I think there are some Christians, in the ultra-conservative camp, who have an angst, an unspecified fear, of art. Emotions, after all, aren’t easily constrained, and if art does anything at all, it elicits an emotional response. An experience with something of beauty might feed my desire; desire awakened could arouse my passion—and that can’t be good! Furthermore when God was setting down his commands, “no graven images” made the Big Ten of things to avoid. It’s more likely, though, that the anxiety around art in general and specifically the visual arts in worship is a reaction to the sensual nature of Roman Catholic worship.
With nothing against the convictions or morals of the movement of English protestants known as the puritans, “puritan” and “puritanical” in modern language has come to mean (unfairly) against pleasure—a label assigned by the world to some of us conservatives. It is a twist of the enemy. Satan wants us to believe that God is stoic, austere, against pleasure—that desire, pleasure, and the sensual are part of the enemy’s worldly assets. But it is God who is the creator; He made the world and filled it with beauty, with wonder, with intricacy. Creation, God’s work, delights the senses and is a form of visual art; it can draw us to God. As Paul puts it “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.”
Theologian William Dryness argues for an understanding of art that draws us into transcendence. He writes “All great art is often symbolic in this sense; it opens up window to the transcendent dimension of life and calls for a response to this dimension.” In the presence of fine art we become aware that there is something more then the natural world, there is something nobler, or something evil. Again he writes, “We live in a world that invariably reflects God’s values and even features echo of his presence. People may miss the significance of these echoes, but as long as they are human they cannot miss the values embedded in creation.”
Dryness argues that through the sensual nature of art our longings are stirred and we recognize they are not fulfilled, that there is something more. The artist, then, Christ-follower or not, has a special mission: “to call the world to a kind of rest or remind it of its restlessness.” Artists may intuitively perceive the spiritual reality and be able to reflect that dimension; this can provide an indirect (and perhaps unintentional) witness.
I think many of my conservative friends are going to continue to be anxious about art as long as they are misunderstanding the virtue of desire, longing, passion and sensuality. We can’t be against those things—they were God’s ideas, and he created our five senses to enjoy this world. By awakening our passions or stirring our longings, Art or beauty can be a prophetic witness that convicts us, or at least reminds us, of what we are created for. C.S. Lewis put it this way “Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong but too weak… We are far too easily pleased.” In the same sermon Lewis goes on to argue that the places in which we find beauty—such as in books or music—is where we thought beauty was located, but that’s a danger. If we trust them they will betray us because beauty was not in them but only came through them. And what truly came through them was longing. These things—beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire.  Lewis is arguing that beauty stirs our longings, memory stokes our passions, and both can bring us to experience God. Not if we put our trust, our affections, our passion in the object—perhaps a memory, a song, a piece of art—that’s idolatry. It is when the object is used as a conduit for worship that it is serving its highest and its intended purpose. So maybe the sensual worship of the Roman Catholics isn’t all bad?
 Romans 1:20 NIV
 William A. Dyrness, Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 84.
 Ibid., 85.
 Ibid., 101.
 C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory” (sermon, Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Oxford, England, June, 8, 1942),