Music Through the Eyes of Faith by Harold Best

Music Through the Eyes of Faith by Harold Best (HarperCollins, 1993). Reviewed by Dr. Barry Liesch

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Written for the thinking Christian musician or non-musician, this remarkable book is one you will want to chew and reflect upon. It’s required reading for some of my university classes. In Music Through the Eyes of Faith, Dr. Harold Best, formerly Dean of the Wheaton Conservatory of Music, unpacks his philosophy of music and worship, sometimes explaining his views propositionally, and other times illustrating them with vivid stories and anecdotes.

In my opinion, Best is one of the few Evangelical intellectuals in the area of music today. Though theologically conservative, he has the capacity to arouse one’s thinking. He’s not timid and he doesn’t “dumb down” to his readers. Writing vigorously and at times complexly, his ideas tumble forth rapidly. This is college level reading that is both engaging and stimulating. No technical musical language, however, is employed

For me, the main value of the book lies in the wide variety of issues he tackles, the rationale behind his positions, and his openness to all styles of music. Best is an avid musical pluralist–that is, he welcomes and “revels” in all the music cultures of the world. His enthusiasm for all music is contagious and his ideas are relevant for Christian worship today. The issue of musical pluralism has enormous implications, for our North American culture is becoming increasingly pluralistic, both musically and ethnically.

I found the first six chapters (there are 10 in all) the most interesting. Chapter one discusses the issue of revelation and God as a creative artist–Best calls Him “the first abstract, non-representational imaginer.”  He draws a number of useful implications for us today from the statement, “God did not need to create.”  Chapter two (the hardest chapter to understand and maybe the most important) asks questions like, “Is a painting ethical or a fugue moral?”– and it concludes that music without words is “morally neutral.” That’s an important issue to resolve today. My university students, though, have been most impacted by the concept of “common grace,” which is also discussed thoroughly.

Chapters three and four are devoted to explaining and developing the concept of musical pluralism. He explains what it means to “live pentecostally” (an interesting phrase!) from a musical perspective.  He helps readers think about their own musical center in new ways, and encourages each of us to branch out to adjacent and distant pluralism.  Chapter four draws an analogy between aesthetic laws and the concept of law in the Bible. Best asks questions like, “Can one music be better than another?” These chapters are creatively written and share some wonderful stories.

Chapters five and six deal with the issue of music quality. After reading these chapters, I’ve sensed that my students have become greatly motivated to seek out quality, not only in music, but all areas of life.  That’s an enormous contribution the book tends to make on individuals.  Best also includes a provocative discussion on “single state” popular music and the use of technology in worship services and music concerts.

For several years, I’ve used Best’s book in my Introduction to Music course (for non-music majors) at Biola University. I’ve discovered that it is excellent for prompting discussion. Senior pastors and worship leaders interested in formulating a philosophy of music and worship will find his thoughts both helpful and challenging. This could also be a good book to discuss together.

This is a book to keep in your library and to refer to again and again. It’s original, and shares the results of a lifetime devoted to thinking about music and worship.

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Creativity in the Bible, part 2 of 2

Part 2 of 2 Go to part 1

The Sacramentalist View

Creating the way God Creates

The plethora of definitions of creativity in our society are so loose, yet so embedded in popular culture, that the exclusive, pristine use of the term as found in Scripture is for the foreseeable future, irrecoverable. Given this widespread useage, is there any warrant for the application of the word “creativity” to human agency?

Fully acknowledging the Reformed theologian’s warnings against a “heaven storming” creativity, I now to set forth Dorthy L. Sayer’s ideas on creativity where mankind is viewed as a small “c” creator or “sub-creator” (Tolkein’s expression). Her views conflict with the Reformed theologians and philosophers (i.e., Kuyper, Seerveld, Wolterstorff) but are representative of the Sacramentalist stream (Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans) who see artistic endeavor more as “creation” than “work.” Crucial components in her view are:

  • 1. a reliance on analogical thinking;
    2. emphasis on man created in the image of God (“imago deo”);
    3. the linking of an incarnational view of art with Hebrews 1:3;
    4. the concept of the Trinity as the ideal image of the human creative mind.

