The Arts, Biblical Theology, and Proof I’m Not a Complete Philistine

My last post generated some helpful feedback about the place of the arts in the Christian life. In that post I took an exegetical approach to the topic, examining one Scripture passage and challenging how it is sometimes used in defense of extravagant artistic investments. But most questions about Christian living are not decided by a solitary Scripture passage—and especially by a passage that isn’t directly about the topic at all, as I argued is the case with the story of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet.

So in this post I’d like to begin to set the topic of the arts within a larger biblical framework—thus doing what is often called biblical theology. (And if you persevere to the end, I even have a cute picture to share.)

First, here are some lines from the feedback I received:

Why do we have to have verses to justify everything that we do...

I don’t have a proof text for the arts

I’m not sure that I can supply a Biblical basis in support of the arts…

These comments are quite natural, given the relative silence in the New Testament about the kinds of activities we classify as “the arts.” So I agree: It’s pretty hard to point to one Bible verse, especially any verse written expressly as a directive to Christians, and say that we’ve found “a proof text for the arts.”

I suggest, however, that this lack of a proof text does not leave us entirely free to develop our own philosophical or emotional apology for our personal artistic preferences. Rather, our double task is to trace the big story that God tells us in Scripture and then to accurately understand our time and place within that story. (This is one of the tasks of the discipline of biblical theology—to consider theological themes as unfolding trajectories within the larger biblical narrative, rather than as the isolated observations of textual exegesis or the timeless conclusions of systematic theology.)

Some of the feedback I received hinted in this direction:

I’ve recently been wondering if a negative view of arts is a result of a “leave the earth, God’s going to destroy it anyway” mentality, instead of becoming part of God’s redemptive project on the earth, in which man’s signature counts…that is, he is by virtue of his very nature, his likeness to his Creator, creative

Here we see hints of some key plot developments in the story of our world: restoration (the return of Christ at the end of the age), redemption (God’s plan to rescue from sin), and creation (mankind created in the image of the Creator). And of course redemption reminds us also of the fall. This gives us all four of the plot movements commonly identified by Reformed theologians: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.

(See here for verbal and visual explanations of each. And I have suggested that naming the final movement glorification might better reflect the fact that Christ’s return will usher in not merely Eden restored, but a new world where we will realize an eternal consummation of God’s vision beyond anything ever experienced in Eden.)

Another response also pointed to creation:

I would offer a defense based on the nature of man. Artistic expression is a part of every known culture, even cultures that make efforts to eliminate them. I suspect its just a part of who we are, like language. In fact, art IS a language. Attacking artistic expression seems dehumanizing...

Another response complicated these four plot movements a bit by mentioning Israel (as well as restoration):

As I read about the intricacy of the artwork that went into Solomon’s Temple, I have to think that this too was intended to honor and glorify God.
What about some of the scenes involving the musical art in Revelation, what was its prime purpose?

N.T. Wright’s biblical theological scheme might help us here. He suggests that the Bible carries God’s authority by telling the story of the world in five acts. He identifies them as follows:

(1) Creation; (2) Fall; (3) Israel; (4) Jesus. The New Testament would then form the first scene in the fifth act, giving hints as well (Rom 8; 1 Cor 15; parts of the Apocalypse) of how the play is supposed to end.

As Wright points out, understanding the Bible as a five-act play (or as a four-movement plot, if you prefer the Reformed system) has implications for our hermeneutics (paradigms for how we interpret Scripture and what it says to us today):

The church would then live under the ‘authority’ of the extant story, being required to offer something between an improvisation and an actual performance of the final act. Appeal could always be made to the inconsistency of what was being offered with a major theme or characterization in the earlier material. Such an appeal—and such an offering!—would of course require sensitivity of a high order to the whole nature of the story and to the ways in which it would be (of course) inappropriate simply to repeat verbatim passages from earlier sections…

The New Testament is written to be the charter for the people of the creator God in the time between the first and second comings of Jesus; the Old Testament forms the story of the earlier acts, which are (to be sure) vital for understanding why Act 4, and hence Act 5, are what they are, but not at all appropriate to be picked up and hurled forward into Act 5 without more ado. The Old Testament has the authority that an earlier act of the play would have, no more, no less…

