Theology Through the Arts
Anneke Kai - "Psalm 24"
Art and theology have an interesting and interconnected history. Visual arts, for example, has interacted with faith and theology in many ways over the centuries. From ancient depictions of various gods, to the Renaissance portrayals of the biblical narrative, to devotional art of the greeting-card variety, to the mystery of the divine in modern abstract paintings, we see that theology and the arts go together.

Part of the interplay between theology and the arts is how we understand the relationship between the two. Jeremy Begbie, professionally trained musician and theologian at Duke Divinity School, reflects on two common ways we can articulate the connection between the two (see video below for more):

One approach utilizes theology for the arts. We understand art in light of a Christian worldview. An example of this would be the website Plugged In, which examines types of art in popular culture from a specific Christian and biblical perspective. Theology informs how we interpret the arts. Art is deemed good or bad depending on how it lines up with biblical teaching. 

Another approach utilizes the arts for theology, a perhaps subtle, yet important switch from the previous approach. Here Begbie describes how the arts can help us "unlock the great Christian truths." Good art points beyond itself as a symbol of truth and reality. In this sense, the arts become "vehicles of discovery" as we understand more about how God is present in the world. The arts inform how we interpret theology.

Begbie's work reflects this latter approach, what he calls "theology through the arts." His books Sounding the Depths and Beholding the Glory are great resources that reflect deeply on this dynamic. The arts aren't  mere tools or simple illustrations used to serve theology. Rather, the arts in all their beauty, honesty, and wonder, are integral sources and inspiration to see the beauty of incarnation ("God with us") in our midst.


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