A very interesting sermon from N.T. Wright on the role of the artist, and beauty, in cultures moving in postmodernism.
Here’s a teaser quote for you:
“Let me spell this out a little more fully. A fully biblical worldview, which I shall be trying to sketch out further in the lectures over the next three days in terms of three great cultural pressures of our day and the gospel’s answer to them, requires that we hold on tightly to three things in particular.
First, the goodness and God-givenness of the present creation: the whole earth is full of YHWH’s glory, and any attempt to suggest that the created order is itself bad or shabby is a denial of that glorious truth.
But, second, with Isaiah’s protest, the world is also full of radical evil, of human wickedness and its fruits, and to deny that is to live in a sentimental cloud-cuckoo-land. Sometimes, as in gnosticism, but not in scripture, this second truth is allowed to trump the first, so that the evil in the world blots out the recognition of its goodness, of the presence within it of the creator’s glory.
But, thirdly and vitally, biblical writers from Isaiah to Revelation, and not least the great New Testament theologians Paul and John who will feature prominently in the lectures this week, speak of new heavens and a new earth, the renewal and restoration of creation as opposed to its abandonment. And, when they do so, they speak in particular of the new Jerusalem: not, as in some would-be Christian imagination, a purely heavenly city which has left earth behind, but precisely the city which comes down from heaven to earth, in the final fulfilment of Jesus’ own prayer.
…And the point of art, I believe, is not least to be able to say something like that, to draw attention – not, indeed, to a shallow or trivial pietistic point, as though to lead the mind away from the world and its problems and into a merely cosy contemplation of God’s presence, but rather – to the multi-layered and many-dimensioned aspects of the present world, to the pains and the terror, yes, but also to the creative tension between the present filling of the world with YHWH’s glory and the promised future filling, as the waters cover the sea. When art tries to speak of the new world, the final world, in terms only of the present world, it collapses into sentimentality; when it speaks of the present world only in terms of its shame and horror, it collapses into brutalism.
The vocation of the artist is to speak of the present as beautiful in itself but as pointing beyond itself, to enable us to see both the glory that already fills the earth and the glory that shall flood it to overflowing; to speak, within that, of the shame without ignoring the promise, and to speak of the promise without forgetting the shame.”