Is Art Appreciation Part of the Christian Worldview?

The subject of artwork has caused its fair share of controversy among followers of Jesus. From opposition to religious images by Byzantines in the eighth and ninth centuries to debate among the Reformers over what forms of art were acceptable, StainGlassCHistoryChristians have long differed over the role of artwork in a Christian worldview. But amid the debate, believers have almost always agreed that art appreciation is part of a Christian worldview. That belief stems from the Bible itself, which says much related to aesthetics, artwork, and creativity. Consider the following:

God is the ultimate artist. There can never be a creative act more magnificent that God’s fashioning of the universe. Genesis 1-2 provides details related to color and light and notes that the trees God created were not present merely for food but as objects “pleasant to the sight” (Genesis 2:9). Imaging God, Christians have contended, surely includes imitating His creativity through artwork.

In the Old Testament, God assumed there would be visual artists among His people. At the construction of the Tabernacle, He appointed Bezalel and Oholiab “to devise artistic designs” (Exodus 31:4). Again at the building of the Temple, artists were required to fashion the intricate particulars of the design, from carving 15-foot cherabim of olivewood (1 Kings 6:23) to engraving “all the walls of the house” (1 Kings 6:29). When God commanded Moses in the wilderness to fashion “a fiery serpent and set it on a pole” (Numbers 21:8), He presumed there was a metalworker to craft the bronze serpent.

Scripture celebrates all five senses as means of experiencing God’s good creation. Song of Solomon 1:1-5 illustrates this well, with the Shulamite woman extoling the touch, taste, smell, sound, and sight of her lover. The God who created all five senses intended for His people to use them all, including the viewing of artwork, to appreciate His handiwork.

— Although the New Testament isn’t as explicit in its commendation of artwork, Paul commanded the Philippians to set their minds on “whatever is lovely” (Philippians 4:8). Surely that command includes the appreciation of artistic beauty.

Revelation’s descriptions of heaven assume God’s people have cultivated a taste for things that are aesthetically beautiful. Foundations “adorned with every kind of jewel” (Revelation 21:19) and the “river of the water of life, bright as crystal” (Revelation 22:1) clearly appeal to mankind’s desire for artistic beauty.

Of course, the Bible warns against using artwork for idolatrous purposes. That is made explicit in the Second Commandment (Exodus 21:4), and the harmful effects of ungodly artwork are illustrated in the account of Israel’s making a golden calf (Exodus 32). Further, Scripture’s emphasis on the word as God’s primary means of communicating with humans (e.g., Romans 10:17) precludes using art as the only expression of our faith.

Still, Augustine of Hippo was right when he argued that the good, the beautiful, and the true are really one in the same—and they are all of God. Christians have taken that reality to heart through creating artistic expressions as diverse as Sistine Chapel frescoes painted by the Roman Catholic Michelangelo, the Reformation’s simple Bible illustrations and depictions of “secular” life, and the countless paintings, ceramics, and sculptures created by believers today. So the next time you take brush, pencil, chalk, clay, or any other artistic tool in hand, remember that you’re participating in a rich Christian tradition.

The Bible and National Borders

National immigration policy is front and center in public discourse around the world, most prominently in the West, to which many are fleeing. In a presidential election season, Americans are sharply divided over what should be done about the millions of illegal or “undocumented” residents coming from the south. Europe is trying to cope with waves of Syrians and North Africans either fleeing conflict or seeking a better standard of living. Some are drowning as their boats capsize in the Mediterranean. Others are hit by trains in the rail tunnel beneath the English Channel. Some nations are strengthening their borders; others are opening their arms to vast numbers of newcomers. So what should a Christian accept or prescribe?

afenceNot surprisingly, the Bible does not provide a clear template for setting quotas, issuing work visas, deporting offenders, and such. For one thing, the governments and rules in play in ancient times were widely divergent, some theocratic, others imperially profane. On the harsh side, we see God’s order to the Israelites to sweep the house clean of Canaanites. On the tender side, we find prescriptions of kindness for the “stranger” and “sojourner.” Furthermore, early populations were often sparse, tribal, and mobile, ill-suited for the firm lines we see on political maps of the world. City-states such as Athens and Nineveh were more typical than nation states.

