DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Nothing New: Worship Wars and Artistic Challenges

Written by: on September 16, 2016

Introduction:
Visual Faith: Art, Theology and Worship in Dialogue by William A. Dryness is a culturally engage look at the foundation, history and present interaction and conflict of perspectives on the subject of “visual faith” in the church. By the book’s title, Dryness defines “visual faith” as all forms of artistic expression in church past and present. It is exhaustive in the historical time line of visual faith with hitting the major events with a very broad stroke.

Summary:
Dryness takes a relatively historical approach to the subject of Visual faith. He begins with the first century and the early church and works his way to the twenty first century. As he journeys the reader, he stops for certain high points and mile stones: symbolism used in the first century; then to marble imaginary used in the third century; then to artistic freedom under Constantine in the 300’s; the use of icons in the sixth century; the Middle Ages and Early Renaissance’s use of architecture with stained glass and painting; then to a negative artistically repressive response from Calvin in the sixteenth century; finally to the eighteenth century forward with use of painting, writing, architecture, and music. Dryness also looks at various perspectives and points of views. These include conflicts and tensions along the journey. He walks the reader through the explosion of art and use of “borrowing” from culture in the Roman Empire especially under Constantine’s rule. The effect of the reformation, both Protestant and Catholic thought. Lastly he shows how faith effected art and modern art as we know it, from Impressionists as illustrated in Rembrandt’s “ Raising of Lazarus” to modern theologians such as Karl Barth’s positive theological reflection of the music of Mozart. Finally he brings the reader into the twenty first century with modern day use of video, media, and various styles and persuasions of worship. Dryness’ book is very unique and refreshing look at secular and sacred artistic expression and how they interact.
Analysis:

What struck me was the use and tension of “visual art” with the church’s given theological response or stance depending on a given time period. Visual art, such as music, is neither “secular” or “sacred”. It just is. However, given one’s theological persuasion or point of view, something so neutral can become so divisive. This tension is not new, nor will it go away. Because we are people with a variety of theological opinions and perspectives, all shaped by environment, education, experiences, and personal taste. The individuality of taste and perspective produces differing opinions that with labeled with a “God card” of sacred or secular becomes divisive more than unifying. This “divisive” nature is not a by product of the visual art itself, but rather the eyes and ears of the audience to whom it is presented.

Dryness address this “tension” over a dozen times in his writing. He states: “historical relationship between Christianity and the arts, the involvement of Christian artists in the church is necessarily fraught with tensions.” These tensions began with early church in the Middle Ages, but continue on today: “tensions over the use of secular art forms and appropriate ways art can be used in the church, have reappeared throughout Christian history. It is important, therefore, before we consider the special challenges faced by twenty-first-century Christians, to briefly survey the ways Christians have used the visual arts in the past.” This tension extends to current times: “When it comes to making art, Christians face an opportunity or a challenge, depending on one’s perspective. Contemporary art is experiencing unprecedented transitions and tensions.”

My point is: regardless if it is visual art or audio art, there has been and will always be a difference of opinion and value. This difference will result in tension, and sometimes a very divisive tension as was seen with Calvin. However, the tension is not something to be ignored or eradicated, rather it is to be managed. The management of the tension allows for differing and sometime dissenting voices. None of which will stop the Kingdom of God or His Church. The debate historically has strengthened the faith of the people of God and has resulted in amazing works of art, music and literature. We live in a day an age where styles of worship, aka “worship wars”, are the visual art “tension” of our time. How will we be remembered? What will history say? The debate and the dialogue is valuable and inevitable. However, regardless of our conclusions the tension will remain and the Church will prevail.

About the Author

Aaron Cole

13 responses to “Nothing New: Worship Wars and Artistic Challenges”

  1. Hi Aaron. I thought the great worship wars ended in the ’90s. I like how this book was about images and not music. Do you ever incorporate images in your Sunday morning?

