The doctrine of common grace, like many doctrines, can be a contentious one. The basic issue centers around whether or not God is “pleased” by the actions and creations of those not numbered among His people? Because, Christians are in the continual process of aligning themselves, including what we do/can and can not take pleasure in consuming.
While the issue at hand may not seem immediately apparent to those unconcerned with pleasing God in everyday life, the issue may be summarized as something like this:
Christians understand sin to be the heart of idolatry and includes anything antithetical to God’s character. It is, by definition opposed to God since we believe that He is the sole source of all our hearts seek. So to look for fulfillment, security, joy, etc. outside of Him is in fact, opposing Him. It is a question of the posture of one’s heart.
Christians are thus left in the perpexing situation of what to do with anything not done from a heart’s posture to bring glory to God since it is thusly, in some way opposed to God?
Or is it?
What about things that in and of themselves might be benign? Moreso, what about things that somehow point to God’s character, even if they creator doesn’t know it or intend it? Music? Art? movies? Books? Poems? The very creative process remind us of a God who brings order from the chaos and flowers from the ashes. But what if the creator isn’t thinking of this or might even be opposed to such a worldview? Can Christians take pleasure in art made by n0n-or-even-anti-Christians?
As Richard Mouw summarizes the situation in his book He Shines In All That’s Fair: Culture and Common Grace:
How do we take with utmost seriousness the need to be clear about the lines between belief and unbelief, between those who live within the boundaries of saving grace and those who do not, while at the same time maintaining an openness to – even an active appreciation for – all that is good and beautiful and true that takes place outside of those boundaries?
While some in my own past theological streams argue that the doctrine of “common grace” is not appropriate, Mouw and others have come to believe that it is not only acceptable but appropriate for Christians to celebrate beauty and cultivate creativity. Wondering at a painting, being swept up in a piece of music, moved by a string of words or ideas, marveling at a sunset, hiking a mountain, smelling hops, tasting coffee, laughing, singing, crying, these are glimpses of God’s grace. They remind us of His goodness, of His character.
For many well-intentioned Christians, the fact that such glimpses are not sufficient to bring someone to salvation, they are not worth our while at all. Or more severely, they should be condemned. How else could someone come to believe that burning music albums brings glory to God more the creative process they contain?
I’m not making light of the struggle many Christians face as they try to align their consciences with God’s character as they choose what to watch, read or listen to. I’m simply trying to make sense of how we’ve come to a place where “American Christianity” rejects so much artistic expression without creating anything worthwhile of our own?
Do we believe that the terrific painting by a non-Christian somehow less valued by God than the horrible painting by a Christian simply because of the intent of the heart? Is there not inherent value in both? The value may be perceived differently by the eyes of faith but the eyes of most people would rather look at a great painting than a bad one (now is not the time to enter into the subjective nature of much art).
This may seem like a rather nebulous rambling (even for me), especially since I’m not here today to really look for answers to many of these questions. I’m simply giving you a context for the three-volume mix album that I’ve come up with. All of these questions and more have been rattling around my head for years, especially as I listen to music. Which I do. A lot. So over the years, I have kept various private playlists of songs which have presented me with an unexpected glimpse of God. A bit of grace in the everyday. Not every song explicitly mentions Jesus.
Some songs are by Christians. Some songs are meant as worship. Some songs are meant as evangelism. Some songs are by more skilled musicians than others. But, not every song here is even by someone who would claim to be a Christian. Some have said these songs are not even about Jesus (though they don’t mind them interpreted as such.). Not every song is to be understood as a theological statement or even representative of my own personal beliefs regarding God (specifically Jesus). And, please be forewarned, there is at least one “F-Bomb” for those sensitive to such things.
But over the years, every song here has, at some point, reminded me of, encouraged me on or challenged me in my own journey of following Jesus.