn’t this impossible, since “those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8)? Is there not a clear and distinct differentiation between that which we find in the natural, pagan culture and that which we find in the spiritual, redeemed community of the church?


The starting place for answering such questions is found in rejecting the non-biblical presupposition underlying them. We must reject the notion that God is only Lord of the “sacred” spheres of “spiritual” activities and not over every aspect of human life. Rather, we must affirm that God created a good earth,and no matter how much sin has been introduced into this creation, it is still God’s good creation. God created humanity as divine image-bearers, and no matter how depraved the human heart has become or how unjust and against shalom humanity makes the world’s systems, that image of God remains in us. Redemption in Christ is just that: REdemption, RE-storing, REcreation of what God originally made. God is not just interested in saving souls, but in reconciling “all things”–that is, everything that he has created—back to himself:

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:15-20, NIV)

According to this passage, the shed blood of Christ on the cross is not merely an atoning sacrifice for the salvation of individual human souls, but the action of the creator God reaching into his creation and proclaiming with a loud voice, “Mine!” (as Abraham Kuyper famously insisted that Jesus proclaims).

Kuyper, in his influential essay on “Common Grace,” wrote,

“[W]e have no right to conceptualize the image of the Mediator in ways other than Scripture presents it. People fall into one-sidedness in the opposite direction if, reflecting on the Christ, they think exclusively of the blood shed in atonement and refuse to take account of the significance of Christ for the body, for the visible world, and for the outcome of world history.

Consider carefully: by taking this tack you run the danger of isolating Christ for your soul and you view life in and for the world as something that exists alongside your Christian religion, not controlled by it. Then the word ‘Christian’ seems appropriate to you only when it concerns certain matters of faith or things directly connected with the faith—your church, missions, and the like—but all the remaining spheres of life fall for you outside the Christ

This way of thinking results in your living in two distinct circles of thought: in the very circumscribed circle of your soul’s salvation on the one hand, and in the spacious, life-encompassing sphere of the world on the other. Your Christ is at home in the former but not in the latter. From that opposition and false proportionality springs all narrow-mindedness, all inner unreality, if not all sanctimoniousness and powerlessness.” (James D. Bratt, ed., Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), p. 172)

Is it theologically possible to believe that God is pleased by the artistic endeavors of unbelievers? Richard Mouw states that he believes that God enjoys the good, true, and beautiful actions of unbelievers for their own sakes,

“When an unbelieving poet makes use of an apt metaphor, or when a foul-mouthed major league outfielder leaps high into the air to make a stunning catch, we can think of God as enjoying the event without necessarily approving of anything in the agents involved – just as wemight give high marks to a rhetorical flourish by a politician whose views on public policy we despise.” (Richard Mouw, He Shines in all that’s Fairp. 37)

This is what theologians have called “Common Grace.” Wayne Grudem provides this definition: “Common grace is the grace of God by which he gives people innumerable blessings that are not part of salvation. The word common here means something that is common to all people and is not restricted to believers or to the elect only.” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 657)

How many of our churches teach their congregations to embrace “Common Grace” as a wonderful gift from God for our good and for his glory?

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