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Our Very Own Mark Petersen First Taught Me About This Week’s Topic

Written by: on October 19, 2018

Cohort LGP8’s Mark Peterson, in a former Zoom chat session, made a comment that I have not easily forgotten. I won’t get the wording exactly right, but he referred to aesthetic beauty enhancing worship–like stained glass, church architecture, and other scenic surroundings. I believe I remember him saying he wished we would return to more of this in worship.  I had never thought of that before. It made me think…

Visual Faith: Art, Theology and Worship in Dialogue, by William Dyrness made me think even further. I must admit this topic is not my favorite (goes right up there with sharing my innermost feelings in my PLDP), but as always, I am open to my horizons expanding…

Although I might be the LEAST artistic person I know (I am more of a kinesthetic and experiential learner), my daughter is among the most creative. She has helped me see art in a whole new light, especially with worship. I think she would agree with our author who states, “Art, reflecting the order and wholeness of the world God created, can and should play an important role in modern Christianity.” [1]

To be honest, my background to art in worship was tainted because the athletes I hung around with rarely, if ever, appreciated artists and the artistic. To the contrary, we would make fun of anyone who did. Andrew Smith was right when he coined the phrase,

“People fear what they don’t understand and hate what they can’t conquer.” [2]

It took me decades to wrap my mind around what the apostle Paul meant when he said, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8, bold mine). [3]

Thinking about the lovely as part of worship! I was thoughtfully in agreement with our author when he added:

In Churches, especially fast-growing charismatic and mega-churches, visual and dramatic arts are becoming a standard part of worship. Special effects, dramatic skits, movie clips, slides of artwork, to say nothing of worship bands, are common in “contemporary” worship services. While some may doubt whether these works of compositions will stand the test of time, or whether they are contributing to truly Biblical worship, clearly there is creative energy–and excitement–here.” [4]

My first introductions to artistic worship were not in the Protestant churches of my youth. Rather, I was introduced to beauty as worship by attending national conferences and participating in various examples of worship–Catalyst, Willow Creek Summit, Billion Souls, Outreach, Thrive, etc. I witnessed dancers, sand art, splash paint, acting dramas, and the video arts. My horizons were greatly expanded!

All this brings to mind another Scripture, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”(Romans 1:20). [5] The majesty off God’s beautiful creation draws us to recognize Him.  I will be worshiping in God’s creation this Saturday for our deer opener, with my daughter…

In fairness, Brooklyn Tabernacle Pastor Jim Cymbala might disagree with this week’s book. He is famous for saying he sent his pastoral staff to conferences throughout the United States, and when his staff reported what they learned, he was appalled. They came back talking about fog machines and mood lighting, somehow focusing on man made techniques and visual trickery, rather than focusing on the Holy Spirit and kneeling in prayer. In Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire,Cymbala writes:

“In the church today, we are falling prey to the appeal of “New!” The old truths of the gospel don’t seem spectacular enough. We’re restless for the latest, greatest, newest teaching or technique. We pastors in particular seem to search for a shortcut or some dynamic new strategy that will fire up our churches.” [6]

Nonetheless, I understand how for some, visual imagery through the artistic is a valid form of worship, as long as one worships the Holy Artist rather than the art itself. We must see the art as pointing us to Christ, or else it is just eye candy.

Case in point, I visited the Vatican last year with my wife.  We were absolutely amazed at the stunning imagery. Paintings, statues (by the thousands), tapestries, gold engravings, etc. We felt like we were in a worshipful setting! Pilgrims were walking on their KNEES to worship Jesus, praying diligently, carrying crosses. Unfortunately, the ornateness captured the attention of many in our group, rather than seeing the people worshipping the Savior.  It was easy to be distracted and to forget why this was all here.  It wasn’t for Popes (I don’t think), rather it was for the Master.

On a closing note, I have appreciated our “visual ethnography” experiences. There is something about the stories behind the pictures and videos. Our most recent zoom was fantastic hearing the thoughts behind the pictures our Cohort members chose…

 

[1] Dyrness, William A. Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue. Baker Academic, 2003. 90.

[2] “Andrew Smith Quote.” Goodreads, Goodreads.com, Assessed 17 Oct. 2018, www.goodreads.com/quotes/612917.

[3]  Barker, Kenneth L. Zondervan NIV Study Bible: New International Version. Zondervan, 2008. Philippians 4:8.

[4] Dyrness. 14.

[5] Barker. Romans 1:20.

[6] Cymbala, Jim, and Dean Merrill. Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire: What Happens When God’s Spirit Invades the Heart of His People. Zondervan, 2018. 248.

 

About the Author

mm

Jay Forseth

Superintendent of the Western Conference of the Evangelical Church. Blessed with 28 years as the husband of my amazing wife who I can't make it without. Now three of four in our family are attending University, but both my children are way smarter than me.

13 responses to “Our Very Own Mark Petersen First Taught Me About This Week’s Topic”

  1. You really know how to title your blog posts, Jay!! I’m sitting here chuckling, and also vaguely embarrassed. 😉

    Yes I agree that we all have our own preferred modes of learning and worshipping. One of the additional layers to consider is the cultural piece. For example, the Vatican is decorated in an Italian style, according to an Italian aesthetic. When North Americans experience it, it’s often too gaudy and doesn’t “speak” to them like a simpler artistic approach.

