Victory Celebration Through Christian Art

Hallelujah Jehovah!

Sing for Jehovah a new song! In (your) congregation of faithful believers, sing about God’s glory! Let God’s people enjoy themselves with their Creator; Let the sons of Zion exult before their King! They should hallelujah Jehovah’s name with dancing. They should serenade the Lord with harp and kettle drums, For Jehovah likes watching his people happy And He gladly surprises with joy those who sweetly obey (him).

Faithful believers can enjoy themselves in a complete sort of way; They can laugh (even) when confined to their beds. So:

Let there be praise of God welling up in their throats While they hold a double-edged sword in their hand

To execute deserved judgment upon (all) peoples, correcting men, taking captive what’s “king” to the nations, hobbling to a walk their most glorious performers, So that the judgment (of God) written down (as coming) to them will be begun.

Artistic glory—this belongs to all the faithful believers! Hallelujah! Jehovah! (Psalm 149)

…anybody in Christ will be a new creature: what’s old goes—yes! things become new, All things, of course, belong to God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Christ and proffered us the ministry of reconciliation. That is what God was doing in Christ! reconciling the world to Himself, when He didn’t count men’s trespasses against them and when he outfitted us (who believe) with the project, articulation of Reconciliation… (II Corinthians 5:17–19)

It was a temptation on this occasion* to use Scripture to justify what your committee on fine arts has worked so hard for. But then chapel would become a cheap form of advertising or a loaded argument if God is for it, who could be against it?

God’s Word, however, does not let itself be manhandled. Whenever a man goes looking for relevant Scripture and listens, he always gets more than he bargains for: buoyant, correcting direction! not justification.

Fighting psalm praise and the new ministry

The last psalms body a celebrating doxology that sweeps the whole book—of marvellings at God’s stars and God’s animals, intimate confessions of horrible sin, murder and adultery, piteous arguings with Jehovah to come through in the presence of enemies, quiet joy that the Almighty Father has a hold of my child hand -sweeps the whole panorama of hurts, fear, laughter, tiredness, under the rug of a victory celebration! Psalm revelation concludes with these paeans, round after round of hallelujahs! as if the Spirit would teach us that the final note to a believer’s daily life is exuberant praise. And this dancing, kettle-drummed, open-throated praise is carried out waving a sword! In fact, the victory celebration enjoined here in the psalm seems to be itself the symbolic beginning of further fighting, subduing, winning.

I do not know how frequently yom chapel services of praise erupt into a glorious, feet stomping frenzy that is faithful to this biblical vision. As a rule, I suppose, our liturgy is not so oriental; our decorum is more polite; worship is a mental matter with us, and generally the stilettoes stay sheathed. We are the church of the New Testament.

That is right, says Paul; since the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, anyone constrained by his love becomes a new creature, acts like a resurrected man; his whole life time and doings gets pulled sharply into that crazy focus of the ministry of reconciliation. Not that a believer plays mediator. But now, at least if one is in Christ, the old hem-and-haws of six for you and a haJf dozen for me, one for God and nine for professional advancement, fall away, and the Christ-disciple seeks first, only Christ’s kingly administration of the cosmos (and all the other things fall into place). It is a constant, spontaneous drive in a renewed man that through him Christ reconciles men and worlds to the Father.

This new testamented ministry of reconciliation, which is the believer’s existential a priori, also has a sharp cutting edge. To “reconcile” means indeed to “give a holy kiss and restore a bonded love relation.” God kissed us on Golgotha, and since Easter toe who believe are newly covenanted to the eternally jealous God of heaven and earth—he does not change. Old or new testament, Jehovah is angry at those sinfully ignoring his lordship and is full of mercy to the repentant. $0 when we sing a new song Anno Domini it is new not because it is currently popular but because it has good news—only in Jesus Christ can a man be made and stay alive (1 Corinthians 15:22)1 This New Testament song cuts, has the same jealous double-edge Psalm 149 reveals because it exasperates the enemies of Cod and the enemies of Christ’s body, “What do you mean you have something new, original, unique? There is nothing new under the sun!”

Our ministry of love. reconciliation, to such old-fashioned opposition according to the Scriptures—Solomon said it long before Paul (Proverbs 25:21–22; Romans 12:20)—is to heap coals of fire on their heads, that is a love-act! Shame them with well-doing; makes them curious of our joy in being conformed to the law of God, which they cannot, says Paul, respect (Romans 8:7), our being conformed to Christ’s suffering; make them jealous of our treasures discovered; silence the ignorance of those fools, says Peter (1 Peter 2:15), not knowing who is Lord of earth and heaven by freely, obediently, gratefully disclosing his glories.

Needed: Single focus, sense of enemies

It used to bother me that I had no enemies. How can I learn to love them as the Lord commanded? But even enemies God provides. He opens your eyes to see the God-damming character of the brilliant, secular culture in which we live and move and have our increasing meaninglessness. An educated Christian can begin to see how “good” it is to have a Newman-university gentleman rather than a barbarian live next door but how devastatingly impotent the humanistic elite are to lead a civilization. And if God’s people benevolently embrace as co-laborers in God’s world those who arc unfitted with the project of reconciliation, which is our mission, then God’s people benevolently ruin themselves.

