My Question: Art in church as an evangelistic tool

(Laura Prime) #1

Hi everyone, I’ve recently been thinking art in the church (or a lack of in many cases) and whether we (as the Protestant church) are missing a trick when it comes to evangelistic opportunities.

On a recent holiday to Vienna, I visited the many Catholic and Orthodox churches around the city and found them breathtakingly beautiful and awe-inspiring. I would often leave with a renewed sense of God’s glory and majesty. I particularly enjoyed a visit to a Russian Orthodox Church, (with possibly the most blue I’ve ever seen inside a church building), with many depictions of different scenes in the Bible. Of course I wasn’t alone in these churches - tourists from around the world were there to observe, reflect and sometimes pray. For some of these internationals, this experience would have been formative in their understanding of Christianity.

Both my church history and art history are sorely lacking, but from what I do know, until the most recent centuries most regular churchgoers would be illiterate and having stories painted on the walls and in stained glass windows would be ways of learning different parts of the Bible.

I’m aware of some of the Protestant/Catholic church history which resulted in the majority of Protestant churches avoiding artwork and icons. I would like to suggest we (speaking boldly on behalf of the entire Protestant church…!) are losing out as a result. Would people agree? Disagree? Especially as our cities become more multi-cultural and less biblically informed, and most visits to a church outside of Sunday services don’t involve a Bible - could a defence be made for artwork on our church walls for the sake of evangelism and declaring something of God’s glory?

*This I suppose only applies of course if your church owns its building. Sadly, not all of us are in that privileged position. Ah well, ekklesia being about the assembly of God’s people rather than the building itself, and all that…:laughing:


Hi Laura,

I loved your post and agree that whenever I’m in a gorgeous Gothic church, I do feel the awe and reverence for God that the architecture was meant to inspire. Just being in NYC’s St.John the Divine church or St. Patrick’s Cathedral was breathtaking! As a Christian now, I’d love to pray there. Where do you live? I wonder if Rzim.connect could organize a tour of beautiful, historic churches annually? And I also agree that people were illiterate when these cathedrals were being built in Europe but Art transcends, sometimes a picture IS worth a thousand words.
Have a blessed day! Carmen

(Suzanne Richardson) #3

Yes, most western Protestant churches are indeed a mite empty in the art department in comparison to many cathedrals and other churches around the world. Art can surely be a powerful way to draw us closer to the greatest Artist.

.Sometimes, the idea of “images” coupled with past church history can be a bit tricky, but I believe it’s worth changing and trying to find a balance. What do you think may be some ways that these churches could implement more artwork? New? Old?

Thank you for your thoughts, and hope to hear more soon!

(Warner Joseph Miller) #4

Hey there, Laura Prime!! (as a Transformers afficiando, I LOVE your name, btw [see ‘Optimus Prime’) :blush:

I love the insightful question, too. As a “missional creative”, myself, I certainly value the usage of art within the marketplace of ideas to point people; expose them and facilitate relationship to Jesus Christ. So again… I’m really glad that you’ve begun this thread.

Ravi Zacharias, has often been quoted as saying this:

“how do you effectively reach or connect to a generation that hears with its eyes and thinks with its feelings?”

In response to his own question, he goes on to say,

“You do this through the arts. We are living in times when apologetics is indispensable, but at the same time, we will need a Christian apologetic that is not merely heard, but is also seen.” (emphasis mine)

