By Brian Nixon, Special to Assist News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – August 22, 2016) — After hearing the musical ensemble Chatter perform American composer John Adam’s work Christian Zeal and Activity  at the Albuquerque Museum of Art, it caused me to ponder: can a non-Christian artist positively influence and affect a Christian?
The answer, of course, is yes.
As I sat and listened to John Adam’s beautiful piece (an adaptation of the hymn, Onward, Christian Soldiers, composed in 1973), I was moved, akin to a worship service. I sat with several hundred other people in the hall of the museum, soaking in the music — with a looped tape of a minister preaching a sermon on Jesus’ encounter of man with a withered hand — echoing off the walls. And though I did see a couple of people annoyed by the looped sermon, it didn’t’ interrupt my deep appreciation of the composition and spiritual nature of the moment. I sat in prayerful thought.
And what made the whole situation intriguing—as pointed out above—is that I was listening to a composition by a non-Christian (Adams has been described as a “secular liberal living in Berkeley, California” ) in a public space not overtly dedicated to Christ. But for me—a convictional Christian—the moment was a thing of beauty, echoing God’s brilliance, and thereby a time of meditation on God’s grace. Yep, grace.
Let me explain.
When I think of music — or any of the arts — my mind turns to the theological principle of “common grace.” Rightfully understood, common grace refers to that which is common to all of humanity, those shared particulars—or benefits—every human being partakes. These benefits come in the form of creation (the natural world) and culture (the humanities, arts, science, and civilization). These gifts are given by God to all of humanity—Christian and non-Christian—to be enjoyed as benefactors of His grace.
Another quick item to point out: common grace is differentiated from saving grace in that the later conjoins salvation (the theological term of justification) and redemption. Common grace is God’s gift to all; saving grace is God’s gift to those who receive and believe.
Culture — at its root — is about grace. As a Christian I can benefit from common grace—whatever the medium, due to the fact that God is the ultimate Cause of all good things.
So on a basic level a Christian can benefit from a non-Christian’s work through common grace, as I was from Adam’s sublime composition. But grace isn’t the only area that Christians benefit. We also benefit from things that proclaim the truth.
And why is this? Because like grace, God is the Author of truth; it originates with Him. God is Truth. As God incarnate, Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” If something is truly true, it is from God.
Think of it this way: if God is the Source of all truth, then truth — wherever it is discovered — is from God. Augustine of Hippo said, “Wherever truth may be found it belongs to the Lord.” Wheaton professor, Arthur Holmes, narrowed it down to a simple axiom, “All truth is God’s truth.”
And if there is truth to be found in something that a non-Christian created, said, or discovered, so be it; let’s rejoice and partake in it as a gift from God.
In the end, finding God’s grace and truth in the most unexpected places is an adventure, one full of transcendent encounters with the Living God.
So as I continued to listen to the ensemble play the slow moving composition by Adams, I thanked God for His goodness, yielding to the moment of beauty by letting the music proclaim what the composer didn’t overtly do; allowing the truth of the music to declare itself in the realm of God’s grandeur.
Thanks, Mr. Adams — your composition worked: it provoked Christian zeal and activity.
Photo captions: 1) David Felberg, conductor and director of Chatter. 2) John Adam’s CD. 3) Chatter performing in Albuquerque. 4) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA) and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon.
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