Could this be what largely plagues and has troubled the Reformed Christian community in America? allowed so little psalm 149 fun, genuinely cultural surprise, Christian get-up-and-go in daily life and labor? has left us infighting, defensive, wondering whether to legitimatize movies, stop smoking Or wear our trousers rolled? Maybe we as a Reformed community have not been unwilling to serve Jesus Christ but the vision moving us has been faulty. Instead of knowing the single focus of one celebrating ministry with a sense of encircling enemies—flesh and blood enemies, but also the real hosts of devils—instead of that buoying perspective, we have lived timidly by the hackneyed equation of six days of creation + one day of redemption = sanctification, and then divided God to fit—common grace plus special grace activities = 100%—rather than live before the Eternal One wielding a double-edged Word cutting to Life or cutting to Death. Such a breakdown of life and broken-up God is unworthy of our Reconciling Creator Lord and the passionate calling he outfitted us with. Because the Holy Wars were illegitimate conquests and some are fearful of the label “Calvinistic imperialism” one does not need to overcompensate and just play cultural tiddley-winks, miss the socking joy of administering, hot coal! ministering of the world for Christ.

A truly Christian art festival This is the direction an art festival shall take if it be Christian: a hallelujah celebration for God! deeply edifying the faithful—edify means build up new, not sit as a scholastic caretaker—victory celebration! exciting edification! and aggravation of the enemy Christian art works are kisses blown God’s way because he first kissed us. Not prudish, preachy kisses born out of a quarto-Pelagian struggle to do good works that win approval. Rather, the impress is one of playful gratitude anguishedly sensitive to the stab of sin needing genuine balm. That is, artistic splashes of color, muted sounds, suggestive cadences of words that reveal the rainbow richness of God’s world and his tender care for our oh-so-human foibles, craftsmanship which is not so much relaxation as an intense dance! before his face: this is what one may expect from Christian performance in the arts.

There is small place at a Christian college for the trumped-up catharsis of an enlarged ego that needs to discharge itself. There is all the place in the world, however, for gifted youth to show an older pious generation that the Lord is King of color and rhythm and form as well as money and Sunday: the first bond restored with art that breathes the ministry of reconciliation is the bond between believing generations. And that is a moving occasion to witness, how a lettered child in faith leads the older, perhaps unlettered ones who trust, leads them into the unexplored riches of their common inheritance. Does that edifying spirit hover like a holy ghost over this campus blessed with its gifts of art?



Fine art festivals are very dangerous. The old atheist Nietzsche acutely judged the stupidity of artists and literati who have no God-focus. Those would-be “ultimate in men,” said Nietzsche, effete comtemplators of Beauty, are simply preening selfcongratulatory poseurs, intellectual snob replicas of the hoi polloi they contemn. St. Paul’s unforgettable words go still more radically to the problem:

…look to your ministry, fellows, for not many humanly intelligent, gifted or good lookers did God select: He chose the foolish things of the world to confound the wise guys, the weak things of the world God chose to shame the strong (I Corinthians 1:26–27).

Would it not be better to omit art festivals as Christians since in them we risk eternal life? The meek, not the cultured, inherit the kingdom of God!

But no. You can’t help it! Artistic glory belongs to us who believe! says the Scriptures. And the swordlike, kerygmatic element to the flourishing Christian practice of art is that the unbelievers, the disbelievers sceptical of a reforming, biblical Christian culture are forced to see it—there it is!—like handwriting on the wall: Mene, metle, tekel, upharsin: the time is coming—be reconciled to God!—the time is coming when all splendor, glory, majesty, song and dance will be ours, when the judgment written down from Deuteronomy through Micah to Revelation 21 will be fulfilled, that the cultural treasures of the nations will be snatched from them and brought into the holy city. Art like philosophy like education like labor in God ignoring hands does not wield the sword of the Holy Spirit, is not practising the ministry of reconciliation, but estranges and puffs up those who practise and view it. The jealous God to whom we believers are wedded, covenanted, does not ask each one to paint and write poems, but he does demand we subject all such created glories that come under the talented hands given us obediently now to him our Lord while we live.

Could this be the challenge to the artists here and you supporting students at Calvin College, which has the financial resources and strength not known to many Christian institutions: to practice art reformationally, biblically, as the ministry of reconciliation enlivened by the lusty spirit of Psalm 149?

I notice that “biblical dance” is not a category open for competition at the festival this year. It can wait. But what cannot wait for your festival activity is the single biblical focus and a sense of enemies encompassing the body of Christ.

Just as dogmatics is worth little if the theology to it does not also become doxology, so art is worth little if it is not charged with the accent of praise. With all our getting of art at Trinity, Calvin, Wheaton, whatever Christian college, we must get the gift of hallelujah! For what does it profit a man, if his work does not reveal Christ’s rule?

*Special chapel service held at Calvin College campuses in conjunction with the Fine Arts Festival of 1966.