1. the idea that “good art” glorifies God is a fallacy.

    In one way, yes — in another way, I think I disagree … but with the disclaimer that imbalanced views can result on other side, and one can overcorrect for either.

    From what I recall, Ryken in that quote was no opposing more-overt preaching, but reminding readers that God, as the giver of all good gifts, is glorified generally when they are used well. But only a Christian can approach seeing this specifically. Similarly, nature (though fallen) glorifies God intrinsically, but only the Word specifically reveals and glorifies Him. Even sinful, “totally depraved” people sometimes reflect Him and can do “good” things, though certainly not enough to be redeemed.

    I wonder if retrieving the quotes’ contexts might add clarity. (Yes, I had posted them up there, and very glad to find they might contribute to a fascinating discussion.)

    Science fiction emerges from being made in God’s image? How then do we explain all those who look at science fiction with loathing?

    Perhaps similar to those — like me — who are often impressed by the idea of athletic prowess, but can’t stand the thought of personally doing all that “pointless” work?

    Is their science fiction still a result of their God image or is it a twist of their God image, more akin to their sin nature?

    I would venture the latter. Similarly, music with a rhythmic backbeat is not intrinsically evil, but many people have abused it to endorse all manner of sins.

    I believe too many Christian writers claim a mulligan to cover up our unwillingness to work hard at creating a story that neither preaches nor pacifies, but causes readers to think deeply about spiritual things, especially about God.

    On that we completely agree. Christians who want to glorify God directly (and all true Christians should!) will not want to jump back to “common grace” and thus skip over echoes of specific grace. And yet it’s also encouraging to know that God can be glorified even when I’m not specifically preaching the Gospel. That article I write about the city council story, if done well (not sloppily, without a God-honoring work ethic) can thus honor Him, just as much as the novel-in-progress whose themes more directly credit Him for Who He is. Yet of course I must admit that I much prefer the novel and more-direct artistry that reveals Him more specifically!

  2. Rykken sounds like he’s trying to say that if you do a good job, it will automatically glorify God. But that’s obviously not true in all situations. I can think of several jobs that, even if done well, wouldn’t glorify God: assassin and stripper come to mind.

    As an attorney, I’ve heard people say that you can’t be a good lawyer and a good Christian at the same time, which is essentially saying you can’t glorify God while being an attorney. But it really depends on what kind of attorney you are. Do your communications and interactions with others show an adherence to Biblical teachings? I’ve found you can be an effective advocate and negotiator while doing so.

    And the same can be said of writers. Do your writings promote Biblical teachings, at least on some level? If not, then how can you say your writing glorifies God? Preaching isn’t necessary, but something’s gotta shine through, or it isn’t glorifying anyone but the author.

    Good post!

  3. Royce says:

    Art, music, and writing glorifies God if it reflects Him in some way (character, attributes, etc.), or truth in some way (all truth being God’s truth). One may argue that this definition is too general, insisting that the definition needs to say something about aesthetics; however, something that may not suit our own fallen senses of beauty and style may indeed be pleasing to God. Does a child singing a made up off-key song about God’s omnipotence please God? It may fit our definition of “cute,” but it would not sell a million records. “Sing a joyful noise…”

  4. Fred Warren says:

    I might argue that an automobile is indeed a work of art and communicates a great deal about the practical and aesthetic merits of harmony in form and function. It is also the result of an intricate web of communication among all the people involved in its design and manufacture.

    Of course, if we’re talking about the Ford Pinto, perhaps not so much.

  5. Of course, if we’re talking about the Ford Pinto, perhaps not so much.

    Just now we read that and my wife said: “Well, that was a case in which someone didn’t fulfill his vocation properly!”

    Adding to that: if a Christian had designed and built the first Ford Pinto (or the ugly car of your choice), then stamped “John 3:16” on the hood, does that car give glory to God? Or perhaps a Christian mechanic “repairs” a car, and doesn’t cheat the owner, but fails to have studied and applied himself as much as he could and in effect does a bad job — but also stamps “John 3:16” on the hood. I doubt that gives much glory to God.

    The question then becomes, I suppose: does a non-Christian engineer/mechanic who ignores the Gospel, but who (in a “common grace” way) applies himself and designs/repairs the car well, glorify God more than the Christian? I would say yes and no: per specific grace, no, but in a general common-grace way, yes.

