This post is part of a series walking through the third volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace
In the last chapter of three volumes of reflection on common grace, Kuyper ends with a reflection on what art matters “for the kingdom of heaven.” (614) The Kingdom is from particular grace, which is separate from common grace. Yet common grace is judged from the perspective of particular grace. So how then does faith see art?
Art can be good or bad, which should probably go without saying but Kuyper says it anyway. Obviously art can cheapen and degrade–just look at the theater! This is a problem in the marketplace and is exacerbated by the general character of actors.
Yet this is all just a surface-level analysis. On a deeper front art has been corrupted, as we see in acting and sculpture/painting. The personality of the artists is lost and they become their characters, all in the name of our entertainment. This also includes the claim to be exempt from morality, especially with regard to sexuality. Obviously there’s some truth to how sex is used in entertainment, but the legitimate role of nudity/sexuality has become lasciviousness.
But art, too, is subject to God’s law. So art is pulled between two spirits. This is true in all fields. The impact of the arts on us is not always immediate, but it is a real impact. [Kuyper is drawing on Plato here.] Bad art can make you lose control and lead to idolatry. It can turn us from the Lord, instead of turning us to Him as it was intended.
In art, we usually find both of these spirits at work in us and in the art. we must know this before we judge art. Likewise we must see how history has shifted, and have room for Christian society rather than the ancient pagan art only. There early church only knew itself as holy, now the Gospel’s influence has spread. The Reformers failed to understand this and overreacted against art.
Art is waiting for us to catch up; that we have not done so is a deficiency in our faith. (Though Kuyper leaves an exception for music, where Christians have flourished.) So we need to put our faculties to work in art, connecting people with nature to the glory of God.
“With these reflections, our investigation of common grace is concluded. If these studies were able to shed light on significant issues relating to our Christian life, then for that result we can only ascribe all honor to him alone who has granted us the time and energy that have been spent.” (623)