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Theological Aesthetics

Theological Aesthetics

Steve Taylor on Recent Christian Art

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A lot of the church’s art in the last 50 years has become very sentimental and very earnest. And of course there’s nothing wrong with being earnest, but I don’t see that as a particularly Biblical way of communicating. We certainly don’t see that in the stories of the parables of Christ and even in the Old Testament prophets and how they communicated. … I don’t know what it is. It’s almost like … we’re defenders of the faith, like Christianity is going to come falling down unless we’re careful with how we present it. That’s not really how it works, you know? In fact, that’s really kind of arrogant. So yeah, we can afford to create movies that ask questions and certainly don’t have all the answers and use satire and all the different communication tools at our disposal.

Hollywood Worldviews

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Do you watch movies with your eyes open? You buy your tickets and concessions, and you walk into the theater. Celluloid images flash at twenty-four frames per second, and the hypnotic sequence of moving pictures coaxes you to suspend disbelief and be entertained by the implausible. Unfortunately, many often suspend their beliefs as well, succumbing to subtle lessons in how to behave, think and even perceive reality. Do you find yourself hoping that a sister will succeed in seducing her sibling’s husband, that a thief will get away with his crime, that a serial killer will escape judgment? Do you, too, laugh at the bumbling priest and seethe at the intolerant and abusive evangelist? Do you embrace worldviews that infect your faith and then wonder, after your head is clear, whether your faith can survive the infection? In this thoroughly revised and updated edition of his popular book, Brian Godawa guides you through the place of redemption in film, the tricks screenwriters use to communicate their messages, and the mental and spiritual discipline required for watching movies. Hollywood Worldviews helps you enter a dialogue with Hollywood that leads to a happier ending, one that keeps you aware of your culture and awake to your faith. ~ Product Description

Refractions

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Makoto Fujimura is a contemporary artist whose home and studio are near Ground Zero. Out of a response to the attacks on 9/11, he began to set aside time every Saturday to write. This was a time to process and reflect on the emotions and changes in his life and city. The result of these writings is this beautifully crafted book. In recent years, we have seen a renewed interest in the relationship between art and theology, and Fujimura offers a significant voice in that conversation. The book is a collection of essays loosely joined by the topics of faith, art, and culture, as the title suggests. While some books seem redundant after the first few chapters, the unique subject and fresh thoughts of each essay pulled me forward into every page turn. ~ J. Chandler at Amazon.com

The Beauty of the Cross

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From the earliest period of its existence, Christianity has been recognized as the "religion of the cross." Some of the great monuments of Western art are representations of the brutal torture and execution of Christ. Despite the horror of crucifixion, we often find such images beautiful. The beauty of the cross expresses the central paradox of Christian faith: the cross of Christ’s execution is the symbol of God’s victory over death and sin. The cross as an aesthetic object and as a means of devotion corresponds to the mystery of God’s wisdom and power manifest in suffering and apparent failure. In this volume, Richard Viladesau seeks to understand the beauty of the cross as it developed in both theology and art from their beginnings until the eve of the renaissance. He argues that art and symbolism functioned as an alternative strand of theological expression — sometimes parallel to, sometimes interwoven with, and sometimes in tension with formal theological reflection on the meaning of the Crucifixion and its role insalvation history. Using specific works of art to epitomize particular artistic and theological paradigms, Viladesau then explores the contours of each paradigm through the works of representative theologians as well as liturgical, poetic, artistic, and musical sources. The beauty of the cross is examined from Patristic theology and the earliest representations of the Logos on the cross, to the monastic theology of victory and the Romanesque crucified "majesty," to the Anselmian "revolution" that centered theological and artistic attention on the suffering humanity of Jesus, and finally to the breakdown of the high scholastic theology of the redemption inempirically concentrated nominalism and the beginnings of naturalism in art. By examining the relationship between aesthetic and conceptual theology, Viladesau deepens our understanding of the foremost symbol of Christianity. This volume makes an important contribution to an emerging field, breaking new ground in theological aesthetics. The Beauty of the Cross is a valuable resource for scholars, students, and anyone interested in the passion of Christ and its representation.

Eyes Wide Open

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Grounded in Christian principles, this accessible and engaging book offers an informed and fascinating approach to popular culture. William D. Romanowski provides affectionate yet astute analysis of familiar, well-loved movies and television characters from Indiana Jones to Homer Simpson, and he speaks with historical depth and expertise on films from Casablanca to Crash and music from Bruce Springsteen to U2. Romanowski’s confessional approach affirms a role for popular culture in faithful living. Practical, analytical approaches to content, meaning, and artistic style offer the tools to participate responsibly and imaginatively in popular cultural activities. An engaging read, this new edition introduces students and thoughtful readers to popular culture — one of the most influential forces in contemporary society.