Art in general is a powerful medium. Specifically, with regard to the power of cinema on a culture, when done correctly, even beyond mere oration, the creative arts have the distinct privilege of bypassing the intellect and speaking right to the heart. Although I know the primary, intended artistic expression you were making reference to was more in line with the visual arts such as sculpture, painting, etc., I think the role of art, particularly media/visual arts like, tv, film, novels, etc in the presentation of the Christian gospel, the reality of a transcendent being or specifically of a Christ/Messianic, savior figure has been profound. For example, Gandalf in “The Lord of the Rings” & “The Hobbit” “ET” or the alien in “The Day the Earth Stood Still” trilogies Within the last 20 or so years, movies ranging from “The Matrix” to the almost 100 year old Superman have dominated cinema houses and movie rental catalogues. Inherent in all the main protagonists is the notion that they all are somewhat of an alien & outsider figure that comes to a needy and desperate people who don’t fully understand him. This noble, altruistic Messianic figure, has to choose to sacrifice himself on behalf of an uninformed, misinformed, uncivilized or ignorant people who for various reasons and to various degrees have brought their own destruction or hardship upon themselves. The people, more times than not, aren’t worthy of this sacrifice. Does that sound familiar?:wink: The telling, retelling and repackaging of the essence and substance of the Christ story, albeit through allegory or metaphor disguised as legend, is nothing particular new. Not only isn’t there anything that is particularly new but when executed with literary freshness; ingenuity and with engaging, well-rounded characters it’s also a formula that excites and continuously, consistently moves audiences, in many instances, to draw parallels to Christ. That, in turn, can (and has) provoke easy segues discussing Jesus. Regardless of the culture or background, people are universally and consistently attracted to the age-old narrative of fall, sacrifice, transformation, redemption – whether that’s of a person or a body of people. As an aside, I know that this is a bit facetious, but I sometimes muse on what if Christianity came out, like, yesterday, and didn’t have the cultural, social and historical baggage that unfortunately it now has. Imagine that it were the newest thing and all people had to go on were the message of the Gospel and the Person of Jesus Christ. I think there’d be a lot more Jesus-followers than there are, now!:grinning: The pure message of Jesus Christ and His Person is so special and attractive, that what if that was all people had to go by? But I digress…:yum:

I was in the beginnings of writing a paper on this year’s ago, but never finished. I dug this up for your viewing::wink:

Superman: Superman/Clark Kent/Kal El

  1. the only son sent to Earth from his father on another planet to save humanity from themselves by leading them and “being the light” (Jor El)
  2. stronger, more powerful in nature and physical attributes
  3. humanity’s ideal human in every way, i.e. moral (truth and justice)
  4. Kal El when translated from Hebrew mean voice/vessel (kol) God (El), i.e. God’s Voice/Vessel of Voice/Vessel of God [The Word of God - (John 1:1)]
  5. sent from otherworldly or “divine” parentage and given to childless Martha and Jonathan Kent (read Mary & Joseph)

The Matrix Trilogy - Neo (Thomas Anderson)

  1. Neo is an analogram meaning “The One”
  2. the prophesied One to finally, once and for all save the City of Zion
  3. otherworldly powers over physics. Can do things other people can’t. Has “disciples”, i.e. Trinity, Morpheus, etc. Claims that this world isn’t the real world.
  4. unplugs or saves people from this false reality
  5. takes on (and ultimately defeats) sin (Agent Smith) by becoming sin/Smith and then through a chosen, sacrificial death defeats sin/Smith.

Others to consider:

  • The Green Mile - John Coffey
  • The Day The Earth Stood Still - Klaatu
  • Terminator 2: Judgment Day - John Connor
  • ET The Extra-Terrestrial - ET

(Laura Prime) #5

Hi @carmen , I’m in Oxford - I’m sure a tour could start there! I’d be very interested in a tour like that!

Art does indeed seem to have a different purpose to words. It manages somehow to communicate on a deeper emotional and sensory level. As God engages with us with all of our senses, it makes sense that our response is the same!

(Laura Prime) #6

Hey @WarnerMiller, thanks so much for this! I too find it fascinating that so many popular storylines have included these types of characters and plot lines as you have discussed.

Do you have any examples of when you’ve had conversations with friends about it? I love talking about this with other Christians but I’d love more opportunities to chat to those who don’t trust Jesus about this!

(Laura Prime) #7

Two follow up questions to the original question:

  1. If we did have art on our church walls, what would you choose to depict?

  2. Who would create the art? What style (s) would you like to see and why?

(Warner Joseph Miller) #8

Hey there, Laura! So yeah, no problem!:+1:t6:

Usually, conversations that delve into art or artistic installations – whether that be movies, literature, theater, tv, etc – usually happen in the moment; having just watched or observed a particular art installment…or something that’s been talked about, a lot, recently. The more popular, the better! Now, although, from the listeners perspective, the conversations have the appearance of being random or by happenstance; pulled out of the blue…I’m almost ALWAYS deliberately looking for any opportunities and windows to ORGANICALLY add Christocentric perspective into the conversation. It’s very intentional. Everyday, I’m looking; praying for opportunities to effectively communicate Christ and point people in the direction of the cross…at least, I try to be. I think to be vigilant in not shoehorning Jesus, or the Bible or spirituality into the conversation. More times than not, it comes off as rehearsed, false, patronizing and disingenuous…at least, that’s been my experience. Thankfully, however, because I am an artist, myself, oftentimes when I’m working, I’m around other artists and creatives. Believe it or not, creatives tend to lean toward being open to discuss or, at least, bring up spirituality…even Christianity, to a degree. The contention and the pushback come when you claim it to be exclusively true.

