Writings and Resources

Beauty: The Art of Presenting Christ Through Church Technical Art

Beauty: The Art of Presenting Christ Through Church Technical Arts

By Josiah Way
University of Birmingham UK

— Download PDF —

Beauty always surprises by crossing or exceeding boundaries and, in this way, it challenges our distance from things and also causes us to re-evaluate the boundaries. … Although beauty disrupts the boundaries and challenges our distinctions, it also manifests what shows itself despite them: God’s glory.” – David Cheetham [1]

Manifesting his glory is God’s character; doing it beautifully through his people is his specialty. “Beauty has its preeminent exemplar in God, and all beings ‘analogously’ participate in it,”[2] writes Richard Viladesau. The term ‘aesthetics,’ from the Greek ‘aisthesis,’ means, “to feel more powerfully, to perceive more clearly,”[3]while ‘beauty’ from the word ‘kalen,’ means to ‘call.’[4] Accordingly, being an artist is to create a sensory experience of “revelation [that] has our name stamped on it”[5] through a “systematic reflection on…taste and sense knowledge…[with awareness of] the relationship of these to intellect and virtue.”[6] Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) defined beauty as “‘that which gives pleasure in the very act of being perceived’—where ‘perceived’ implies cognition, not simply being noticed.”[7] Thus, art created becomes beautiful when the object of inference is understood to be good and the creation matches the value of the object. “Beauty [in the church]… requires skill, craftsmanship, attention to detail, and an understanding of how to work with the essential elements…in a way that ignites the imagination of worshipers.”[8] Church technical arts—possessing the object that is Christ—have therefore a standard higher than secular physical pleasure.

In Exodus 28, Moses details the elaborate priestly garments, which entail a twofold purpose: “for glory and beauty” (28:2b, 40b; emphasis mine). It is not enough that the garments be pure and symbolic, but that their aesthetic radiance provides a vehicle for glorification of God in the service of God. Again, following the pattern described in the last section, skill or skillfully is listed seven times in this section as to how the garments are to be made. Yet, the purpose of skillful work is to produce beautiful creations. Verse 3 notes the artisans “whom I have filled with the spirit of skill” will make the garments “to consecrate him for my priesthood.” While verse 43 adds the garments “shall be on [them] when they go into the tent of meeting or when they come near the altar to minister in the Holy Place, lest they bear guilt and die.” Even though the garments serve a practical purpose of covering their nakedness (28:42), we see in these God placing added significance on the aesthetics of the garments in order to be made holy and consecrated in the presence of the Lord. The beauty itself communicates God’s glory.[9]

The make up of the high priestly vestments includes: (1) an ephod of specifically placed gold, blue and purple yarn, two onyx stones engraved with six sons of Israel in order of birth set in gold filigree, chains of gold twisted like chords; (2) a breastpiece of judgment in the same style of the ephod, with four rows of stones, of sardius, topaz, carbuncle, emerald, sapphire, diamond, jacinth, agate, amethyst, beryl, onyx, and jasper, all set in gold filigree and engraved each with one of the twelve tribes, chains of gold with rings of gold, and held with woven band of lace blue; (3) the robe of the ephod of all blue with a woven binding, pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet yarn around the hem, bells of gold; (4) a pouch to hold the Urim and Thummim; (5) a turban of fine linen fastened with a blue chord attaching a diadem plate of pure gold engraved ‘Holy to the Lord’; (6) a coat of checker work of fine linen; and (7) a sash of fine linen embroidered with needlework. The multitude of colors and precious gems, along with the golden bells, makes the experience both visual and auditory. Adding the anointing oil, sensors, and offerings food burned on fire, makes remembrance of God’s holiness and saving work is multi-sensory, capturing all five senses. The non-canonical Wisdom of Sirach tells of the majesty involved in the experience:

How glorious he was, surrounded by the people,
as he came out of the house of the curtain.
Like the morning star among the clouds,
like the full moon at the festal season;
like the sun shining on the temple of the Most High,
like the rainbow gleaming in splendid clouds;
like roses in the days of first fruits,
like lilies by a spring of water,
like a green shoot on Lebanon on a summer day;
like fire and incense in the censer,
like a vessel of hammered gold
studded with all kinds of precious stones;
like an olive tree laden with fruit,
and like a cypress towering in the clouds.
When he put on his glorious robe
and clothed himself in perfect splendor,
when he went up to the holy altar,
he made the court of the sanctuary glorious. (Sir 50:5-11, NRSV)

Douglas Stuart explains the fabrics and colors mirror “those also used for the lovely inner curtains and entrance curtain of the tabernacle itself.”[10] As well, the rings of gold and finely woven chords bring together all the elements of the tabernacle and Ark of the Covenant. Cornelis Van Dam recognizes the entire garment circles around the Urim and Thummim, the priest’s ability to come before God as mediator between YHWH and the people. “The Urim and Thummim were used by God to give a miraculous light as a sign authenticating the message given by prophetic inspiration to the high priest … so [to] maintain Israel’s rights and privileges with God.”[11] In this way, beauty encompassed through all senses assists in man’s acceptance before God. Physical OT worship elements were not only useful but also beautiful.

