Project Radiance: Why Art is Important

Pastor Bob O'Bannon

This past weekend at New Life, we unveiled a new art installation in the foyer of our new facility. It’s a piece called “Project Radiance” that was designed and installed (with much help from others in the church) by a New Life member and architecture student at Ball State.

Personally I have not heard anyone say this, but I can imagine someone possibly asking, “Why are you putting a work of art in your foyer? This is a church building, not an art museum!” It’s a legitimate question that deserves an answer.

Although the full sweep of Christian history would suggest otherwise, art (whether music, literature, painting or other forms) has been largely undervalued in the church, at least in evangelical circles. There are probably many reasons for this, but one reason would seem to be the false assumption that everything done in the church must have an evangelistically  practical purpose.

Francis Schaeffer was very articulate in applying a Christian worldview to the arts, particularly in his brief booklet, Art and the Bible. In it he wrote: “I am afraid that as evangelicals, we think that a work of art only has value if we reduce it to a tract.”

The assumption is that aesthetic values are largely unimportant as long as a thing is useful in proclaiming the Gospel. This explains why it is often the case that church buildings, Web sites, logos, and newsletters are, quite frankly, just plain ugly. (Of course there are many cases when a church does not have the resources for such concerns, so  this needs to be taken into consideration.)

Of course God is passionately interested in saving the lost, and He is gracious and powerful enough to use any means He wishes to accomplish those purposes, but it is also the case that our God is a God of beauty. He values aesthetics — not just so long as something can be accomplished, but simply for the sake of the beauty of the thing itself.

When God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden, He “made to spring up every tree that is pleasing to the sight . . .” (Gen. 2:9). God didn’t make ugly trees; He made beautiful trees! When God commanded the building of the tabernacle after Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, he recruited a gifted man named Bezalel “to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting and in carving wood . . .” (Ex. 31:1-5). God didn’t want just any tabernacle; He wanted a beautiful one! One of the supreme longings of the psalmist is to enter the temple of the Lord, not just to learn about God, but to “gaze upon the beauty of the Lord.” (Ps. 27:4).

It is important that Christians value art and beauty (which, incidentally, is a reason why this blog often concerns itself with art forms such as music and movies), not just so it can be used to communicate the Gospel, but as an act of worship. To quote Schaeffer again: “A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God, not just as tracts, mind you, but as things of beauty to the praise of God. An art work can be a doxology in itself.”

Project Radiance will not be the only art project on display at New Life. Jane Schwarzkopf, another member of our congregation, has designed a quilt that will be hanging on the wall just outside the breezeway, near the old nursery. We also have an Interior Design team that will be working on future artistic projects for our facility.

All of these efforts are summed up well by singer Michael Card, who said,

“A hunger for beauty is at its heart a hunger for God.”

For further reading on a Christian view of the arts, I suggest the following:

Art and the Bible, Francis Schaeffer

The Liberated Imagination, Leland Ryken

Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts, Steve Turner