  2. Great post, Jay!

    It’s amazing what sticks with us in conversations. The beginning of your post reminded me of Glasser’s statement, “Conversations are the way we connect, engage, navigate, and transform the world with others” (Glasser 2014, xix). All conversations give others a glimpse at our faith as well as our fears. You mention a quote from Andrew Smith, which reads, “People fear what they don’t understand and hate what they can’t conquer.” Dyrness challenged readers to see theology through artistic expression and to evaluate our own areas of ministry in light of this concept. You talk about the varied preferences between you and your daughter and explain that she sees things from a more creative view. How has that influenced her preference for visual arts within the church? Does she attend a gathering that has more artistic expression?

  3. mm M Webb says:

    Jay,
    I agree with you. Please don’t sell yourself short my brother. I am sure you have some DNA chromosomes with genetic instructions, combined with special skills, and spiritual gifts that allow you to “see art” in ways that are so unique to you that Rembrandt would be impressed. And I hope so, because if God if for you, who can be against you!
    Back to my comments about art and theology and your post. Thanks for using Scripture and qualifying your support that the art should “point to Christ.”
    The most dramatic visual ethnography images I have seen in a while are the lines for the lottery. What a great scheme of the devil, the lust for wealth, to drive the masses to que up for a $1 chance at a billion dollars. Wow! I wonder how many of our cohort’s congregants stood in those lines?
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

  4. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Jay,
    How did I not know you were at the Vatican last year??? Such a fascinating analogy to connect to this book. What’s ironic is that I struggle to see the “art” at the vatican as worshipful – rather it seems showy. That being said, I’m happy to hear you found the art “worshipful” – which reiterates the point that each person sees/interprets images in their own spiritual way. Do any of your congregations do this well (use of visuals/images)?

  5. Shawn Hart says:

    Jay, I want to start off by cautioning you on justifying that deer hunting on Sunday too much; it’s gonna be hard to brag about that giant buck at church if ya shot him on Sunday. LOL.

    Second, great post. I appreciated the Cymbala post you made, because, this is often where I find myself sitting. It is not that I have a problem with music, art, or self-expression; I just want us to make sure that we do not allow those things to cloud our true worship to God in the process. I still remember the day “Watch the Lamb” came out on CD in my Christian music store; I stood there with headphones on in the middle of the aisle, tears rolling down my cheeks as I embraced every word. I would be lying if I said that the music of that song did not help the lyrics come to life for me; but it was still the words that truly touched my heart. I am just always worried that we are becoming so caught up in what WE want, that we are vulnerable in neglecting what HE wants.

  6. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Jay,
    I always appreciate your willingness and ability to open yourself to new experiences and ideas. You give great insight to your personal journey and it is a great read. Is there any artistic form you do not like? Just curious.

    Jason

  7. mm Trisha Welstad says:

    Jay, thanks once again for your transparency. I always appreciate it. As I read your post, I wondered what Jim Cymballa would think of Jenn’s blog this week and the need for creative methods of reengaging the mission field and evangelism all together. Of course this applies to the church locally. I am not an advocate for fog machines and such but there are so many ways to utilize the arts for God’s glory and not in a kitschy or slick sales type way.

  8. Dave Watermulder says:

    Jay,
    You get the prize for “most engaging blog title” this week! In the churches that you work with or visit most weeks, what is the aesthetic look? Is it fairly plain/straightforward? Or are there artistic touches or flair? My guess is that in general, most Protestant church buildings are less ornate and “beautiful” than many Roman Catholic or Orthodox buildings might be. It sounds like at Catalyst, etc, you experienced a lot of cool worship arts type things. Glad to read your post.

  9. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Jay,

    I always appreciate the candor with which you write your posts. Apart from your experience in athletics why do you think your church upbringing didn’t enhance your understanding of the arts as a form of worship? With the growth you have experienced in this area do you feel a need to encourage the churches you are leading to consider being more overt in their adoption of the visual arts?

  10. Greg says:

    When going through the Vatican this last summer I kept thinking that I would love to have snuck away from the crowds and found what inspired that artist to paint, sculpt or mold that particular item; especially items that were given as gifts for worship. Art for me has always been personal, more than corporate. It evokes thoughts and feeling in ways that I like to quietly deal with. I suppose I worship in similar ways as well. Finding a way to incorporate art in worship and not let it distract is a challenge that churches are and will be facing.

  11. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Jay,

    “While some may doubt whether these works of compositions will stand the test of time, or whether they are contributing to truly Biblical worship, clearly there is creative energy–and excitement–here.” [4]

    great quote. I often fear that these churches or niche churches that really emphasize on art and unique experiential elements in the worship set those people up for unhealthy expectations. These churches are sometimes “spice and garlic” like churches. They are fancier than those “meat and potatoes” churches. But the only problem is, they get used to the seasoning and really start to expect it. and so tend to not do well in fitting in with their next church.

    thoughts?

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