For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts | W. David O. Taylor
Conversations regarding arts programs in Protestant churches can be challenging if the participants are unsure how to assimilate successful, God-honoring instruction that incorporates the arts. David Taylor approaches this issue, with the inclusion of other authors, and broadly covers discussion on the importance of utilizing the arts in ecclesiastical ministry. The authors draw from their varied experiences in arts ministries to include practical steps in implementing the arts into daily activities of the local church. Taylor articulates a clear purpose of the book by stating, “[This book] aims to inspire the church, in its life and mission, with an expansive vision for the arts” (21). Art genres included in his vision consist of music, dance, drama, media, and other various forms of visual art. The intention of this book is to help pastors and artists learn to speak the same language so meaningful conversations can lead to a presence of the arts in the church. Although each author approaches the issue of ecclesiastical art inclusion from varied points, the narrative carries similar themes with each writer offering a healthy view of arts ministries.
Taylor incorporates other contributing authors, including Andy Crouch, John D. Witvliet, Lauren F. Winner, Eugene Peterson, Barbara Nicolosi, Joshua Banner, and Jeremy Begbie. These authors offer opinions and research from a wide variety of backgrounds, including Catholicism, Judaism, and Protestantism. The diversity in experiences allow each author to speak from personal ecclesiastical understanding regarding positive and negative interactions with the arts in the church.
Banner, Peterson, and Taylor draw from their knowledge with artists and art programs in their churches, with Banner citing an arts program he developed within the walls of his church in the late 1990s. Peterson further recalls personal encounters with artists in his ministry, culminating with his charge to pastors to make friends with the artist, and Taylor highlights the dangers that arts ministries can expose, aiding both the peculiarities of the artist and perceived lack of support from the pastor, for the betterment of the congregation. All three pastors reference personal relationships with artists in their churches, and they encourage arts ministers to learn from the wisdom of those who have gone before, both in mistakes and successes, allowing the Spirit to guide them into future arts involvement in the local church.
Witvliet and Begbie represent the academy with their experiences as musicians and seminary professors. Witvliet challenges the reader to “express, challenge, and deepen our corporate acts of worship” (47), referencing multiple genres of art and how they can be utilized correctly as liturgical art. He focuses on the role of an arts ministry in the gathered body of believers, arguing that the arts in “corporate acts of praise, confession, lament, thanksgiving, proclamation, baptism, and Eucharist” (47) serve to “elevate, deepen, and sharpen each of these basic sensory actions and prime them as acts of worship” (55). Begbie points the discussion into the future by illuminating six healthy ways the church can use art through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. His charge is for artists to understand the history and importance of Scripture so their art will reflect the beauty of God.
Lastly, Crouch, Nicolosi, and Winner discuss their involvement with the church as artists themselves. Crouch examines the intersection of arts and society, believing that God created culture as a gift for Adam in the Garden and that we today continue to create it, with a poignant question raised regarding if the reader believes God created culture as a gift (36). Nicolosi considers her involvement within the film industry, providing examples of what beauty is and is not, and Winner centers her topic around the importance of beautiful art in daily life and considers the view of art in Protestant churches, as she was raised in the Jewish tradition.
Taylor has compiled an excellent resource for ministers desiring to include the arts in their church. However, when including authors from such varied backgrounds, the methodology and emphasis in ministry initiatives can cause confusion to the reader in knowing how to proceed. Further, when comparing the tone of each author, the reader must reconcile personal experiences from some authors (pastors and artists) versus research significance from others (professors). By being aware of these issues, the reader will be able to assimilate the given information into a manageable approach to begin (or continue) arts ministry in the local church.
For the Beauty of the Church examines the positive and negative sides of utilizing arts ministries and provides multiple personal testimonies from both pastors and artists. The dialogue that is read between these pages can be inspirational to the reader, providing courage to pastors in learning how to communicate with artists. This communication, as noted in almost every chapter, is vital for “casting a vision for the arts” in the local church.