Art and the Christian Faith have had close historical ties. It has been shunned and embraced. But defining what Christian art is and how it is to be used in church has been controversial. Emerging younger congregations have both embraced and avoided it also. In our city there are many churches started in schools. Their buildings are functional. Their art is almost totally through projection of PowerPoint slides or objects used as illustrations during the sermons. Other young churches are embracing older architecture and visual art in their sanctuaries. In our city an emerging church is being planted by Mars Hill Church. They have purchased at great cost an older church building to begin ministry. There is a growing interest in art and faith, specifically, the art community interacting with the faith community. The arts are being embraced by emerging churches.
Are now emerging churches looking for beauty in buildings rather than rent storefronts and schools?
William Dryness’s book Visual Faith: Art, Theology and Worship in Dialogue addresses a Christian perspective on the arts. He cites three theological windows with which to view art: Creation, the Incarnation and the Trinity. All three add weight to how one views art from a Christian context. All three have limitations. Creation is God’s creative act that shows that God is the original creator of artistic expression, but an overemphasis can degrade God to only his expression. The emphasis on the Incarnation in art displays God’s willingness to enter into his creation. But Incarnation alone can avoid the transcendent nature of both God and art. The Trinity displays the personal involvement of God in both his creation and its redemption. This last window has much potential for understanding artistic expression in the church.
Christian art comes out of an understanding of God as a Trinity who loves the world. The beauty of art is its appealing nature. But not all art is redemptive or appealing. What is beauty? It has been said, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Is beauty objective and beyond us ready to be discovered? Or, is beauty subjective and merely perception. One sense of the Hebrew word for beauty is the “quality that merits the admiration of others.” (p.71). It is pleasing to look at, but even more pleasing in quality. While my personal opinion is good art stirs within a person something deep and compels a sense of the transcendent. Bad art is thrown upon an individual from without. Good art elicits a response for change. Bad art only has commercial value and so easily can be ignored or discarded. Dryness sees a modern misunderstanding of aesthetic beauty. He states, “We no longer understand the role beauty ought to play in our fragmented lives.” Beauty reflects the creative order. When we are disconnected to beauty, beauty reveals the isolation in our lives. Art also is to be redemptive. It is to reflect who God is and draw us near to him.
In our churches reflecting the beauty of God seen in creation, incarnation and the trinity is a good place to begin artistic work. In that way we make our places of worship speak of the God who reaches out in reconciling love.
Questions to pursue:
How do you lead a church that traditionally put a lot of focus on making the church building attractive to the neglect of interacting with the surrounding community? Where does art fit in without capitulating to being inward focused all over again?
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William A. Dyrness, Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue. Baker Books: Grand Rapids, Mich., 2001.