Here's another "five-minute book review"; I have piles of books I'm supposed to review on this blog, but very little time in which to do it. So, I'll set my timer for 5 minutes every now and then, write my first thoughts about the book, and share them with you. Enjoy!
For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts edited by W. David O. Taylor
This book deserves much more than five minutes, but that’s all I’m allowing myself; plus my pastor is borrowing it, so I can’t refer to the text as I go.
So, another great and highly-recommended book. It calls itself ground-breaking, or perhaps something more tentative: it is trying to feel its way into new territory having to do with the arts in the church. It’s trying to start the dialogue, or add a new perspective into the dialogue. And I think it does that very well. It is a collection of essays by artists, pastors, and thinkers-about-the-arts. Five of the eight essays stand out in my memory:
1. Andy Crouch, on the “uselessness” of art (more on this in a minute)
2. Eugene Peterson, on how important artists have been to his ministry as a pastor. He wrote about the architect who designed a church for his congregation and taught him that a building is a artful space that can enhance and even be a part of worship.
3. Josh Banner, on how to nurture artists in your congregation. This one made me really sad, because we artists (like, the two-and-a-half of us!) in my church are ignored, overlooked, put down, suppressed, etc. Not intentionally, I’m sure; we just don’t fit into the mold. So, anyway, Josh wrote about how he has an art gallery in his church and prepares artists to show their work there. He goes to their studios, attends their rehearsals, reads their stuff, and guides them into using their gifts for God, sometimes outside of worship, sometimes in worship.
Oops, my 5 minutes are up; I’m going to keep going!)
4. W. David O. Taylor, the editor, on the dangers of artmaking in the church. This deserves a post on its own; but instead, read this.
5. Jeremy Begbie, on the future of art in the church. A very prophetic and inspiring piece.
One more point of interest: there was a fascinating thread of contradiction running through this volume. Some of the contributors, including Taylor, wrote about how art is “useless”; that is, superfluous, extra, unnecessary, munificent. On this point, see my description of Taylor’s talk in NYC. But several others wrote about how art has to be directly useful: one even listed the seven purposes or parts of a worship service (including confession, praise, the sacraments) and said that any given piece of art has to directly serve one very specific purpose in the service. So, an interesting debate contained within this book! The writers on the superfluous, gift-nature of art were definitely the better, more persuasive writers. But does that make them right?