Aesthetics in Christian Education

In 1971, Frank Nelsen wrote an article titled “The aesthetic dimension of Christian education.” (Religious Education 66, no. 5 (September 1, 1971): 385-389.) In it, he argues that evangelicals take their distrust of art from the Puritans, who reacted to the misuse of art in their day and therefore made no distinction between “good” and “bad” art. He goes on to call for Protestants to create a theory and theology of art.

As one who values and appreciates multiple expressions of art (but especially a good story), I agree with his sentiment. Like Nelson, I think that Christian educators must ask and answer what place art, art appreciation, and aesthetics has in the place of the Christian education curriculum. I answer by saying that aesthetics is one of five fundamental values in Christian education because it concerns itself with humanity’s relationship to the environment. It asks the question, “What is of value?” and therefore ties directly to the issue and principles of stewardship.

Although typically framed as a philosophical question, I assert that aesthetics should start as a theological question. Why? (1) There is a God. (2) God reveals Himself through creation (in part). (3) We should study creation to understand God, ourselves, and the relationships between them. (4) In studying those relationships, we need to appreciate the beauty of creation in order to see the beauty of God and to appreciate His workmanship. (5) Artists, therefore, are theologians who study, see, and communicate the beauty of God, creation, and humanity as it is reflected in the created order and imagination.

This bears repeating: artists are theologians.

The artist in Christian education therefore needs the (1) theology to understand what (s)he sees, (2) the training to express that theology in various forms and (3) the requisite knowledge to express that understanding in a manner that others can understand it. Yes, this assumes that the artist creates in such a way that others can understand. I know that some disagree with that notion, but I believe that the Christian should speak in a manner so that those with ears can hear.

Give the artists the training to speak, the knowledge to speak, and the will to speak. Then let them speak.

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