  6. Amy says:

    I think it’s important to understand the Randy Alcorn quote in context. Alcorn doesn’t write science fiction. He mostly writes books (fiction and non) about Heaven. In this quotes, he’s talking about the great many people in the world who deeply enjoy science fiction and examining why so many people love it. He believes it is because, as he says, people have an innate sense of “adventure, wonder, creativity, and imagination” that stems from being made in the image of God. Animals (not made in the image of God) don’t have these characteristics.

    So, what about people who don’t like sci-fi? These characteristics may be expressed in another way. They may like the adventure and imagination at the core of sci-fi, but dislike everything else about it.

    People who write science fiction against God are certainly not glorifying God with their works. However, they’re still expressing the image of God in themselves by illustrating these God-given characteristics of love of adventure, wonder, etc. People who deny the existence of God are still made in His image.

  7. If anyone likes, I can find the original paragraph(s) for that quote, from Alcorn’s nonfiction book Heaven (which, by the way, is much more focused on the New Heavens and New Earth then the present-day, “intermediate” Heaven).

    Yet your great comments, Amy, have reminded me to dig up the context for the Ryken quote. While someone might still use that to justify avoiding or scoffing at specific Gospel proclamation (because “all a Christian needs to do is do good art,” someone reasons — a notion based on logical inference and a self-consistent System but not consistency with Scripture) I doubt Ryken or his material supports that.

    Instead Ryken is writing against the notion that the only way to reflect God’s glory or proclaim His truth is a complete “John 3:16”-style evangelism message. He doesn’t seem to say (as some do, unfortunately perhaps by way of legalism in the opposite direction) that it’s sinful or even tacky to paint “John 3:16” on the hood of a car. But some Christians have the notion that this is the only way art, work or a non-“ministry” vocation can glorify God, by adding specific evangelism to it.

    This quote starts on page 50 of Art for God’s Sake and continues through the chapter’s end on page 52 (all boldface emphases added):

    Art for God’s sake–this is what the tabernacle [of the book of Exodus] was all about. Every detail in that sacred building was for the praise of God’s glory. The altar and the atonement cover (also known as the mercy seat) testified to his face. The table of the showbread proclaimed his providence. The lampstand spread his light. But even there things that were not symbolic were for God. This is why the tabernacle was made so carefully, with such fine materials and elaborate decorations: it was all for the glory of God.

    The same should be true of everything that we create: it should all be for God’s glory. In one sense, this is inherently true of all good art, whether or not it happens to be produced by people who actually intend to glorify God. The doctrine of creation teaches that by God’s common grace, the gift of art inevitably declares the praise of its Giver. Thus non-Christians as well as Christian artists can represent virtue, beauty, and truth. It is important to remember, as Nigel Goodwin has said, that “God in His wisdom did not give all His gifts to Christians.” But even if God may be glorified by art that is not explicitly offered in his honor, he is most truly praised when his glory is the aim of our art.

    This does not mean that all our art has to be evangelistic in the sense that it explicitly invites people to believe in Christ. To give an example from another calling, the way in which a Christian who makes cars glorifies God is not by painting “John 3:16” on the hood. Rather, he glorifies God by making a good car. Similarly, the artist glorifies God by making good art, whether or not it contains an explicit gospel message. The sculptor glorifies God in her sculpture; the architect glorifies God in his building; and so forth. Because it works with the materials of creation, the artistry itself is capable of conveying the artist’s commitment to a good, loving, and gracious Creator.

    Another way to say this is that art can be Christian without serving merely as a vehicle for evangelism, or for other forms of preaching. Such a utilitarian perspective impoverishes the arts. A more complete perspective on Christian art recognizes that a creation always reveals something about it creator. What artists make tells us something about how they view the world. Thus the art of a Christian ought to be consistent with a life of faith in Christ. This is not always the case, of course, because artists struggle with their fallen nature as much as anyone else. Nevertheless, as Francis Schaeffer wrote, “Christian art is the expression of the whole life of the whole person who is a Christian. What a Christian portrays in his art is the totality of life.” Johann Sebastian Bach is famous for signing his works with the letters “sDg,” standing for the Latin phrase soli Deo gloria— “to God alone be the glory.” This was a pious act that indicated the composer’s sincere desire to present his art as an offering to God. The important thing, however, was not so much the letters that Bach added to his score, but the music itself, which in its ordered beauty was a testimony to his faith in God. In the same way, every artist whose talents are under the lordship of Jesus Christ will produce art for God’s sake.