Storytelling in Christian Art from Giotto to Donatello

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Recounting the biblical stories through visual images was the most prestigious form of commission for a Renaissance artist. In this book, Jules Lubbock examines some of the most famous of these pictorial narratives by artists of the caliber of Giovanni Pisano, Duccio, Giotto, Ghiberti, Brunelleschi, Donatello and Masaccio. He explains how these artists portrayed the major biblical events, such as: the Sacrifice of Isaac, the Annunciation, the Feast of Herod and the Trial and Passion of Jesus, so as to be easily recognizable and, at the same time, to capture our attention and imagination for long enough to enable us to search for deeper meanings. He provides evidence showing that the Church favoured the production of images that lent themselves to being read and interpreted in this way, and he describes the works themselves to demonstrate how the pleasurable activity of deciphering these meanings can work in practice. This fascinating book is richly illustrated, and many of it’s photographs have been specially taken to show how the paintings and relief sculptures appear in the settings, for which they were originally designed. Seen from these viewpoints, they become more readily intelligible. Likewise, the starting point and the originality of Lubbock’s interpretations lies in his accepting that these works of art were primarily designed to help people to reflect upon the ethical and religious significance of the biblical stories. The early Renaissance artists developed their highly innovative techniques to further these objectives, not as ends in themselves. Thus, the book aims to appeal to students, scholars and the general public, who are interested in Renaissance art and to those with a religious interest in biblical imagery. ~ Publisher’s Description

Art for God’s Sake

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A small book on a big topic is a dangerous proposition. It may show disrespect for its subject by bragging that it can be read in a short time, such as Kant in 90 minutes. (Kant in 90 minutes is not Kant at all.) On the other hand, a short book can thoughtfully introduce a profound subject worthy of further consideration; it may be a primer. Art for God’s Sake is a worthy primer; it addresses the relationship of Christian faith and art in the hope of helping Christians “recover the arts.” Philip Graham Ryken, Pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia and the author of several previous books, including Written in Stone (an insightful study of the Decalogue), has in sixty-four pages outlined a biblical view of art’s place in God’s world. Ryken is moved by the plight of the Christian artist whose calling and work is misunderstood or rejected by the church. He realizes that Christians may be suspicious of art because of their concern for idolatry and their repulsion toward much of contemporary art, which has abandoned the ideal of beauty and revels in the bizarre, the transgressive, and the outright ugly. Ryken also laments that Christians too often reduce art to utilitarian and evangelistic purposes that fail to honor art as art. Further, Christians often laud art that does not take the brokenness of life east of Eden seriously. Quite frequently, Christian art is little more than pious kitsch, which he aptly describes as “tacky artwork of poor quality that appeals to low tastes”. ~ Douglas Groothuis

Theological Aesthetics: A Reader

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While interest in the relationship between theology and the arts is on the rise, there are very few resources for students and teachers, let alone a comprehensive text on the subject. This book fills that lacuna by providing an anthology of readings on theological aesthetics drawn from the first century to the present. A superb sourcebook, “Theological Aesthetics” brings together original texts that are relevant and timely to scholars today. Editor Gesa Elsbeth Thiessen has taken a careful, inclusive approach to the book, including articles and extracts that are diverse and ecumenical as well as representative of gender and ethnicity. The book is organized chronologically, and each historical period begins with commentary by Thiessen that sets the selections in context. These engaging readings range broadly over themes at the intersection of religion and the arts, including beauty and revelation, the vision of God, artistic and divine creation, God as artist, images of God, the interplay of the senses and the intellect, human imagination, mystical writings, meanings of signs and symbols, worship, liturgy, doxology, the relationship of word and image, icons and iconoclasm, the role of the arts in twentieth-century theology, and much more.

A Sense Of The Sacred

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There have been many histories of Christian art and architecture, and many that have paid attention to the various cultural, social, and economic contexts in which the architecture and art appeared. Most of these accounts have been written by art historians. Kevin Seasoltz writes as a theologian, whose aim is to relate theological and liturgical developments throughout the course of Christian history to developments in sacred architecture and art. Believing that sacred buildings and artifacts have often been more constitutive of theological developments than constitutive of them, Seasoltz wants to help people discover architecture and art as theological loci — places of revelation. Following a chapter on culture as the context for theology, liturgy, and art, Seasoltz surveys developments from the early church up through the conventional artistic styles and periods. He pays particular attention to the conflicts that emerged between religion and art since the Enlightenment and to the significant advances made since the middle of the twentieth century to reconciling a wide range of competent architects, artists, and craft persons to the ministry of the Protestant, Anglican, and Catholic churches. Comprehensive, illuminating, ecumenical.

