Art is all around us, but few people truly understand it. Barrs helps readers evaluate and define great art through an investigation of the work of Lewis, Tolkien, Rowling, Shakespeare, and Austen.
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About the Author
Jerram Barrs (MDiv, Covenant Theological Seminary) is the founder and resident scholar of the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute at Covenant Theological Seminary, where he is professor of Christian studies and contemporary culture. He and his wife served on staff with L’Abri Fellowship in England for eighteen years. Jerram and his wife, Vicki, have three sons and seven grandchildren.
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God and Humans as Creative Artists
Thinking scripturally about the arts is an area where there appears to be great confusion in our churches. On the one hand, many Christians have been taught that, as believers in Christ, we ought only to listen to music, read books, or watch films that have been produced by fellow believers. On the other hand, almost all Christians will, in fact, read newspapers and books, watch television shows and movies, go to plays and musicals, listen to music, and buy art cards and pictures for our walls simply because we like these things. And we will do this without much reflection on who produced them, unless we encounter something that is obviously blasphemous, gratuitously violent, or clearly pornographic.
Even those who suggest most passionately that Christians should only enjoy art by other Christians will take delight in buildings, bridges, roads, interior decoration, clothes, or beautifully prepared and presented meals, and they will take this delight without asking whether the architect, builder, designer, manufacturer, or chef is a committed believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.
So, how are Christians to think about the arts? To approach this subject, we begin with the biblical doctrine of creation.
God, the Creator of All Things, Visible and Invisible
Every orthodox creed and every believing theologian throughout the history of the church has affirmed the Christian's faith in God, the Creator of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible. We all have our favorite scriptural passages that affirm this doctrine, that express our hope in the Lord who made all things, and that communicate this faith and hope with words of marvelous beauty. Two such passages are Psalm 8:1,
O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
and Psalm 19:1,
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
We praise God now for the wonder of his creation, and we will praise him for this for all eternity:
Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created. (Rev. 4:11)
Many other Scriptures also explore this conviction — sometimes at great length, as well as in glorious poetry; see, for instance, Job 38 — 41, Psalm 148, and Psalm 19 (a psalm that C. S. Lewis called one of the greatest lyric poems ever written).
John Calvin, in exquisitely beautiful French prose, writes of the wonder of God's creation in words that retain their remarkable power even in our English translations and are worth quoting at length:
1. Since the perfection of blessedness consists in the knowledge of God, he has been pleased, in order that none might be excluded from the means of obtaining felicity, not only to deposit in our minds that seed of religion of which we have already spoken, but so to manifest his perfections in the whole structure of the universe, and daily place himself in our view, that we cannot open our eyes without being compelled to behold him. His essence, indeed, is incomprehensible, utterly transcending all human thought; but on each of his works his glory is engraven in characters so bright, so distinct, and so illustrious, that none, however dull and illiterate, can plead ignorance as their excuse. ... And because the glory of his power and wisdom is more refulgent in the firmament, it is frequently designated as his palace. And, first, wherever you turn your eyes, there is no portion of the world, however minute, that does not exhibit at least some sparks of beauty; while it is impossible to contemplate the vast and beautiful fabric as it extends around, without being overwhelmed by the immense weight of glory. Hence, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews elegantly describes the visible worlds as images of the invisible (Heb. 11:3), the elegant structure of the world serving us as a kind of mirror, in which we may behold God, though otherwise invisible.
2. In attestation of his wondrous wisdom, both the heavens and the earth present us with innumerable proofs, not only those more recondite proofs which astronomy, medicine, and all the natural sciences are designed to illustrate, but proofs which force themselves on the notice of the most illiterate peasant, who cannot open his eyes without beholding them. It is true, indeed, that those who are more or less intimately acquainted with those liberal studies are thereby assisted and enabled to obtain a deeper insight into the secret workings of divine wisdom. No man, however, though he be ignorant of these, is incapacitated for discerning such proofs of creative wisdom as may well cause him to break forth in admiration of the Creator. ... Still, none who have the use of their eyes can be ignorant of the divine skill manifested so conspicuously in the endless variety, yet distinct and well-ordered array, of the heavenly host; and, therefore it is plain that the Lord has furnished every man with abundant proofs of his wisdom.