The story has to be told as the new covenant story. This is where my five-act model comes to our help again. The earlier parts of the story are to be told precisely as the earlier parts of the story. We do not read Genesis 1 and 2 as though the world were still like that; we do not read Genesis 3 as though ignorant of Genesis 12, of Exodus, or indeed of the gospels. Nor do we read the gospels us though we were ignorant of the fact that they are written precisely in order to make the transition from Act 4 to Act 5, the Act in which we are now living and in which we are to make our own unique, unscripted and yet obedient, improvisation.

(See here for the source of these quotes and for fascinating suggestions about how God mediates his authority through the story told by the Scriptures.)

So, where are we in the story of biblical theology?

Using the traditional Reformed scheme, we are in the third movement: redemption. God is still busy redeeming this world from sin. We are living after the cross, but before “the time of restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago” (Acts 3:21).

Using Wright’s scheme, we are in the final act, Act Five. We are no longer living in Acts One through Four. But we are also not yet living in the final scene within Act Five.

So, in either scheme, we are living in some tension, in a partially-redeemed state within a world that is not yet restored. We must not forget God’s creation purposes, yet we cannot simply live as if we are still in Eden. We must lay hold of God’s vision of restoration, yet we cannot live as if we are already on the new earth. This is still the time of spiritual warfare and of Great Commission living.

What does this mean for the place of the arts in the Christian life?

At minimum, this:

  • It means that pointing to our nature as creations who create is crucial, but insufficient.
  • It means that the artistic intricacies of Solomon’s temple are illuminating, but not determinative.
  • It means that the heavenly artistic grandeur described in Revelation awakens our hope, but does not define our current experience.

Artistic delight now is a reminder of Eden and a foretaste of Glory. It is a concert performed for soldiers who are on temporary leave from the front lines, healing their wounds before they return to battle. It is recess between classes at school. It is love-making between the duties of tilling the soil and raising the children.

Consider that last analogy further in light of Scripture. Let’s use the four Reformed movements to examine marriage through the ages:

Creation: God makes humans male and female. He declares “it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Gen. 2:18). The one-flesh union is blessed by God and humans are told to be fruitful and multiply.

Fall: Marriage is deformed in many ways post-fall, with polygamy and divorce permitted thanks to the hardness of man’s heart. Marriage is still the normal state, but normal marriage is not particularly normal. God does strange things like apparently blessing his kings with multiple wives and using a pagan beauty contest (that’s far too mild of a term for what actually happened) to save his people from genocide.

Redemption: God both uses marriage and operates beyond marriage to bring his Son into the world. His Son never marries. He blesses marriage, calling people back to God’s creation purposes. Yet he also blesses celibates—those are “eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven”—and says “Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.” (See Matt. 19:10-12.)

Paul, likewise, paints a double picture. On the one hand, he paints a glorious picture of marriage as a type of Christ and the church. (See Eph. 5:22-33.) On the other hand, filled with passion “to secure… undivided devotion to the Lord,” Paul says that he wishes all were single as he is. Notice his appeal to our place within the big story that Scripture tells: “This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none… For the present form of this world is passing away.” (See 1 Corinthians 7:7-8, 29-38.)

And significantly, both Jesus and Paul suggest that both marriage and celibacy are gifts, given differently to different persons.

Restoration: In words that probably shaped Paul’s vision, Jesus noted that “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Matt. 22:30). Instead, we have the consummation of the eternal reality toward which earthly marriage points: the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9; 21:2, 9-11).

I think we can see parallels with the arts through the ages. Here are some tentative suggestions—I am certainly moving beyond exegesis into theological deduction:

Creation: I do think that the Bible blesses the image of humans as creations who create. We see hints of this in Adam’s naming of the animals and care of the Garden, or even in his poetic praise of his new bride. Some Anabaptists need to ponder this more. I’m thinking of those who bless quilting bees, agricultural arts, and a cappella four-part harmony but leave little room for photography, literature, or the performing arts.