Thankfully, for NT believers, acceptance before God comes Sola Fide, by faith alone. But that does not mean that beauty is not important to God. The New Testament parallel is found in Revelation 21: The New Jerusalem, “a holy city… [where] the dwelling place of God is with man, … having the glory of God” (21:2-3, 11a). John’s explanation of the New Jerusalem, similar to that of the priestly garments, is lavishly adorned: (1) the overall appearance like a rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal; (2) twelve gates, each inscribed with the name of a son of Israel; (3) twelve foundations, each inscribed with the name of one of the twelve apostles; (4) measured foursquare with a rod of gold, with the measure of man and angels being equivalent; (5) the wall of jasper; (6) city of pure gold, like clear glass; (7) the foundations adorned with jewels of jasper, sapphire, agate, emerald, onyx, carnelian, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth, and amethyst; (8) twelve gates, each made of a single pearl; (9) streets made of pure gold, like transparent glass; (10) light by the glory of God, without darkness, nor need of lamp or sun; (11) a river of water of life, bright like crystal, flowing from the throne of the Lamb; (12) the tree of life surrounded by the river, bearing twelve different fruit in their season for healing; and (13) the face of God finally able to be seen.[12]Just as the garments and tabernacle were representations of earthly beauty created in worship of YHWH, the New Jerusalem, God’s creation for man’s dwelling with him is created in all glory and beauty, as well being a multi-sensory experience. In reference to the purpose of the beauty found in the New Jerusalem, Sproul remarks:

God is clearly concerned about beauty, and we see this concern in the Scriptures…where the New Jerusalem is described in all its splendor. It is in the language and the images used in the descriptions of Christ’s love for His church and of the banquet feast in heaven, where Christ’s church will be adorned as a bride is adorned for her bridegroom, without spot, blemish, or wrinkle. This describes a vision of loveliness. In heaven, the church will be beautiful, as well as good and true.[13]

The New Jerusalem brings together all innovation into one dwelling place with God in a way that makes worship of him beautiful. Andy Crouch notices this in contrast in the opening book of the Bible in Genesis 2:

Why does the author indulge in this metallurgical exclusion—with its digression within an excursion, “And the gold of that land is good”? … What is the point of this list of precious natural resources [like bdellium and onyx]? Note that these are not primarily useful minerals or substances. The text does not say that the land of Havilah has good iron, granite, and bauxite. These are substances whose only real value is in their beauty. God has locates the garden in a place where the natural explorations of its human cultivators will bring them into contact with substances that will invite the creation of beauty.[14]

Even in Creation, God is listing the elements that will be used in beautiful worship of him in heaven and the New Jerusalem. In this way, beauty through precious stones and jewels, though possible to be used in manifestation of idols and the prospering of selfish greed, are placed in creation for the purpose of worship of God.[15] Therefore, in these three biblical loci of God’s dwelling with man in the Bible—the Garden, the Tabernacle/Temple, and the Heaven/New Jerusalem—God places importance on created beauty. Worship cannot alone be skillful, but must also be beautiful. John Dyer summarizes the focus of today’s technical artists in reference to Revelation 21: “We can also think of ourselves as trying to build something worthy to exist in the new heavens and earth. That’s a pretty lofty goal, but I think it can help us to continually direct our work, our coding and our design to the glory of God,”[16] in an aesthetic manner pleasing to him. Therefore, “if we look to the Scriptures, we must come to the conclusion that there is an ultimate source of beauty, and it is the character of God. Just as God is the normative standard for the good and the true, so He is the ultimate standard of beauty.”[17] NT technical artists demonstrate their standing with God, accepted through faith in Christ, by performing their craft in a way that is beautiful: beauty that is the gospel of Christ.Quentin Schultze comments on the state of beauty and art in technology: “Our presentations can be fragrant offerings to God. We live in an age when many people think that beauty is found primarily in museums and galleries. … But they hardly expect such beauty in God’s house. Surely we can do better.”[18] When God sets the standard, the expectation ought be that Christian artists settle for nothing less than a beauty that characterizes the gospel of Christ.

Blame the Iconoclasts

A fine line exists between beautifully created objects that represent feelings toward God and substituting them for God. As we saw, God desires for our worship of him to be aesthetically pleasing, but not substitutionary. Enter the Iconoclasts. In fact, as Michael Anderson cites, “it is modern viewers—not informed late medieval observers—who have wrestled with some seemingly inscrutable iconographic representations.”[19] Even though early iconoclastic movements—circa the seventh and eighth centuries—attempted to remove icons from the church, those mostly failed, and ended up justifying the use of sacred art. “Iconodules… argued that there were divinely produced icons or images; that in their use, although not directly found in Scripture, was affirmed by Tradition; and that their legitimacy was shown by the wonder-working powers some icons possessed.”[20] The Reformers, however, succeed. While having solid theological and political reasons for overturning the rituals associated with the church—for “aesthetics are negotiable, [and] truth is not”[21]—they rightly witnessed the Catholic Church itself becoming a substitute for worship of Christ alone. Though successful, the effects were far more damaging in a long-term aesthetic sense than their intentions. Sproul explains:

There was a strong reaction against the liturgical system that had emerged after hundreds of years in the Roman Catholic Church, so many Protestants disavowed any use of form or ornamentation in worship. They sought to rid church buildings of images, statuary, and other things that might entice people to become confused and get involved in idolatry. They adopted plain robes for their ministers. As a result, we Protestants have tended to distance ourselves from anything that smacks of Roman Catholic tradition.[22]

Adopting idol-free liturgical practices created a long-standing tendency for Protestants to deny anything that resembles tradition, even if it is solely aesthetic in nature. Worship of God became essentially textual and theologically based, ridding itself of emotional avenues of connection. Martin Stringer adds:

The processions, along with the devotion to images, relics and the sacrament, had all been abandoned with nothing to replace them. … All instrumental music had been silenced, seemingly forever, within the churches. … The church was quite literally stripped. … Churches were whitewashed and left no distractions for the congregation. … The old monastic office that had dictated the times of day, along with much of the calendar that had determined the seasons, had been swept aside.[23]

Fast-forward through centuries of distrust in structural authority in organized religion as well as American Puritanism, and what is left: humanism. The unintended consequence of removing images of God from worship left an opening for replacement. The object that replaced them was man himself. The individual was able to become the focus, rather than God, breeding a culture of religious consumerism.

