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Thinking the Faith, Praying the Faith, Living the Faith is written by the PC(USA) Office of Theology and Worship.

Thinking, praying, and living the faith is at the core of ministry in the Office of Theology and Worship. In the following videos, learn more about what thinking, praying, and living the faith means to the leadership of the Office of Theology and Worship. Discover why it matters and what difference it makes in our lives, work, and worship.  

Charles Wiley  
Barry Ensign-George
David Gambrell
Christine Hong 
Karen Russell

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November 6, 2013

Theology, Art, and Method

We’ve had a tendency to do theology from a dogmatic point of view in the church, arguing fine nuances of belief that often come down to disagreements over one word.  The end result may be that we know what we believe . . . and that we’ve driven many people away by all our arguments.  

Artists are perplexed by such approaches, understanding the nature of God to be mysterious beyond our human attempts to pin the Holy One down.  Artists know that there is a depth to the world that flashes forth to astound us with divine dimensions in particular contexts.  But that Depth always eludes our grasp, calling forth praise and a desire to discover and follow, not a desire to master, manipulate, and control.   So much of theological argument feels like a power struggle to master and control God, which seems antithetical to the religious awe in the presence of the Holy that inspires all theology in the first place.  

All of this was what I’d been thinking about for the lectures I did for the American Church in Paris last month.  When I was not working or visiting with others, I was enjoying the art of Paris.  

I had been spending time visiting churches and their art—Delacroix’s painting of Jacob wrestling with the angel at Saint Sulpice Chapel, the stunning mosaics at Sacre Coeur,  and the incredible stained glass and architecture of Notre Dame Cathedral—all of which naturally moved me to prayer, awe, and praise.  

What I was not prepared for was what happened when I entered the Musée de l’Orangerie to see Monet’s Les Nymphéas.  I entered with a group of people, most of whom had been standing in line for two or more hours to get in.  As we entered the room, a hush fell over the crowd.  People fell down upon the couches in the center of the room.  Some were crying, overwhelmed with the beauty of the huge paintings that surrounded them.  One man seemed to be in prayer.  “Who’d have thought,” my companion remarked, “that a man spending his fifties painting his garden pond could inspire such religious experience.”  Yes!  That was it: these paintings were inspiring a religious experience as people responded to the play of light and dark at different times of day and different seasons.  They were reading their lives in the light of what they saw of Monet’s meticulous observations and impressionistic renderings of his garden’s pond and what it suggested about the very meaning of life.     

The first theologians were preachers, rendering their observations of life abundant in Christ as God played it out upon the light and dark surface of history.  Indeed, the term theologia itself was borrowed from Greek usage; poets singing or talking about the gods were doing theologia.  As people entered into the preacher’s poetic renderings of Word, they were drawn into that Life and overwhelmed by its beauty in such a way that they wanted to follow, discover, praise.  This is what theologia, as our ancestors in the faith knew, was supposed to do—not place protective boundaries around God to determine who’s in and who’s out, but, rather, describe what it seems God is up to at the center of it all and tell others what we see.  (This is the difference between a centered and a bounded set, which you can read more about here.) 

There are many who see the spiritual dimension of life but who aren’t interested in the jots and tittles of religion.  An artistic way of doing theology and pointing out God in our midst is probably the best way to evangelize the “spiritual, but not religious,” so why not give the artists among us space to use their gifts.  It may look more like Monet than Notre Dame to us, but isn’t it the same Creator working in all and through all?  Can’t we just sit loose and let God sort it all out in the end and simply fall down in wonder, love, and praise?   

Of course I know that some artists have terrible theology, so, yes, there will be plenty of teachable moments.  And the artists, in turn, will provide teachable moments of their own as together we discover Something More than just a pond with some water lilies on it.  

 At least that’s my hope.     




Tags: art, bounded set, centered set, monet, theological method, theology