Fall: The arts certainly go to seed post-fall. Consider idolatrous images, pagan hymns, or even the heavy taxation and slavery used to build Solomon’s temple. The latter example reminds me of how the Roman Catholic Church during the middle ages siphoned off the wealth of Europe to build cathedrals and glorify the Vatican. Or consider the star-centered and commercialized nature of so much Christian art today. But should we also consider economic inequalities and indulgences closer to home?

Redemption: Little is said in Scripture about the arts in this movement; hence the need for discussions like this. Based on the marriage analogy, I offer a few suggestions.

Jesus was a carpenter, he told astounding stories, and he did sing hymns. To call him an “artist” might be stretching the evidence, however. There is no suggestion that he spent hours practicing on the harp or even that he led his disciples in multi-part choral works. He didn’t own a home and didn’t seem impressed by the grandeur of the temple, so architecture wasn’t high on his list of active priorities. I don’t think we read anything about him engaging in any visual arts besides writing in the sand. His mud pies were decidedly utilitarian, designed for healing eyes. Even his parables, magnificent as they are, were not staged performances as our artistic endeavors usually are, but rather woven into the fabric of everyday life.

And Paul? While he built tents, there is no indication he saw this as anything besides laborious commercial work. I certainly cannot imagine him investing the proverbial 10,000 hours to become an expert on an instrument such as the flute. He was too bent on the Great Commission to commission any works of art besides offerings for the poor saints in Jerusalem.

Yet the paradigm of “gifts” is also a clue. “Each has his own gift from God,” Paul wrote of marriage and singleness, “one of one kind and one of another” (1 Cor. 7:7). For over 10 years now, singleness has not been my gift. My prayer before I met my future wife was that God would lead me to someone with whom I could serve him better than how I could serve him alone. I believe God answered that prayer for me, at least for this season of my life.

Similarly, my artistic engagement has varied through seasons of my life. For several years while in college, I often achieved from 3/4 hour to 1-1/2 hours at the piano daily. Now I often play less than that in one week. I confess that, just as I am weak and have felt a “burning” need for marriage (1 Cor. 7:9), so I often feel a great need for the refreshment that is offered by the arts. Accompanying fellow musicians and performing for others has brought moments of ecstasy. Other times the only prayer I have been able to offer is to let my fingers wander over the piano keyboard, searching alone for the groans of the Spirit.

And often this refreshment comes through the artistic gifts God has given to others. When I was a youth, listening to Beethoven taught me on a deep heart level that joy is often found only after great struggle. Mozart’s Requiem and Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 have been played at high volume to soothe my youthful (and sometimes not so youthful) angst. The poetry and song of Rich Mullins has stirred me to my depths. And Phil Keaggy’s song “Play Through Me” has been my prayer, too:

Up late again tonight,
I feel a song coming on…

Maker of all melody fill my heart with song,
Play how You feel, oh play thru me.
Healing can come through the song
Your own hands upon,
This is for real, no fantasy.

(And since I am “up late again tonight,” too, I better soon wind down the crafting of this post.)

Restoration: Given the symbolic language of much of Revelation, I think we can say little concretely about arts in the world to come. If we take the function of metaphor seriously, however, we must conclude that there is something similar-but-grander in the heavenlies to the very best of earthly art. While I admit the song “The Music of Heaven” is not among my personal favorites, I do anticipate that Jesus’ presence will bring a passion and fulfillment beyond anything I have experienced in the best moments of musical ecstasy here on earth.

So what is the conclusion of the matter? I think in this age of redemption, in these middle scenes of Act 5, we will rightly see traces of God’s good creation purposes among his people. Just as we rightly celebrate Christian marriages, so we can rightly celebrate Christian artists. (I’m not insisting here on a specifically “Christian art”; that is another discussion.) We will see and bless a diversity of both gifts and callings. There must be room for poets and painters and potters in our churches. Even banjo players. Artistic excellence does indeed show something of the glory of God.