Why, until the recent technological movement, have beauty and aesthetics been shunned from the church? Blame the Iconoclasts. After being ejected from the church, artists had nowhere to turn to fund their art but secular society. The backing for great works that formerly came from the church was cut off, so artisans joined other movements that aligned with cultural norms outside of the church, being employed by the extremes of royalty and poverty.[24] It can be said the arts flourished because of the division, allowing artists to explore new mediums and ideals, however it was church aesthetics that suffered. It was not until Isaac Watts and The Wesleys began to incorporate biblical principles into hymnody did non-textual worship begin to become accepted.[25] Then, in the nineteenth century, the Oxford Movement “re-discovery of the ‘beauty of holiness’ was [at] the heart of the revival of ritual…[with] emphasis on dignity, beauty and symbolism,”[26] write Andrew Cain and Angharad Jones. “[It] was seen as a way of re-engaging people with the mystery of God and reinvigorating a tradition of worship so that it was truly experiential and mystical.”[27] Finally, though still possessing certain a level of skepticism, ‘beauty’ can be accepted as worthy of seeking as long as it was attached to the quality of holiness. Frank Burch Brown rightly ponders a “what-if” scenario regarding the iconoclast movement:

One might even wonder whether, in the many centuries in which the use of icons was controversial, it might have made a difference to understanding what was at stake if more attention had been given officially to what today we could call their aesthetic features: that is, if there had been anything like the attention paid to their look—how they were painted, and envisioned—that was given to their doctrinal and theological justification, narrowly speaking.[28]

If that were the case, it may not have taken until the last couple centuries for “art in the sense of fine art [to mean] a beautiful aesthetic artifact enjoyable for its own sake, having appreciable expressive or imaginative qualities.”[29] Today, modern art historians and scholars of high art recognize that when “time-honored symbols” are employed, artists are able to recall the long-held “complex and meaningful truths in the Christian imagination,”[30] yet still with a certain level of skepticism, especially among conservative evangelical circles.

Nowadays buildings are created for fellowship, not beauty. Thus, the result is deified meeting spaces, not physical avenues that direct one toward God’s beauty and glory on their own without the preached word.[31] When used properly liturgical icons of Christ’s saving work can become collective neutralizers, not limited by class, social stature, or theology. Kent Burreson recognizes, as a positive, “the postmodern environment and the attendant consumerist culture has created the worship mall in which congregations shop for an endless variety of options for use in public worship.”[32] This offers countless possibilities for opening up new technological avenues for Christian liturgical practices. Though speaking on music, applicable to technology in modern worship, Burreson find,

Whether an organ or an electric guitar is used in worship is an important question that has implications. The organ has proven its versatility in leading congregational song for centuries. The guitar, while less equipped to serve that purpose alone, captivates modern sensibilities about music to which one can easily listen and in which one can easily participate.[33]

Cain and Jones add,

Choirs have been replaced with bands, or worship groups; the rich colour of vestments and hangings with television screens; Victorian acoustics with amplification systems. The experience of many Anglican worshippers today is increasingly more akin to that of a secular pop concert than that of the worship that was the staple of their predecessors for most of the last two centuries.[34]

Therefore, we must now move beyond the questions of style—whether traditional or contemporary—“to the broader dialogue between tradition and context, an eternal gospel in a multicultural world.”[35] The Iconoclasts added skepticism of Christian symbolism and tradition that technological advancement is erasing. The obstacle for technical artists is to ensure the replacement is a beauty that highlights the characters of a living and active God, rather than the idols of unresponsive symbolism that lacks motivation to connect with Christ.

Awe: The Holy Spirit’s God-Man Connection

R. C. Sproul asked his graduate students if they had ever been in a Roman Catholic cathedral, and for those who had, what were their thoughts. The responses were overwhelmingly “I felt a sense of awe” or “I felt a sense of reverence.” Sproul comments: “There is something about entering a Gothic cathedral that leaves a person acutely aware that a transition has been made from the profane to the sacred.”[36] So what then is the quality of beauty that connects to man to God: awe. Awe is not a physical beauty that can be perverted, but a moral beauty that surpasses the physical. When we experience something truly beautiful, we esteem its value. For the Christian artist, noting has more value than God himself and his perfect holiness. True beauty therefore exalts the holiness of Christ. Good Christian art makes Christ’s holiness desirable. That is what makes him awe-worthy. Brown concurs:

To regard or understand something as beautiful is generally to see it as intrinsically desirable. Beauty is something that beckons by the radiance of its intelligible form, its luminosity, its unity, harmony, and proportion. Beauty can draw the mind toward moral goodness or, indeed, spiritual or intellectual truth, or the divine.[37]

Jeremy Begbie and Steven Guthrie add that what has handicapped exploration into of the theological aspect of the arts is how difficult it is to put into words.[38] How can you explain a feeling of awe and its theological meaning to a person not participating in the aesthetic event? Indeed, “among the diverse ends art has served throughout the ages—moral guidance, philosophical questioning, social criticism, self-validation, pure aesthetic delight—perhaps the most enduring has been the expression of awe,”[39] writes John Loughery. “We are creatures who don’t merely wish to feel thunderstruck, uplifted, or humbled by forces larger than ourselves, but who need to give tangible shape to those perceptions.”[40] And, exactly how to capture it in scholarly writing has remained elusive, yet it is the one quality that connects a believer to God in a completely unique manner that an unbeliever cannot sense.