    • Aaron Cole says:

      Yes, I think use images (not every week) but often in worship services. My connection to music and worship wars came from Dryness’ connection: ““Their music and penchant for the visual gradually began to make their way into mainline churches, resulting frequently in tensions known as worship wars. But these developments inevitably created a new openness to innovation both in the musical and the visual arenas.” (iBook, 90)

  2. Claire Appiah says:

    Aaron,
    Thanks for such a great summation and analysis of Dyrness’s book; you showed me how much I missed in the book and failed to see.
    You stated, “The tension is not something to be ignored or eradicated, rather it is to be managed. The management of the tension allows for differing and sometimes dissenting voices.” This sounds like revelatory wisdom coming straight out of your dissertation research. You have gained a lot since the past summer. Good job with the integration and contextualization.

  3. mm Marc Andresen says:

    Aaron,

    With your interest in tension creating forward movement (my words, not yours), have you had to manage “worship wars?” If so, what kind of conversations did you have – or what kinds of conversations would you like to have?

    • Aaron Cole says:

      Yes, from style (contemporary vs. traditional), use of musical instruments (especially drums and electric guitars), volume. I find that music/worship is not right or wrong, but it is completely preference. For me, I strive to bend to the culture in style, this tends to create tension. I think it’s important to manage the tension and not to be dismissive with someone because I disagree, but rather seek to understand and bring them along the journey.

  4. mm Phil Goldsberry says:

    Aaron:
    You said: Visual art, such as music, is neither “secular” or “sacred”. It just is. However, given one’s theological persuasion or point of view, something so neutral can become so divisive. This tension is not new, nor will it go away.

    Can the “arts” cross the line past secular to “sinful”….even among Christians? Can we cross the line even under the banner of “sacred”?

    Dyrness seems to challenge and address historically what the church’s challenge has been on the “arts”. I felt he handled a touchy situation well.

    Phil

  5. mm Rose Anding says:

    Thanks Aaron C !
    This statement concerning “…”Visual art, such as music, is neither “secular” or “sacred”, which cause me to ask another question, Is music, “ Spiritual”? Because we are able to see, “throughout Scripture, and other recorded history, music plays a major role in the human experience. The Bible documents music as a means of readying an army for battle (Ps. 68), inspiring people to worship (Ps. 100), evangelism (Rom. 15:9), prophecy (Is. 23), lament, testimony (Is. 27:1-3), and celebration (James 5:13). Then one must ask, What kind of visual art is music?
    There is an abundance of music created and used for entirely irreligious purposes—everything from seducing members of the opposite sex to selling room deodorizers, but I don’t believe those secular uses can strip music of its essentially spiritual nature.”
    Your blog is excellent and very interesting, too bad we are not in chat next week. Hope to see you in London if it is the Lord’s Will. Greater work! Rose Maria

  6. Aaron Cole says:

    Rose, great point! I agree with both you that music is spiritual and that secucular uses cannot strip music of it’s spiritual nature. See you in London.

  7. Aaron,

    Your analysis of this book was very valuable. We have read many books that walk us all the way through the church’s history. I thought you made a very valid point when you said this “My point is: regardless if it is visual art or audio art, there has been and will always be a difference of opinion and value.” I think this is the best summation of this whole topic. It is a matter of opinion and value. How do you manage the tension of difference of opinion?

    Kevin

  8. Jason Kennedy says:

    AC
    Great post. Differences of opinion are a driving factor. Do you ever preach anything generally to the congregation that teaches them to discern the difference between opinion and conviction?
    J

  9. mm Garfield Harvey says:

    Aaron,
    Nice post. You stated that “The debate historically has strengthened the faith of the people of God and has resulted in amazing works of art, music and literature.” While this is true, unfortunately, our faith is strengthened because we try to justify our actions instead of finding balance. We have four church campuses and I oversee the music of the satellite campuses. All four campuses are different in styles and impact because we lead our worship through the culture of our church location.

    The challenge we face is that we use a societal problem to dictate the answer to isolated problems. Our central campus has all the glitz and glamor but our newest campus only has one singer leading worship. Will that change? Yes, but we’re allowing the culture to dictate what happens next because the church has been growing by 10% each week for the last month and we haven’t even relocated members from our Central Campus. It’s easy to say that each campus should be identical or use theology to support my preference but the culture can dictate something different.

    Garfield

Leave a Reply