The acclaimed artist reflects on his project to illuminate the Gospels — the first time in 400 years that an artist had been given such a commission — and what it might mean for our understanding were we to seek to incorporate more art and beauty into our churches.
When I walk into many churches in America as a visual artist, I keep spiraling down the rabbit hole. There are many admirable qualities to the churches in America, but beauty, especially in visual arenas, is not one of them. We assume that the reason is that we live in a pragmatic world in which everything is measured by so called utility and function. I note “so called” here, because when one considers both utility and function, you should find beauty there, but in America, this is not assumed. The design of now defunct Concorde airplanes, to thriving Apple computers assume both function and utility, but they do it in an efficient, beautiful way. Beauty accompanies function if you really think about it. I can even make a case that something that is ugly is wasteful, as it is not streamlined and does not think of the experience at the user end.
Yet beauty is an afterthought in our everyday lives and in the decision making process of board rooms around the country. Beauty is an afterthought in most elder's meetings and leadership gatherings in parachurch ministries. Likewise, the arts suffer along side beauty, and are orphaned in America.
Visual theology happens, when we are engaged with scriptures, with fulness of our imaginations… Visual Theology happened when a group of special education students came into my exhibit of the Four Holy Gospels at Azusa Pacific University; they just went through the historic section of the four hundred years of the KIng James exhibit and were guided into the gallery where my paintings hung. They were quite confused with the discrepancy between the two exhibits — they just could not see the connection. Then the teacher showed them Crossway’s the Four Holy Gospel with the colorful images they were seeing. “It was as if life came back into their faces, full of delight...one student asked ‘wow, it’s ok to draw right in the Bible?’ And the teacher said, ‘Yes.’” I wonder what would happen if we designed our church bulletins with large margins to encourage such doodling, and made available color pencils and markers. What would happen if we did invite children into our theology, to dance, to improvise, to play and to draw beautifully? You see, it does have to do with the Gospel, in our true identity as the heirs of Christ, as princes and princess of the Great King. The Feast is to come, the Wedding is about to start.