Indeed, nonbelievers can experience a sense of awe. The feeling of awe falls under common grace, however to understand its work in relationship to God, requires faith. Wayne Grudem explains the creative as viewed under common grace:

God has allowed significant measures of skill in artistic and musical areas. … God gives to us an ability to appreciate beauty in many areas of life. And in this area as well as in the physical and intellectual realm, the blessings of common grace are sometimes poured out on unbelievers even more abundantly than on believers. Yet in all cases it is a result of the grace of God.[41]

Though the gift of artistry falls under common grace, a believer with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is captured by gospel aesthetics in a different way. Biblically, liturgical practices are sensory in nature. The drama of sacrifice, the taking of communion, thousands of voices lifted up in unison on a Sunday morning, these are all acts that create a stirring and internal awe that are experienced wholly different by the believer and non-believer. The difference undoubtedly is the internal dwelling of the Holy Spirit, who is, as Vanhoozer states, “the primary director.”[42] It is the Holy Spirit that causes a dialogical worship, what Ron Man calls “a dialogue between God and His people, a rhythm of revelation and response.”[43] Therein lies the difference between the secular under common grace and the experiential in the Holy Spirit: when an artist creates, the product is done, but the art is not finished; it comes to completion once it is perceived. The way it is perceived and interpreted by the recipient is another meaning in itself based on the person, not the artist. Perception, experienced through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, creates biblical awe. A technical artist presents the product of light and sound, offering theme and direction, but the audience will receive it with each person’s own perception, whether in the Spirit or not. The Bible itself works the same way: the authors penned the inspired word with the understanding of continued contextual reinterpretation.

The fact that we can admire high art at all, shows that we care about its quality, and we must then presume there is an ultimate standard for art.[44] Nicolosi adds, “When we experience a beautiful object, it communicates something profound to us, some kind of moral, spiritual, or intellectual enlightenment. … When an artist pursues the beautiful, he or she opens a channel of revelation between God and humanity.”[45] For Christians, aesthetics does not lie solely on a subjective experience transcended from the object to the mind, but in a personal encounter through the Spirit, with the living God, Jesus Christ. Viladesau concludes from this, “Christian religious aesthetics [itself] may be called theological,”[46] simply in being a medium of encounter that speaks meaning about God. Popular worship leader and songwriter, Kari Jobe, spoke of an experience leading “How Great Is Our God” and as the bridge lyrics “Name above all names” were sung, the technology team began to fill the sanctuary with various names of God scrolling up the walls in a full immersive experience. She exuberantly explains: “You should have seen everyone gasp for air… It was one of the coolest worship moments I remember ever having. It took all focus off the music, off even just what we were trying to do connect with people, and it just was all about God.”[47] Brian Certain, Creative Director at FUMC Mansfield explains the reaction from the audience, “[They] say for the very first time, they ‘get’ technology in worship. It’s about taking the technology that God has gifted someone to create, and taking that into a very reverent and traditional way.”[48] In that technologically articulated experience, “when words and music are combined as song, the result is a distinctive communicative medium that is neither wholly words nor wholly music,”[49] nor wholly technological. Beauty in the form of art becomes a tangible, experiential vehicle for God’s revelation of himself to the participant filled with the Holy Spirit.

In this way, “art can function as a ‘text’ for theological reflection⁠”[50] that speaks directly to the believer through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Mikie Roberts makes and interesting but powerful statement when he says, “theology aims to be rational and logical while hymnody’s goal is comprehensibility and simplicity.”[51] Just as we cannot fully put “awe” into words, the experience of awe, makes simple what textual discourse has a tendency to complicate. Awe is the Holy Spirit’s continuing work of Christ in the aesthetic world, which serve to draw a closer connection to God’s revealed Truths in his word. Aesthetics created are in turn man’s response to glorify God. Therefore, when producing technical art for the church, writes George Halitzka, “it’s no longer sufficient to mount a spectacle with high production values. The next generation isn’t coming to church to be amused, but to encounter God in a tangible way. They want to experience all that it means to be human; understand new things about relating to God and others.”[52] Technical artists speak Truth to the congregation, not through flashy lights (at one end of the spectrum) and straight preaching (on the other end) but through a sensory, experiential, and awe-filled story that engages the realities of sin, struggle, and redemption.

The feeling of awe, and proclaiming it as the work of the Holy Spirit, is not without concern. “The obvious problem with claiming to be led by the Spirit, of course, is the complete lack of objectivity that it entails,”[53] notes Andrew Davies. Awe inspires imagination; imagination is subject to loss of perceptive reality. Yet, it is imagination that serves as the language for inspired communication, important for both creation of the arts and experiencing the arts. Emotions evoked stimulate the imaginative process in which we are taken away to a different time and place as inspired by the art. As we allow the arts to overtake our emotions, the imagination is able to connect with God for the worship of God. This is true of the worship experience, felt in awe of Christ, and in knowledge of who he is and what he has done. It is how we are able to both create as well as take part in God’s creative process, through the Holy Spirit within us. Kevin Bauder sums up the create process well: “Worship involves affection. … Affection grows from imagination. … Affection results in expression. … What we love, we wish to share.”[54] And in doing so, we experience the ‘awe’ inherent in artifacts produced analogous with the living God, Christ Jesus.

