Why God Does Not Delight In Non-Christian Art
This post is a response to Tony Reinke’s article “Does God Delight In non-Christian Art?” in which he concluded with a ‘Yes!” Tony is editorial and research assistant to C.J. Mahaney.
The article was written apparently after Mr. Reinke was influenced by Richard Mouw’s work He Shines In All That’s Fair: Culture and Common Grace, a book that attempts, by its own admission, to reinterpret Calvinism for the 21st century. Mouw is president of Fuller Theological Seminary and expressed this concept of God delighting in non-Christian performances, art, etc., in an article posted at Christianity Today entitled Why God Enjoys Baseball.
The heart of the matter is expressed well by Tony and he ask a terrific question, namely: “Does God delight in art even if it’s performed, written, or painted by a non-Christian? Or to put the question in another way, Does the fact that a sinner who is unredeemed and under the wrath of God make his or her art repulsive to God?”
Tony quotes Mouw in setting up his argument in the affirmative:
It was in reading He Shines in All That’s Fair: Culture and Common Grace by Richard Mouw that I first came across this discussion. Mouw says that God can—and does—delight in non-Christian art. He writes:
“I think God takes delight in Benjamin Franklin’s wit and in Tiger Wood’s putts and in some well-crafted narrative paragraphs in a Salman Rushdie novel, even if these accomplishments are in fact achieved by non-Christian people. And I am convinced that God’s delight in these phenomena does not come because they bring the elect to glory and the non-elect to eternal separation from the divine presence. I think God enjoys these things for their own sakes.”
Here is the crux of his reasoning:
“The above examples of God’s delight do not necessarily involve moral approval of the ‘inner’ lives of non-elect people. 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 we might give high marks to a rhetorical flourish by a politician whose views on public policy we despise.”
But how can this be true? What proof can we find in scripture and theology?
Basing his argument around the imago dei, Reinke, agreeing with Mouw, states:
So in some way art is the reflection of God’s image in man. And where God’s image glitters in society we can logically assume that this brings delight to the One who treasures His own image. It is something of a Self-reflection.
This response is one I felt was needed for a few reasons:
- Scripture clearly opposes such a teaching.
- The article by Tony portrays God in ways not found in Scripture.
- It downplays the state of man’s enmity towards God.
- It seems to attempt to lessen God’s perfect and holy hatred towards the sinner.
Specifically, Tony’s article erroneously teaches readers that:
- Artistic impulse (of unregenerated persons) is spiritual
- That God can, and does separate the state of a persons heart from his works and thus can ‘delight’ in an unregenerates work, performance or any other activity/endeavor.
There are other important reasons for addressing the question. However, it’s my desire to limit the scope of this discussion only as far as is necessary. Perhaps at another time, we may address other aspects. But for now, I will demonstrate clearly from Scripture that God does not, in fact, delight in non-Christian art, baseball or any other such performance!
What Constitutes ‘Spiritual’?
The attempt to find a ‘reflection’ of God in unregenerate works concluding that God delights in it is dangerously close to Gnostic thinking. It is akin to that ancient silliness that there exist in every man a ‘divine spark’ waiting to be discovered. The Gnostic strives to find God in the creation, in self, rather than in the Creator, Jesus Christ.
Now, Tony begins by telling us that artistic impulse is spiritual. I find this interesting because nowhere in Scripture do we find any such teaching, either implicitly or explicitly.
However, we are taught by the Apostle Paul that man himself is constituted spiritual. In fact, Paul speaks of only two types of people in I Corinthians 2:14-15. One is either devoid of the person and regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, i.e. ‘natural’, or one is regenerated and possesses the person and work of the Spirit, and is constituted ‘spiritual.’ Simply put, if one is spiritual they are born again, alive in Christ Jesus. If they are yet in their sins, devoid of the work of the Spirit, they are dead. No divine spark. Not sick, lame or otherwise, just dead men walking.
Now I ask you reader: If only those who are born again are declared spiritual in Scripture, how is it, apart from any biblical support, can we believe an unregenerate can possess or produce anything, artistic impulse or otherwise, and consider it spiritual when the Word of God declares all that he is to be natural, fleshly and dead to God?
This is an important point that is overlooked in Tony’s argument, as we shall see. For in order for God to delight in the work of an unregenerate, both Mouw and Tony Reinke must, by necessity, conclude that God separates or views the worker apart from his work. This is a belief that is patently false.
Without Faith, It Is Impossible To Please God
Scriptures teaches us everywhere that the purpose of human life is to be pleasing to God (Rom. 12:1,2; 14:18; I Cor. 7:32; 2 Cor 5:9; Ephes. 5:10 among a few).
With that in mind, consider Romans 8:8 in light of our current question.
Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
This refers to those whose lives are determined by their sinful nature. They chase after sin, they love it, it is who and what they are. They hate God, His Law, His glory and all else pertaining to Him. They are those who have no desire whatsoever to please or delight God. They are His enemy.
The Lord tells us here through Paul that these persons cannot please God. The Greek is theōi aresai ou dunantai. Strong words. They have no ability at all. They possess neither the inclination nor the resources to please or delight God in any way as long as they remain ‘in the flesh’, that is, unregenerate. Since they are actively engaged in hostility to God and as long as they remain in this state, all their works as Augustine reminds us are nothing more than splendid sins.
Look at Hebrews 11:6:
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
Impossible: Greek adunaton. Very strong word. It’s impossible to please or delight, at all. See also Hebrews 6:4; 6:18
Without saving faith it is impossible to please God. Impossible to do, say, perform, paint, fiddle, rap or play baseball to the delight of God. According to Scripture – not logic of men – apart from saving faith there is no endeavor of man that can be performed that will be pleasing in God’s sight.
What we simply must understand is that culture is a manifest expression of a peoples religion, and the religion of the unregenerate is anti-God. It is simply absurd to posit that the God of Scripture would delight in the artwork or performance of His enemies, and yet, that is precisely what Mouw, and now Tony Reinke, would have us believe.
The only way such a position could be true would be that God views the works of man apart from the man himself. Does He? Short answer, no.
Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart. – Proverbs 21:2
Why does God not delight in non-Christian art? Because the works of a man are never viewed by God apart from the man. How can He delight in anything from His enemies? Until the lost are reconciled to God, their art and performances are not spiritual in any biblical sense, but works of the flesh, sinful by nature because they proceed from a sinful heart.
In closing, I would ask that you once again review the narrative concerning Able and Cain. Note the passage of Genesis 4:4,5:
And Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. (emphasis mine)
Our Lord had regard first for the man, then his offering was considered. The heart of the man, his motives, his aim to glorify the Lord was considered first and that not apart from his offering.
I submit to you friends that apart from saving faith, God has no regard, much less does He delight, in the artistic works or performances of the unregenerate. Rather, He rejects with contempt their endeavors as sin, for anything that does not proceed from faith is sin. (Romans 14:23).
– Joel Taylor
For any true Christian, or even anyone who knows the history of Fuller, all you had to say was “Mouw is president of Fuller Theological Seminary..” , that he was used as an authority on anything ..and the rest writes itself.
Excellent article. Needed in these times.
1Timothy 4:14-16 Be not negligent of the gift that is in thee, which has been given to thee through prophecy, with imposition of the hands of the elderhood. Occupy thyself with these things; be wholly in them, that thy progress may be manifest to all. Give heed to thyself and to the teaching; continue in them; for, doing this, thou shalt save both thyself and those that hear thee.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, Amen
The whole purpose of man is ‘to glorify God and enjoy Him forever’!
God desires that His children do all that they do to glorify Him and man, unless he is regenerate cannot please God! If man regards iniquity in his heart the Lord will not hear him.
God is long-suffering and not willing that any should perish but there will be a day of reckoning when man gives account for his thoughts and his acts that brought no glory to God!
As believers our hearts desire is to think, do or say all that is pleasing to Him.
The creativity of the unregenerate is due to God’s common grace but does not bring glory to Him as it is done to please man and to bring credit to himself
…but what about rap music and Christian(?) Rap? 😉 Just kidding…
Great article, JT. As usual, you hit it out of the park.