The last example I had of this was the Netflix original movie, “Come Sunday” with Oscar winner, Chiwetel Ejiofor. This was around last year (and this year). The subject matter was controversial enough and folks were talking about it. All I did was choose a conversation to jump in on and voila: a conversation about Jesus, hell, salvation, grace, and the Gospel came from that! It was built in to the movie. The movie set it up for me.

Did that sorta answer your query? Was I off?

(Warner Joseph Miller) #9

I think one of the great things about art is that its particular value, meaning, etc. can be so much in the eyes of the beholder. What’s great to me may not be to someone else. With that said, I don’t think seeing images of Jesus or angels or disciples have the same affect as they did years and years ago. If I can be honest, the overabundance of anglo-cized, European-ized artistic interpretations of Christ and His heavenly host leave a bad taste in the mouth of many who aren’t of European descent. That being said, I truly enjoy good art…in whatever form it takes. I like pop art. Modern art. Interpretive and classical. Good art. But that, again, is subjective.

(Laura Prime) #10

@WarnerMiller that’s spot on, thanks! :slight_smile:

(Laura Prime) #11

These are good points. I wouldn’t want to copy the style of an older tradition, that misses the point I think. I also think the way art is made and approached has significantly shifted since around 1900 - art is far more subjective and much interpretation is left to the viewer. A traditional view of beauty and order is also disregarded.

So bearing in mind the subjectivity of art, does art have a place in church and if so what would that look like?

(Christina lampidaki) #12

Hi Everyone,

I was brought up in Greece as an Orthodox Christian and I am familiar with the Byzantine painting in the churches. I find religious art very fascinating and informative of the facts of the Bible, however I have to underline the downside of this culture. I was taught growing up, to bow and kiss the paintings of the Saints and of Jesus and Mary, which I realised later on, as a born again Christian, that it is Paganism. So art as an educational medium is very helpful but it hinders our connection with Lord when it is used as part of worshiping.

(Ryan C Melcher) #13

Hi Laura,

Great question! As someone who does illustration, graphic design and web design I think you are keying in on something I’ve noticed in the Protestant Church here in the U.S. anyway. I think our modern culture engages in the arts, but not so has it did centuries ago as with the grand paintings, architecture and sculpture of the Renaissance. Today it’s about movies, music and similar mobile mediums. I think we our losing out in a sense. I’ll thought out of couple very general observations / suggestions on this topic for what it’s worth:

  1. Christians in my circles over the years don’t have a good understanding of art and what makes it good or bad. They like what they like but do not know why. They don’t have a good understanding of Art elements, principles and how to use them. Total disclaimer this is me when it comes to music. I love jazz for example but don’t know that much about it or what makes some good or bad. Maybe there is a fun way to educate fellow believers?

  2. It’s easy to get distracted by the modern mediums (movies for example) as opposed to the classical works we see in churches. Which is a bummer.

  3. Nevertheless I think the believers are making excellent strides in the modern mediums. A few “Christain” movies my wife and I love and which hold there own against major productions include “Mom’s Night Out” and “War Room.” I think contemporary Christain music also has come a long way over the decades.

  4. I think tours mentioned in the various responses to your post is an excellent idea! It could be at churches or local musiems. My wife and I recently went to an Albrecht Dürer exhibit at a local museum. It was amazing! To my knowledge Dürer was a believer.

  5. Maybe Churches could do fellowship art exhibits and dinners. Celebrating the creator with our own God given ability to create. I believe RZIM had something like this recently (although I may be mistaken here).

  6. Do personal work and get it out there. I recently produced a coloring book for my daughter that tells the story of our family getting ready and going on a hike. I put some images on Facebook and people loved it. At the end of the book it shows our family saying grace over dinner together and then reading the Bible at family time before bed. I don’t have the mad ninja skill of the artists centuries ago but it was my attempt to glorify God with the skill I have, made a reference to Him in the pages mentioned and made a great gift for my little girl.

Anyway those are some random thoughts. Thanks for your post I’ve sincerely liked it as well as the responses.

Cheers and blessing,


(Ryan C Melcher) #14

Hi Warner,

If I may make an addition to you list: The Iron Giant. Which has some Superman references in it.:slight_smile:

Cheers and blessings,


(Monica Diane Hall) #15

A few years ago a friend of my was asked to do a painting during worship time. She said it was if the Lord Himself was creating the painting. It was a beautiful blend of sight and sound that brought glory to God.