Beauty as Good Customer Service

Beauty, good customer service, and Jesus Christ, all share one common element: accessibility. “Good aesthetics remove the obstacle of distraction that bad art places in the path of the would-be worshiper,”[55] writes Tim Keller. “In addition to good aesthetics, we attempt to make our worship accessible, which, in many ways, is also good aesthetics. Little things such as the words of the liturgy must be beautiful and understandable—even the words must have good aesthetics.”[56] Aesthetics are themselves a vehicle of service to the body of Christ; they speak the language of the engaging culture. “Because the people who come for worship represent an immense diversity of ages, emotions, concerns, and spiritual maturity, authentic worship requires a variety of…styles to convey an assortment of moods and convictions.”[57] Aesthetically pleasing styles speak the language of the congregation, just as the biblical text itself speaks what U2’s Bono called, “a font of gospel music.”[58] Art’s creativity speaks the text in ways preaching alone cannot. It becomes a source of proper service to the congregation. Artists experience a reality that others cannot. They see a deeper beauty and can quantify it in song, clay, light, paint, film, and other artistic mediums. Specifically, when artists are able to bring the church together “in concord…Jesus Christ is sung.”[59]

Our buildings too, demonstrate good customer service, when they are the focus of expressing artistic beauty. Traditionally, churches have used stained glass, sculptured enclaves, distinctive pipe organs, large choirs, baptismal water ritual, and elevated preaching pulpits to communicate the sacred in the worship space. Schultze reminds us that “we do not require cathedrals to worship God well, but we do need something more than unadorned warehouses or lecture halls devoid of any signs of beauty and lacking and visual expressions of praise.”[60] In an era where business parks and converted warehouses are becoming the norm for church settings, the technical arts serve a large roll in converting the bland to the sacred. David Stocker notes for modern congregations, in “visual aspects of the prayer and praise…video is huge. Mood setting images predominate [and] text is…relational in its orientation and is often provocatively emotional.[61] What formerly was filled with religious symbols is now compensated for through responsive expressions of physically felt sound through bass lines, sweeping multi-colored stage lighting, and oversized video projection beckoning to parallel the modern YouTube music video. Everything that is done technologically says something about that church’s understanding of the faith. Equally, the lack of technology or semblance of the sacred, too speaks as such. So, exactly where is the line? The Barna Group performed a sociological study of Millennials and their church inclinations. They prefer: “a straightforward, overtly Christian style of imagery—as long as it doesn’t look too institutional or corporate. Not only do such settings physically direct one’s attention to the divine, they also provide a rich context of church history as the backdrop for worship.”[62] Millennials split down the middle in selecting architectural style; they like the traditional, but do not want to be held to the formality that is assumed by it. If allowed to “come as they are,” would desire a formal, traditionally cathedral-like atmosphere.

And herein lies a cognitive dissonance common to the young adults interviewed in the survey. Many of them aspire to a more traditional church experience, in a beautiful building steeped in history and religious symbolism, but they are more at ease in a modern space that feels more familiar than mysterious.[63]

Ironically, Millennials rejected the term “traditional” in favor of “modern,” even if their visual selections did not equate. This speaks to the underpinnings involved in the way the church has communicated its role over the past couple centuries. This is a gap today’s church technical artists ought to keep in mind when producing their art; find new ways to use audio-visual to explore the traditional.

Regardless of church style, musically or architecturally, in a society overrun with high-quality productions, “a bad production [for any reason], … reflects poorly on the church and the Christian community at large.”[64] In a time of technological advancement where we are overrun with new technologies and methodologies on a quarterly basis, Stephen Proctor who is known for creating spectacular visual worship, warns, “just because a tool is effective somewhere else doesn’t mean it’s going to work in our own setting. It’s all about contextualization.”[65] Trusting artistic creativity is important, but creativity that is not fitting is useless. Geoffrey Bromiley finds:

Creativity has come to be emphasized recently as one of the most important goals and criteria in many areas of human endeavor. … A new discovery, a new style, a new idea, a new interpretation—even if such things do not always work out in practice, they all engender excitement and may promote a better understanding.

Offering good customer service to a consumer-mentality congregation means that every detail must be produces beautifully and in a manner that brings the gospel of Christ into the spotlight. Pursing God through the technical arts requires serving the beautiful to the congregation. In an attempt to have the audience see the world “this way.”[66] The “way” for a Christian is one that brings glory to God, for there is no neutral way to see the world; it has to always be seen through the lens of Christ and his love. If an artist is not concerned with beauty as an act of service, the arts become the stumbling block.

Pornea: Defiling Beauty for Self-Gratification

Technical artists must align communication methods with those understood by the culture, however, things become problematic when we allow the culture to define biblical beauty for us, “and then use these terms—as our culture thinks of them—to describe God.”[67] This is what Satan—the father of lies (John 8:44)—has done since the Fall, usurping terms originally defined by God, and twisting them to distort Truth. Say the term “beautiful” and most people automatically think of physical physique. Since God created man imago Dei, the body is a beautiful creation, however man has perverted the meaning to often become wanton and overtly sexual. This phenomenon, technologically, is sadly even more prevalent in religious communities than secular communities. A University of Toronto study published in 2015 on web traffic discovered that the “Bible Belt” communities throughout the United States sought out online adult material at an exponentially higher rate than areas deemed less religious: “American religiosity and conservatism are associated with an increased (not decreased) interest in sexual content.”[68] Therefore, as Brown observes, “since art cannot mediate without the aid of aesthetic imagination, response, and judgment…we must consider the perhaps surprising possibility that taste at its most encompassing is no less crucial to religious life and faith than is intellectual understanding and moral commitment.”[69] Thus, as Nicolosi eloquently states, biblically “a beautiful work has nothing gratuitous.”[70] This is equally true of human form as it is of works of art in all mediums.