But we will also recognize that here we have no abiding symphony. In this world we will have trouble staying on key. More than that, we will weigh our artistic desires, examining our hearts: are we getting “entangled in civilian pursuits” or pleasing “the one who enlisted” us (2 Tim. 2:4). We will remember the Great Commission mission of the church. We will ask ourselves hard questions: Am I worshiping the creature or the Creator? Am I serving God and my neighbor with my approach to art, or am I merely serving myself? (Sometimes our neighbors can best help us answer this question. And who is my neighbor?)

I think my previous post left a few readers worried that I was anti-art. I’m not sure if this post will help or not. In a last-ditch effort to redeem myself, let me sign off with a picture. Hopefully this proves I’m not a total Philistine. Tonight I put my middle daughter to sleep to the sounds of Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, and Schumann. Hopefully she heard a faint echo of her Savior singing over her:

PianoShaniSleeping
Please forgive the exposed umbilical cord socket.

What do you think? How should we navigate the “already but not yet” tension surrounding the arts? Share your thoughts (preferably in sonnet form) in the comments below.


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27 thoughts on “The Arts, Biblical Theology, and Proof I’m Not a Complete Philistine”

  1. Glad to see you tackle the sticky subject of art! Great thoughts so far. (And looks like you got some good feedback, though not all of the comments you quoted seem to be visible on the blog page.) As Mennonites we haven’t done too well at engaging with this subject, and discussion is badly needed.

    I appreciate you putting the discussion into the framework of the “big picture” of the Biblical narrative. And focusing on the tension that exists in our present state of existence–I think that is an important point that is too often left out. The comparison with marriage was a new thought for me, but I think it is a very appropriate comparison. Marriage is at the center of what being human is–it is also somehow connected to the very center of redemption, the church, and the coming restoration. Marriage and its transcendental meaning is another subject that has gotten badly distorted through gnostic influences over the ages. (Hey, there’s a subject for you to tackle sometime–how gnosticism has affected evangelical–and Mennonite–theology!)

    (I copied these comments from a reply I sent you by email to your admin address. Not sure if you get emails at that address or not. If not, please let me know, as I included a larger attachment there.)
    L. S.

    1. Thanks, Leslie. Yes, your email arrived safely, and I look forward to reading the attachment.

      Gnostic influences on our theology… yes, a big topic.

      Btw, I think my quoted comments are appearing fine. Perhaps the brevity of my excerpts wrongly suggests something is missing?

      Thanks again for engaging!

  2. Thanks. What I meant about the comments was that I couldn’t find all the quotes above in the 2 comments on the previous post. But maybe you had feedback via other channels. No problem–just thought it would have been interesting to read the complete comments (assuming you didn’t quote them in their entirety).

  3. Thinking of the usage of ‘poiema’ in Eph. 2:10, are we, post-redemption, an example of God’s art-work when we are walking in His will?

    1. If I’m reading BAGD correctly, they do not list “poem” as a definition of poiema. They define it as “what is made, work, creation” and specify that it is used “in our lit. only of the works of divine creation.” They cite Eph. 2:10 and gloss it by saying “i.e. he has made us what we are.”

      Another word that appears to be from the same root (poietes) can indeed mean “poet,” as well as more general meanings such as “one who does something, maker” or “doer.”

      I know we are rehashing an old question: I’ve read pro and con somewhere before on whether “poem” is a valid paraphrase for “workmanship” in Eph. 2. I suspect the fact that no common English translations say “poem” is a pretty good indication that “workmanship” is closer to Paul’s sense here. No English translations on Bible Gateway say “poem” (https://www.biblegateway.com/verse/en/Ephesians%202:10 ), although the Voice translation includes this gloss: ” heaven’s poetry etched on lives” in italics after its more literal translation, “we are the product of His hand.” Some say “handiwork,” and you can also find “creation,” “work of art,” or masterpiece” in a few translations. But quite a few simply say “God made us what we are,” or the equivalent, which is surely the most basic meaning that Paul is trying to communicate, whether or not a secondary layer of meaning regarding artistry is intended.

