Book Review – “Visual Faith: Art, Theology and Worship in Dialogue”

Book Review

“Visual Faith:  Art, Theology and Worship in Dialogue” by William A. Dyrness

Worship and the Arts:  Renewal in Tandem

There can be no dispute that Western art and music were influenced in their development by the message of Christianity.  The Church had the power – and the money – to dictate much of the thematic content of the arts.  Beyond that, the culture itself was “Christian” in the broadest sense of the term, and it only made sense that artists and musicians would express their gifts for use within the church and to help spread the message of Christ.

As history wore on, the influence of the Church deteriorated and its patronage of the arts decreased.  In the last 150 years or more, the distinctive creativity that was once the hallmark of Christian art has dissipated to the point that it is hardly distinguishable from other modern art perspectives.  There are certainly exceptions, and a resurgence and energy in the last several decades has shown that Christians can, and do, create art and music at the highest levels.  We can be thankful for the men and women who have begun to re-establish Christian truth as a valid and appropriate message for all artistic endeavors.

In his book, “Visual Faith:  Art, Theology and Worship in Dialogue,” William A. Dyrness brings the arts and worship together to paint a picture of renewal that is both thoughtful and intriguing.  In his preface he writes that, “it has become my conviction that the practice of worship provides the most appropriate setting for a fresh appraisal and even a renewal in the arts…I believe that making beautiful forms is theologically connected to our call both to listen and respond to God in prayer, praise, and sacrament”  (Dyrness, pg. 9).

I think Dyrness has a point.  Worship and the arts can interact in ways that will cause us to think and re-think both.  Is the way in which we practice corporate worship as full and expressive as it can be?  Do our expressions in the arts represent a well-grounded biblical and theological understanding of the Christian Worldview?  Are we “redeeming” the arts and allowing the Spirit to renew their use?  Is tacking on a Christian message to any art form enough to redeem it?  Do the forms of art themselves need renewal?  And what of our worship, does it need redemption too?

These questions, and many more, are necessary and vital as we think about our modern worship and our modern arts.  Scholars and professors are considering these things, but pastors and laymen seem to overlook the important implications that these questions raise.  Corporate worship is the main public expression of the Church, yet so few think carefully and thoroughly about it.  I highly recommend Dyrness’ book as a starting point in the discussion.



Posted on May 5, 2014, in Arts, Christian Worldview, Content of Worship, Conversation, Corporate Worship, Leadership, theology and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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