What Art Does
Art—in all its forms and mediums—creates deep, internal connections between the thing that is being conveyed and the observer (hearer, taster, etc.). It’s difficult to articulate exactly what it is that we are trying to say, and even more difficult to really pin down the dynamic that we are trying to describe.
Art informs and shapes the feelings and the affections, and it drives down what is being conveyed into the heart and soul of a person in a deeper, more meaningful way. (That is precisely the role, for example, of branding in the world of business and organizational promotion.) There is something being said or communicated, and that is done through a combination of visual, verbal, and other means, and the result is not only a form that influences and shapes how the observer perceives and experiences what is being said, but that also creates an internal connection in the observer’s affections with what is being said. And that is art.
“Art informs and shapes the feelings and the affections, and it drives down what is being conveyed into the heart and soul of a person in a deeper, more meaningful way.”
Now, why do we do that as human beings? Is this all just the product of market-driven consumerism? No, it is because (as we’ve said elsewhere) we are made in God’s image, who himself is both an artist and a communicator, and “branding” and “marketing” are simply the outworkings of those imago-Dei-embedded impulses in the sphere of business and organizational promotion. In reality, all people have always done it, in essentially every aspect of life, at all times, and in all places. But that’s a different discussion…
Art vs. “Un-ornamented” Communication
Art communicates with us in ways that un-ornamented communication (if we can put it that way) cannot. I can rattle off the English alphabet to you, but it takes on new life and impacts you differently when I put it in musical form and sing the A-B-C song to you. And it does something deeper still when you hear Elmo and India Arie singing it in a sweet, tender, slightly-soulful duet.
The same is true with doctrinal truth and theological propositions. It is one thing to read Wayne Grudem’s outstanding articulation of the holiness of God in his Systematic Theology, but it’s quite another to see God display his holiness in the prophet’s awful vision of Isaiah 6. The holiness of God displayed in Isaiah 6 impacts you—and it impacted Isaiah—in ways that Grudem’s tightly-defined theology never could. And that, in large part (or maybe entirely), is why God has given his truth to us in the Bible with all its forms and genres as opposed to something like systematic theological statements.
“Music in the church is God’s gift to us to drive his truths down deeper into our souls and connect with us internally in ways that normal, verbal communication typically does not.”
Music & God’s Truth
The same thing is also true with respect to music. Music in the church is God’s gift to us to drive his truths down deeper into our souls and connect with us internally in ways that mere verbal forms of communication cannot. Now, we are not saying here that music is somehow inspired, or that the Word of God is insufficient and needs supplementation. God has given us his all-sufficient, inspired, inerrant Word in written form in the genres and contents in which we have it, and it possesses all that we need for every good work in Jesus (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Rather, what we are saying is that music in the church is a divinely-given supplementation that reinforces God’s truths in our hearts, shaping our affections and touching our feelings (for lack of a better term) in deep and meaningful ways that it might not during the ordinary reading of it. (The same exact dynamic is also at work in the preaching of the Word—cf. Westminster Shorter Catechism—but again, that is a different discussion.)
Introducing “Lyrical Expositions”
In the days and years ahead, we’ll occasionally be publishing articles called “Lyrical Expositions” that walk through, devotionally and ‘expositionally,’ the lyrics of some of the great songs of Christian history, past and present. We won’t guarantee any kind of frequency, and we won’t go verse-by-verse through these songs necessarily, or cover all the lyrics of every song we look at. But we will take time to think about some of the great Christian truths that those songs convey, and the doctrinal and theological certainties that informed the authors as they wrote.
Our first article in this series in the near future will be “I Asked the Lord That I Might Grow” by John Newton.