      You do have a way of making me dig into the exegetical details and pull out my boxing gloves. 🙂

      1. I think the same word is also used in Romans 1:20 where it is translated ‘the things that have been made’ in the ESV.
        Moral of the story? Maybe not everything that is made is a work of art?
        Wait a minute….boxing gloves?!?! How nonresistant is that?

  4. Very clear headed and satisfying thoughts here, Dwight. A pleasure to read.

    Art used to be expensive. Now I can listen to Handel and look at Pol Ledent paintings for free online. I suppose your question regards art in its costly forms; a side-thought is that the costly forms still benefit, directly or indirectly, the poor masses.

    Industrialization and the information revolution have made me rich and simultaneously given me more “neighbors”, it is true. But the lifestyle that comes almost inseparably along with said industrialization is also inherently lacking in subtle elements of “whole life” that perhaps only art can supply. We (unthinkingly) removed beauty for practicality in many places, so then it is fitting that practicality offers a little to beauty in others.

    Part of civilization is specialization. A few will get very good at the cello, and the rest of us will benefit. Civilization develops to variety and extremes, and the church itself is a civilization.

    The older I get, the more it seems nature matters to my worship. Those who live in cities–poor people–might need art in ways I don’t, in doses I don’t.

    It’s about living a “whole life”. I think that for most of us, that means a time to dance, along with a time to mourn. (bad proof text, but you get the point) There are a few who are called to celibacy, and maybe (but I doubt it) a few are even called to a rigorous, Beethovenless existence.

    How do we let Him instruct us about this? He said that He clothes the lilies, and that they outdid Solomon. I conclude that He loves beauty and abundance, and that He wants us to relax and let Him guide us. I feel led quite often to enjoy beautiful things–things that make me feel “whole”. I take this as God’s leading, since it draws me out of myself and helps me love life, which makes me love others, which is what living in the Kingdom means. Pardon my simplicity.

    Only, let it be real beauty. If it doesn’t make you appreciate the simplest things, it isn’t real.

    1. Good words, Conrad! Evidently you’ve thought about such things before. Thanks much for sharing.

      There is so much more to consider, including examples of those who have used the arts as part of kingdom work, such as Schweitzer playing his custom Africa-ready piano for the enjoyment of the nationals there, or Rich Mullins teaching music to children on Navajo reservations while giving away (to his church) all income from his recordings that exceeded the average working man’s salary for the year. May we who love and engage the arts leave similar legacies of blessing for others…

      Thanks again.

    2. Excellent thoughts Conrad! I chuckled at this line… “and maybe (but I doubt it) a few are even called to a rigorous, Beethovenless existence” 🙂 I doubt it with you, and I truly pity any who would feel so called. That is self-denial indeed but not the kind God desires. Beethoven may not exist in the Amazon Jungle of Guyana (with today’s technology it probably does) but similar beauty and “art” will exist in other forms. We ought to allow our souls to be inspired, soaring to the highest levels of enjoyment, aspiring toward God. It is heaven sent.

    3. Hmm. “Beethovenless existence” is indeed a memorable way to phrase things. 🙂

      Just a bit of push-back. Here’s how I worded it in an email to my mother: “My concern, I think, is to encourage people to think in biblical theology patterns and thus be willing to live in the already not yet tension of our spot in God’s big story. When I hear anything too one-sided in either direction I get a bit worried.”

      So at this moment I’d like to suggest that God does indeed call some to a “Beethovenless existence.” Not all artists throughout history have been exempted from military service. Yes, even some in the trenches of WW1 were inspired by something as small as a butterfly passing through the horrors of war. But if we narrow the discussion to “the arts” rather than to any appreciation of anything beautiful, many in conflict have been without any meaningful opportunity to either enjoy or produce art.

      Similarly in the kingdom of God. Most missionaries throughout history, for example, have not been so fortunate as Schweitzer as to have been able to take a piano along. Menno Simons, on the run, would have had no time to develop any recognized artistic skills. Those who have suffered in concentration camps or solitary confinement have often had even less artistic opportunities.