  8. Johne Cook says:

    There are lots of people made in God’s image who are not aware of that. We understand the origin of sehnsucht, and return thanks for that awareness to the One who made us able to be aware. Those who are not aware have their vision obscured. As I understand it, it is not our job to make their vision clear – that’s up to the Holy Spirit. However, what we write may be something the Spirit uses as part of that epiphany. That is where improving the art and craft of creative writing is imperative.

    Christ spoke in different ways to different audiences. When speaking to the people (who were not expected to be religiously trained) He spoke to them in language they understood. He didn’t have a banner proclaiming John 3:16 – he buried his lessons in story and used simply language familiar to them. When speaking in the synagogue, he invoked scripture.

    You have to know your audience and adjust your story to the people you’re trying to reach.

    Thus, as I see it, there is a need for both clear overt spiritual teaching (such as what you get from Ravi Zacharias and similar non-fiction writers) and entertaining stories with buried spiritual truths that can be appreciated on multiple levels; the superficial (a man owns a vineyard) and something deeper (the truth of the story).

    The problem that I see is a mistaken assumption that we need to present Biblical truth as Christian fiction. This is fine for Christians who are offended by humanistic Science Fiction, but pragmatism suggests will not be read by the bulk of the people who normally read Science Fiction. What I see is a reticence to attempt to write rigorous Science Fiction from a Christian worldview to the larger Science Fiction audience. That’s where the fields are, that’s where the need is. Those stories would benefit from being crafted as Christ crafted his parables; telling an engaging story in the language of the audience with a deeper truth to be unpacked.

    The usual suspects are there for review. I’ve been impressed with the ability of Timothy Zahn and Tim Powers and others to tell stories informed by a Christian worldview which have the craftsmanship and vision and artistry to play in the larger SF marketplace.

    If you are a fisher of men, you throw your net where the fish are. If your pool is only filled with Christians, there are, by definition, no fish there to be caught. In my opinion, authors who are Christian should be tackling the challenge of upping their game and trying to compete and get their stories on the bigger playing field.

    Just as the early church needed prompting to take the good news and go out into the world, so too should authors who are Christian go out and write stories for those who need to read them.

  9. Stephen, I think this is the quote I prefer:

    even if God may be glorified by art that is not explicitly offered in his honor, he is most truly praised when his glory is the aim of our art.

    And to be honest, I still think the jury is out about the first part of that quote. I’m not convinced God is glorified by fallen man in his unredeemed state. Any inkling of his status as Image bearer is marred by his sin. I think most likely, as our righteousness is nothing but dirty rags, our art is nothing but prideful self-expression.

    That doesn’t mean it can’t be good, as we evaluate it. But if real art is perfect Truth in harmony with perfect Beauty, then obviously our efforts at creating art fall far short. How can he who denies Christ put Truth in his work? He won’t, but it still might be imaginative, creative, even beautiful.

    I’ll give two illustrations from popular culture. There’s a dance program on TV called So You Think You Can Dance. I have to say, I’ve seen some really, really beautiful dance routines. None of them glorifies God, though. They glorify the dancer, the choreographer, the subject (some are theme pieces that tell a story), even the music, but not God. Just because they are well done doesn’t put God in the picture. Yes, I know God gave them their ability. But for God to be glorified, I believe that means placing Him front and center.

    Second illustration is from American Idol. The runner-up a year ago was Adam Lambert. I remember watching some of his performances and saying how afraid I was that he would win. I thought he could become the next Michael Jackson, he was that good, that creative. But why afraid? Because his good was a glorification of humanistic values at best, demonic values at worst. Nothing about Adam’s work is God glorifying. But he is very, very talented.

    I think of Pharaoh’s magicians who were able to duplicate Moses’s miracles for a while. Were they glorifying God by doing so? Not at all. They were using the very things God put inside them to defy Him.

    I like what Johne said:

    What I see is a reticence to attempt to write rigorous Science Fiction from a Christian worldview to the larger Science Fiction audience. That’s where the fields are, that’s where the need is. Those stories would benefit from being crafted as Christ crafted his parables; telling an engaging story in the language of the audience with a deeper truth to be unpacked.

    I think part of that reticence comes from those of us in the Christian writing community who take on this attitude that just writing a good story is all we need to do to bring God glory. We don’t try for more because we don’t think we need to do more.

    I saw this lots when I was a teacher—what’s the bare minimum I need to do to pass? Or to get an A, depending on the person’s goal.

    I don’t even like the fact that we think in terms of “what makes fiction ‘Christian’?” That in and of itself seems to create this attitude of getting as close to the line as we can get without crossing over. Which leads to some of the sad stories I’ve read with some sort of tacked on “faith element.”