Still, there are general principles informing the debate, items which suggest a country’s right to control its borders:

  1. Jurisdiction: In Mark 12:17, Jesus tells us to render to Caesar his due, and in Romans 13:1-7, Paul says we must submit to governmental authorities. Rulers are rulers by virtue of jurisdiction over territory.
  2. Citizenship: In Acts 25, Paul claims his rights as a Roman citizen to have a hearing in Rome. Citizenship is a prerogative of the state, which can and must stipulate who does and does not qualify for it.
  3. Particularity: In Genesis 11, the Lord confounded the languages of mankind to discourage the vanity and treachery of a monolithic world. When we, in effect, erase borders by not enforcing them, we risk losing the “separation of powers” essential to the political economy of fallen man.
  4. Core Values: Time and again, the Bible describes the central standards of a culture, whether the YHWH worship of Israel, the Law of the Medes and the Persians, or the Hellenism of Alexander’s “offspring.” They range from evil to splendid, but there is no society without them. Ironically, a nation which opens its borders wide to those who do not share its core values dilutes the very qualities which made it an object of desire in the first place. By embracing those with toxic ideologies, a nation will commit cultural suicide.
  5. Property. In Proverbs and Deuteronomy, there are warnings and, indeed, curses regarding the movement of a neighbor’s boundary stones. The ownership of real estate is sanctioned by God, and trespass is a genuine offense. We may not just walk anywhere in the world we please, doing what we please on whichever plot of land we choose to visit. And, indeed, to breach a national boundary is typically to trespass on private property as well.
  6. Refuge. Under God’s direction, the Israelites set apart cities to which those guilty of manslaughter might flee relatives who sought blood vengeance (Number 35:6-32). Hezekiah dug a water tunnel from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam to prepare Jerusalem for an Assyrian siege (2 Kings 20:20). Both acts were predicated on the need for walls to maintain the integrity and safety of the residents.
  7. Finitude. There is one God, and we are not He. A nation cannot do every nice thing, for its resources and its ability to impose intrusions upon the populace are limited. If all charitable immigration decisions were good, then the more the merrier, but this would be chaotic nonsense.

Of course, none of this specifies whether, when, where, and to what extent immigration is desirable or even obligatory. Rather, it suggests that being “Christlike” is not the same as saying anything goes.

Zondervan Academic and BibleMesh Collaborate to Offer Online Distance Learning Courses


Date:  10/15/2015


Casey Harrell
Director of Corporate Communications
tel:  615-902-1109

Dr. Michael McClenahan
Executive Director, BibleMesh


Zondervan Academic and BibleMesh Collaborate to Offer Online Distance Learning Courses

(Nashville, TN)—Zondervan Academic, a division of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, and BibleMesh, a producer of online courses for theological education, announced today a collaboration that will further both entities’ interest in distance learning.   Online courses offered through this new collaboration will be available to colleges and seminaries for use in their curriculum, as well as to individuals interested in non-credit, online continuing education. The first courses will be available in November, 2015, with as many as twenty-five available by the fall of 2016.

“We are committed to publishing the highest-quality resources for schools to help instructors teach and students learn,” said Dr. Stanley N. Gundry, Zondervan senior vice president and publisher. “Building the best online courses for both undergraduate and graduate level study is a natural extension of that commitment. Zondervan Academic has superb content that will be built into the courses, and BibleMesh has experience and expertise in online distance learning. This is why this collaboration makes such good sense and will be such a quality service to schools.”

Courses will be taught by leading evangelical scholars, including Wayne Grudem, Andrew E. Hill, William D. Mounce, Gary D. Pratico, Miles V. Van Pelt, John H. Walton, and many others. Courses available in November will include Basics of Biblical Greek, Basics of Biblical Hebrew, Biblical Interpretation, New Testament Survey, and Old Testament Survey.

In addition to making courses available to schools to use within their online programs, Zondervan and BibleMesh will make online courses available to individuals not enrolled in a college or seminary, with an option to get credit from a partner institution.

“BibleMesh has invested years in developing a superior online learning experience for students using cutting edge technology,” said Michael McClenahan, Executive Director of BibleMesh. “Now, the collaboration between BibleMesh and Zondervan Academic will give schools the chance to offer even more online options for their students.”

Last year 72-percent of incoming college freshmen reported taking an online course the previous year. Many Christian colleges and seminaries have begun to offer online courses to meet the demand and stay competitive, seeing their importance for growing enrollment and leveraging new learning technologies.

The new courses can be used as part of a traditional residential program, within a flipped classroom, or as part of online-only degree programs. Schools can use them to supplement an existing online program or start a new program using courses with content from Zondervan Academic incorporated into the BibleMesh platform.