(Laura Prime) #16

Hey @RyanMelcher, thanks so much for the reply! Sorry it’s taken a little while to get back to you. Some responses to your thoughts…

1.It is certainly a trend I’ve read about, I think I cam into this discussion during a revival of interest in the arts. I think rather than this just being a “failing” of the church, I think it’s a wider issue across our culture and society as a whole. I’ve done a brief stint as a music teacher in schools where kids of 11-18 years (junior high in the US?) and it was sad to see how for many music, art and drama were “doss lessons” ie the easy subjects you don’t really need to engage with. Schools would promote the necessity of english, maths and science as core subjects, which in doing so places other subjects on a lower platform, intentionally or not. Such is the way it is. We are also all different, and different aspects of the world interest us more. I have very little understanding of engineering or building work, though can appreciate the time effort and planning it takes. We don’t have time to explore them all in our short lives! (As for jazz, let’s talk some time. I could probably get you started on learning more!)

  1. I wonder if this is because people find movies and modern works more accessible and relevant. I know I spend more time engaging with modern art, movies and culture than classical works.

  2. Will have to check out those movies. I think CCM has some new interesting challenges to face now. For another thread possibly.

  3. Great, I think we should get this tour thing organised! Who would be a good person to do this? I’m not expert on art in churches at all.

  4. I like this idea. Can RZIM do something like this again?

  5. Great to hear about your book Ryan! I think that’s a beautiful way of using the gifts God has given you for your daughter and for the church. And mad ninja skills might just look different these days :wink: I am beginning to put some of my own work out on the internet, slowly but surely. I have a little blog here that I keep up to date with thoughts and creations.



(Carson Weitnauer) #17

Hi Laura,

You may enjoy a visit to RZIM’s Still Point Gallery at some point:

(Laura Prime) #18


(Anthony Costello ) #19


Laura, I think you are spot on in your observation. For a few years now I have been inquiring of former Evangelicals who have converted to either Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy as to what were some of their primary reasons for doing so. Many, not all, have told me that their Evangelical faith had left them wanting when it came to having a robust understanding of how we can encounter God through the medium of the arts; in encounters with “the Beautiful” so to say. This engaging with the arts would probably include not only painting, sculpture, and church architecture, but also the art form of the liturgy itself. While I don’t think that alone is a good reason to leave Evangelicalism for one of the other Christian traditions, it is obviously something very important to people, and I think it represents a legitimate desire of the human heart: i.e. we want to see God!

Beauty is a tricky domain theologically, however. While I agree that there are critical areas that Evangelical churches, especially those in America, can improve in, and two of the most pressing of these are Church History and a Theology of Beauty, experiences of beauty can also be tempting in that we can begin to confuse the object of beauty with the divine presence that it is supposed to point to.

As an example, I grew up Roman Catholic myself, and lived for several years in Europe, to include 6 months in Rome, the epicenter of ecclesial art! However, what we see in Europe, in spite of the abundant beauty of its churches (both internally and externally), is a sort of spiritual death. They have literally become museums, devoid of a worshipping body of Christ, regardless of their artistic power (as you yourself recently experienced). So even beauty, without the Truth of the Gospel, can devolve into nothing more than an experience of beautiful things.

That said, however, I do think it is high-time for local churches to start embracing and teaching a more robust understanding of how we can meet God in the domain of the arts, and through our sensory experiences. It has to be done carefully, I think, but I do already see movements in this direction, and I welcome them. As our popular culture degrades and loses its ability to produce anything that could be considered beautiful, churches should become sanctuaries of beauty. This contrast between the character of God, and the character of our culture, can definitely be shown through the arts.

Finally, art can be a means to teaching church history as well! We should embrace the reality of the body of Christ that is not just down here, still at war with sin, death, and the devil, but also that, in large part, is already in the presence of God interceding for us. While I would never endorse prayers to saints, I do think we can do a better job of honoring those brothers and sisters who have been examples of Christ-likeness, and part of the way we might do that is through artistic expression. Some recent examples I have seen are a growing number of children’s books about men and women like C.S. Lewis, Hudson Taylor, Eric Liddell, Mary Slessor, etc, as well as movies about parts of their lives.

Whether or not we can truly recapture a vibrant church architecture or sacred painting has yet to be seen, but I would definitely be open to it so long as we tempered it with the right kinds of theological constraints.

in Christ,