Why God Does Not Delight In Non-Christian Art

scream 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.

Great Question

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.

Unscriptural Presuppositions

This response is one I felt was needed for a few reasons:

  1. Scripture clearly opposes such a teaching.
  2. The article by Tony portrays God in ways not found in Scripture.
  3. It downplays the state of man’s enmity towards God.
  4. It seems to attempt to lessen God’s perfect and holy hatred towards the sinner.

Specifically, Tony’s article erroneously teaches readers that:

  1. Artistic impulse (of unregenerated persons) is spiritual
  2. 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