The English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins delights us with his poetic paean of praise in one of his best-known works, "God's Grandeur":
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.
In another of Hopkins's poems, "Pied Beauty," we find that he holds up for our pleasure the amazing diversity of color, texture, taste, and action in creation:
Glory be to God for dappled things —
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; Fresh-firecoal chestnut falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced — fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Daniel Loizeaux considers God's creativity under four headings. He writes: "How God's imagination daily loads us with benefits. Contemplate this embarrassment of riches from a four-fold aspect: their perfection, diversity, profusion, inventiveness." I am indebted to Loizeaux's discussion in my own exploration of these four aspects of God's creative genius.
If we look under a microscope at anything God has made to see it in all its detail, we will discover that the more we see, the more amazing is his creative genius. A closer view enables us to see new and unimagined beauties and infinitesimally tiny wonders. Look at the structure of a leaf, a diamond, a snowflake, or a human cell. If we compare any product of human technology to any work of God — for example, try looking at an object made of polished steel, copper, or bronze — and try the same experiment in magnification, we very soon will observe the difference. What God has made is lovely to our eyes, but our own works, viewed under a microscope, show their flaws.
Think of the many different varieties of birds, insects, trees, and flowers; or for an even more extraordinary example, the infinite variety of snowflakes, sunrises, sunsets, or — more importantly — human beings: no two are exactly the same.
Several times over the past few years my wife and I have traveled to Naples, a city on the Gulf Coast of Florida, to stay for a few weeks in a friend's home just five minutes' walk from the beach. Each afternoon when we are there we join the many other people who return to the beach to watch the sun go down over the Gulf — each day it is glorious, and each day it is different. In each moment of each sunset there is constant change, and yet every moment has its own glory and perfect beauty.
God loves abundance: think of those daily sunsets or the flowers in a meadow, or the stars in the night sky — if you can get away from bright city lights to see them, such as out in a deep forest, in a desert, or high up on a mountain. In such a setting, the sky seems to be nothing but stars. Indeed, astronomers tell us that there are sixty billion galaxies in the universe, and that each one of these galaxies contains between ten billion and a hundred billion stars. Our sun is just one of these untold billions of stars. Such profusion is unimaginable to us.
I remember going hiking in the Sierra Mountains in Central California with my sons and a friend and his family. We slept out in the open, and one night we set out our sleeping bags by the shore of a small lake at about eleven thousand feet. It was a clear night and we lay there looking up at the stars. The number of them and the brightness of their light overwhelmed us. Then the moon rose over the mountains across the lake, and I burst out with the words of Psalm 8:
O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens. ...
When I look at the heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and stars, which you have set in place ... (vv. 1 — 3)
Then, together we sang hymns and songs of praise. We had to express something of our awe and wonder at the loveliness of this world and of the glory of its Maker.
We admire men and women who come up with new designs, and rightly so. But just think how this activity is only an infinitesimally tiny copy of the inventiveness of the Lord, who delights in making all things new — not just at the beginning of the creation, but every day.
Not Asceticism but the Glad Reception and Enjoyment of the Gifts of God's Creativity
It is evident as we read Genesis 1 that God believed that all he had made was good. Repeatedly during the account of the creation, this refrain occurs: "God saw that it ["the light," v. 4] was good" (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25). At the literary high point of the text, when we read that he had created man, we find this expression of the Lord's delight in his work: "And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (1:31).
However, some Christians believe that this world and the created order are no longer good after the fall. One writer puts it this way: "Before the Fall there was an earth; now there is a world; after the Second Coming there will be a kingdom." He goes on to say that everything of this old creation — even inanimate matter — is contaminated by the spirit of antichrist, indwelt by the Devil, and under the power of darkness. The writer concludes, therefore, that the enjoyment of life and of God's daily gifts is no longer genuinely spiritual; for such enjoyment is tainted with carnality and therefore in some manner suspect and inherently dangerous to us.