The Cosmos as a Work of Art

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I will sketch an argument that if we follow St. Augustine in seeing the cosmos —i.e., the sum total of all created existence—as a work of art, then we have good reason to be sceptical of the judgment that there are gratuitous evils.  I will do so by stating several features of works of art each of which, when transferred to the case of the cosmos, makes it difficult to conclude that any evil we see is gratuitous.  However this account does not undercut the religious claims that from the goodness of things in the universe we can tell something about God’s goodness.  Paradoxically, evil does not give a strong argument against the existence of God, but good might give a strong argument in favor of it.

Art and Soul

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More Christians than ever before are studying and working in music, painting, sculpture, theater, television, film, architecture and more. Are you one of them? If so, you, like artists in every discipline, face the challenge of working in a way that is both wholly Christian and wholly contemporary. Hilary Brand and Adrienne Chaplin have written this practical and inspirational guide for you. In Art and Soul you’ll find encouragement for developing a Christian worldview from which you can approach your craft. Here the best teaching on Christianity and the arts during the past fifty years is digested and reapplied, supported by a wealth of quotes from artists, critics and Christian thinkers. A wide range of illustrations, both historical and contemporary, illuminates the text as Brand and Chaplin explore the conflicting influences on Christians entering or working in the arts. They correlate the major biblical themes of creation, fall and redemption to the business of making art. And they examine the nature and purpose of the arts — along with the way you experience and interpret them. Finally, you’ll find helpful guidelines on practicing and developing your art. Here is the book to help you meet the challenges facing you today — both from the world of art and from the world of the church.

Faith and Beauty: A Theological Aesthetic

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“Aesthetics” and “theological aesthetics” usually imply a focus on questions about the arts and how faith or religion relates to the arts: only the final pages of this work take up that problem. The central theme of the book is beauty. The author employs a new typology of western texts on beauty and a theological analysis of the image of God and redemption to counter the centuries-long tendency to ignore or marginalize beauty and the aesthetic as part of the life of faith. Studying the interpretation of beauty in ancient Greece, 18th-century England, the work of Jonathan Edwards, and 19th- and 20th-century philosophies of human self-transcendence, the author explores whether Christian existence, the life of faith, and the ethical exlude or require an aesthetic dimension in the sense of beauty.

The Creative Call

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Perhaps you’re a “closet writer” who’s been scribbling in journals for years. Maybe you once had a passion for playing the piano or violin — a passion that is still flickering somewhere deep inside you. You may have a knack for photography, drawing, gardening, cooking, or some other creative gift. Or you may long to express yourself creatively, but have yet to discover your unique talents. Your creativity was meant be used. Whether you are an artist who has already identified your gifts or you believe that you have artistic talent that has never been developed, working through this book will help you grow closer to becoming the person God has designed you to be. “Chapter-by-chapter, with thought-provoking words and exercises, Janice lifts the veil that blinds our thoughts towards our gifts. Most of us will be able to see ourselves somewhere within the pages of this book. We will then have the chance to overcome the lies that have kept us from believing that we can enjoy the wonderment of creating with the talent we possess.” ~ from the foreword by Thomas Blackshear

Beholding the Glory

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Although the arts have played a significant role in both world history and Christian history, the contemporary church has often shunned them in favor of a more intellectual approach to theology. Beholding the Glory argues the necessity of renewing an engagement between theology and the arts. Specifically focusing on the incarnation, the book shows how the arts have an indispensable role to play in disclosing God’s wisdom. With an introduction by the editor, the book consists of eight essays written by practicing artists (a sculptor, poet, dancer, and musician), theologians, and professors-all well-versed in the relationship between imagination and theology. Beholding the Glory demonstrates the indispensable role the arts play in disclosing God’s wisdom to us. Writing from different Christian traditions, practicing artists, theologians, and professors-all well-versed in the relationship between imagination and theology-focus on the incarnation and draw out a wealth of meaning in the belief that God entered our world as one of us.