The reasons for having to defend this biblically are not completely unfounded. The cultures surrounding the early church saw the arts as ways to pay tribute to temple gods in erotic and sin-laden ways, causing distrust in any association because of the tendency to lead to sinful behaviors. Even more recently, Romanticism did the same thing to beauty, created out of it the erotic. John De Gruchy comments on Kierkegaard’s thoughts: “The problem was not art but the aesthetic values that Romanticism made absolute. The issue at stake was not beauty, but the seductive feelings elicited by beautiful objects that lead to a self-centered focus and deepened the sense of human estrangement from both self and God.”[71] Man’s fallen nature distorts beauty for selfish pleasure rather than glorification of God. The next step, once art becomes a means for self-gratification, felt Kierkegaard, is that it becomes a substitute for religion.[72] “We may enjoy it; but we should not see it as the way of salvation,”[73] and be aware of the man’s nature to turn it into such. Today, as a society, we are Universalists and Humanists: value, truth, beauty in society is derived from self. Culture distances itself “from any Romantic and uncritical celebration of art, and opposes any ‘totalizing’ system such as those it often identifies with religion,” writes Brown. “[It seems] everything we can think or make is to be seen as art.”[74] This was the biggest concern facing the ‘worship wars’ and whether technology could be used for heart-felt worship. Could it hold biblical value in itself, avoiding the natural fallen-state tendency to be solely entertainment? For, as Ron Man repeats, “Our supreme motivation in our worship [must] be His pleasure rather than our own fulfillment or enjoyment.”[75]

The arts become a reflection of the internal heart of the artisan, so they ought “not to be endorsed or applauded without reservations.”[76] The artist who desires self-glorification or seeks to entertain guests based on culturally accepted norms, will become captive to the destructive side of the arts as expression of fallen self. Since technology is biased according to the user, technical artists must be careful of the art created. Schultze comments on why technology in worship faced such large distrust upon its inception:

There seemed to be little thought behind the flurry of technological activity. Some visual presentations were aesthetically impoverished, reflecting poor layout and design. Others were not connected to the worship theme or biblical text. Song lyrics occasionally hard to read or were not projected in time with the music.[77]

Joan Huyser-Honig adds, “When churches use image magnification (IMAG) to project larger-than-life images of preachers and musicians, it works against the idea of liturgy as the work of the people. Instead those projected seem like stars and worshipers feel like spectators.”[78] This is why it is important to remember that at best all art is simply an analogy, a metaphor, for the perfect beauty that is the gospel of Christ, and the perfect holiness of God. Hence, why the internal heart of the creator is of utmost importance. Miroslav Volf, keenly proclaims: “There is something profoundly hypocritical about praising God for God’s mighty deed of salvation and cooperating at the same time with the demons of destruction.”[79] Technology so easily walks that line. Grammy award winning Christian musical artist, Mandisa, felt this clash all too much. In fact, she blogs that she chose to stay away from the Grammy Award ceremony in which she won, because of her internal struggle with “being in the world, not of it.”[80] She recognized that as an artist, it is easy to fall prey to the fleshly desires that come with creating beautiful art, even art that celebrates her relationship with Christ. This is the sign of a real Christian artist, creating from the indwelling of the Spirit with a life that dwells in the terrain of who she is in Christ.

Contrast: Juxtaposing Christ as Tension and Resolution

Tension and resolution is an artistic technique common in music and dance, wherein contrasting—yet complimentary—notes or movements are performed in relationship to one another in order to create an unfulfilled sense of forward movement that calls for a final conclusion. All tension requires a resolution. There is no better non-artistic example of tension and resolution than the metanarrative of the gospel of Christ. Man, created by God, living in a fallen state because of rebellion against a holy God, can become resolved through the blood shed by the only one worthy and able to reconcile sin, God himself, through the form of his Son. Those who put their faith in Christ’s saving grace alone, and demonstrate that faith through repentance of sins, living for the one who gave that salvation shall experience the ultimate resolution of the tension from the Fall. Scripture itself is complete with smaller narrative of tension and resolution: Creation and the Fall, death and resurrection, destruction and rebuilding of the Temple, and crossing the Red Sea and crossing the Jordan, among others. Tension is built, and cannot be rushed; it is often delayed; it works in its own time. Begbie witnesses tension and resolution best in the Holy Week celebration, running from the triumphant entering of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, through the Passover meal, the betrayal, trial, crucifixion, and finally Christ overcoming death, leaving empty the tomb, freeing man from the chains of sin. It comes in its time for a certain length of time, and for a certain purpose. Compared artistically to music, “Every return closes and opens, completes and extends, resolves and intensifies. [It] holds our attention because, as long as the piece is running, we are aware that there is at least one wave at a higher level that is not yet closed.”[81]

In this way, we witness God’s hand in every aspect of the narrative, even when tension seems to be lacking resolution. Viladesau suggests this explains the recurring “tension between art and asceticism. [If] the pursuit of beauty is a form of pleasure; how does this relate to the religion of the cross?”[82] The Christian recalls the cross and feels reverence; while at the same time can see the beauty in the saving act. Beauty, biblically, is not confined to only the pure and good, but can depict a fallen world,[83] with a tension that will eventually resolve in Christ, in turn establishing dependence on him and his finished work. Viladesau furthermore suggests this demonstrates “why even the tragic emotions can be experienced in art as beautiful, and why there is a heart of every deep aesthetic experience…an intense feeling of striving toward something beyond the moment⁠.”[84] Seeing the arts beautifully as tension and resolution implies that they can communicate more than the obvious. This compliments Philip Stolzfus’ suggestion that the arts ought be understood with a “neo-aesthetic approach that attends to broader moral, political, and spiritual contexts and interests.”[85] Bernard Reymond adds, “To make music [and the arts] into a strictly emotional art is to disdain that which makes it so irreplaceable. Music’s power is to say that which words cannot say.”[86] The arts themselves can tell the story though their performance, beyond the narrative text. The use of lighting through contrast and compliment, and sounds that grow, mixes, fades, and reverbs, all tell the biblical story, in a way as the text itself is unable.

