Thoughtful Answers – $1.00
Correct Answers – $2.00
We’ve never been a “camping family” before, but this summer, with much too much enthusiasm and vigor, we became one. With our family, our dogs, our camper, and car in tow, we traveled through so many states I can’t even name them all. We experienced great, amazing, and inspiring wonders of nature, paid toll after toll, and saw lots and lots of signs – some mundane and others with flare. A few displayed on walls in campsite offices are below:
• “I can only please one person per day. Today is not your day. Tomorrow is not looking good either.”
• “Here I am! Now what are your other two wishes?”
• “Come in. My day was ruined anyway.”
• “Be nice or leave.”
• “If you’re smoking in here, you better be on fire.”
I don’t know if the signs represented the true attitude of the person behind the desk or some unseen frustrated other. So mostly, I just shrugged them off without further contemplation, except for one – actually the last one I saw. It said:
“Answers: 50 cents
Thoughtful Answers: 1 dollar
Correct Answers: 2 dollars”
Thoughts about Thoughtfulness
Now I believe with all my heart God means for us to think hard and to present our answers in thoughtful ways. Jesus rarely gave simple straightforward answers, and his words and parables require contemplation. The psalmists worked hard at exploring the range of human emotions and artfully explaining human life in relationship with God all of which takes a while to unravel. And Biblical narrators carefully constructed their stories in ways that layer meanings and press weighty points into the human heart so that deeper truths are uncovered with multiple rereads. In addition, tracing Paul’s arguments requires sustained concentration and deep thinking.
Thinking Out Loud
Often times we recognize an answer as thoughtful because we hear the thought behind the answer. I for one very much appreciate this “thinking out loud” process. This process gives me new ways of thinking about problems, ignites and expands my thinking, and helps me notice faulty or incomplete reasoning. Ancient examples of this abound. In the book of Romans, Paul aptly demonstrates the reasoning that leads to his conclusions. Also, the Puritan writings with their form of theological statements supported by hefty points leave no doubt to how statements were formed and exactly what they mean.1
Many contemporary examples of this “grappling out loud” with ideas demonstrate ways of thinking and oftentimes uncover unstated, and perhaps even confused or unconscious, philosophies and presuppositions.2 Blogs are obvious examples. Dr. John Piper’s sermons and books are very helpful for revealing his thought processes since he consistently “talks out” the line of thought behind his conclusions all flowing from his biblical worldview.3 My own pastor is very good at this also. Our current president publically wrestles with ideas in a way that demonstrates heavy post-modern influences.4 Occasionally a line in a popular movie script or song hints at the thoughtfulness behind it and reveals the presuppositions of the writer. Another place to find public thinking is in creatively constructed artist’s statements that attempt to describe the “What?” “How?” and “Why?” of an artist’s work and that too often reveal a fragmented (post-modern) worldview or worse, a muddled world-view.5
What’s the point?
Here’s my point. According to the campsite sign, correct answers are worth more than thoughtful answers. I interpret this as thoughts leading to incorrect conclusions (non-truth) have some worth in that they reveal a type of thinking based on non-Christian worldview through which we can engage others.6 But, correct (truthful) answers are worth so much more even when the thinking behind them is not clearly articulated.
How does this relate to art and theology?
Back to artists’ statements mentioned above. Maybe it’s just me, but many of these statements leave me more confused than helped. They are certainly full of thought, beautiful words, and artful phrases, but I have difficulty understanding what they really mean. (Of course for an artist with a post-modern worldview, what they mean is meant to be relative and maybe that’s the point.) Nevertheless these confusing statements lead me to question if the artist has a clear understanding of what his or her art is really about or, just as importantly, where it flows from.
So maybe this will be helpful, or maybe not, but it seems to me that, for artists, a clear articulation of personal worldview would help improve the art produced.7 Or working the other way, look at the art you are producing and ask yourself, “What worldview am I strengthening?” If it’s not the one you are shooting for or doesn’t match up with your artist statement, remember “Correct answers to the “Why” of your art are worth twice as much as thoughtful ones.”
1. Check out the essays of Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, George Whitefield, Stephen Charnock, and John Flavel for example. For a 19th-century example, Abraham Kuyper is an
excellent starting place. http://www.internetarchive.org is a wonderful resource for all of these.
2. Unlike the writers mentioned above, it seems that many contemporary people often don’t recognize the worldview they are thinking and speaking from.
3. I’m sure Dr. Piper is very aware of his worldview. See http://www.desiringgod.org
4. For an overview of post-modern thought view the links provided at http://carbon.ucdenver.edu/~mryder/itc/postmodern.html
5. Goggle “sample artist statements” for examples.
6. You can see my presuppositions are that the Bible speaks truth because it is the word of God who does not lie. Also I realize this is a circular argument as all ultimate
7. My presupposition here – borrowed from Francis Schaeffer’s Art and the Bible – is that great art conveys the worldview of the artist.