      At minimum, even if we want to suggest that such soldiers of Christ could still find ways to practice beauty and art in non-conventional forms (perhaps in something as unseen as producing mental art in their imaginations), it is certainly true that in this stage of God’s big story many are called to a “less-Beethoven existence.” There are times when it would be sin to spend another hour at the piano, to go on that choir trip, or to visit the art gallery. Christ is calling us to labors that have less obvious beauty or delight, and we must take up the cross by laying down our artistic dreams. This we must also not forget, even as we rejoice in God’s gifts of artistic expression. And this call comes not only to the persecuted church, but also to parents, pastors, and all sorts of everyday saints.

      I think all of us here agree that some Anabaptists in past generations have been too slow to recognize the goodness in our Creator’s gift of artistic creativity. I don’t want us to stay in that ditch. But it is also possible to over-correct. I want to encourage us to live in the Christ-focused tension of “already not yet.”

      I’m enjoying the discussion here! 🙂

  5. I’m fascinated and blessed by the discussion that you’ve engaged on the arts here Dwight. Very good thoughts. This is a badly needed conversation in Anabaptist circles and in need of further exploration. I believe, as you’ve allowed, that artistic expression is a God-mirror in it’s own unique way based on creation theology. God created man and woman in his image with creative ability and desire. It reflects Him. He also directly created a great deal of intricate, delicate, complex beauty in nature that reveals his beauty loving character. I believe God thrills to beautiful expression and it reflects Him and His glory in a way that nothing else can. When we limit expression of that beauty or give no outlet for it because of particular fears we have of it, we limit the glory of God to something our humanity can deal with. That is so sad. God is so much bigger and more beautiful than any of us can imagine. Our view of God limits our reflection of Him. Thank you for tackling this sensitive subject!

  6. Thanks for joining us here, Conrad and Carl. Great thoughts.

    Conrad, I’ve been trying to figure out what this means: “then it is fitting that practicality offers a little to beauty in others.” Can you unpack that a little?

    I like your concept of “whole life”. I think it is an important one. Some time ago, when trying to find a criteria for discussing good art versus bad, I hit on the idea of “wholesomeness”. The Enemy is in the business of fragmentation at all levels of the universe. God is concerned with reconciliation at all levels. So good art (or true art, if you prefer) will always tend towards the big picture, towards transcendence, towards a holistic view of man and of relationship, towards humility and responsibility in man’s view of his place in the universe, etc.

    Certainly not the only criteria from which we could discuss art, but a basic and helpful one, I believe.

    1. I agree with the push back, Dwight; “Beethovenless” needed some qualification. Many missionaries, etc. in the past have had no option. (like for example all those sad people who lived before Beethoven) I should clarify too that I was thinking more about the consumption than the creation of art, and was thinking mainly of the modern world. Today, listening to music costs almost nothing, even for missionaries. But yes, when they throw you in prison, they sometimes take your iPod, don’t they?

      Leslie, to unpack the thing about practicality: I guess I was merely restating my point about industrialization and the modern world in general robbing life of subtle forms of beauty in the name of efficiency/practicality, and how that fact makes it reasonable and fitting to expect that some of the money we’ve earned thanks to said efficiency is turned back into beauty (a Beethoven CD, or a Spotify subscription, or maybe even a piano if you’ve got a sufficiently robust conscience)

      Kidding about the piano. Obviously someone is going to have to invest much in order for the rest to have something to enjoy. But probably not everyone needs a piano.

      “…labors that have less obvious beauty or delight…” Amen. Good art points us to God, and God, when he has our full attention, points us to these labors. Perhaps it’s a bunny trail, but I can remember various times when I had an unclear conscience, that what finally made it unbearable was some particularly rich experience of beauty, usually in music.

      Our capacity to empathize with others’ needs is related to our capacity for beauty (seems to me). This capacity for beauty can be trained, and it requires temperance and focus. Temperance, I guess, is what this whole discussion is about.

      So is this “thinking in biblical theology patterns”? The already/not yet tension concept is a good foundation, but it seems an inherently ambiguous one, which will inevitably lead to variety and extremes.

      Where I’m from, I don’t think I see the extreme you are working against here, Dwight, but it’s most certainly a fair caution.