  10. Johne Cook says:

    I came across something else today quite by accident that relates to this discussion:

    We have the makings of a movement that can change this culture. I honestly believe this. But I also believe the first step toward establishing the groundwork for a vibrant, relevant cultural movement based on scriptural thought is to stop producing “Christian films” or “Christian music” or “Christian art” and simply have Christ-followers who create great Art.

    Culture is like a garden. You must keep it healthy and growing or the weeds take over. It is not the artist who is the gardener, it is the audience. We are responsible for which artists take root and grow, and which ones die on the vine. With work, we can cultivate a healthy culture that will flower and bear fruit.

    We must maintain a need for a moral and just culture.

    We must demand quality.

    We must be open about our faith. That is why it is far more important for the filmmaker to be identified as Christian than his work be labeled as such. Even a pagan can make a movie and label it Christian.

    People have a natural hunger for knowledge. They desire truth no differently than they desire water and nutrition. We, as Christ-followers, are the keepers of truth; all we need to do is tell it.

    When a Christ-follower produces a film that speaks to Biblical truth and morality, he has made a Christian film. The product itself should not carry the label; the artist is the Christ-follower. His fruit will bear His name.

    • Johne, thanks for adding to the discussion with the quote from this article. For the record, I’ll say the main reason Christian movies are “so bad” is because they’re made using a small percentage of the budget Hollywood films use.

      Apart from that, I think the author, Scott Nehring, is all over the place with his ideas, but primarily he seems to be missing God’s work. He says “we” can do our artistic thing and end up changing culture? Sorry, but no. Men through the ages have been faced with the truth and have hardened their hearts against God.

      Can we look, for example, at Jesus? He gave the people exactly what they wanted—healings, resurrections from the dead, food and wine, good stories—but did that change the culture? No, because they didn’t want the thing that all the rest pointed to—Jesus Himself.

      So it’s spurious to point to “bad art” as the reason Christians don’t have more of an impact on the culture.

      Jesus didn’t say, they will know you are Christians by the great art you produce. He said the key would be how we love each other, so if we want to look at what we should be pointing our fingers at, maybe we should start there.

      But where are the stories about those kinds of things? Maybe they’re being written and I’m unaware.

      For the record, I agree with Morgan that stories that strive for more can actually be about Christian maturity and not “fishing for men.” Which, by the way, brings up another issue.

      Since people are so against “preaching,” in stories, how do they think non-Christians will get saved by reading a story?

      My guess is, most who complain against preaching aren’t really expecting people to come to Christ through stories. Maybe consider God, or question their own ability to dig themselves out of the mire they’re in.

      But at some point, someone needs to present Christ if they are to come to Christ. How about if we do that well, which requires some hard, hard work. It doesn’t happen because we think our Christianity will have to show itself as I, a “Christ follower” write a good story.

      OK, now I think I’m going all over the place. 😮


  11. “If you are a fisher of men, you throw your net where the fish are. If your pool is only filled with Christians, there are, by definition, no fish there to be caught. In my opinion, authors who are Christian should be tackling the challenge of upping their game and trying to compete and get their stories on the bigger playing field.”

    Not all of us are called to write to the masses, just as not all of us are called to write to Christian audiences. I think we each should find who we write for and then write. I have found that my core audience are Christians. Through my writing I explore the growing pains of faith. Just because I write for Christians doesn’t mean I’m not upping my game.

  12. I’m not convinced God is glorified by fallen man in his unredeemed state. Any inkling of his status as Image bearer is marred by his sin.

    In one respect I agree completely. Man is “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) and has because of his very nature fallen short of God’s glory — the doctrine of “total depravity,” or as some theologians (such as R.C. Sproul) have said, “total inability” to fulfill God’s standards. Yet that doesn’t mean people are as bad as they could possibly be.

    Leaving out the issue of total depravity/inability, it seems Scripture shows many occasions in which God does use even bad things, such as humans’ sin, to bring glory to Himself. Talking about His Father’s higher standards for heart attitudes and conduct, Jesus notes that even God provides some blessings for evil people:

    “[H]e makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” — Matthew 5:45

    And later He uses a logical argument, based on evil people doing good things, to show how much better is our very good God:

    “[W]hich one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” — Matthew 7:9-11

    Both of these texts, along with many others, are used to defend the doctrine that even totally depraved humans can reflect God’s nature in some ways.