To be notified when the first courses are available and to receive news and updates, sign up at

HCBibleMeshAbout BibleMesh: A provider of cutting-edge online educational services, BibleMesh promotes understanding of the Christian scriptures and Christian discipleship. BibleMesh advances this mission through core curriculum development, particularly in the biblical languages, alongside strategic initiatives with content creators. BibleMesh was launched in 2010 by Emmanuel A. Kampouris, retired chairman, CEO, and president of American Standard Companies, Inc. and his wife Camille, an educator and performer best known for her work with The Jim Henson Company and Sesame Street. For additional information, please visit

About HarperCollins Christian Publishing: The world’s leading Christian publisher, HarperCollins Christian Publishing Inc., comprises both Thomas Nelson and Zondervan publishing groups in addition to Olive Tree Bible Software.  The Company produces bestselling Bibles, inspirational books, academic resources, curriculum, audio and digital content for the Christian market space.  Also home to, the world’s largest Christian website, and, an online community dedicated to helping people grow in their faith. HarperCollins Christian Publishing is headquartered in Nashville, TN with additional offices in the U.S., Mexico and Brazil.  For more information visit



The Book of Judges and Modern America

While every section of the Bible is relevant for people living in every period of history, sometimes a particular section of Scripture takes on special relevance for people in a specific place and time. Through studying Judges with a small group at my local church, I have come to wonder whether the final section of that book, chapters 17-21, may have Biblepagessuch special relevance for modern America. A postscript of sorts to the entire book, this section illustrates the extent to which Israel had come to resemble the pagan Canaanites around them. The parallel between some of Israel’s actions in Judges 17-21 and news headlines in modern America is striking. Consider the following:

1) In Judges 17-18, a man who called himself a priest of the Lord performed forbidden services for God’s people in order to gain money and, more importantly, social acceptance. An obvious comparison can be drawn to so-called Christian ministers today who perform same-sex weddings for the same reasons.

2) Judges 19 and 21 reveal an Israelite cultural milieu that contributed to sexual assault. Chapter 19 recounts the gang rape of a Levite’s concubine while drawing an implicit comparison between Israel’s city of Gibeah and ancient Sodom. Chapter 21 recounts the kidnapping and forced marriages of more than 400 women with the approval Israel’s leaders. Though the parallel is not exact, this calls to mind the situation on some US college campuses, where a culture awash in sexual immorality also seems to contribute to sexual assault. A National Institute of Justice report says as many as 18-20 percent of female college students may experience some form of sexual assault.

3) In Judges 19, a human being is dismembered with various body parts sent to different sections of the nation. It’s difficult not to relate this to the series of videos released by the Center for Medical Progress showing Planned Parenthood executives discussing the sale of fetal body parts obtained through abortion. Apparently baby remains routinely are shipped across the country in the name of fostering scientific research. One unfortunate difference between ancient Israel and modern America though is that such violence sparked universal outrage among Israelites while too many Americans seem to yawn and move on.

The author of Judges was intent to illustrate that things previously thought to occur only among Canaanites were now occurring in Israel. Without too much imagination, one can see a parallel “Canaanization” occurring in America.

This bleak picture should, first of all, lead the Church to sound a call for national repentance. As the author of Judges notes more than once, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25). Indeed, without godly leaders pointing a nation in the right direction, moral chaos will prevail. The present is an opportunity for Christians to provide such leadership—which brings us to a hopeful note, for Israel eventually turned back to God under Kings David and Solomon, with the author of 2 Samuel observing, “David administered justice and equity to all his people” (8:15). God’s people should take the present darkness as a call to action. Though America has descended into a striking parallel with Israel’s decline, we must pray and work for a parallel revival.

St. Augustine and ISIS

botticelli-st-augustineEach week brings news of fresh horrors in the Middle East as ISIS extends its stunningly evil sway in the region. Through rapes and beheadings and countless indignities, these barbarians have brutalized and tormented essentially anyone who’s not ISIS, including Christians. Those of us in safety marvel at the courage and grace that believers have shown, whether by simply abiding in the land, or reciting Scripture at the moment of their execution.

This past week, while reading again the opening chapter of Augustine’s City of God, I was struck by its pertinence to this current situation. Rome was collapsing under its own decadence and “barbarian” invasion, and this great empire, which had slaughtered not only our Savior on Calvary, but also His followers in the Coliseum and Circus Maximus, was blaming its troubles on the Christians. Augustine set out to demonstrate that this was nonsense, and in the course of his argument, he spoke of the character, thinking, and deeds of believers who had undergone great persecution. In so doing, he appealed to Scripture:

  1. To those dismayed that God made “his sun rise on the good and on the bad, and sends rain alike on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45), he explained that a system which blesses believers only misleads and corrupts all concerned. As for sufferings, it depends on what you make of them, and what they make of you, for “the fire which makes gold shine makes chaff smoke; the same flail breaks up the straw and clears the grain.”
  2. To those who muzzled themselves lest their words offend and provoke retaliation, he said that a believer may be blameworthy if, as a “watchman” (Ezekiel 33:6), “he recognizes, but ignores, opportunities of warning and admonishing those with whom the exigencies of this life force him to associate.” (It may be that “he evades this duty for fear of offending them, because he is concerned for those worldly advantages, which are not in themselves discreditable, but to which he is unduly attached.”)
  3. To those mourning the loss of security and material goods, he reminded them, “We know that God makes all things co-operate for good for those who love him” (Romans 8:28), and that, though impoverished, they may be “rich in the sight of God” (Luke 12:21). Besides, hunger can teach Christians “to live more frugally and to fast more extensively.” And should they be killed, “Christians know that the death of a poor religious man, licked by the tongues of dogs, is far better than the death of a godless rich man, dressed in purple and linen” (Luke 16:19ff.)
  4. If they lacked a decent burial, they found themselves in the good company of those pictured in Psalm 79:2: “They have set out the mortal parts of thy servants as food for the birds of the sky; and the flesh of thy saints as food for the beasts of the earth.” If they landed in prison, they shared the fate of Daniel (Daniel 1:6).
  5. Since some had found themselves impressed with a culture that glamorized suicide as a way to escape torture or to “keep oneself pure” from rape or moral compromise, he urged that they submit to Exodus 20:13 (“Thou shall not kill”), which forbids “self-slaughter.” Society at large may honor such figures as Cato and Lucretia for murdering themselves to avoid humiliation, but Christians must not follow suit.

Augustine concluded the chapter by noting that as horrible as their persecutors may be, the people of the “City of Christ the King,” must “bear in mind that among these very enemies are hidden her future citizens.” Indeed, the Saul is a striking case in point: Once an accessory to murder, he became the Church’s leading missionary and theologian. And who knows but what an ISIS foot soldier could one day find the Lord and preach the gospel fearlessly at great peril.

Protecting the Victims of Rape

“Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.”

Deuteronomy 24:16 (NIV)

In the United States, the death penalty is not enforced for rape—at least for the rapist.1 Sadly, a baby conceived from rape is often in greater danger than is his criminal father. In the midst of the legitimate desire to comfort a woman who has suffered the pain of a terrible crime, some may unwittingly heap tragedy on top of tragedy. In the name of compassion, an unborn baby is handed a death sentence for his father’s sin.

infant-holding-mothers-hand-bwThis law from Deuteronomy falls in the middle of an entire chapter dedicated to protecting the weak. As God’s covenant people, Israel was to be different, not living in the same self-absorbed, greedy manner as her neighbors. God intended them to take special care of the most vulnerable people among them—aliens, widows, orphans, and especially the poor. Verse 16 continues this theme. Law codes in the ancient Near East commonly allowed for an offender’s children to be executed alongside him. Establishing a basic principle of justice for His people, God rejected that precedent and commanded His people to exact punishment only on the guilty. The innocent should not be compelled to suffer.

This principle applies clearly to the child conceived in rape. The infant is not culpable in this horrible crime, which has already victimized the woman. To make the unborn a second victim cannot be God’s desire.

Many women understand this. A majority of those who find themselves pregnant from rape choose to bring the baby to term.2 Since abortion advocates repeatedly raise the case of rape, it is important to note that conception from this crime is very rare in the West.3 Equally rare in Western contemporary culture is the level of moral heroism the victimized mother shows in sustaining rather than ending the life of the child.4 The Church brings honor to God when it honors her.

Honor, though, is not enough. The people of God are also called to surround both mother and child with care, including the basics of life, the blessings of friendship, and, if needed, provisions for adoption. Through this, the Church helps turn the mother’s eyes from a bitter past to a grace-filled future, both for the child and herself.


1 Florida, Louisiana, Kentucky, and Montana have laws that allow the death penalty for certain categories of rape (i.e., rape of a minor), however, these laws have not been enforced since 1964.

2 David C. Reardon, Julie Makimaa, Amy Sobie, eds. Victims and Victors: Speaking Out about Their Pregnancies, Abortions, and Children Resulting from Sexual Assault (Springfield, IL: Acorn Books, 2000). See also, Sandra Kathleen Mahkorn, “Pregnancy and Sexual Assault,” The Psychological Aspects of Abortion, eds. David Mall and Walter F. Watts (New York: University Publications of America, Inc., 1979).

3 Mark H. Beers and Robert Berkow, “The Medical Examination of a Rape Victim,” in The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy (Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck, 1999), See, Section 18, Chapter 244.

4 Tragically in war torn regions of the world, women suffer the double trauma of rape as a deliberate act of humiliation and degradation by an enemy.