Calvin responded to such a view with a resounding affirmation of the beauty of this world and the appropriateness of delight in God's creation gifts: "Should the Lord have attracted our eyes to the beauty of the flowers, and our sense of smell to pleasant odors, and should it then be sin to drink them in? Has he not even made the colors so that the one is more wonderful than the other?"
Scripture itself insists not only that delight in creation and the enjoyment of God's gifts are right and good, but also that asceticism — the claim that taking pleasure in our creaturely life is somehow unspiritual or even sinful — is in fact a heretical teaching. If heresy seems an excessive charge, then consider Paul's passionate words in 1 Timothy 4:1 — 5, an example of a biblical denunciation of the teaching that it is ungodly to enjoy the gifts of life:
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
In these words, Paul insists that food, sex, marriage — indeed all the gifts of creation — are good and holy, for God himself has declared them to be so in his Word. Paul demands that we see that asceticism, even if it comes under the guise of spirituality, is heretical, even demonic. Why does he speak with such impassioned language? The simple answer is that the teaching that it is sinful to enjoy the gifts of creation is deeply blasphemous because it is a rejection of God's own valuation of creation. Asceticism turns its back on God and regards his creation as worthless, or even worse, as somehow corrupting to us, as if creation itself were a source of sin.
Repeatedly in the history of the church, Christians have been tempted to devalue the richness of creation — and therefore the arts — as if it would be somehow more "spiritual" to live a life devoid of beauty, of good things, of music, of literature, of painting, of color, and so forth. It is as if bare simplicity, barrenness, and even ugliness were somehow more pleasing to God. Behind this idea is the conviction that the "spiritual" is all that matters, and that the physical, therefore, is at best only of secondary value. In this view, the arts are considered optional, rather extravagant, an unnecessary extra in life. But this belief is nonsense and, according to Paul, a heresy of the most serious kind, for in the end it is a denial of the goodness of creation and the goodness of its Creator.
The English poet and pastor George Herbert, in his poem "The Elixir," captured this obligation of the Christian to value as good all that God has made. This poem may be found in many hymnals; I include here stanzas 1, 4, and 6:
Teach me, my God and King,
In all things thee to see,
And what I do in anything To do it as for thee.
All may of thee partake:
Nothing can be so mean Which with his tincture, "for thy sake,"
Will not grow bright and clean.
This is the famous stone That turneth all to gold;
For that which God doth touch and own Cannot for lesse be told.
Reflecting further on this theme, we may point to five foundational doctrines that affirm the value of the richness of life here in this world:
Creation. See, again, Genesis 1 with its repeated "God saw that it was good" and Paul's words in 1 Timothy 4:1 — 5 (quoted above). God commands us to agree with him, to acknowledge that everything that he has made is good, and then to receive this good work of his with thankful and glad hearts.
Common grace, or God's providential care for all creation. See Genesis 9:8 — 17 and the everlasting covenant that God makes with all creatures after the flood. God cares for all creation, as evidenced in Psalms 104 and 145, and also in Jesus's words in Matthew 6:26 — 29 and 10:29 — 31, where he speaks of God watching over and providing for the flowers and the birds and, even more, all people.
The incarnation. The eternal Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, became flesh; he became a man; he became a part of this universe — not merely for the thirty-three years of his earthly life, but for all eternity to come. Who can imagine a more remarkable affirmation of the physical than this, that the everlasting God who alone has immortality entered our world, joined the human race, and shares our life forever!
Bodily resurrection. See Paul's joyful words about our physical resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 and 2 Corinthians 5:1 — 5. Nothing expresses with greater clarity that our physical life in this world is precious than this conviction of God's commitment, "not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life" (2 Cor. 5:4).
The new creation. There will be a renewed earth, with the curse removed (see Rom. 8:18 — 25; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1 — 4). This promise of the glory of the earth to come underlines the significance and value of all that God has made for our enjoyment here and now. Redemption will not be complete until our human life is restored to its full delight in the wonder of God's good creation.
