DMINLGP

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

Windows, echoes and idols

Written by: on September 7, 2015

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.”[1]

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.”[2] 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.”[3]

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.”[4] 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.”[5] 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. [6] 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?

 

[1] Romans 1:20 NIV

[2] William A. Dyrness, Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 84.

[3] Ibid., 85.

[4] Ibid., 101.

[5] C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory” (sermon, Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Oxford, England, June, 8, 1942),

[6] Ibid.,

About the Author

mm

Dave Young

husband, dad, friend, student of culture and a pastor.

9 responses to “Windows, echoes and idols”

  1. Travis b says:

    Great Dave. People who have reservations about art are probably passionless anyway. Things like dry, boring and cave like come to mind.

  2. mm Nick Martineau says:

    Dave, I love that CS Lewis quote and I love how you connected it to Dyrness. Really good stuff. At the end of your post you said, “It is when the object is used as a conduit for worship that it is serving its highest and its intended purpose.” What a great line of thinking for Art and a great challenge for those of us in the church. Thanks Dave!

  3. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Great post Dave, Well written and rest support for your ideas. I love your line, “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.” The enemy’s worldly assists is such a great way to frame how the church has misused and misunderstood so much about God’s beauty in creation.

  4. Jon Spellman says:

    Dave, funny thing, I had an AMAZING reply that I sent this afternoon… I actually sent it twice because after the first time, my internet dropped so I retyped it. Ha! So now I’m typing a MUCH shorter version…

    Basically it comes down to the question of, “can we be sensual without being sinful?” It seems that we are afraid of the emotions (senses of the soul) because they can lead us into places of sin and depravity but God created us with them for a reason! How can we enjoy the benefit of the very sourish, sensual responses that get kicked up by artistic expressions while still maintaining a holy life?

    There, it made more sense the first two times I wrote it!
    J

    • mm Dave Young says:

      Jon, Of course we can be sensual without being sinful, and emotional without the emotions twisting us away from God – ah but how? I think it starts with orthodoxy: right thinking about God. God is emotional, has senses and made pleasure and he takes pleasure in what he’s created “it’s good”. Therefore to reflect emotions, sensuality, and taking pleasure in various aspects of life is all appropriate, healthy and a the good part of life. Right thinking about this topic also means recognizing the enemy twists what is created as good. It’s the twist that we often live with and start to believe is normal (emotions causing relational damage or sensuality motivating ungodly pleasure). So to your question, ‘how do I …still maintain a holy life?’ I allow my orthodoxy to inform my orthopathy (feelings, emotions and especially affections) and my orthopraxy (what I do with it). Albeit never as well as I’d like.

  5. mm Mary Pandiani says:

    I hadn’t read your post, Dave, before I posted mine – I think art has so much to do with transcendence, as we both pointed out. Common theme there.
    I, like Nick, appreciate how you brought in C.S. Lewis’ take on our desires. I feel like our evangelical world, my own tribe, operates too much out of fear, or even worse, deadening that which God created within us. I hope to live into the “life abundant” that Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection advances not only for the Kingdom, but for us personally.

  6. mm Brian Yost says:

    “Creation, God’s work, delights the senses and is a form of visual art; it can draw us to God.”
    So true. So many people love to spend time in nature because it makes them feel closer to God. It just makes sense that those who are created in God’s creative image and love to experience God’s creation would be compeled to be creative. Art is such a natural way for us to express that creativity.

  7. Royalflush88 says:

    Thank you for sharing this amazing post, very helpful. Very informative, don’t forget to visit our Wesbite too

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *