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All of Creation is a Theater for God’s Glory

Written by: on September 15, 2016

785px-Rembrandt_Harmensz_van_Rijn_-_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_Project[1]

Rembrandt “Return of the Prodigal”

“All of Creation is a Theater for God’s Glory” [1]

And with that my soul was captured. I believe this is the most vision-producing theme in William Dyrness’ book, Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue. If we are to follow the author’s lead and encourage dialogue involving art, theology, and worship, then can we not have that conversation is such a theater?

In the theater imagery of John Calvin we hear an echo of Psalms 19:1, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.” It is our joy, privilege, and calling to fill that theater with theological, verbal, and visual truth that holds high the glory of God.

Indeed, over the entrance to this theater we find the words of the Shorter Catechism which declares that our chief end IS to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. The arts contribute to this glory and enjoyment.

Visual Faith begins with a lofty goal: “to extend and enrich a Christian conversation on the visual arts.” [2]

The book offers historical reasoning for what could be, at best, a lack of emphasis on the arts and at worst, a lack of trust of the arts. “…in recent history at least, art and the Christian church have not been on good terms.” [3] It struck me that some of the old arguments opposing the use of artistic images come from a misunderstanding of Scripture’s command to avoid idolatry and the worship of idols. Sadly many have not differentiated between idol worship and visual aids to seeing the life and activity of God. Light12 Light13 2015MtAngel.fine.ed0075“The second commandment is often cited in support of the supposed biblical reticence about imagery… But this clearly has to do with false worship and not with the attempt to portray religious truth in the form of images.” [4]DSC_1058

“But a deeper examination of biblical materials shows that there is an important biblical pathway to thinking about the arts.” [5] Biblical precedence for artistic beauty and creativity in places of worship obviously lies in the detailed instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle in the Old Testament. Exodus 26:1 “Moreover you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twisted linen and blue and purple and scarlet material; you shall make them with cherubim, the work of a skillful workman.” (Some have even read in the phrase “skillful workman” to mean that God gives a spiritual gift of craftsmanship.)DC 2014 Day 7.0035

Dyrness states, “…given that Christians have not until recently involved themselves in popular culture, we should not be surprised that these arts often express values that are at odds with a Christian worldview. In fact, it is tempting to say that until Christians and the church get serious about supporting the arts, they ought to temper their criticism about the kind of art that is produced. Meanwhile, if they are serious about their involvement in culture, they should take seriously their role as patrons of the arts.” [6]

Just this morning I saw a post on facebook that said, “National Endowment for the Arts – 50 years of shaping America’s Cultural Landscape.” This is no doubt true, and as such is an indictment against the church for having given this up to secularists.

Flowing from this book are so many good questions. What IS Christian art? Can art glorify God even if it contains no overt symbols of the faith? Can the visual be an aid to worship? What topics should be covered in this dialogue between art, theology, and worship?

It is this writer’s opinion that creation is a reflection of the glory of God, and that when we showcase the magnificence of His creation, we honor Him.

Light8

Haystack Rock, Canon Beach, Oregon

HongKong2015. 1451 Sadly, if a person has no propensity toward believing in a Creator, they may well miss the point of natural beauty (general revelation). But it is possible for people to be awakened to the possibility of a Creator by natural beauty.

For some it may be true, as Dyrness says, “Simone Weil has argued that there are three ways people are drawn to God: through affliction religious practices, and by the experience of beauty. The first two, she points out, have been virtually eliminated…leaving the third.” [7]

For the believer this discussion reminds me of Psalms 27:4. “One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the Lord And to meditate in His temple.” I think something like the beauty of a sunset or of Yosemite Valley invites us to sit down in that theater and bask in the wonder of God’s reflected beauty.DSC_0118

But whatever we think of the value of art, I think Dyrness is right when he says, “When Adam and Eve are drawn to the beauty of the tree outside the moral context in which it was given, they take the first fatal step toward making beauty into an idol.” [8] The powerful counterpoint to this is “An examination of some of the biblical language for beauty reveals that beauty is connected both to God’s presence and activity and to the order that God has given to creation.” [9]

My prayer follows Dyrness’ statement, “Biblical images demand, when they are placed within their larger biblical context, a response of the whole person not simply to the image but ultimately to God. They call upon one to respond not simply to the images in question but to the Word of God that is embodied in those images.” [10]

In the conclusion, Dr. Dyrness brings a call to the Church to increase our dialogue regarding art, theology, and worship. I love being a part of the conversation.WCPPC2015.0002 DSC_0062_edited-1

 

[1] William A. Dyrness, Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 80.
[2] Ibid., 9.
[3] Ibid., 11.
[4] Ibid., 83.
[5] Ibid., 69.
[6] Ibid., 17.
[7] Ibid., 22.
[8] Ibid., 75.
[9] Ibid., 80.
[10] Ibid., 85.