Tension and resolutions are aesthetic metaphors that frame the picture presented. They are metaphors of the culture in which they are created and interpreted. They remind us there are aspects of the universe that we cannot control. Today, with invention of media and technology, we can intertwine music and the arts to manipulate the intended meaning to add to the presented context. Technical artists must be allowed to experiment in the realm of tension and resolution, allowed, “to try new things [in] an environment that rewards working to get better instead of judgment if you mess up”[87] This is a scary notion for many churches, because it requires pushing the boundaries of the comfortable for the sake of an unknown. At one time all artistic innovations were newly adapted to the church context, and now it is time for the technical arts to have their place. Vanhoozer explains: “The long-term challenge for disciples, however, is to represent the gospel not by seeking literally to duplicate past scenes but rather by continuing to follow Jesus into the present in ways that are both faithful and (necessarily) creative⁠.”[88] Technology is the yet unexplored medium. Tech and media expert Stephen Beasley explains the tension is not simply in the art, but the tech teams themselves:

It’s the tension of excellence that creates a division within our hearts. Every event. Every Sunday. As tech people, church people, producers and ministers, the quest for a powerful, inspirational experience pushes us toward perfection in the hopes that our presentation shines worthy of the Gospel.[89]

The tension, however, becomes resolves, say the tech crews, when the result of an error-free service is attained. In that moment, as artists, “the church [tech department] exists to be a living exhibit of the reality of the gospel⁠,”[90] that sees its “climax and end: the gospel that Jesus Christ is Lord⁠.”[91]

__________________________________

 

[1] David Cheetham, “Exploring the Aesthetic ‘Space’ for Inter-religious Encounter,” Exchange 39 (2010): 83, 85.

[2] Richard Viladesau, “Aesthetics and Religion,” in The Oxford Handbook of Religion and the Arts, ed. Frank Burch Brown (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2014), 32.

[3] David Cheetham, “The Bible and Music,” Scripture Bulletin 28, no. 2 (1998): 63.

[4] Barbara Nicolosi, “The Artist: What Exactly Is an Artist, and How Do We Shepherd Them?,” in For the Beauty of the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2010), 108.

[5] Nicolosi, “The Artist,” 108.

[6] Viladesau, “Aesthetics and Religion,” 25.

[7] Frank Burch Brown, “Introduction,” in The Oxford Handbook of Religion and the Arts (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2014), 8.

[8] Jonathan Blackmon, “Scripture, Shekinah, and Sacred Song: How God’s Word and God’s Presence Should Shape the Song of God’s People,” The Artistic Theologian 1 (2012): 33.

[9] R. C. Sproul, How Then Shall We Worship? (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2013), 135.

[10] Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishers, 2006), 605.

[11] Cornelis Van Dam, “Priestly Clothing,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 644.

[12] See Chapter 1: “Unveiled Glory, Unveiled Christians.”

[13] Sproul, How Then Shall We Worship, 136.

[14] Andy Crouch, “The Gospel: How Is Art a Gift, a Calling, and an Obedience?” in For the Beauty of the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2010), 33.

[15] James P. Sweeney, “Precious Stones, Figurative and Religious Significance of,” in The Lexham Bible Dictionary, eds. John D. Barry, et al (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014), Logos Edition.

[16] Kevin Hendricks, “John Dyer: Technology & the Church,” ChurchLeaders.com, 2015, accessed May 6, 2015, http://www.churchleaders.com/worship/worship-articles/157116-john-dyer-technology-the-church.html.

[17] Sproul, How Then Shall We Worship, 136.

[18] Quentin Schultze, High-Tech Worship?: Using Presentational Technologies Wisely (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004). 101.

[19] Michael Alan Anderson, “The One Who Comes After Me: John the Baptist, Christian Time, and Symbolic Musical Techniques,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 66, no. 3 (2013): 639.

[20] Viladesau, “Aesthetics and Religion,” 32.

[21] Timothy J. Keller, “What It Takes to Worship Well.”

[22] Sproul, How Then Shall We Worship, 138-139.

[23] Stringer, Sociological History, 184.

[24] Viladesau, Theology and the Arts, 24.

[25] Stringer, Sociological History, 204.

[26] Andrew Cane and Angharad Parry Jones, “Flat Screens and Rood Screens: The Integration of Audio-Visual Technology into Traditional Worship,” Modern Believing 50, no. 2 (2009): 40.

[27] Cain and Jones, “Flat Screens and Rood Screens,” 40.

[28] Frank Burch Brown, “Introduction: Mapping the Terrain of Religion and the Arts,” in The Oxford Handbook of Religion and the Arts (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2014), 6.

[29] Brown, “Introduction,” 9.

[30] Anderson, “The One Who Come After Me,” 640.

[31] Sproul, How Then Shall We Worship, 139.

[32] Kent J. Burreson, “Beyond Style: The Worship of Christ’s Body within Cultural Diversity,” Cross Accent 21, no. 3 (2013): 15,

[33] Burreson, “Beyond Style,” 9.

[34] Cain and Jones, “Flat Screens and Rood Screens,” 40-41.

[35] Burreson, “Beyond Style,” 9.

[36] Sproul, How Then Shall We Worship, 137.

[37] Brown, “Introduction,” 9.

[38] Jeremy Begbie and Steven R. Guthrie, “Introduction,” in Resonant Witness: Conversations between Music and Theology, eds. Jeremy Begbie and Steven R. Guthrie (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2011), 3.

[39] John Loughery, “Forms of Worship,” The Hudson Review 53, no 2 (2000): 283.

[40] Loughery, “Forms of Worship,” 283.

[41] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Bible Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 661.

[42] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, “Forming the Performers: How Christians Can Use Canon Sense to Bring Us to Our (Theodramatic) Senses,” Edification: The Transdisciplinary Journal of Christian Psychology 4, no. 1 (2010), 9.

[43] Ron Man, “Biblical Principles of Worship,” Calvin Symposium of Worship 2009 (2009).

[44] Frank Burch Brown, Good Taste, Bad Taste, and Christian Taste: Aesthetics in Religious Life (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2000), 11.

[45] Nicolosi, “The Artist,” 107, 106.

[46] Viladesau, “Aesthetics and Religion,” 29.

