from Wretched Newsletter February 2014
Oy. If I hear one more erudite Christian tell me that Christians can view “redemptive” nudity in art or film, I am going to send my children to a monastery. With me.
By making arbitrary distinctions between “nudity” and “nakedness,” some Christian scholars teach that mature Christians can view nudity and create naked art. These seem to be the same Christians who manage to wrangle a “redemptive message” out of just about every grotesque, perverted, ungodly film they spend $12 to willingly watch. These are the Christian critics who never learned that Christians should determine what is genuinely artistic, not the world.
How should the Christian view the subject of nudity? Permit me to share the following lengthy quotes from a terrific article entitled, “Art, Nakedness, and Redemption” by William VanDoodewaard.
Nudity in the Bible
Adam and Eve were naked and without sin or shame. Enter sin and shame came with it. The animals did not realize they were naked. After the fall, Scripture’s testimony over and over again is that nakedness in contexts outside of marriage and necessity is shameful, spiritually destructive, a denial of the reality of sin and God’s holiness.
Ezekiel 16 exemplifies this: God graciously redeems and clothes His bride, covering her nakedness and making her beautiful. Her God-given covering is not a denial of beauty, but rather a redemptive rescue and restoration to appropriate, glorious, public beauty, after she had been an object of abandoned, uncovered shame. The bride, however, turns to play the whore, prostituting herself, taking off her beautiful clothes, giving her naked beauty, now rebel, distorted and cheap, to any passer-by. Her disrobing outside of marriage is an outward expression of her inner rejection of God’s redemption.
Nudity and the Church
In the first century, the “climate” was substantially the same when Paul preached the gospel to the Greeks. Many of the temples were flourishing centers of prostitution. Knowing man’s heart and sin, God inspires the gospels and epistles to include the message of salvation from sexual sin, and sanctification in sexual morality. It is the reordering and transformation of promiscuous sex and nakedness to true beauty and holy intimacy.
This issue was not up for debate during the early church patristic age. Clement, critiquing the popular acceptance of nudity in the Greco-Roman art of cosmopolitan Alexandria in the late 2nd century, states: “Of what are your other pictures? Small Pans, naked girls, drunken satyrs, and phallic symbols-all painted naked in pictures disgraceful for filthiness. And more than this: you are not ashamed in the eyes of all to look at representations of all forms of licentiousness that are portrayed in public places. Rather, you set them up and guard them with scrupulous care.”
Chronicling and reflecting on the immodesties of theatre, public festivities, and art in his day (considered redemptive by the pagans) Augustine wryly observes: “if this is purification, what is pollution?”
In terms of broad acceptance within the life of the church, nakedness in art first blossomed as a result of the Italian Renaissance–a movement that drew heavily on the revival of Greco-Roman paganism. The artists, in large part through Medici patronage and influence and an enthusiastic upper class, brought nudity in art boldly into public life, including the life of the Roman church; the art both reflected and contributed to a promiscuous culture. Savonarola’s moral thunderings against a pornographic culture deeply irritated the bohemian Medici.
Martin Luther was disheartened and disillusioned a generation later by Rome’s rampant immorality. Italian church culture was by this point awash with the unabashed nudity of new, stunning, works of art in good part due to the patronage of the Medici pope, Leo X.
A Correct Biblical Understanding of Nudity
In the Song of Solomon, we see appropriate nudity: behind closed doors in the context of one man and one woman in a covenant relationship.
When Christ, as the King of glory, takes His bride, the church, to Himself, even in the heavenly glory of paradise restored (Rev. 19), we see the saints clothed in the white robes of His righteousness, their clothing illustrative of the necessary covering for redeemed mortals.
Scripture and history indicate that nudity in art (and now film) is not actually the domain of the mature, the wise, or those engaged in “redemptive activity.” Rather: “we dress because we sin… [it is] a reminder that man is an unholy fugitive, in hiding from God and from his own fellows” and a picture of the need for bloody atonement for sin, and clothing by the righteousness of Christ. As such, “whether it be in a nudist colony, at an orgy, in primitive society, or in the nursery, public nudity is only possible for those unconscious or aggressively heedless of their sinfulness.”
With that in mind
It is far more likely that the attitude of the acceptability of nudity for “the mature” in art, film, and pop culture is contributing to the rising tide of infidelity and divorce in the church.
To reject nudity in art and film is no denial of artistic ability or of created beauty. It is a realistic, careful, humble acknowledgment of God’s redemptive work in Christ and His precepts for a grace transformed, holy, happy life in a fallen world. This includes the need for covering nakedness.
Real redemptive activity seeks to preserve and rescue from sin by pointing men and women to Christ and His Word. Knowing this redemption, Paul declares: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality… will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God… you were bought at a price, therefore glorify God in your body and your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
Thanks to William VanDoodewaard.
As the world and some Christians view nudity and call it righteous, the Bible tells us to glorify God by wearing clothes and reserving nakedness to the confines of our bedrooms. Let’s stick with the Bible.