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Where Does our Service Lie?: The Christian Artist and the Church (Part 1)

July 10, 2010

How are Christian artists meant to relate to the church? This is a question that has plagued us for centuries, and I definitely don’t intend to attempt a quick answer right now (nor could I if I wanted to!) In thinking about this matter for the 21st century, two thinkers have stuck out in my mind as providing some interesting and helpful points on the topic of Christian artistry and the church. This post will be in two parts, and this week I want to look at the view of Calvin Seerveld, the Protestant theologian well known for his work in Christian aesthetics. In Rainbows for a Fallen World, Seerveld is most emphatic on the necessary relationship between the artist and the church. Seerveld maintains that for the Christian artist to produce “truly God-praising artistry” she must be “deeply embedded both in an artistic community and in the wider, societal communion of sinning saints.”[1] Though artistry need not take place within the institutional church, there must be some Christian community available out of which the Christian artist produces her work.

Furthermore, Seerveld does not define Christian art as that which solely depicts picturesque landscapes or liturgical themes, but instead, is “art permeated with the biblical spirit of reconciliation…busy with all the nuances of our dedicated, sin-plagued lives.”[2] Christian artists must be involved in present culture and attend to the world in its fallen state, but, at the same time, that art must move beyond the fallen reality of the human situation and outline the Good in creation. It is here, however, that Seerveld’s argument becomes lacking in my opinion, as, despite his assurance to the reader that Christian art will not attend to specifically Christian themes, he tends at times to over-spiritualize the matter and emphasize the necessity of art to be “sanctified.”[3] He says with spirited enthusiasm:

“Biblically understood, ‘the arts’ are a most splendid, ordained vehicle for expressing ‘sabbath joy,’ the respite and anticipatory celebration of our Lord’s final return and of his covenantal closeness to us even now in our believing sufferings and in our believing merry-makings.”[4]

While Seerveld’s intentions may be for an understanding of Christian artistry that takes into account the artist’s connection with contemporary culture, his vision occasionally tends to place the artist’s service to the church or other Christian body over and above her service to the limitations of art itself. Furthermore, one questions whether Seerveld’s artist can fully take into account the brokenness of the world with all of this “celebration” going on. Should this be the case? Can we produce art that celebrates the world while addressing the ugliness present within it? Moreover, should we, as Christians, look to something besides the church to guide the production of art?

For me, these questions have required some extended thought…that’s why I’ll wait until next week to bring in another perspective and reflect a little more on what membership in the church might mean for the artist.

Photo credit: taken by author at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in Dundee, Scotland


[1] Seerveld, Rainbows for a Fallen World, 26.

[2] Ibid., 39.

[3] Ibid., 37.

[4] Ibid., 180.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 10, 2010 3:23 pm

    Thanks for the post. Very good question? My “off the cuff” answer is that Christian art at its best does what the Bible does and protrays the tension between a sinful fallen man made in the wonderful image of God and the Glory and mercy of God himself.

  2. July 10, 2010 8:57 pm

    Thanks, Jenn, for this post! I’ve just started Seerveld’s book and look forward to discussing it more when I’m a bit further in. ‘Spirited enthusiasm’ is a good way of describing his rhetoric… 🙂

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