About the Author

mm

Marc Andresen

I have a B. A. in Music from San Diego State University and received an M. Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary in 1977. July 1 2015 I retired after 38 years in pastoral ministry. The passion and calling that developed in the last 20 years is leadership training in cross-cultural contexts, as my wife and I have had many opportunities to teach in Eastern Europe and Africa. I have been married for 38 years and have two adult children, one daughter-in-law and a beautiful granddaughter. My hobbies are photography and British sports cars.

10 responses to “All of Creation is a Theater for God’s Glory”

  1. mm Rose Anding says:

    Thanks Marc for given us the “differentiated between idol worship and visual aids to seeing the life and activity of God, history” and the display of art… visual proof.
    You made a profound statement, concerning the “Biblical images demand, when they are placed within their larger biblical context, a response of the whole person not simply to the image but ultimately to God”. Since “they, “call upon one to respond not simply to the images in question but to the Word of God that is embodied in those images.”
    Referencing that statement, how do you think we should respond? Or how the churches be responding?
    Marc, this is an excellent blog, and I was inspired by it. Look forward to seeing you in London if it the Lord’s will. Rose Maria

    • mm Marc Andresen says:

      Rose,

      Thank you for kind remarks.

      How should we respond to the visual images? I think the goal is that we respond with worship. Now that sounds a bit too much like the expected Sunday School answer, so let me expand just a bit.

      I find a couple of responses in my own soul. In my mind’s eye as I write is sitting and watching a sunset.

      One response is to articulate praise to God. This could be out loud, or a silent prayer of praise to God for the magnificence of His creation. I find myself thinking about how awesome God must be if this beauty is but a REFLECTION of Who He is. (We’ve all heard the illustration of the moon reflecting the glory of the sun, but even as a mere reflection that night-light is often powerful enough to create shadows.)

      A second response is shalom. Sitting in the theater of God’s glory (often disguised as a sandy beach, with the sun descending into the ocean) it is well with my soul.

      Perhaps we should also think of our response to a very different kind of visual imagery. I think of the movie, “The Passion of the Christ” produced by Mel Gibson. There is very little esthetic beauty in THAT visual arena, and yet my soul’s response is an even deeper appreciation for the loving sacrifice of our Lord on our behalf.

      Quickly – I think the church’s response should be to be inspired to greater devotion, worship, and the service of Gospel proclamation in the world.

  2. Claire Appiah says:

    Marc,
    The content of your blog from beginning to end leaves me speechless. I have no words, I have no questions. I’m just enjoying the opportunity to bask in the beauty of the Lord as you have presented it under the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
    Thank you.

  3. Aaron Cole says:

    Marc,

    Great perspective. I really liked how you addressed the false imagery and worship not being what Dryness is speaking to. Your blog is a great addition to the dialogue.

  4. Marc,

    Great job dissecting the book this week. You are very thoughtful in your approach. What makes an image a biblical one? I wonder what the criteria is for something to be sacred instead of secular? Any thoughts from your perspective?

    Kevin

    • mm Marc Andresen says:

      Kevin,

      What makes sacred instead of secular? Good Question.

      A few years ago one of our pianists played a somewhat contemporary secular piece for offertory in worship and it raised some eyebrows. Someone asked, “How come it’s ok to play Mozart but not…whoever? Of course if we play Bach, he wrote for the Lord. But on the music side, what music is ok in worship is parallel to the sacred/secular art question.

      U-2 has been in the middle of this question. Are they a Christian band, or a band made up of Christians? Some of their songs allude to the Lord, but don’t overtly talk about Jesus.

      I think part of the answer lies in the heart-intent of the artist. I think that if a Christian artist paints and wants to glorify Jesus, her/his painting is an acceptable offering to the Lord. Isn’t that Christian?

      If we limit our definition of Christian art to that which overtly talks about Jesus, I think that’s limiting and could accidentally be an insult to the artist who seeks to glorify and please the Lord in his/her art.

      My whole life is sacred if I’m living it according to Romans 12: 1,2.

  5. Great blog…so…visual. I love all the pictures. Are you able to use photos on Sunday mornings as part of your service? I also like your response to Kevin…Romans 12.2 is key for me too. See you soon!

    • mm Marc Andresen says:

      Aaron – before retirement I used photos on occasion, but not often. I have showed the Rembrandt painting of the Prodigal. Once, preaching Psalm 27:4 about beholding, to illustrate that beholding the beauty of the Lord is not a ‘drive-by’ activity but requires sitting still…I showed pictures of the progression of a sunrise: that only by sitting and waiting did I enjoy the full glory of the sunrise…

      Romans 12:1,2 really needs to be at the center of our dialogue between worship and the arts…presenting ourselves as a reasonable service of worship…

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