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

Visual Arts and the Church

Written by: on September 5, 2013

I’m not an art buff. In grade school, I couldn’t even color in the lines.  Despite my great lack of art knowledge and ability, I’ve always appreciated art. I love seeing the art and architecture of ancient churches. I enjoy going to galleries and looking at the creativeness of others.  I can still vividly remember a painting of a mountain scene, in Seoul’s Hongdae Artist Market that typifies the beauty of Asia (at least in my mind).  My wife and I still occasionally lament the fact that we didn’t purchase it.

This week I read Visual Faith: Art Theology and Worship in Dialogue by William A. Dyrness. He takes several chapters and examines the development of art, from the early church to the 21st century. Then, he reflects on the Biblical drama and art and then, to art and contemporary church.

The church I grew up in didn’t value the arts, in fact, I don’t know of any churches in my hometown that valued them. The only art that was promoted or given the ‘okay’ were those that were wrapped in explicitly cheesy Christian language or images. For instance, check out these lyrics from the Newsboys “Breakfast Song.” There wasn’t anything that pulled at my soul, truly transcended the moment or really forced me to grapple with things bigger than myself. It was Jesustainment and a way for me to consume and show others how Christian I was.

This isn’t to say that value is only found in the ‘secular’ art world (be it music, painting etc.). I think one look at Miley Ray Cyrus and her twerking endeavor at the VMA’s recently has dispelled that notion. Art isn’t owned by one group or segment of society.

Near the end of this book Dryness asks, “The real question, however, is why can’t we forge a new alliance between word and image that will help us meet the challenge of this generation?” (loc 1765).  I lament that the Protestant Reformation went to war with the arts, and the causality was that the arts (on a broad scale) lost any recognizable mooring to the Christian Faith. I think we need to reconnect art and beauty to the Gospel, or as an expression of the Gospel (in some sense it’s an act of Mission reminiscent of God creating).

How then do we reconnect art and the Christian Faith?  Here are some questions that have been running through my mind:

1.    How does one get people to care about the arts when they’ve never really placed an emphasis on them before?

2.    What churches are doing a good job of reconnecting art and faith? What are they doing?

3.    How does a church build inroads into the art community when no roads exist?

The spoken word is important, but so is art. It has the ability to connect to our soul in ways that words cannot. We as Christians should seek to be the biggest supporters of the arts because it’s our response to a creative God and because it should point to God.

About the Author

Chris Ellis

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