C.S. Lewis writes that “My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others.” We often declare that faith is about seeing something before “seeing it” so the visual arts allows us to see the world in its entirety, even if it’s an “Imagined World.” In reading this book, we’ll quickly find that the author explores the relationship between the visual art and worship. One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that our emotions, bodies and imaginations play a critical role in our worship of God but it’s the arts that guide our participation. Singing and worshiping the triune God makes it impossible to experience Him without our imagination.
“It is possible that we might actually win the battle of words but lose the battle of images. And losing that battle could well cost us this generation” (21). It’s very cliché when we hear people say, “It’s the same Gospel but different methods.” Dyrness seems very concerned because while we believe the methods should change in how we do things, we often resolve to the old ways. How often have we heard or used the phrase, “back in my day?” Such phrase or thinking creates a wedge between the former and existing generations.
The purpose of this book also “bring questions of visual arts and theology into dialogue with worship.” Back in “your day” or “my day” (as we say), we would read scriptures and create imagery of Christ based on the readings. Now we’re able to create visuals to help the “new church” see and/or experience the full humanity of Christ. St. Francis of Assisi tells us to “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”
“But what does it really mean to speak of worship that is biblical” (138). Worship doesn’t have to be carved with bible verses for it to be biblical and we don’t have to reduce our worship of God or spirituality to reach people. However, the visual arts help to bring the gospel to life. My church uses lots of visuals every weekend because we realize that everyone engages God differently. This book although not comprehensive, allows us to consider the totality of worship. The arts in worship invite us to respond by taking ownership of our imagination and engage God personally. While the arts may look beautiful to the eyes, it’s purpose is much greater. Think about the nativity scene at Christmas that tells the story of the birth of Jesus. Regardless of our denominational influences, that nativity scene helps us to see a swaddled child in a manger in the midst of animals and while there’s a mystery of the birth, we look forward to this imagery each year because it forms part of the foundation of our Christian faith.
There’s no doubt of the unexamined carry-over from the Reformation as images in churches were destroyed because of its apparent association with the corruption of the ecclesial order. As a result, some Protestant Christians remain reluctant to use images in worship. Some sanctuaries showcase the image of a cross, the bible on an altar or pulpit…we never escape those images. Walk into a Roman Catholic Church and you’ll also see Jesus and the Virgin Mary framed on a wall. While we see restraints of some churches in using visuals in worship, it is evident that it’s a necessity because the media has trained our eyes to always need a visual to connect with the truth.
While our culture often use images to entice us as consumers, images are a great way to invite us to become Kingdom Builders. Images enhance the spoken word and is an opportunity to help people experience/engage God personally through imagination. God often speaks to us through visual metaphors so this works in harmony in our worship. Dyrness’s greatest credit is the we invited to consider the historical context for the questions we face regarding the visual arts in today’s worship. Yes, this book is not comprehensive but it’s a helpful tool to consider.