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

Theology in the Margins

Written by: on October 18, 2018

William Dyrness’ Visual Faith challenges evangelical Protestant leaders to add an artistic eye-lens when viewing how to do church and claims that art reflects order and wholeness to God’s creation.  I immediately associated with the visual art forms connected with Scripture. For example, “you can’t walk on water if you don’t get out of the boat” that some Christian’s have drawn in their Bible margins in the book of Matthew.[1] I have high hopes and expectations that I will find God honoring artistic forms that will help me help others to both understand and withstand the schemes of the devil in spiritual warfare. This post will use a Bayard technique to “orient” myself to the author and book; yet maintain a peripheral position so I can wonder, reflect, and connect the themes and ideas of Dyrness with other authors themes and ideas.[2]

First, I was inspired by Dyrness’ challenge to “make our unique image” to praise God.[3] I wondered what it might be like to see present-day Christians putting on each piece of the armor of God. Like athletes in the locker room, Christians are called to put on their spiritual defense uniforms, one piece at a time. Putting on Christ metaphorically as a personal armor of God wardrobe is how the Holy Spirit prepares Christians to both understand and withstand the evil schemes of the devil. I see this process as a pre-battle spiritual checklist that can be expressed in an artistic manner. One example of this is the armor of God challenge coin that serves as an ethnographic tool and practical spiritual aid on how to defend against spiritual warfare.

Second, I did some deep work reflecting on the attributes of God. I took intentional time to ponder and think about the awesome attributes of God’s power, knowledge, and presence. Out of this supernatural context I considered how to take up the whole armor of God from Paul’s 1st Century command to stand firm and withstand in the evil day.[4] My goal, with the help of my artistic wife, is to envision and design a type of Magna art form. We hope to use it to help connect spiritual ideas, theological principles, and appropriate Scripture for Christian leaders so they can train, equip, shepherd, and prepare their congregants to survive in the evil day.

Third, I connected reviews and articles on Dryness to see how he fits into the greater body of scholarship focusing on art and theology. According to Jones’ review Dryness is rather “esoteric” for his British readers because he focuses mostly on American art.[5] Nevertheless, he does commend Dyrness’ second half of the book with positive theological principles that help Christian ministers verbalize and reorient themselves to how visual arts may help enhance ministry and worship.[6] Lemke points out that Dyrness overstates his historical claim that Protestantism gave up on the “visual arts.”[7] Lemke reasons that while the Reformers took a strong position against the Catholic’s misuse of art objects, he believes the Protestants still found graceful ways to make “valuable artistic contributions.”[8]Sokolove describes Dyrness’ “new vision” for artistic theology as a type of grassroots movement to help reintroduce a historically alienated ministry art tool to further the spread of the Gospel.[9] He praises Dyrness for identifying the “Reformation divorce between art and the church” and believes the time is right to bridge the gap between the artistic beauty of God’s creation and the idea of doing church differently.[10] I agree with Sokolove’s assessment but I am not sure what that looks like yet in my marketplace ministry context?  

I am certain there is plenty of room to expand the Gospel message using various honoring and appropriate art forms. Yang says that when combining “image and text” in new Gospel formats that it may help bridge the gap between the “media we watch and the media we read.”[11] Exorcism is not something we often think about when describing Evangelical art forms, but Yang expressed the Eastern idea of exorcism in his depiction of “Big Belly.”[12] Yang’s graphic novel with Big Belly’s exorcism can be ethnographically compared to Scriptural accounts like the one when Jesus Christ purged a legion of demons and drove them from the bodies of possessed men into a herd of pigs that ran off a cliff into the water and drown.[13]

I believe we can integrate Pink’s image-linked ideas with Dryness’ goal to do church better by adding new and creative artistic genres that pass the theological sniff-test. While Pink’s goal is to expand visual anthropology into the 21st Century scientific community I think her ethnographic techniques can be leveraged to help expand Visual Faith’s connection to a rapidly changing ministry context.[14] I like her approach to information; the intentional process of exploring the “relationships” between visual, verbal, and other forms of knowledge, which I believe can become new theological artforms to advance the Good News.[15] In summary, Visual Faith inspired in me wonderment, reflective thinking, and connect-the-Gospel to new and creative expressions of how to do ministry and worship. Let’s all get out the crayons and start marking up the margins of our Bibles.

