The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Friday, September 6, 2013

Church Isn't Like Art Appreciation Class

By: Thomas F. Booher

I took an art appreciation class a few years back in college. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I learned a lot about paintings, sculptures, carvings, and the artists themselves. I even learned, in some generic sense, how to interpret the paintings, and why they were painted the way they were. Perhaps I even gained a rudimentary understanding of how to make art as well. The farthest thing from my mind, however, was learning how to paint in art appreciation class. No, I wanted to understand art and the artist, to see something of its skill and worth, its beauty. But be an artist? Try and practice what I learned from art appreciation class? Perish the thought!

In a sense, I think this strikes close to what is wrong with our churches today. We view church, Bible conferences, the whole Christian life even, as theology appreciation class. We want to know something of God's Word, we want to grasp Jesus Christ with our mind. We want to see what He has done for us, and usually we want to praise Him for it. What we so often don't want, however, is to be like Him. We don't get so excited when Christ tells us to take up our crosses and follow Him. That's a command we can't parse. It's a cold hard dose of reality, and we refuse to accept it.

We enjoy God like an art appreciation class. We pursue God like an art appreciation class -- to know Him, not to be like Him. To be renewed in our minds (Rom. 12:2), but not to be transformed by that renewal. In a sense, we intentionally make knowing God and studying His word impractical. Or maybe better, anti-practical. We disconnect knowing God from being like Him. We desire seeing Him as He is, and praising Him for it, but we so often do not desire to be holy as He is holy. Sometimes we try to hide our lack of desire to be like Christ in pious terms: We overemphasize our depravity to say we can never be like Him, or we say our freedom in Christ allows us to relax our "legalistic" pursuit of holiness.

Pastors and parents contribute to this faulty mindset. Often, pastors' preaching is little more than lecturing. It gives food for the brain, but not passion for the heart. It produces knowledge, not conformity. Sometimes I think we have confused knowing God abstractly, or theologically, with knowing God experientially, or practically. That is, we think when we know God simply in the form of a theological construct, we have done what God commands when He says love Me with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Somehow, we have confused knowing the commandments with keeping the commandments. We think we've honored God fully when we grasp the doctrine, see some beauty of it, and praise Him for it. All of that we should of course do. But there is more. We must then ask, "Lord, how can I be like you?" We must seek to understand theology and attend church as sheep longing for their Shepherd to direct them on how to be good sheep; that is, how to be who they are in Christ.

To be clear, I am saying we have confused church and studying God's Word with art appreciation class. Just imagine if you told your teacher of this art appreciation class that while you enjoyed the concepts and admired the skill and talent of the artists, you could never see yourself ever striving to be an artist yourself. Perhaps the art teacher would be fine with that, but don't you think he would likely say, "Ah, that's too bad, I was hoping some exposure to the realm of artistry would inspire in some of my pupils a desire to be like the artist. I guess, then, art just isn't for you."

Whoa, do you see the problem here? If that is really how we are approaching Jesus Christ, we are essentially saying, "Wow Jesus, you're a really swell Guy, being the Lord and Savior of me, and I really appreciate you and what you have done for me. I won't ever forget. But, you know, I really don't think I have an interest in you beyond that. I'll continue to appreciate you, and show that appreciation through worship on Sundays. But I won't actually try to be like you. It just isn't for me." Frightening, isn't it? Of course, we wouldn't actually talk to Christ like that if we are true Christians. But in practice, could it not be possible that to some extent, perhaps even a large extent, we approach studying God like an art appreciation class?

Then contrast that with my approach. My approach, insofar as keeping with the art appreciation analogy, would be to keep going after you have taken "theology appreciation." Keep going as in, now that I understand a bit about the doctrine of Scripture, let me look at it again and see how I can conform my life to that doctrine of Scripture, because after all, the law of God, and any true doctrine, is simply God's character in written form, as a theological construct. But now I must translate that construct into personhood. And how can I do that? Well, I shall look to Jesus Christ, firstly, for He is the Word made flesh. He is theology made flesh. He is the God-man, the perfect image of the Father, and I am to be like Him.

Of course, I think if we consistently approached Scripture in this manner, we would lead much holier lives, and indeed better understand the doctrine themselves, because we would now know how to translate it into humanity, that is, into what Christ has done. We should be asking and thinking, "Now how did Christ perfectly embody that doctrine, and how can I embody that doctrine, by God's grace, through His Spirit, as well?"

Imagine if sheep sought God like that? Imagine if pastors preached like this, to show sheep how to be like Christ, not to simply understand the doctrine, but to embody the doctrine in Christ, and then in ourselves.

This approach changes everything. If we approached Scripture like that, we would not stop once we grasped the doctrine logically. We would then seek the logic, the practical point, of how to put this bit of God into practice. This practical point, mind you, isn't something beyond the doctrine itself. No, I believe we understand the doctrine most rightly and fully when we see how it connects to our being made in the image of God. Only once we have grasped that will we see how this doctrine is to shape us, and only then can we actually be shaped by it and live out the doctrine ourselves.

And that is the heart attitude sheep should have when they go to church, and study God's Word, and discuss theology. That is how preachers should preach and parents should parent. And so often, that is exactly the opposite of how we approach church, and how pastors approach preaching. This is why there is a famine of spirituality in the land, and this is why I want to be a shepherd. But first, Lord, let me be a good sheep.


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