God's Image Bearers as Sub-Creators
Man and woman, God's image bearers, are made to be sub-creators following after their Creator. The God who made all things made us to exercise dominion under him over this good creation (Gen. 1:26 — 28). In Psalm 8, David declares that this likeness to God, demonstrated as we rule over this earth and its creatures, constitutes our glory as human persons. He asks a question that many people ask when they are overwhelmed by the glory of creation (just as we were that night in the High Sierras):
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him? (vv. 3 — 4)
Excerpted from "Echoes of Eden"
Copyright © 2013 Jerram Barrs.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 God and Humans as Creative Artists 11
2 Imitation, the Heart of the Christian's Approach to Creativity 23
3 Building a Christian Understanding of the Artist's Calling 39
4 How Do We Judge the Arts? 53
5 Echoes of Eden: God's Testimony to the Truth 67
6 The Conversion of C. S. Lewis and Echoes of Eden in His Life 85
7 Echoes of Eden in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings 105
8 Harry Potter and the Triumph of Self-Sacrificing Love 125
9 Shakespeare and a Christian Worldview 147
10 Jane Austen, Novelist of the Human Heart 169
Appendix: The "Outing" of Dumbledore 193
General Index 195
Scripture Index 203
What People are Saying About This
“Echoes of Eden is the most accessible, readable, and yet theologically robust work on Christianity and the arts that you will be able to find. It is biblical, theologically sound, filled with examples, and edifying. It anticipates and answers well all the most common questions that evangelical people ask about the arts. I highly recommend it.”
Timothy Keller, Founding Pastor, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York City; Chairman and Cofounder, Redeemer City to City
“Jerram Barrs clearly loves the Christian vision of being human, and he loves human beings of all sorts. In this book he helps us to enjoy the fundamentally human activity of the arts, showing us how ‘all great art contains elements of the true story: the story of the good creation, the fallen world, and the longing for redemption.’ The chapters giving us a tour of great Christian writersLewis, Tolkien, Rowling, Shakespeare, and Austenbubble over with passionate delight in these authors’ artistic and moral achievements.”
C. John Collins, Professor of Old Testament, Covenant Theological Seminary
“For as long as I have known him, Jerram Barrs has passionately loved the arts. In Echoes of Eden he lets us share his passion by allowing us a glimpse of the beauty, truth, and grace he sees in the imaginative work of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, J. K. Rowling, William Shakespeare, and Jane Austen. If he stopped there, this would be a book worth reading, but he digs far deeper, framing our understanding of the arts within the biblical worldview. From that perspective, human creativity is a good gift of God in a broken world, an expression of the image of the Creator in which we are made. Because of the brokenness, Barrs outlines eleven broad categories by which to judge a piece of art, since God’s image is always portrayed in ways that are flawed and incomplete. I hope Echoes of Eden is read and discussed widely by Christians. The truth of its message can help nurture a Christian imagination, restore the arts to their proper place in the church, and help us frame the unchanging gospel in a way that will cause a postmodern world to consider its claims.”
Denis Haack, Director, Ransom Fellowship; Visiting Instructor in Practical Theology, Covenant Seminary
“Evangelical Christianity has long been conflicted over the arts and in particular the literary artistry of such lights as Austen, Tolkien, and Rowling. Some justify such literature only insofar as it functions as an elaborately coded gospel tract. Others, despairing of any Christian rationale, confess such writings to be a distraction, a guilty pleasure, or even satanic. Now, with his typical blend of profundity and lucidity, Jerram Barrs clears away the clutter of much-touted but ultimately muddled arguments and sets forth a clear framework for any Christians interested in thinking biblically about art, not least those Christians who like to spend time in such places as Hogwarts or Middle-earth. Turn the page and prepare to worship!”
Nicholas Perrin, Dean, Wheaton College Graduate School
“A beautiful book on the contours of beauty by a beautiful man. Jerram Barrs here presents a lifetime of meditations on a subject close to his heart. The arts, he argues, are not a luxury, nor are they the savior. Instead they are an integral part of human life because they provide a unique window onto divine truth and the truth of the divine. The chapter on how to judge the arts is alone worth the price of admission. Reading these pages one can tell that art is not the subject for Jerram, but a rich palette, one he has lived with over the years. The arts, in his assessment, tell us not only what has been lost after Eden, but also how we may return to that gorgeous land. This book will enrich both professional artists and anyone else sensitive to the power of the arts for all of life.”