[47] Camron Ware, “Environmental Projection,” Visual Worshiper.com, 2012, https://vimeo.com/40528860.

[48] Ware, “Environmental Projection.”

[49] Holly E. Hearon, “Music as a Medium of Oral Transmission in the Jesus Communities,” Biblical Theology Bulletin 43, no. 4 (2013): 181.

[50] Viladesau, Theology and the Arts, 58.

[51] Mikie Roberts, “Hymnody and identity,” 19.

[52] George Halitzka, “Doing Drama Right,” WorshipLeader.com, August 2, 2014, https://worshipleader.com/culture/doing-drama-right/.

[53] Andrew Davies, “Reading in the Spirit: Some Brief Observations on Pentecostal Interpretation and the Ethical Difficulties of the Old Testament,” Journal of Beliefs & Values: Studies in Religion & Education (2009): 308.

[54] Kevin T. Bauder, “Why Pastors Should Be Learned in Worship and Music,” The Artistic Theologian 1 (2012): 7, 9, 11.

[55] Timothy J. Keller, “What It Takes to Worship Well,” LEADERSHIP Journal 15, no. 4 (1994).

[56] Keller, “What It Takes.”

[57] Marva J. Dawn, Reaching Out without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for the Turn-of-the-Century Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995), 179-180.

[58] Bono, Selections from the Book of Psalms (New York, NY: Grove Press, 1999), viii.

[59] Steven R. Guthrie, “The Wisdom of Song,” in Resonant Witness: Conversations between Music and Theology, eds. Jeremy Begbie and Steven R. Guthrie (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2011), 384.

[60] Schultze, High-Tech Worship, 21.

[61] David Stocker, “Hallelujah! Prayer-and-Praise Worship And Formal Worship: Some Personal Reflections about Essence, Intent, and Blended Worship,” The Choral Journal 49, no. 2 (2008): 69.

[62] Barna Group, “Designing Worship Spaces with Millennials in Mind,” Barna.org, November 5, 2014, https://www.barna.org/barna-update/millennials/689-designing-worship-spaces-with-millennials-in-mind#.VS89E87AXZM.

[63] Barna Group, “Designing Worship Spaces.”

[64] Kyle Santen, “Bridging the Gap Between Performers and Tech Crew,” Church Production Magazine, February 20, 2013, http://www.churchproduction.com/story/print/bridging_the_gap_between_performers_and_tech_crew.

[65] Stephen Proctor, “Let Your Congregation Determine Your Multimedia Toolkit,” Worship Leader Magazine, November 21, 2013, https://worshipleader.com/technology/let-your-congregation-determine-your-multimedia-toolkit/.

[66] Begbie, Resounding Truth, 212.

[67] John D. Witvliet, “The Joy of Christ-Centered Trinitarian Worship,” Worship Leader, April 14, 2011, http://worshipleader.com/worship/the-joy-of-christ-centered-trinitarian-worship/.

[68] Cara MacInnis and Gordon Hodson, “Do American States with More Religious or Conservative Populations Search More for Sexual Content on Google?,” Archives of Sexual Behaviour 44, no. 1 (2015): 141-142.

[69] Brown, Good Taste, 11.

[70] Nicolosi, “The Artist,” 107.

[71] John W. De Gruchy, “Art, Morality, and Justice,” in The Oxford Handbook of Religion and the Arts, ed. Frank Burch Brown (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2014), 423.

[72] Brown, “Introduction,” 14.

[73] Gesa Elsbeth Thiessen , “Artistic Imagination and Religious Faith,” in The Oxford Handbook of Religion and the Arts, ed. Frank Burch Brown (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2014), 82.

[74] Brown, “Introduction,” 12.

[75] Man, “Biblical Principles of Worship.”

[76] Geoffrey W. Bromiley, “Evangelicals and Theological Creativity,” Themelios 5, no. 1 (1979): 4.

[77] Schultze, High-Tech Worship, 12.

[78] Joan Huyser-Honig, “Digital Storytelling: Use Multimedia in Worship to Enhance, Not Replace,” Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, April 13, 2007, http://worship.calvin.edu/resources/resource-library/digital-storytelling-use-multimedia-in-worship-to-enhance-not-replace/.

[79] Miroslav Volf, “Reflections on a Christian Way of Being-in-the-World,” in Worship: Adoration and Action, ed. D. A. Carson (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2002), 211.

[80] Mandisa, “I Missed the Grammy Awards and I Won!?!?,” Mandisa Official, January 27, 2014, http://mandisaofficial.com/home/i-missed-the-grammy-awards-and-i-won/.

[81] Begbie, Resounding Truth, 281.

[82] Richard Viladesau, “Aesthetics and Religion,” in The Oxford Handbook of Religion and the Arts, ed. Frank Burch Brown (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2014), 33.

[83] Patrick Sherry, “The Arts of Redemption,” in Faithful Performances: The Enactment of Christian Identity in Theology and the Arts, eds. Trevor Hart and Steven R. Guthrie (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007), 189.

[84] Viladesau, Theology and the Arts, 43.

[85] Philip E. Stolzfus, Theology as Performance: Music, Aesthetics, and God in Modern Theology (New York, NY: T&T Clark, 2006), 9.

[86] Bernard Reymond, “Music and Practical Theology,” International Journal of Practical Theology 5, no. 1 (2001): 87.

[87] Steven Reed, “Why The Attitude?,” Worship Leader Magazine, July 7, 2014, http://www.churchproduction.com/story/print/people-vs.-the-product.

[88] Kevin Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 3.

[89] Stephen Beasley, “Backtalk: People vs. the Product,” ChurchProduction.com, June 7, 2015, http://www.churchproduction.com/story/print/people-vs.-the-product.

[90] Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking Understanding, 234.

[91] Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking Understanding, 233.

Tagged ,