    Romans 13, for example, shows how God has set up civil governments to prevent things from becoming absolutely horrible (Paul wrote that when Rome was in power!). And Genesis 50, for sure, is one of the best in-practice examples of how God uses people’s bad intentions and sins for His own good.

    Just recently one of my church’s pastors surveyed Exodus 14, and noted how God told Moses He would again harden Pharaoh’s heart (cf. Romans 9) and thereby “get glory.” It sounds like God wanted a kind of glory through defeating Pharaoh that would not have otherwise resulted if Pharaoh had simply let the slaves go, or joined them, or any other choice (yet God does not sin, and Pharaoh is responsible for his motives).

    “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” — Exodus 14:3

    The concept of “God’s two wills” may also be a factor here. If a sinner sins, is that God’s will? Yes and no — it’s contrary to His revealed will, or will of command, but not contrary to His “hidden” or ultimate will. Thus Pharaoh hardening his heart was contrary to God’s direct command, but according to God’s ultimate will.

    For more I can just reference a solid nonfiction overview of the topic of “common grace,” such as Wayne Grudem’s book Systematic Theology (lest I sound too brainy here, I actually have his more-condensed book Bible Doctrine!).

    I think that while this can be tricky territory — and leads into overdose on “free will” and even Pelagianism if one tries to reason from “common grace” apart from Scripture — I believe “common grace” does indeed provide the basis for why even sinful people, in their performances or artistries, reflect God’s nature. As Royce said above, all truth is God’s truth. But Christians have a more potent truth than merely nature, or revealing part of what we know about God: we can reveal all that we know of Him, only because He has revealed it to us Himself, to glorify Him the way we know best.

  13. Stephen, I agree with everything you said—just not your conclusion. God does use sinful men to bring glory to Himself, but that is not the same thing as saying those sinful men glorified God. Pharaoh did not glorify God by hardening his heart.

  14. Jeremy McNabb says:

    I think the author may have missed the point of both the car analogy and Alcorn’s sci-fi quote. The first one talks about where we place our glorification of God, namely, the quality of the product, not the evangelical markers of it. It’s saying that a Christian, writing good fiction, does so to the glory of God, as Romans 14:6-8 indicates. If we write from our Christian life, with a quality that honor’s God, we cannot help but glorify him, just as God cannot help but be glorified in his image, present in us.

    As far as Alcorn’s quote goes, I think he’s just trying to show that science fiction is AN evidence of a curious and creative creation, not THE evidence.

    She says, “After all, if we “only” have to write a good story or let God’s image show itself in our imaginative science fiction, then we are free from having to craft meaning into our story.” If the imaginative science fiction has no meaning, then it isn’t a good story. To return to the original analogy, it would be like trying to build a good, fast car. Without an engine.

  15. If we write from our Christian life, with a quality that honor’s God, we cannot help but glorify him, just as God cannot help but be glorified in his image, present in us. Jeremy, I don’t think I missed the point. It is this very statement with which I disagree. I worked for a while at a local newspaper, covering high school sports. I wrote good stories to the best of my ability, but their quality did not honor God. I pray I honored Him by my attitude and work ethic and interactions with others (though, sadly, I can think of lots of occasions I didn’t too), but my writing—the content—was not bring God glory. It wasn’t designed to do so.

    Fiction is no different. Unless the author designs a story to bring God glory, it won’t do so simply because a Christian wrote it, no matter how well written it is.

    About the science fiction statement, I agree that stories must have meaning in order to be “good.” But who would say that Philip Pullman’s stories, filled with meaning and well crafted in every other way, are God glorifying? They are God refuting, God defaming.

    My point is, you can make a beautiful car, fast, sleek, plush, and what people will see is a beautiful car, fast, sleek, plush. They won’t see the designer/builder or He who equipped the designer/builder.

    Writing is a little different, as I said in the article, because we have a chance to communicate in the process of making our story “fast, sleek, and plush.” But if we pull up and say that making a fast, sleek, plush story is enough, we can’t turn around and say we’ve glorifying God.


    • Jeremy McNabb says:

      I lay ceramic tile for a living. I don’t tile crosses into people’s showers or kitchen floors or anything, but I show up on time, don’t cut corners, make sure the work is well-done. I try to be clean, courteous, and fair in my prices. I don’t swear or smoke. I do my best not to talk bad about other ceramic tile installers. And somehow, people know I’m a Christian without me saying a word about my faith. I can only assume that God is glorified in my work, without a single word being said about Him.

What do you think?