Her major contribution is to draw on theology for her ideas on creativity, and to relate the human creative process in particular to a theological framework.

One reason why the Reformed and Sacramentalist streams are opposed stems from their differing evaluation of analogical language. Kuyper, a Reformed theologian, distrusts analogical, symbolic, or metaphorical thinking: “the more Religion develops itself in spiritual maturity, the more it will extricate itself from art’s bandages because art always remains incapable of expressing the very essence of Religion.” Sayers, in contrast, begins with the premise of analogy: “All language about God must, as St Thomas Acquinas pointed out, necessarily be analogical.”

Sayer’s writings suggest four analogies (or metaphors) which comprise part of the identity mankind shares with God: the father analogy (God as Father, man as father); the creator analogy (Creator, creator); the maker analogy (Maker, maker); and the trinity of the creative mind analogy (Trinity, trinity). Of the four metaphors, she feels the Creator metaphor has been neglected partly because the Father metaphor has been “particularly consecrated by Christ’s use of it,” and partly because most of us “have a very narrow experience of the art of creation.”

She speaks of the deficiencies in understanding that arise when theologians/pastors and artists do not engage in integrative dialogue. Specifically, theologians fail to recognize the “likeness and familiarity between God and His children” in the Creator-creator metaphor. They use this analogy, “to illustrate the gulf between God and His creatures,” neglecting to inquire what light the artist can throw on it. But if the Creator analogy, like the Father analogy, is rooted in human experience, then “it is to the creative artists that we should naturally turn.”

Sayers, while acknowledging the differences, underscores the commonality between God and man in the Maker/maker metaphor:

We are well aware that man cannot create in the absolute sense…We use the word “create” to convey an extension and amplification of something we do know, and we limit the application of the metaphor precisely as we limit the metaphor of fatherhood. We know a father and picture to ourselves an ideal Father; similarly, we know a human “maker” and picture to ourselves an ideal “Maker.”

Created in the Image of God

And God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him…(Gen 1:26-28)

This Maker/maker analogy, affirms Sayers, is located in the concept of man created in image of God (the “imago deo”). Scripture does not specifically say what comprises the imago deo, rather the immediate context of Scripture in Genesis one leads to the conclusion that God “created” (Gen. 1:1); therefore mankind is fundamentally a maker. That is what the Genesis one is about and that is what the imago deo is about:

How then can he [man] be said to resemble God?….when we turn back to see what he says about the original upon which the “image” of God was modeled, we find only the single assertion, “God created.” The characteristic common to God and man is apparently that: the desire to make things.

Incarnational Art

She also rejects theories that art is a “copy,” an “imitation,” or a “representation” of forms. She believes in an Incarnational approach to the arts (poetry, music, fine arts, etc.), citing that Christ enfleshed was not an inferior imitation but a mirror image of God:

Suppose having rejected the words “copy,” “imitation,” and “representation” as inadequate, we substitute the word “image and say that what the artist is doing is to image forth something or other, and connect that with St. Paul’s phrase: “God…hath spoke to us by His son, the brightness of his glory and express image of his person.” (Heb. 1:3)The Christian revelation set free all the images, by showing that the true Image subsisted within the Godhead Itself–it was neither copy, nor imitation, nor representation, nor inferior, nor subsequent, but the brightness of the glory, and the express image of his Person–the very mirror in which reality knows itself and communicates itself in power.