To paraphrase one of the puritan fathers – I think it was Thomas Watson – “Just because God can hit a straight lick with a crooked stick doesn’t mean God approves of the stick being crooked.” Just because God overules the wicked actions of the reprobate to accomplish His eternal purpose of grace – Augustus’ census; Pilate’s political cowardice – does not signal God’s approval, much less His delight in their wicked actions. My soul, if the plowing of the wicked is sin (Pro. 21:4), how can the vainity of his lesuire pursuits be righteous? The greatest danger of the doctrine set forth by Reinke and Mous is that man, by the power of his own reason and reflection, can ascertain that which is pleasing to God. That is blatant blasphemy, for it elevates man to the postion of knowing the mind of God apart from the special revelation inscripturated in the Word. Sadly, this blasphemous faith assumption lies the heart of what passes for contemporary worship.
Great points in this excellent article. Bang on!
Many thanks for posting this. I tried to refute that article on another reformed blog which was endorsing it http://nwbingham.com/2010/05/does-god-delight-in-non-christian-art/, but was not as compelling as you.
I see it as simply another attempt at deconstructing God into man’s image.
The unregenerate are ‘God haters’ and cannot please God.
‘Till men have faith in Christ, their best services are but glorious sins’. Thomas Brooks
I have just finished an art history class on baroque and rococo art. It was very interesting to see the reformations influence upon art. At that time there was a new surge of landscape paintings and several paintings that were not directly ‘religous’. Our teacher explained to us that the reformation taught that all things can glorify God.(Correct statement IMO) So a landscape painting is glorifying to God just as a painting of an angel in its glory. (because ultimately what can give God the glory that is due unto his name except Christ, and I believe we are not to paint him according to the second commandment, might be interesting to see an article on that (; )
But I think you hit the nail on the head here, it is an attempt to “reinterpret Calvinism for the 21st century.” By stating that even the unregenerate can do something pleasing to God it sounds like something very adapted to the 21st century and very ‘seeker friendly’. So though the reformation changed the way art was made, I am sure that the Reformers would have found it disgraceful to assert that the unregenerate can please God.
So I may have got on a soap box, sorry I really enjoy art so its a bit of a ranting topic for me. I am an art history minor, blame it on that. 🙂 Good article though Joel. I appreciate it.
Creation glorifies God because – as Romans 1 tells us – creation testifies (general revelation) that there is a Creator God.
Fallen man is at war with God and cannot glorify Him in anything. Plants and animals do not sin, but man does. This puts us in a spiritually dead condition from which we cannot and do not want to honor or glorify God.
Unless God acts, no man will choose to honor Him.
Thanks again for this article, JT. I felt some pangs of conviction (much needed).
wow dude, great post, iam very much with your blog.
1) What about the Pagan Poet the Apostle Paul quoted in Acts 17:28, did God delight in the truth he espoused? “We are all His offspring?” Paul delighted in it.
2) Does God delight in His common grace?
3) Is not the image of God, though marred, still intact in humanity?
4) Does not God still delight in His creation through common grace?
5) Isn’t Colossians 1:16-17 supposed to help us understand that God is the source of all good things in His world? I actually agree with Maow, for God is the source of all natural gifts. Whenever His gifts are used excellently, they silently scream His glory. I don’t think you understand the implications of common grace… it’s unmerited favor that does not save. Through it God enjoys His creation. By your statements above, I don’t see how you can believe in common grace.
6) After all, what’s gracious about common grace if God cannot delight in His creation through it?
7) And, what is common about common grace if it does not apply to all creation, humanity included?
“It seems to attempt to lessen God’s perfect and holy hatred towards the sinner.”
I hope that was a big OOPS. God hates sin, but loves the sinner.
Besides that, I loved the article. Very timely! But let’s be careful not to put words in God’s mouth, He has already defined quite well what He delights in and what He doesn’t; we need only read what He says to know.
Actually, Scripture is clear that the statement “God hates sin, but loves the sinner” is untrue. You see, in Psalm 5:5 it says: The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. Please notice it does not say evil, or sin, but evil doers, that is workers of iniquity. (cf. Romans 1)
Well, if that’s true then he hates us all. For “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”
Reblogged this on 5 Pt. Salt.
Unscriptural presupposition #4 “God hates the sinner”
Really?, Then why did he sacrifice himself for the sinner? Out of hate?
Psalm 5:5 tells us that God hates (with a perfect hatred) ‘workers of iniquity’. It says he hates the sinner, not just the sin.