Heaven in Stone and Glass

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Barron’s mission is much the same as John Drury’s in Painting the Word: to open a window on the symbolism of Christian art. Whereas Drury aimed to enrich appreciation of paintings, Barron unveils the symbolism of those triumphs of the art of Christendom, the Gothic cathedrals. Exemplifying primarily from Notre-Dame de Paris and Chartres, he discusses 14 features of a cathedral, including space, light, and orientation (e.g., the verticality of every major line in the building), as well as tangible features, such as the rose windows and the labyrinth on the floor at Chartres. Besides what a feature symbolizes — for instance, the cathedral’s interior space represents the womb of Our Lady, a place of safety and comfort — Barron explains the doctrinal rationale and implications of the feature’s significance. He does the latter so literately and congenially that the little book makes fine devotional as well as informational reading. ~ Ray Olson

It Was Good

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The goal of this book is to provide a deeper discussion of what a believer practicing their discipline for God’s glory would (or should) look like. Rather than a defense of the believer’s place in the arts — which has been done very well in other works — this book is intended to be primarily about art MAKING. The premise of this work is that a Christian looks at the world differently than the non-christian due to a restored relationship with the Creator. Imagine a christian sitting down to create a piece of pottery, write a novel or paint a picture. This believer has decisions to make: color, form, content, theme… as well as where they fit into their church and larger community. Of course this book can’t dictate things such as, “Paint a red bird… write the song in standard time… the pot should have three handles…”. But decisions do need to be made and it is the intent of this book to give the readers ideas to work through so they can develop the internal tools needed to carry out their artwork with a biblical worldview. In this way, It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God will offer both theoretical and practical insights into the making of art from a biblical perspective. We as believers in the arts can show through the common grace of art a fleeting picture of Eden. We should not allow the arts to be the sole dominion of the enemies of God but instead we should join with Martin Luther in affirming our desire to see all the arts “in the service of Him who has given and created them.”

Theology and the Arts

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Richard Viladesau’s book takes a look at an inviting topic that has come into increasing prominence in a number of fields lately — including theology. Theology and the Arts explores, in a timely and engaging manner, several aspects of the relations between theology and aesthetics, in both the pastoral and academic realms. The underlying motif of this work is that beauty is a means of divine revelation, and that art is the human mediation that both enables and limits its revelatory power. Using examples from music, pictorial art and rhetoric, the five chapters explore different aspects of the ways that art enters into theology and theology into art, both in pastoral practice, e.g., liturgical music, sacred art and preaching, and in the area of systematic reflection, where, Viladesau contends, art must be recognized as a genuine theological text. A reader-friendly feature of this work is the addition, after the central chapters, of a discography of illustrative musical works and lists of internet sights of sacred art and art history resources-a virtual museum — that will complement the text. These enhance the value of this well-written, provocative text. Although aimed at undergraduate theology students, it will certainly capture the interest of art students, pastoral ministers and anyone who appreciates the arts.

The Evidential Power of Beauty

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The physicist who knows nothing about Scripture and the theologian ignorant of calculus may yet see eye to eye on the remarkable power of beauty to manifest the presence of truth. It is this probative force of beauty that drives Dubay’s impressive reflection on how the perception of harmony instills a sense of conviction among honest seekers in both science and religion. With the help of testimony from a wide range of scientists, Dubay discerns a pattern of elegance and symmetry uniting everything from the astrophysics of the cosmos to the biology of the cell. Disdaining the crabbed literalism of creationist science (which he dismisses as fallacious), Dubay uses the metaphysical intuition of beauty to challenge neo-Darwinian dogmatists who deny the existence of design in our curiously fine-tuned universe. Non-Catholics may protest that Dubay overextends his argument when he concludes with a defense of Catholicism as the supreme depository of truth and beauty, but readers need not endorse Dubay’s Catholic orthodoxy to benefit from his philosophic insights. Bryce Christensen for Booklist

Kathleen Powers Erickson on Van Gogh’s in the End

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[On Van Gogh] He could not have made it more clear: to the end, he was wrestling with the profound themes of faith, even to the point of revisiting classic paintings with biblical themes and giving new expression to them. Yes, he was tormented in those late years when he was portraying those biblical events and persons. But he was tormented in ways that helped him to see, and not to lapse into nostalgia or second-rate reproduction. Goethe liked to speak of the artist’s ability to see — schauen — really to see.