William Edgar, Professor of Apologetics, Westminster Theological Seminary
“One of the obvious virtues of this book is its balance between theory and literary criticism of specific authors. The first five chapters are a carefully constructed Christian aesthetic. The second half of the book applies the theory to five authors. The splendid organization of the book makes it easy to read, and there is an admirable range in the subjects covered, as the five theoretic chapters systematically discuss the questions that Christians really ask about the arts, while the addition of Shakespeare and Jane Austen to Christian fantasy writers provides a pleasing scope. Finally, the book has a latent apologetic angle that I liked, not only in the theoretic chapters with their defense of the arts, but also in the chapters on specific authors, as Barrs explains why he is an enthusiast for each of them.”
Leland Ryken, Emeritus Professor of English, Wheaton College
"This is a wonderful book, especially for those who want to enhance their knowledge of how the church should view the arts. Jerram Barrs brings an intellectually informed and profoundly pastoral approach to confront the misunderstanding and animosity that frequently exist between evangelical Christians and popular contemporary literature such as the Harry Potter series. This book is a must read for anyone who has a burden to see the creation as it is reflected in today’s pop culture.”
Mike Higgins, Dean of Students, Covenant Theological Seminary
“This is a marvelous book for Christians who wish to think well and biblically about culture. Professor Barrs’s thesisthat human cultural production always has its genesis in something I have for years called the ‘Edenic memory’is spot on. By providing a careful theological analysis of the origins of culture, the book teaches us how to live wisely and rightly in a world overflowing with cultural artifacts. Barrs’s observation on the nature and role of fantasy in the Harry Potter chapter is particularly thoughtful, and his chapter on how we are to judge the arts is as fine as anything I’ve read on the subject.”
Grant Horner, Associate Professor of Renaissance and Reformation, The Master’s College; author, Meaning at the Movies
“When a lawyer asked Jesus, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ Jesus didn’t preach a sermon; he told a story, and with it he disclosed a profound truth. In Echoes of Eden, Jerram Barrs shows us how novelists, playwrights, and poetsmuch like Jesusopen our eyes and broaden our understanding. He shows us how, by creating worlds, people, problems, and circumstances, great writers put us in touch with the human condition: the struggles and joys, as well as the grief and great satisfactions. In these few pages, Barrs shows us why, especially in the twenty-first century, we need good books: they help us become fully human.”
Richard Doster, Editor, byFaith magazine; author, Safe at Home
“In a clear and attractive style, Jerram Barrs writes with passion about the ‘Echoes of Eden’ in the arts, which are so central to our humanity, whatever our beliefs. Graciously and with wisdom, he picks up a conversation that has already included such Christian thinkers as John Calvin, Dorothy L. Sayers, J. R. R. Tolkien, and C. S. Lewis. Illustrations that he draws from the fiction of Lewis, Tolkien, J. K. Rowling, the still enormously popular Jane Austen, and others make even more vivid his insightful reflections. Reading his gift of a book is an enriching and inspiring experience not to be missed.”
Colin Duriez, author, C. S. Lewis: A Biography of Friendship and Tolkien and C. S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship
“Jerram Barrs offers a compelling Christian defense of the imagination as a vehicle of truth and of the need to reclaim an imitative (as opposed to a self-expressive) view of the arts. He not only quotes C. S. Lewis wisely, but has written a book of which Lewis would have approved.”
Louis Markos, Professor in English and Scholar in Residence, Houston Baptist University; author of From Achilles to Christ: Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics and Literature: A Student’s Guide
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As a Christian, an artist, and an avid reader, I often look for books that discuss those three things. That being said, I went into this book carefully. I strongly disagree with some beliefs about such things and was worried this book would just be a warning against "things of the world". I was so pleased with this book! Instead, it was a very thoughtful look at many different aspects, the importance of creating, the importance of creating a reflection, and how as Christians, we should look for the redemption in all stories we ingest. I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to be more conscious in their role both as a Christian and someone who enjoys art. This book is a great introduction, and I look forward to finding more books of this sort that dive deeper. 1 Star - Hated It 2 Stars - Didn't Enjoy It 3 Stars - It Was Okay 4 Stars - Really Enjoyed It 5 Stars - Loved It