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

One Man’s Idol

Written by: on October 19, 2015

In his book Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue, William A. Dyrness reminds us of the need to embrace the visual arts and incorporate them into our worship. Visual arts have been embraced for centuries in the church. While not without conflict, it was understood that beauty and artistic expression could be used to teach and inspire people in their relationship with God. In more recent history many churches, denominations, and religious organizations have developed distaste for certain artistic expressions.

In Mexico, it is easy to see the polarized approach to art in the church. Catholic churches, some dating back to the 1500’s, are awe-inspiring. From the stained-glass windows depicting biblical themes to the guiled angels surrounding the altars, one finds themselves in an otherworldly place surrounded by beauty and wonder. On the other end of the continuum, many Protestant churches look more like garages or warehouses. Cement block, concrete, and steel are the materials of choice. Many church buildings lack even a cross; inside or out. Does this mean that the Protestant Church hates art? Not necessarily.

In Mexico, and most of Latin America, The beautiful expression of religious art has become the source of reverence rather than Christ. Dyrness reminds us that, “The line is drawn between God and idols, not between God and images.”[1] While I agree with him, I would also assert that this line looks different depending on the culture and history of a particular people group. One man’s art becomes another man’s idol. Art can draw people into worshiping God or it can itself be worshiped in place of God. In a country where people pray to statues, kissing them and caressing them, it is easy to see why the Protestant Church has protested these practices. For many, the beauty of a cathedral represents a wealth of money stolen from the poor. The icons that depict biblical scenes and saints become idols. Dryness say’s, “Art, at its best, is an expression of agency and advocacy; it is meant to provoke and not only to please.”[2] While it should provoke us in a way that draws us toward God, for many, there is a negative provocation that causes them to reject many forms of religious art.


With that said, we still find art incorporated into worship, even in a hot, dirty steel shed. We instinctively are drawn to beauty and look for ways to use art in worship. “Herein lies the significance of the visual arts…we all live our lives in a world that is loaded with symbolic possibilities…we live in a world that invariably reflects God’s values…and artist by virtue of their special gifts and sensitivities are uniquely able to capture and reflect these values in their work.”[3] One way the churches in Mexico incorporate visual art into worship is through the use of panderos. Panderos are groups, generally of young women, who where flowing robes, dance, and place the tambourines during worship. When done well, they help create a sense of provocative awe that draws people into a deeper atmosphere of worship.

We all need art, and we all need to experience art within a context of worship, the question is, what will that look like in our unique place and time?


[1] William A. Dyrness, Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue, Engaging Culture (Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker Academic, 2001), 83.

[2] Ibid., 124.

[3] Ibid., 85.

About the Author

Brian Yost

Brian is a husband and father of three. He works with Free Methodist World Missions and is currently serving in Latin America.

One response to “One Man’s Idol”

  1. len hjalmarson says:

    cool that dance is common in Mexican worship! There is something about bodily entering into a “spiritual” process that helps us get it all under our skin 😉
    I was reminding our congregation last Sunday that much of the bible is written in poetry. Poetry, someone has said (Alves?) “is the art of what it is not possible to say.”

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