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Lent & Art

March 13, 2012

Evangelical Protestants are skeptical about lots of things, but especially these two: Lent and art. The practice of extra-biblical spiritual exercises and the potential misuse of art as idolatry give “People of the Book” pause, and for good reason. Jesus spent his share of breath critiquing Pharisaic rules as heaped-up burdens on the backs of regular people, and warned against missing the spirit of the Law while keeping the letter of it. In church history we’ve noticed the danger of beautifying the outside of our churches while our inward spiritual state remained derelict, or of using our resources to adorn our sanctuaries and altars while neglecting the care of the poor.

In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a new tide of evangelical young folks here in the States who are exploring ancient church practices as a means of connecting with the invisible Church–the people of God across space and time–and one of the ways in which we’re doing this is through observing the liturgical calendar. No, this calendar isn’t to be found in the New Testament, though it has roots in the Jewish calendar. But one of the characteristics of evangelicals is their commitment to the Bible, and in this developing interest in old church traditions there remains a desire to allow every practice to be shaped by the authority of Scripture.

“Perhaps,” some of us younger evangelicals ponder, “we’ve dumped the baby out with the bath water in our protestant, reformed fervor.” I’m convinced IVP has played a significant role in unearthing some old ways in which the saints who have gone before practiced their spirituality (do you know their Formatio imprint? click on the link above to take a look). I’m also convinced some of our favorite reformed theologians–Abraham Kuyper to name just one–have helped us out quite a lot in cultivating a worldview that sees God’s sovereignty over all of creation, including that which we have created, including cultural artifacts such as the church calendar, and artistic endeavors like, well, sculpture.

One of IVP’s latest is a lovely little book called Shaped by the Cross (Ken Gire, 2011). Gire’s desire is to guide us like a docent in meditating on the Suffering Servant pictured in Michelangelo’s Pietà. The sculpture is the text, Scripture is our lens, and Gire helps us read what’s being said through the powerful image of Mary holding the body of Jesus across her lap after he’s been taken down from the cross. Gire, who hasn’t actually beheld the work in person (it’s in St Peters Basilica in Rome), uses the photography of Robert Hupka throughout the book, and through a series of short chapters calls us to think again on the meaning of the cross, on the suffering of Jesus, and what it means to follow him. He does this, though, through reflecting on the artistic process in the creation of the Pietà and in exploring its historic and cultural context. In this way, this is a perfect Lenten devotional for the artistically inclined.

Check out this excerpt. If you’re a young Christian artist seeking to reconcile your vocation with a biblical worldview, hopefully it’ll scratch your itch:

“Becoming conformed to the image of Christ is the process God uses to free the stone from the self. Paul describes the process in Romans 8:28-29…

“God is using the circumstances of our lives, all the circumstances of our lives, as tools. He goes about his work the same way Michelangelo went about his. Within the rough-hewn stone of the self is trapped the image of Christ. To release the image, he chips away everything that isn’t Jesus” (Gire, 44-45).

There’s a timeliness to this book for young evangelicals. As Abraham Kuyper’s works are slowly all translated into English and folks like NT Wright are revisiting our attention on the Kingdom Come and our future, general resurrection, we are ripe for this kind of help in forging a way forward in the development of a worldview that can inform all areas of our lives–that teaches us to read texts like Michelangelo’s sculpture made of marble through the lens of the Word made flesh.

Mention this blog post at Johnsen & Taylor and receive 25% off Shaped by the Cross! (Offer good until 4/7/12).

-Valerie

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