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

Provoking and inspiring

Written by: on September 4, 2014

I remember while working as a lecturer in a university in Seoul, talking to a fellow colleague, Mr. Kim. He was an art professor there and he showed me some of his personal work: sculptures of heads which were part pig, part human. I asked him why he created such art and he told me that he felt they represented how some people see and treat each other. It was quite startling and provoking artwork to be honest, but successful in stimulating moral reflection. He really got me thinking.

Although Mr. Kim only held a basic Christian faith in God and creation, he was nonetheless trying to convey a Christian moral: the value of human life. His Christian message was not in the obvious vein of Rembrandt’s, The Raising of Lazarus, or The Annunciation by Fra Angelico, but nonetheless, it did indirectly portray a Christian value that surely resonates with the heart of God.

In his book, “Visual Faith,” William A Dyrness challenges the reader to appreciate how visual arts have been imbedded in the church throughout history, and to understand the need of a renewal of visual arts in our current world today.

Any artist will agree that art is not created to be an end in itself. It always carries with it deeper, significant meaning, whether the artist is Christian or not. For Dyrness, all great art is in some way “redemptive”, a theme that is much needed in today’s world. However, he believes Christian artists need to go further – by understanding their work as directly tied to the work of Christ, testifying to the grace of God, making the world “into a fit vessel of his glory.”[1] He goes on, “Herein lies the significance of the visual arts for the Christian… Whatever our faith commitments, or lack of them, we live in a world that invariably reflects God’s values and even features echoes of his presence…artists by virtue of their special gifts and sensitivities are uniquely able to capture and reflect these values in their work.” [2]

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Our postmodern age is replete with images, and Christian artists have probably never had such a golden opportunity as this to speak into this culture for Christ. Dyrness believes that art may be the only means to catch the attention of this generation: “If we are to be citizens of this time, we must learn to speak (and enjoy) this visual language, even as we seek to translate the gospel into its colors and tones.”[3]

We need to be unashamed of visually portraying biblical images, for they have power to encourage change: “…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. They do not seek only to change one’s perception of the world, as all great art does, but to change one’s life, something that art alone cannot do.”[4]

As Dyrness explains, art has always been present among Christian faith. But for the promotion of Christian art in our twenty first century, it must begin with renewal, three renewals in fact, all born out of a fresh work of the Holy Spirit: the recovery of artistic imagination, the renewal of worship and faith of God’s people, and the renewal of the Christian art tradition.[5] Dyrness argues that because the Holy Spirit has been poured out upon God’s people, young and old, men and women alike, there are no longer any limitations upon the giftedness of God’s people. It is no longer the chosen few who are capable of great art that is born out of a heart of worship. It is the Holy Spirit, who has been poured out, that makes great Christian art possible: “Claiming the stimulus of the Holy Spirit is not an optional accessory of the Christian life, and any artistic renewal in and for the church can come only in connection with a renewal of congregational faith and worship.” [6]

He encourages the reader to see that artistic giftedness needs nurturing and encouragement. Yes, we need to uncover the talents that God has put within His Church, but we must also be careful to find styles and mediums of art that we are comfortable with. Not every Christian worships the same way, and we must be careful to take that into consideration. Even so, however we pursue the renewal of Christian art, we must depend on the Holy Spirit for inspiration and strength.

God, the greatest artist of all, who created the canvas of the sky, the backdrop of clouds, the colourful hues of the setting sun, against which the silhouette of the birds fly, can inspire us to create art that is a reflection of His great glory. If God clearly understood the importance of the beauty of the visual as a powerful medium that points us to Him, how much more should we embrace it?

(Posted art pieces by Shoshana Silver, messianic Jewish artist) 

1] Dyrness, 85

[2]Dyrness, 85

[3]Dyrness, 157

[4]Dyrness, 85

[5] Dyrness, 155

[6]Dyrness, 157

About the Author

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Liz Linssen

5 responses to “Provoking and inspiring”

  1. mm Stefania Tarasut says:

    Great thoughts Liz!
    You say, “we need to uncover the talents that God has put within His Church, but we must also be careful to find styles and mediums of art that we are comfortable with. Not every Christian worships the same way, and we must be careful to take that into consideration. Even so, however we pursue the renewal of Christian art, we must depend on the Holy Spirit for inspiration and strength.” -I wonder what being careful looks like… I wonder if our lack of discernment keeps us from freely worshipping. We’re so afraid of making a mistake that we rather do nothing.
    What does discernment look like when looking at art?

    • Liz Linssen says:

      You know what, Stefania, you make a good point. So often we are afraid of making mistakes or getting things wrong that we never make a move. I guess with regards to figuring out different styles, I think culture goes a long way in influencing preferences and risks people take. One thing I like so much about many Korean churches is that they’re not afraid to try new and modern things. The church I worked at in Seoul before embraced television, videos, singing, choirs, artwork and so on to enhance the worship experience. And people were drawn to it. Maybe because Koreans are so competitive and ambitious had a lot to do with it. Churches here in Wales are though would be far more tentative in embracing some forms of worship expression. It’s an interesting question 🙂 thank you

  2. Deve Persad says:

    It’s good to read your thoughts again Liz (it’s also been encouraging to see, through FB, how the church is taking shape). In relation to the question that Stefania asks above and your own statement: “Our postmodern age is replete with images, and Christian artists have probably never had such a golden opportunity as this to speak into this culture for Christ. ” I wonder it is that, as church leaders, we can encourage a corporate understanding of art, image or icon?

    • Liz Linssen says:

      Well, I always think inspiring examples and stories go a long way towards greater understanding. So perhaps looking at how other churches are using different forms of art (including music and literature), and how it has helped (or hindered) true worship of God. That might be one way. Any further ideas?

  3. Richard Volzke says:

    Liz,
    Great post. Christian artists today are working in a culture where there is openness to art. Do you think one of the reasons that the protestant church has not embraced art is the fear of become focused on idols? This is a common theme that I have heard from many church leaders as they are worried that the church is looking too much like the world already. The world idolizes everything from sports stars to TV shows (ie. Downton Abbey). If we are totally honest with ourselves, the Western church looks very much like the world around them. (I believe this is both good and bad.) Why does art seem to be the one thing so feared when there is so much other worldly stuff that is embraced?

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