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Art in Action

Nicholas Wolterstorff (Eerdmans: Jun 1980), 240 pages.

This book advances an argument rooted in Christian narrative but driven largely by a philosophical engine that privileges rigorous analytic logic and careful scientific scrutiny. I see this as both the book’s great strength and weakness. Wolterstorff spends an overwhelming majority of the book developing exacting analysis on what he rightly considers the narrowness of contemporary Western notions regarding the arts, with frequent discussions of analytic/scientific evidence regarding the arts and the nature of perception. Unfortunately, this privileging of analytic/scientific discourses significantly undermines the development of a prophetic, coherent narrative that distills a broader, more compelling Christian view of the arts in our lives. I make this criticism partly because Wolterstorff himself claims that this volume is meant to be the more accessible work of a set of philosophical reflections he has written on the arts. Those whose philosophical leanings run in the pragmatic/poststructuralist direction, or those whose theological narratives are indebted more to a Christ-story rather than a creation-story (Wolterstorff relies primarily on the latter), will find that the arguments of this book occasionally seem to miss the mark. Nevertheless, they will also find a cogent analysis and critique of contemporary Western notions of the arts as well as the messy birth of a Christian perspective for the arts. ~ D. Clemens