May I interject here? The words translated “express image” above (Gr. “charakter”), are translated as “exact representation” in the NIV and NASB versions. We find, however, the word “image” (Gr. “eikon”) used elsewhere in reference to Christ, which corroborates the thrust of her argument. For example:

“Christ, who is in the image of God.” (2 Cor. 4:4)
“He [Christ] is the image of the invisible God…” (Col.1:15)
“For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son…”(Rom. 8:29 NASB)

My study suggests that the words “image” and “imitate” are employed differently in Scripture. The word “imitate” is used by Paul and the writer of Hebrews in reference to behavior modification:

“I exhort you therefore, be imitators of me.” (I Cor. 4:16, NASB)
“Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ… (I Cor. 11:1, NASB)
“You also became imitators of us and of the Lord… (I Thess. 1:6 NASB)
“And we desire that each one of you… [be] imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (Heb. 6:11-12 NASB)

In other words, the word “image” in Biblical useage, seems to be used more in relation to communication processes. The word “imitate” is used for behavior modification, as when a son watches his father and learns by doing what he does, or when a student copies a particular musical or sermonic style, or performs the way his teacher does. Stravinsky sums this up well:
“the object of music is not and cannot be imitation,” but “imitation is in itself something useful and even indispensable to beginners who train themselves by studying models.” The mature artists, however, have an idea and then use the materials available to “image,” embody, or flesh out their intent. In that sense art is incarnational, just as Christ is God incarnate.

The Trinity and the Human Creative Process

Sayers further believes the concept of the Trinity suggests a model for the human creative process. Though the Trinity enjoys a reputation for “obscurity and remoteness from experience,” a Trinitarian structure in the Creative Mind of God parallels a Trinitarian structure familiar to the creative mind of the human artist:

In the extraordinary set of formulae about the Trinity-in-unity…[there emerges] an artistic analogy…of the human artist at work–a picture exact to the minutest detail, familiar at every point, and corroborated in every feature by day-to-day experience.For every work [act or performance] of creation is threefold, an earthy trinity to match the heavenly.First, [not in time, but merely in order of enumeration] there is the Creative Idea, passionless, timeless, beholding the whole work complete at once, the end from the beginning: and this is the image of the Father.Second, there is the Creative Energy [or Activity] begotten of that idea, working time from the beginning to the end, with sweat and passion, being incarnate in the bonds of matter: and this is the image of the Word.Third, there is the Creative Power, the meaning of the work and its response in the lively soul: and this is the image of the indwelling Spirit.And these three are one, each equally in itself the whole work, where none can exist without the other; and this is the image of the Trinity.So the act of the poet in creation is seen to be a threefold trinity–experience [the Father], expression [the Son], and recognition [the Spirit].

To reiterate, for the writer the Idea is equated with having an “idea” for a book, or the book as thought; the Energy is the incarnation of that idea in words or the book as written; and the Power is the communication of the image in power or the book as read.

Instead of a book, the Trinitarian model could be applied to sermon making or music performance and composition. Her idea is certainly an intriguing application of a great and central theological doctrine, don’t you think? In fact, thinking of the Trinity this way assigns value to the concept, and brings what has been felt as an obscure and difficult concept, closer to our human experience. Positive! Denis de Rougement uses three verbs to evoke the same artistic functioning in the Trinity: “to create [Father], to incarnate [Son], to inspire [Holy Spirit].”

Sayers enlarges on the theological implications:

Theologically, the Word is said to be “equal to the Father as touching His Godhead and inferior to the Father as touching his manhood”–which may be translated into the language of our analogy: “Equal to the Idea as touching its essence and inferior to the Idea as touching its expression.” It is inferior, not only in the sense that it is limited by form as the Idea is not, but also in the sense that its form is creaturely and therefore subject to the Idea–“I do the will of My Father.”[Concerning the nature of creative mind] there is a difference only of technical phraseology, and between the mind of the maker and the Mind of his Maker, a difference, not of category, but only of quality and degree.

Bara Newness

Sayers insists the Biblical concept of creativity envisages the production of something new, a unique aspect of the Christian world view in contrast to the Greek world view:

The true work of art, then, is something new… neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. Something has been created.This word–this idea of Art as creation is, I believe, the one important contribution that Christianity has made to aesthetics. Unfortunately, we are apt to use the words “creation” and “creativeness” very vaguely and loosely, because we do not relate them properly to our theology. But it is significant that the Greeks had not this word in their aesthetic at all. They looked on a work of art as a kind of techne, a manufacture. Neither, for that matter was the word in their theology.

