Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer, had the right attitude about these things, though today many Christians would think he was "worldly," perhaps even sacrilegious. When asked what he would do if he knew that the Lord was returning tomorrow, he said, "I would plant a tree." Luther knew that planting a tree, if done to the glory of God and out of appreciation for the beauty of His creation, was a spiritual and sacred act, no less so than preaching the gospel.
So, I told the young man that writing and producing science fiction books and movies was nothing to fret about, nothing that would endanger his soul, nothing that ought to call his Christian testimony into question. No doubt, of course, the Christian artist will do his art differently than a non-Christian. He will, for example, not promote philosophical and ethical ideas that are inconsistent with biblical truth. But, guided by Christian principles, he can produce science fiction to the glory of God. I also shared with him the following principles for creating and enjoying art that I have gleaned from sources like Michael Horton’s Where in the World Is the Church, Gene Veith's The State of the Arts, and Francis Shaeffer’s Art and the Bible. I hope these principles are helpful to other budding artists out there.
Christian Principles for Involvement in Art
1. Recognize that art is a sovereign sphere of culture under God in which all humans, through common grace, may meaningfully participate. This implies that that Christians may participate in art for arts sake. They may even see art as a vocation for glorifying God. And their art need not have overt Christian content or be designed for evangelism or to teach morality, though it can do these things if the artist wants it to. It can be designed purely for entertainment and pleasure (Exod. 25:9, 18, 31-33; 28:33; 2 Chr 3:6; 4:3-4; 1 Kings 10:18-20; 2 Sam 1:19-27 [a secular ode!]; Note also David’s music!).
2. Acknowledge that beauty is not relative. From a Christian perspective, there is such a thing as real, objective beauty and real ugliness. Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder. [Phil 4:8-9; Exod. 28:2]. This does not mean, of course, that we will always agree on what is beautiful.
3. Art does not have to agree with Christian truth and Christian morality in order to be good art. That is, good art does not have to be consistent with the Christian worldview. Its message can be contrary to the Christian worldview and still be good, valuable, and enriching. Sartre’s novel Nausea teaches nihilism, but as Horton says, it is a masterpiece! It’s message is not good in the sense of being morally good or philosophically true, but the work itself is aesthetically good. Michaelangelo’s statue David teaches a humanistic view of man, as Schaeffer points out, but who can reasonably say that it isn’t a great work of art?
4. The Christian artist should never abandon his Christian convictions in doing his art. Though a Christian artist does not have to do explicitly religious art, he will not teach through his art things that are inconsistent with the Christian worldview or portray that which is evil as though it were good. So, for example, if a Christian produces a movie, that movie may portray an act of adultery, but it won’t portray it in such a way as to glorify it or approve of it.
5. Recognize that good art does not always have to be beautiful to be good art. Good art can express truth, for example, by portraying ugliness, and thereby be good art because it expresses truth about that ugliness; or the ugliness in the art may genuinely express the artist’s view of reality [e.g. Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon].
6. Recognize that there are no exact criteria for distinguishing good art from bad art, but there are criteria. Though beauty is objective, there are degrees of beauty, and a large gray area in which our finite minds may have trouble deciding whether a particular piece of art is good, true, or beautiful. This calls for humility, patience, and a willingness to be gracious toward those with whom we disagree. However, just because there are no exact criteria does not mean there are no criteria. Francis Schaeffer in his little booklet Art and the Bible, sets out four criteria for making aesthetic judgments:
a. Technical excellence—Is the artist a skilled craftsman?
b. Validity—Is the artist honest to himself and his worldview?
c. Intellectual content—What worldview is expressed in the art? Is that worldview true?
d. Integration of content and vehicle—Is there a fitting correlation between the content of the art and its style?
7. Good art can be representational, abstract, or symbolic—the Bible contains all three! (Exod. 26:1; 1 Kings 7:15-22, 25; 28:15-29)
8. We must distinguish between secular and sacred art. Though we cannot draw this distinction too rigidly, as we have said before, it is still the case that art created for art’s sake and to be enjoyed by all is not the same as art created to aid the church in worshipping God. We might draw the distinction by using the terms "holy" and "common." Most art is common, created for common use by everyone. But, some art is designed to be "holy" [i.e., set apart for use in worship; see Horton, pp.85, 83-84]
9. Enjoy good art without guilt as a gift from God---even when it is purely secular! Good art is a gift from God because God gifts artists with the ability to produce good art, even unbelievers. And why shouldn’t Christians enjoy it? So, herein lies the Christian basis for enjoying good movies, going to art galleries, and ballets, and concerts, reading War and Peace and Lord of the Rings, and doing all these things that Christians often feel they have to apologize for because they are not "spiritual."