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« Introducing the EngagingChurch Podcast: a New Resource for Pastors, Leaders, Small Groups | Main | EngagingChurch Podcast #2 EP: Dave Ferguson on Church Growth, Small Groups, and Discipleship »

May 14, 2010


“Return of the Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt

"Salt and Earth" by Young Kim

Those white things are piles of salt. This work was literally swept away the next week, but that's one reason it had such an effect on me.

Wow, I really thought there were some good points in this podcast.

1. I relate to what you said about Protestants' lack of incorporation of visual arts compared to the Catholic or Eastern Orthodox traditions. One church I went to with my family for about three years when I was a teenager had theological leanings from the Reformed tradition. The pastor preached very strongly against images (icons) depicting Christ in any form. He believed it was a clear violation of Exodus 20:4 ("You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness... or worship them or serve them" etc.) I don't know how I processed that at the time, but I do know it must have had some effect, to the point where it was pretty jarring for me when, not too long ago, I was visiting a friend's house and saw a painting of Jesus in her bathroom. I wonder if Protestants with similar experiences have failed to understand what idol worship is and taken that verse too far, to the point where images used in church or worship (or even the home) are immediately linked with "iconography." Of course, I can't really speak for anyone but myself on this. :)

2. I agree with Chris that a greater range of art forms seem to be used to teach biblical truths or help with worship in children's church or Sunday school, but those different forms, for the most part, seem to cease from play as we grow older. We learn to read the Bible and think about the words, but we're not as often being presented with images, or encouraged to draw, dance, perform theatrically, etc. There are some churches that present exceptions to this, but I think for the most part there are your standard once-a-year Christmas plays/passion plays, and other than that it's music and the sermon from week to week. I wonder if this stems from the fact that younger children don't yet have the concrete thinking skills/attention spans to sit through lectures, so we engage them in shorter bursts of multisensory experiences, but then when they get older they're supposed to "do as adults do" and sit still and listen. I'm not saying it's entirely a bad thing, but it seems to fit into an overall Western classroom model that is carried from secular learning to church learning.

All that said, here is a simple image that engages my mind and heart. It's a painting owned by a good friend; she posted it on her blog last year: http://mosaicsynapse.blogspot.com/2009/08/wordless-wednesday-baggage-claim.html. I'm not sure who created the painting, but it seems to sum up the journey of Christian in Pilgrim's Progress when he finally came to the end of his road and let go of his burden at the cross. This is how I like to think of salvation.

Rachel, thanks for your comments!

I have also heard some Protestants warn against art, citing the Old Testament passages against graven images. I don't know what to do with this though, considering Christianity's long history of making art. For example, I like this image of the Good Shepherd from the Roman Catacomb of San Callisto - the picture could be up to 1800 years old http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Good_shepherd_02b_close.jpg

In the light of this ancient tradition of glorifying God through art, I wonder if Protestants' views on art actually have more to do with the second point you bring up: that since the Reformation, Protestant worship service has been influenced by the University classroom model.

PS, I think there was a typo in your url, but I found the image, and it's great: http://mosaicsynapse.blogspot.com/2009/08/wordless-wednesday-baggage-claim.html
Thanks for sharing!

I enjoy this depiction of Luke 2:46-47.


I'd be interested in hearing a vigorous discussion of orthodoxy as it relates to artistic freedom. That seems like it could become a volatile issue if the arts were to assume a more widespread and prominent role in Christian worship.

It seems like, for instance, like every form of heresy is also a form of creative expression. Maybe the problem comes when heretical doctrines are designated as truth claims instead of just thought experiments. Would some of the heresies have been considered acceptable by the church if, for instance, their inventors (I don't know the official term for "someone who makes up heretical doctrines") had given a disclaimer, "Hey, I'm not saying this is true, I just think it's kind of a fun idea." If they had designated their doctrines as fiction. Like ghost stories written by people who have no belief whatsoever in ghosts.

Creativity has gotten people into trouble in religious (and obviously not just Christian!) circles. In many minds, I dare say "religion" equates to "ripeness to be offended".

Some churches would be very open to artistic expression, I know. And I have to assume that others would be totally closed, or at least wary. For good reason? I'd be interested in hearing two intelligent people with opposite views discuss this.

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