A study of the eighty-six occurrences of the word “create’ in Scripture supports Sayers contention does that newness centrally characterizes creativity. In eight instances the word “new” occurs in immediate conjunction with the word “bara”. Furthermore “new” (chadash), like the word bara, is used sparingly in reference to significant events.

What kind of newness is involved? How can it be described? What are its features, its criteria? A study of the context of in which “create” occurs indicates at least five features that characterize bara newness.

  • 1. Bara newness is unprecedented (Isa. 43:15-21)–the first of its kind, that which did not exist before, that which is irreducible to something known, the unheard of.
    2. Bara newness is humanly unforeseeable (Num. 16:30). It has the quality of surprise, of hiddenness brought to light–the quality of the unexpected and unpredictable.
    3. Bara newness is valuable (Gen 29: Isa 41:17-20). It cannot be novelty for novelty’s sake. It must solve a problem, serve a function, be workable, yet beautiful, fitting, elegant.
    4. Bara newness is transformational in that it can become part of tradition and undergo transformation, re-creation (Gal. 6:15; Eph. 2:15).
    5. Bara newness is lasting. It does not lose it luster after repeated examination and contemplation. This is a newness that never perishes.

Practically, these criteria can guide human endeavor, help us recognize when we onto something significant. Feature three is particularly useful in avoiding unproductive forays. I find myself thinking of these criteria often as I pursue my own work!

Grounds for the Human-Divine Interface

Is it possible, then, that the Bible envisions a creative capacity in man that is a reflection of God’s activity, even though bara is used exclusively for God? Sayers has answered “Yes.” Sayers would locate the creative urge in man in the imago deo, and would see analogies in the Maker/maker, Trinity/trinity correspondences.

Is there other support for her view? Other grounds for considering a human-divine interface include (1) man’s naming of the creatures, (2) the Psalm eight passage, and the concepts of (3) “newness” and (4) “wisdom.” Wilkinson points out that God allows Adam to share in the activity of Genesis creation: He brings the animals before Adam and waits “to see what he would name them” (Gen. 1:19). Wilkinson says,

“To name a thing is not only to exert power over it, it is also to recognize its true nature–even to shape and release that true nature, to direct it into what it could not become without the namer. We see God often naming people in this way. Abram, for example, becomes Abraham, and so reveals his destiny as father of a multitude…[Adam’s naming] is a kind of creative power, over creation, by words. In it, God invites man to participate with him in shaping the world.”

In Psalm eight, written after the Fall, a close linkage is forged between man and God:

Yet Thou hast made him [man] a little lower than God [Elohim], and dost crown him with glory and majesty! Thou does make him to rule over the works of thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet. (Ps. 8: NASB)

And Romans suggests that man has a cooperative role to play in “reconciling” creation:

…the anxious longing of creation awaits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God…that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery… (Rom. 8: 19-21 NASB)

Moreover, God creates by exercising wisdom, and man is enjoined to get wisdom:

But God made the earth by his power;
he founded the world by his wisdom
and stretched out the heavens by his understanding [Jer10:12]How many are your works, O Lord!
In wisdom you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures. [Ps104:24]Blessed is the man who finds wisdom,
the man who gains understanding…
By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations,
by understanding he set the heavens in place; [Prov 3:13,19]

Please do not misunderstand! Nowhere would Sayers nor does any Scripture teach that man is God or a god! Rather, the suggestion is that there is correspondence.

The Reformed & Sacramentalist Contribution

Let’s review for a moment what the Reformed and Sacramentalist exponents have each contributed to our understanding of Biblical creativity. The Reformed exponents have emphasized a respect for the materials of creation, given dignity to the concept of man as a worker, clarified and extended the meaning of the creation mandate, and have provided a healthy caution to the dangerous concept of a “heaven storming” creativity. The Sacramentalists have contributed the idea of art as incarnational, and have related the process of creativity to theology–given artistic process some theological underpinning in the concept of the Trinity. Both are valuable.

Creativity in the Bible, part 1 of 2

The Reformed View

Dallas Willard Said:
I don’t want you to think of art as
a little frill or whipped cream on the cake of life.
It’s more like steak and potatoes.

Creativity–Troublesome Word

“If one were to ask an unbiased observer to name that institution in our society which clearly espouses creativity, we can be sure that he would not name our twentieth-century church. This is an indictment of how we Christians feel about the mandate God has given us for being creative…We do not embrace creativity as a way of life…We do not see it as having much to do with Biblical living…. What about that? I hope this article begins to address the concern expressed by Calvin M. Johansson. The church should not only seek to be relevant to local culture, but also an agent of transformation. This often requires creativity, risk-taking.

Just as “performance” is a troublesome term, so is creativity. Artists value this term, and often feel the churches have an inadequate understanding of it, and will not allow much of it.

How is creativity used in our society today? How is it used in Scripture? Can Biblical criteria for calling something creative be discerned? Has the term changed over time? Do Reformed and Sacramentalist scholars view it differently? Are we “workers” or “creators,” “imitators” or “imagers”? In probing these questions I hope to to correct misperceptions, offer perspective, handles for self development, and put us in touch with part of the 20th Century artistic melieu.

Bara Creativity

Creativity has become a buzzword in our society. Everything from a child’s scribble to Einstein’s theory of relativity is considered creative. Not so in the Scriptures! In the Bible “create” is reserved for extraordinarily exalted activity. The Hebrew and Greek words for it, respectively, “bara” and “kitzo,” are very similar in meaning and are employed sparingly to denote only the pinnacles of God’s achievements–creating the heavens and the earth, man, righteousness/justice, the nation Israel, the Church, reconciling Israel and the Church, creating the New Jerusalem, and to regeneration and worship. The Biblical concept embraces a much broader canvas than merely the physical creation in Genesis one.

In the Bible, creative activity must contain something of the miraculous and the mysterious (Exod 34:10). If the phenomenon can be explained away by natural means, it is no longer bara activity. As lofty and explosive as the word omnipotent, charged feelings of human astonishment accompany it:

Inquire from one end of the heavens to
the other. Has anything been done like
this great thing [God’s creative act],
or has anything been heard like it?
(Deut. 4:32 NASB)

Moreover, in both the Old and New Testaments bara creativity is power theology. It urges a rethinking of everything, a transformation of one’s worldview to acknowledge God:

That they may see and recognize,
And consider and gain insight as well,
That the hand of the Lord has done this,
And the Holy One of Israel has created it.”
(Isa. 41:20 NASB emphasis added)

Bara creativity is illustrated in Numbers chapter sixteen where the sons of Korah were rebelling against the divinely instituted leadership of Moses. God instructed Moses to tell the people to separate from the tents of these rebels:

“Do not touch anything belonging to them, or you will be swept away…. If these men die a natural death and experience only what usually happens to men, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the grave, then you will know that these men have treated the Lord with contempt.As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them…They went down alive into the grave with everything they owned; the earth closed over them and they perished and were gone from the community” (Num 16:26, 29-33, emphasis added).

The words translated “totally new” in the above passage are a rendering of two successive bara words (“bara beriah”), the only time this succession occurs in Scripture. A strictly literal translation would be the Lord “creates a creation.” The word-play is doubly explosive and appropriate. What occurs is an entirely unprecedented phenomenon– not even an earthquake, because no shaking of the earth is described. The earth’s surface opens and closes! The example also illustrates the performance dimension of bara activity.

Two main dimensions characterize Biblical creativity, the constructing dimension (as in the making of the universe) and the performing dimension (as in the doing of miracles). By way of human analogy, to make something in the construction dimension is to take material and shape or reshape it into a book, a sermon, or a composition. To do something in the performance dimension, however, is to perform on the piano or deliver a sermon. An action results, not a new form. The performance dimension is also clearly illustrated in Exodus 34:10 where “do” and “performed” appear together. God is speaking:

I will do such miracles as have never been performed
[form of bara] in any nation or in all the world.” (NEB)