Stand firm,

M. Webb

[1] Matt. 14:25-33 Jesus walks on the water and Peter got out of the boat in faith and walked on water.
[2] Pierre Bayard. How to talk about books you haven’t read. (Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2007) Kindle Edition, Location 207.
[3] William A. Dyrness. Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue Engaging Culture. Kindle ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001) 160.
[4] Eph. 6:13.
[5] Tom D. Jones. “Visual Faith: Art, Theology and Worship in Dialogue.(Book Review).” Theology 105, no. 827 (2002): 387.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Steve Lemke. “Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46, no. 1 (2003): 147.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Deborah Sokolove and William Dyrness. “Artistic Vision. (Books).(Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue)(Book Review).” Cross Currents 52, no. 3 (2002): 418.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Gene Yang. “Graphic Novels in the Classroom.” Language Arts 85, no. 3 (2008): 187.
[12] Gene L. Yang. Boxers and Saints. (New York: First Second, 2013) 110.
[13] Mark 5:12, Luke 8:33, Matt. 8:31.
[14] Sarah Pink. Doing Visual Ethnography. (London: Sage Publications, 2013) 6.
[15] Ibid., 96.

About the Author

mm

Mike

10 responses to “Theology in the Margins”

  1. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Mike,

    I see, in your graphic about the attributes of God, the characteristic of “majesty”! That is the exact word I think of when I am out deer hunting in God’s beautiful creation. Have you felt it when out elk hunting, with the fall leaves in full splendor, the crispness in the air, and the sounds of the hunt in your ear? Tomorrow I hunt with my daughter, and I will be praising God for his majesty all morning long, and the purple alpenglow reflects off the snowcapped mountains…

    • mm M Webb says:

      Jay,
      Best of luck with your daughter. There is art in God’s creation for sure. It is a “lived art” that we can enjoy in the landscapes, moments, and images burnt into our retina and somehow downloaded into our 10% used brains. I wonder what it will be like when Christ returns, our bodies are given a supernatural makeover, and our brains are unlocked…..now that will be some art for sure!
      Stand firm and shoot straight.
      M. Webb

  2. Mike,

    This was a great post; thank you. I want to affirm you that the artistic creation of your AOG coin is a way of putting into practice a more comprehensive approach to understanding Biblical truth.

    Regarding the development of your story into a Manga art form such as we found in Yang, I want to offer a connection. I have a friend in Cambodia who is involved in the development of animation graphics for an app. His team can produce quickly and at a low cost. Maybe it’s a connection that would assist you? Let me know offline and I will make the intro.

  3. mm M Webb says:

    Mark,
    Thanks for the comments and I will write you about the link for Cambodia.
    What do you and your neighbors think about the US Lottery? Are they lining up at the border crossing to buy a chance? Just curious.
    M. Webb

  4. Shawn Hart says:

    Okay Mike, first of all, I always appreciate the way you integrate things so perfectly from other readings and lessons; it truly is masterful.

    Second, I’m trying not to be offended by the “Big Belly exorcism;” you are lucky it’s hard to hurt my feelings. LOL. I’ve been trying to exorcise this belly for sometime now.

    Lastly, I liked the theological sniff-test mentality. I have never been one to reject ideas just because; however, I do believe that it is always worth the time and effort to make sure that whatever steps are taken, they are Godly.

    • mm M Webb says:

      Shawn,
      I appreciate your brotherly humor that both affirms and encourages our joint efforts to know God better.
      Yes, the “sniff” test works. I hate to say it, but always go with your “gut” feelings on things, God wired you to discern things through not only our brains, but in combination with our other senses!
      Stand Firm,
      M. Webb

  5. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Mike,

    I think you have captured much that Dyrness suggests in this book in your efforts to share the Gospel through your Armor of God coins. They are a visual and tangible instrument that can open up doors to meaningful conversation. Your post connects well the work of both Pink and Dyrness and you continue to frame it and utilize the texts for your own purposes to sharpen your lens. Thanks for standing firm.

    • mm M Webb says:

      Dan,
      Thanks brother. It looks like you have your “second-wind” and I think that is great!
      I appreciate your affirming comments and encouragement.
      Stand firm,
      M. Webb

  6. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Mike you’re doing a great job seeing the spiritual warfare in all things. thanks for that reminder. I went into your paper curious about what you thought about some of Dyrness views. I can see your point of how this “visual faith” places scripture second. strong challenge!

    • mm M Webb says:

      Hi Kyle,
      Thanks for the review and comments. I always appreciate your insights. You are one of those who has what they call, wisdom beyond years.
      Stay close to the Lord and be our Solomon for the Elite8’s.
      Stand firm,
      M. Webb

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