      1. “Our capacity to empathize with others’ needs is related to our capacity for beauty (seems to me).” I think you may be onto something. Or at any rate I’ve wondered similar thoughts. The listening skills required to be a good musician, for example, and the emotional wisdom required to perform effectively, are both skills that can improve ones interpersonal relationships. That said, I have observed plenty of highly skilled musicians who seem to be blockheads at relationships (sometimes myself included). Ultimately it is character, not mere artistic sensitivity, that builds good relationships. And good musicians aren’t always good people!

  7. Good thoughts, Dwight. Where does dance fit in this discussion? Or is this art form too corrupted to have any redemptive value? Can the Christian or Christian parent encourage the training and rigor of this art? Can the Christian enjoy the performance of this artistic expression?

    1. While Dwight dons his gloves, I’ll suggest that perhaps the intent and venue of the dance should be considered.
      The possibility of potentially offending a weaker Christian with the dance may also need to be considered.

    2. Sharon, good questions. I’m not sure I have a complete answer. We could also ask about figure skating and high diving and other related arts or sports. It seems to me that some public displays of the beauty of the human form that might have been fitting prior to the fall are not fitting afterward, even for Christians now who are beginning to experience the all-renewing grace of God. Will there be some version of public nakedness without shame in the new world to come? I simply don’t know. I do know that public nakedness is not fitting for this age, despite this age’s increasing insistence that it should be celebrated.

      I am not comfortable personally with the thought of my daughters participating in dance performances, even as children. I don’t find it is healthy for me to watch much figure skating—that is, for me to watch the female figure skaters. I have not attended a ballet for similar reasons, despite thoroughly enjoying some of the musical scores. Most performative dance (from ballet to waltz to what you see on a modern music video) is designed to draw attention to the human form, always through eye-pulling movement and often through the design of the clothing or lack thereof.

      It is possible some of my hesitancy is due to my cultural and family heritage. Perhaps some other Christians can rightly engage in the dance in public more freely than I can. (Dance in private all you want, folks, before the Lord and before your spouse!) But I think Paul’s words about restricting my freedom in order to love my neighbor also come into play. And if I look into Christian history, it is very clear to me that most Christians throughout history would not have approved of most of the kinds of dances practiced in public today.

      I do think it is important to note that there are many different kinds of dance. I understand that many Jews throughout history and to this day have engaged in a kind of dance during their songs of worship, a kind of dance I will call a “folk dance” for lack of a more precise term. It is not done in male-female pairs, nor is it a solo performance where all eyes are on one. Rather it is a group activity that involves modest, self-controlled movements. I certainly do believe that worship can involve our whole beings, including our bodies and not limited to our vocal chords.

      I want to be slow to judge other Christians, but quick to remind us to ask whether we are truly being motivated by love of Jesus and our neighbor.

      1. I’d like to add a little more to my earlier comment, if I may. I am not myself a proponent of dance and am somewhat resistant to Christians practicing it, but I’m not sure if there is a direct Biblical ban on dancing. In our culture, dancing has taken on a somewhat unsavory reputation among conservative and fundamentalist Christians, and rightly so in at least most cases, in my opinion. This, in my mind, can make dancing a stumbling-block to young Christians, for instance. So then the age-old question comes up….’am I my brother’s keeper?’
        The episode of David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant, (2Samuel 6) is sometimes used to justify some versions of dance. I am not aware that there is Biblical condemnation or affirmation for him doing that, but, even though David was ‘a man after God’s own heart’, I think we would agree that some of David’s actions of choice in other areas were also not ‘God’s best’ choices.
        The other event I thought of just now was the account in Acts 3 of the lame beggar, healed, walking and leaping and praising God. Could he have been said to be dancing? Quite possibly. Was he regenerate? Quite possibly not. He was probably somewhat overcome by emotion. Can we use this account to justify certain types of dance? Hmmm….personally I would be very hesitant…..but not for me to judge.

        Dwight actually said it a lot better than I could have in his response above, but, egotist that I am, I had to get this in.
        (Isn’t that a dangling participle or something?)

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