Meanings Change

The meaning of words, however, can change over time, and the word create has undergone extraordinary change over the centuries. In the Bible, man is referred to as a maker or fashioner, but never as a creator. A comprehensive examination of the word “create” in the Scriptures reveals that in all 86 cases it refers to activity performed exclusively by God, never humans. Moreover, researcher Tigerstedt (1968) could not find in the writers of Christian theology or classical philosophy any reference to the metaphor of a human creator. The first recorded articulation of a human creator occurs in Landino’s exaltation of the poet to the status of a creator in 1482 A.D. God, he said creates out of nothing and the poet produces “great and admirable things nearly out of nothing.” Art historian Erwin Panofsky (1960) similarly observed: “The words creare, creator, creatis and their vernacular equivalents…seem not to have been applied to artists until the sixteenth century, and in Italy not before ca. 1540-1550.”

However, the trickle of references to humans as creators in the Renaissance gradually becomes, by the 20th Century, a torrent. By 1710 Shaftesbury extols the master poet as a “second maker,” who can “imitate the Creator.” In the19th Century theoretical work in linking divine and human creativity occurs in Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Blake, and the idea of “artistic genius,” a Scripturally alien concept, is popularized as individuals like Franz Liszt are exalted to the point of cultish worship. By the 20th Century the concept of a “creator like unto God” is the “most pervasive image of the artist” and is “at the root of much of the thought and practice that takes place today.” Picasso echoes that thought: “The important thing is to create. Nothing else matters; creation is all.” And Paul Gauguin in a letter dated 1888 says: “Creating like unto our Divine Master is the only way of rising toward God.” Statements like these are a breath away from the euphoria of stardom and Hollywood marketing techniques which now infect our own local and TV church cultures. But, it wasn’t always this way!

Subduing the Materials of Creation

Believing it invites pride or rebellion against God, Reformed theologians (those Calvinistically inclined) view the idea of man as a creator as dangerous:

“the more the artist attains to the ideal of free, untrammelled creativity, the more likely he is to be disobedient to God…Human creation thus is seen not as stewardship, but as a competition with divine Creation.

The competition motif, indeed, is struck when the serpent persuades Adam and Eve that the prohibition on the forbidden fruit obstructs them from achieving God-likeness and exceptional awareness:

…[for] when you eat of it your eyes will be opened,
and you will be like God…(Genesis 3:5)

When Barnett Newman seductively links the concept of man as creator to the allurement of the forbidden fruit, he justifies the warranted apprehensions of these theologians:

It was inconceivable to the archaic writer that original man, that Adam, was put on earth to be a toiler, to be a social animal…. man’s origin was that of an artist and he set him up in a Garden of Eden close to the Tree of Knowledge, of right and wrong, in the highest sense of divine revelation. The fall of man was understood by the writer and his audience not as a fall from Utopia to struggle…[nor] as a fall from Grace to Sin, but that Adam, by eating from the Tree of Knowledge, sought the creative life, to be, like God, “a creator of worlds,” …and was reduced to the life of toil only as a result of a jealous punishment…What is the explanation of the seemingly insane drive of man to be painter and poet if it is not an act of defiance against man’s fall and an assertion that he return to the Adam of the Garden of Eden? (emphasis added)

Many artists today aspire for the creative state at any cost. Creativity for them leads to a higher state of consciousness. Defiant of any limits, any responsibility to live obediently under God’s authority, they are a law to themselves.

The Reformed View

Against this backdrop, Reformed theologians insist man’s calling is not to create, but to work with the materials of creation responsibly and obediently for the delight of mankind and benefit of all creation. They see in Genesis chapter one a “cultural mandate,” a broad directive for focusing human energy:

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground. (Gen. 1:28, emphasis added)

Reformed theologians take this passage as a command, a charge, to subdue not only all living creatures, but to discover and use the potentials in all materials, including their macro and micro structural dimensions. This enlarged scope appears justified from these words addressed to man elsewhere: “you put everything under his feet ” (Ps. 8:6); “God left nothing that is not subject to him” (Heb. 2:8). In uttering this mandate, God dignified mankind’s work, and “crowned him with glory and honor” (Ps. 8: 5).

