Do you wonder about the role of art in worship?
Have you wrestled to understand the connection between art and the heart?
The Bible reveals many things about the connection between truth and beauty. (Here are some thoughts I shared in a previous article.) In this post, I’d like to briefly explore four implications and point you to some resources that take a deeper look at these subjects.
Four Paths from Art to the Heart
1. Artful communication circumvents normal arguments and logic we use to avoid hard truths.
You could say that Jesus was the master communicator. Jesus understood all the audiences he addressed; from theologians to fishermen; from scholars to tax collectors and prostitutes. While he had no problem teaching didactically (look at the Sermon on the Mount in Matt. 5-7), he normally taught through parables. He understood this powerful communicators axiom—stories are more likely to penetrate into our minds and hearts.
While in seminary, my preaching professors all emphasized how important it was to illustrate our theological points. In his book How to Talk So People Will Listen, Dr. Steve Brown developed a very helpful acrostic around the word TULIP. He teaches communicators to:
- Be Therapeutic – address real life concerns and needs;
- Be Unconventional – don’t be afraid to color outside the lines, but know your audience’s pain points;
- Be Lucid – be clear and memorable;
- Illustrate, illustrate, illustrate – enough said?
- Be Passionate – don’t leave your study until you have a word from God.
One of the reasons churches use drama and videos and that pastors tell stories is to help listeners understand and remember the message. If you asked an average person about the sermon, they might remember a couple of points, but they will far more likely recount the good stories. Stories have an emotional impact.
You may think that’s great for these modern communicators, but did anyone else do that in the Bible? As a matter of fact, yes. Here are just a few examples:
- Nathan the prophet when he confronted King David (2 Sam. 12)
- Jeremiah and the potter’s wheel (Jer. 18)
- Ezekiel often acted out his prophecies (e.g. acting out the siege (Ez. 4), valley of dry bones (Ez. 37)
2. Art opens the back door of the heart
I wish I could take credit for this, but Michael Card often shares this idea in his concerts: “art opens the back door of a person’s heart where sermons and lectures try to go through the front door.” He understands that songs, poems and paintings have a way of catching us off guard. Art helps us to see and hear things we don’t notice in our every day life.
By nature, artists are observant and enjoy passing their observations to others through art.
In worship this happens in many ways. Sometimes a beautiful solo causes us to consider the beauty of God. Architecture can cause us to revel in the majesty and greatness of God. Dance calls us to express joy and sorrow with all of who we are (I love how the Psalmist says “He turned my mourning into dancing.” Psalm 30:11) A picture or stained glass window can open a “window” for understanding truth in ways we’ve haven’t considered before.
Ken Gire poignantly reveals how art, nature and story find their way into our soul in his book Windows of the Soul.
3. Art is by nature emotional and helps us access emotions that we don’t use daily
The really great musicals and movies help us laugh, cry, get angry and find hope—all within two hours. The authors, composers and producers understand that humans crave the opportunity to access their emotions, even though they might not say so.
God made us to be emotional beings. While emotions are fickle and can’t always be trusted, they are an important element in relationships and living. Through our emotions we can muster up courage in the face of fear, we can persevere in spite of exhaustion, and we can discover hope against all odds.
While we certainly don’t want to manipulate emotions (that’s where cults go awry), we do understand how art helps people feel more deeply. When married with strong biblical teaching this is a good thing. I love how Kevin Twit describes it: “Hymns are theology on fire.”
4. Art helps us say things to God and about God that we might otherwise avoid
I’m not very good at praising others. My nature is to focus on ways to improve and I take success for granted.
Scripture and biblical worship songs give me words and categories for thinking about God. They literally teach me how to praise God—even when I don’t feel like it.
Martin Luther is credited for leading a charge to put hymns into the vernacular language of his people. He knew that people would sing and memorize songs more easily than sermons. So he put his sermons into song and turned scripture into lyrics – think about “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” a retelling of Psalm 46 or “From the Depths of Woe” which conveys Psalm 130.
Here is Indelible Grace’s version of Psalm 130:
Let’s Create Art for the Glory of God
Scripture demonstrates many ways that art helps us worship, but we do want to avoid romanticizing art. In the 19th century many were led to see art as paramount. Even in the Renaissance that became true, a reason why some reformers went so far as to throw art out of the church.
As Christians we can’t abandon art. God spends entire chapters in Exodus and in Chronicles detailing how art should be created for worship. But all art is bound by culture and community. As believers lets create and use art for the glory of God.
Soli Deo Gloria
Resources to consider:
Art for God’s Sake: A Call to Recover the Arts – Philip Ryken
The Art of Worship – by Paxson Jeancake
For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts – ed. W. David O. Taylor
It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God – ed. Ned Bustard
It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God – ed. Ned Bustard