The Invisible God

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This revisionist study challenges the received opinion that in its earliest manifestations Christianity was a form of religiosity opposed both on principle and in fact to the use of pictures. Paul Corby Finney argues that the well-known absence of Christian pictures before A.D. 200 is due to a complex interplay of social, economic, and political factors, and is not, as is commonly assumed, a result of an anti-image ideology. The book documents the origins of Christian art based on some of the oldest surviving Christian archaeological evidence, and it seeks to show how the Christian products conformed to the already-existing pagan types and models. This study will interest scholars and students in the fields of church history, ancient history, archaeology, art history, classics, and historical theology.

Material Christianity

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It’s tough to be devout and kitschy at the same time, but Colleen McDannell strikes that delicate balance with admirable poise in Material Christianity: Religion and Popular Culture in America. Her book is an argument that “American Christians … want to see, hear, and touch God. It is not enough for Christians to go to church, lead a righteous life, and hope for an eventual place in heaven.” This argument is amply defended by smart essays about family Bibles, gravestone design, and Lourdes Water, as well as hundreds of illustrations of vestments, churches, portraits of Jesus, rapture T-shirts, and backyard statues of Our Lady. Where Material Christianity gets really interesting, however, is in its assertion that “Christian material culture does not simply reflect an existing reality. Experiencing the physical dimension of religion helps bring about religious values, norms, behaviors, and attitudes.” For example, the warmth and intimacy of Warner Sallman’s painting “Head of Christ,” which hung in almost every Protestant Sunday School classroom in America until the 1960s, was probably every bit as influential as any given phrase from the Sermon on the Mount in determining the personal nature of Protestants’ relationships with Jesus. Material Christianity covers a lot of ground — from Mormonism to fundamentalism — and every chapter is as theologically wise as it as aesthetically astute. ~ Amazon.com

Art, Creativity, and the Sacred

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A collection of essays concerning religion and art, including contributions by Barbara Novak, Leo Steinberg, Paul Tillich, Wassily Kandinsky, John Dixon Jr., David Tracy, Joshua Taylor, and Langdon B. Gilkey. Addresses themes including: "Concerning the Spiritual in Art", Leonardo’s Last Supper, the use of images in India, "Painting as Theological Thought", "Judaism and Art", "The Art of Deception", "The Religious Impulse in American Art", "An Islamic Perspective on Symbolism", "Theological Reflections" on Picasso’s Girl before a Mirror, and more.

Alister McGrath on Orpheus’ Approach

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If the world seems attractive, the Christian must ensure that God, as its creator, is seen to be even more attractive. The world reflects the attractiveness of its creator, as the moon reflects the light of the sun. ¶ Two incidents from classical Greek mythology suggest themselves here. Homer introduces us to the Sirens, a group of women whose singing was so seductive that they caused sailors to crash their vessels through inattention to their duties. When Ulysses was attempting to sail his ship past the Sirens, he prevented the Sirens from causing any difficulties by the simple expedient of blocking his sailors’ ears so that they could not hear the captivating Siren song. Orpheus, on the other hand, was a skilled lyre player. His method of dealing with this kind of threat was rather indifferent. He played his lyre, the music of which proved so enchanting and fascinating that its beauty totally outweighed anything else.

The Beauty Of The Infinite

Go The Beauty of the Infinite is a splendid extended essay in "theological aesthetics." David Bentley Hart here meditates on the power of a Christian understanding of beauty and sublimity to rise above the violence — both philosophical and literal — characteristic of the postmodern world. The book begins by tracing the shifting use and nature of metaphysics in the thought of Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Lyotard, Derrida, Deleuze, Nancy, Levinas, and others. Hart pays special attention to Nietzsche’s famous narrative of the "will to power" — a narrative largely adopted by the world today — and he offers an engaging revision (though not rejection) of the genealogy of nihilism, thereby highlighting the significant "interruption" that Christian thought introduced into the history of metaphysics. This discussion sets the stage for a retrieval of the classic Christian account of beauty and sublimity, and of the relation of both to the question of being. The main section of the book offers a pointed reading of the Christian story in four moments, or parts: Trinity, creation, salvation, and eschaton. Through a combination of narrative and argument throughout, Hart ends up demonstrating the power of Christian metaphysics not only to withstand the critiques of modern and postmodern thought but also to move well beyond them. Strikingly original and deeply rewarding, The Beauty of the Infinite is both a constructively critical account of the history of metaphysics and a compelling contribution to it.

Vincent van Gogh on Windows to the Soul

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I prefer painting people’s eyes to cathedrals, for there is something in the eyes that is not in the cathedral, however solemn and imposing the latter may be — a human soul, be it that of a poor beggar or of a street walker, is more interesting to me.