To subdue means to tame, master, humanize, impose order, develop technique– to place our imprint on creation in a positive way. This takes effort, wisdom, and experience and infers mankind is invited to work and to extend God’s creation. In that sense “creation” is uncompleted, unfinished. For Jubal this meant tuning, ordering tones and rhythms in order to play the harp and the flute (Gen. 4:21). For some musicians today it means exploring the potentials in digital instruments and MIDI.

Moreover, God in His creativity has demonstrated a love for immense variety without sacrificing quality! This variety and plentitude of materials on our planet offers an extraordinary range for mankind’s field of action. Notice that verses 28 to 30 read “every living creature,” “every seed bearing plant, ” “every tree,” and every green plant.” Moreover, scripture teaches us to respect the materials of creation:

God saw all that He had made and it was very good. (Gen. 1:31)

Additionally, the following helpful Scriptural metaphor teaches us to lovingly care for the created order.

Adam and Bezalel:
Master Gardeners

The kind of “subduing” and “ruling” that Scripture envisions is not that of raping the environment or squandering or suppressing human potential. The image appropriate to subduing, says Wolterstorff, is “that of gardening. Man’s vocation is to be the world’s gardener.”

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground–trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food…The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work [“cultivate”] it and take care of it.”

The devoted gardener learns the secrets of good management– when to water, when and how to prune the trees for the benefit of all.

It is not difficult to see how the image of a gardner could further apply to pastors and those who work the arts. “The artist takes an amorphous pile of bits of colored glass and orders them upon the wall of the basilica so that the liturgy can take place in the splendor of flickering colored light and in the presence of the invoked saints.” Similarly, pastors take ideas, order them, and express them eloquently in words. Like the trees in the garden, these ideas need to be pruned and shaped. The gardening image also elicits the thought of preservation and conservation, of appreciating and building upon forms of the past while at the same time aggressively reaching toward the future.

The kind of artist balance we need is projected in the charge Moses gave to Bezalel, chosen to head the team making the furnishings for the tabernacle. Bezalel! Master gardener of the arts! The excerpt below from Exodus has the feel of the Genesis passages. It begins with his calling, enumerates his qualifications, then goes on to put emphasis on the materials themselves, and the great variety of specific skills he mastered.

Then Moses said to the sons of Israel, “See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel…He has filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge and in all craftsmanship; to make designs for working in gold and in silver and in bronze, and in the cutting of stones for settings, and in the carving of wood, so as to perform in every inventive work. He also has put in his heart to teach… to perform every work of an engraver and of a designer and of an embroider, in blue and in purple and in scarlet material, and in fine linen, and of a weaver…Then Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every skillful person in whom the Lord had put skill, everyone whose heart stirred him, to come to the work to perform it.” (Exod. 35:30-36:2, emphasis added)

Veith says this passage is “incisive in its analysis of what artistry involves–indeed, it is the most comprehensive analysis of the issue I have ever found.” He says whereas human theories about art tend to be partial and narrow–some emphasizing talent, some training, some technique–it is characteristic of Scripture to be comprehensive.

Let’s examine the qualities that Bezalel possessed–wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and craftsmanship–in more detail. Notice the progression from the general to the specific. The Hebrew word for “wisdom” means to have insight or perspective into the overall plan, to see how everything fits together. It means to have the big picture, to understand the rationale of the whole. It also relates well to the idea of conceiving the designs and innovating the settings of particular abstract, decorative art pieces. The word “understanding” suggests intelligence or ability in practical problem solving. “Knowledge” has to do with “know-how” knowledge, the knowledge of particular crafts. Bezalel had to know his materials. He needed to know how to prepare acacia wood, cast bronze, beat gold, and make dyes. “Craftsmanship” relates to workmanship. Craftsmanship involves working in a specific medium, and requires the mastery of technique in the act of embodying an idea. The emphasis is on the quality of the product. “Skill” here is more associated with wisdom. Note finally, Bezalel is designated as a maker, not a creator.

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