Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

An Empty Communication Space

Written by: on November 5, 2015

Before I begin the serious talk… I just had to share this.  Anybody every heard of “Braco the Gazer?”  If not, check this out and be ready to laugh, and cry a little when you realize just how desperate people are to believe ANYTHING!  Braco doesn’t actually talk, he just stands and gazes at the crowds (sometimes numbering in the thousands), bringing healing and comfort.  PEOPLE PAY TO BE GAZED AT!  But it’s hard to accept the truth of the Gospel, right?


Is that a “Sacred Gaze…?”  Hmmm…

Ok, back to business…

A few weeks back we discussed how faith, expressed visually, has occupied the second chair since the Reformation.  Spoken/written expressions of truth have risen in prominence as the only valid forms of declaration of the Word of God.  I would like here to pick up on the line of thinking that I swerved into during our ensuing conversation strand… Why?

Why is it that visual (and other creative) expressions of the gospel have been so violently shunned, banned, even anathematized in the Protestant church?  Is it as simple as fear?  The fear of accidentally slipping into idolatry certainly is ever-present among the people of God, it always has been.  Think about it, No sooner had the Hebrew people begun adding teachers and organized schools of thought, they began building the Gezeirah — fences around the Law — to help the people of God avoid accidentally violating divine commands.  The fear of sliding into idolatry is real.  So is that it?  Just plain old, simple fear?  That’s probably some of it, but I think there may be a deeper, systemic cause worthy of exploration as well.

William Dyrness pointed out that “after the Reformation the arts were no longer welcomed into the church.”1  Why?  Maybe because the general attitude toward artistic expressions by the Reformers could be summed up in the statement by Calvin: “Images can teach us nothing about Christian truth, since they are the product of the human imagination…”2  So, I wonder, why would Calvin make that assertion?  Follow the logic.  The prevailing hermeneutic utterly disqualified women from ordination or speaking publicly in the assembly.  Since only men could declare the inspired Word of God, it follows that only very “manly” communication methods would be elevated.

Now, I may swerve into some stereotyping here but in my view, communication methods of an artistic or creative nature are generally viewed as being more feminine, even if just a little, softer.  One residual effect of the aforementioned hermeneutic is that feminine influence in the Protestant church remains minimal at best.  Even to this day in a full “egalitarian” movement such as The Foursquare Church, it really is a man’s world.  So have we missed out on the contributions of around half the world’s population because their fundamental orientation toward communication is not verbal?  Could it be that the communication space that should be occupied by the artistic/creative remains largely empty in the Protestant Church?

I think we may be missing some important Gospel messages because we are silencing some potentially vital media.  I’m finding myself agreeing with the late seventh-century Armenian icon painters who declared “[o]ur art is light itself, for young and old each understand it, while only few can read the Holy Scriptures.”3  In most arenas, human communication is largely non-verbal so why should it be that in this one space, the sacred space, it should be so different?


  1. William A. Dyrness, Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), Kindle. Loc. 181.
  2. David Morgan, The Sacred Gaze: Religious Visual Culture in Theory and Practice (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2005)
  3. Ibid. 18.


About the Author

Jon Spellman

Jon is a husband, father, coach, author, missional-thinker, and most of all, a follower of Jesus.

11 responses to “An Empty Communication Space”

  1. Nick Martineau says:

    Good observation Jon…In my church 90% of our art comes from women. I’m not sure that a good trend but maybe something that has been shaped/modeled by our culture. Some of the great artists of the past were men but I think currently we see women feeling more free to share the gift with the church. I don’t think Art shouldn’t be a masculine/feminine thing but it’s probably good for us to understand why it’s currently playing out that way on our culture. Good thoughts. Thanks Jon.

  2. Travis Biglow says:

    Jon you are right about this because images dont have to be true. Images can be what we imagine or what we want people to image. I personally love art but how it moves me spiritually is whole other story. Truth has to be behind it spiritually to move me or to have any relevance that is lasting. Or im just looking at art and the imagination of the person who constructed it! Blessings!

  3. Dave Young says:

    First I was skimming your post and I thought you were talking about a Bronco’s event so I dutifully clicked the link expected a wild Bronco’s game… and now I feel sick to my stomach. Ugh.

    So is art really more feminine than masculine… Ok I don’t know where to go with that, but remember I mentioned that foursquare and c&MA have some overlap. A.B. Simpson in the late 1800s wrote a lot on the Holy Spirit and he would often say that the Holy Spirit represented a feminine dynamic to the godhead. Makes ya think. Is a lack of art and a lack of Holy Spirit power a coincidence in many of our protestant churches?

  4. Mary Pandiani says:

    You and your wife must be a great team, not only in ministry but also in life. You seem to have a good sense of the frustration women have experienced over the years when it comes to ministry.
    On another note – I’m not sure it’s just a male/female thing when it comes to art. I think it also has to do with the Enlightenment when we began to value rationalism/scientific discovery over empiricism/intuitive sensing. It’s like we all wanted to grow up really fast, only to discover that we missed what the child already knows – the joy of creating actually brings some meaning (kind of like God being the creator of us). In my research, I’ve discovered the value of coloring for adults as one example. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/13/coloring-for-stress_n_5975832.html
    It breaks my heart about those who are taken with Braco. 🙁

  5. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Jon, I like your thought that fear could be the reason for the great reduction or elimination of art in the protestant or evangelical church. It is funny that it could be reactionary to how artistic and visual-art dependent the Catholic faith was but also I wonder how interpretation comes into play. I wonder if the fear of interpreting truth played a role and was something that tried to be controlled and manipulated by emphasizing Scripture and reading and teaching the text. Truth could be controlled much easier by limiting the source and search for it to the “text.” I have never really thought about it like that, but your post definitely provoked that thinking in me. While I believe your post did that … I will not attribute any of that insight to Braco, even though I watched a couple of his videos:)!

  6. Brian Yost says:

    “A few weeks back we discussed how faith, expressed visually, has occupied the second chair since the Reformation. Spoken/written expressions of truth have risen in prominence as the only valid forms of declaration of the Word of God… Why?”

    I know this was probably just a rhetorical question to set the tone for your blog, but as soon as I read it, a thought popped into my mind. Literacy. Before the Reformation, reading scripture was regulated. Much was in Latin. Many people were illiterate. Visual images bridged the gap. Walls, windows and ceilings told a story. Icons intrigued the mind with a sense of awe and mystery.
    I recently talked to someone who was using flannelgraphs in children’s ministry. I couldn’t believe it, were we back in the 70s? The kids’ reaction was surprising; they loved it. In a world of video, electronics, and high tech, they were entering a Bible story through the use of tangible visual images that they had never experienced before. In a church void of meaningful imagery, the kids were draw to fabric and static cling.

    • Jon Spellman says:

      I always like the really huge disciples and the tiny boats…

      Good point about the lack of a need for written material among people who couldn’t read!

Leave a Reply