Posted by: Philip Rushton | October 14, 2010

Office Art: Confessions of a Wordy Protestant

One of the things I am really looking forward to doing when we arrive in Longview, is moving into my new office. I’ve been coming up with ideas on how to decorate it and organize it. I am hoping it will be a significant space for good conversation, prayer, and study.

However, when it comes to interior decorating I am disadvantaged. My artistic sense is severely delayed, and my understanding of artwork is minimal. So I want to treat the decorating of my office as an act of repentance for my lack of artistic awareness. I am working with Julie to pick out some significant art prints to hang on the wall. I am reading up on various painters and trying to be intentional in filling my walls with prints that say something significant about God and about our world.

(The Wanderer by Caspar David Friedrich. Currently a top candidate for one of my wall hangings. Friedrich was part of the German Romanticist movement. This print captures something that I see in our current cultural moment – a disillusionment with modernism and a pursuit of a deeper meaning in life.)

I think it is appropriate to label this as confession and repentance. I am convinced that us protestants and evangelicals need to recover the idea that art can be helpful for our spiritual formation and worship. We need to recognize that we have overlooked the significance of art and find ways to reclaim it.

When I was traveling in Geneva a few years ago I went to a service at St. Pierre’s Cathedral. It was originally a Catholic Church but was taken over by John Calvin and the reformers in the 16th century. One of the things you notice when you walk into this cathedral is that it is very simple, and very minimalist. When the reformers took over this cathedral they purged it of it’s art and sculptures. This is known as iconoclasm. They were destroying the symbols and the artwork of the Catholic Church, arguing that it was a form of idolatry. Calvin replaced all of this artwork with a simple Bible that was placed on a stand at the front of the cathedral. This is profoundly symbolic. Calvin was out to replace images with the word.

(A picture of the Bible that is positioned at the center of St. Pierre’s in Geneva)

As protestants and evangelicals we have inherited this strong tradition of focusing on the word. Our services are centered around the preaching of the word, and our discipleship programs are often centered around deductive exposition of scripture. We are wordy people. For the most part this is a very good thing. The scripture ought to be the center of our spiritual formation, and the teaching of the word is the foundation on which our faith is based.

However, in the midst of all this emphasis on the word we have missed out on the significance that art can play in our spiritual formation. Francis Shaeffer argues argues in his essay “Art and the Bible,” that evangelical Christians have downplayed the significance of creativity. He writes, “evangelical or biblical Christianity has been weak at this point. About all that we have produced is a very romantic Sunday school art.” Schaeffer argues that artistic expression is part of what it means to be a Christian. He reminds us that Christ is Lord over all creation, and this includes the realms of art and culture.

There are a number of ways that art can help us spiritually. Good art can help us communicate the transcendent or the mysterious, it can help us enter into and apply spiritual principles to real life, it can be a powerful form of worship, and it can play a prophetic role in our culture by communicating spiritual truths in unique and subversive ways. So my question this week is this: What are some ways that we can promote and incorporate the arts into our lives? How can art aid our worship and our spiritual formation?


  1. I’ve found that to some people their primary way of connecting with God is through art. I don’t really get it but find it fascinating and just as honest of an approach as other methods. Myself, I’m happy with just an empty church and a Bible. Which I guess like you imply is still art. Even if some would find it boring.

    I would like to nominate the below piece of art for your office. It symbolizes the omnipotence of Christ in even todays world, the humanness of Jesus, a little bit of Canada, and of course it’s just plain awesome.

    BTW – Isn’t the Wanderer about uncertainty of the future?

  2. Awesome suggestion Bruce! I’ll consider it!
    There are a lot of interpretations of The Wanderer. Dembo offered the interpretation that you point out (I learned that from Wikipedia) 🙂
    In a way that is sort of what I was getting at. Right now I find that people are becoming a bit disillusioned with modernism and the myth and progress. There is a renewed interest in asking some of the deeper questions in life – where is it heading? What is it all about?

    In Friedrich’s painting the figure is often diminished and set against a vast landcape. As one art critic says (also from wikipedia!), “this directs the viewers gaze towards their metaphysical dimension.” The great thing about good art is that it can evoke different responses in different people. But of course I don’t want to over-spiritualize it either, which I think was the point of your BTW! Just remember – I don’t really know what I’m talking about when it comes to art!

  3. Okay, I see where you were going with the Wanderer. It seemed like an odd choice for a pastor since you’re supposed to know the future 🙂 but I can see what your interpretation is about. I think it would be appropriate. Even if I’ve always thought the guy looked a little weird. Seems like it should be someone looking more like Teddy Roosevelt standing there.

    If you decide against my other suggestion because you don’t want to emphasize your Canadian roots you could always go full American and put up the below art. I think it represents Jesus’ use of parables and humor to portray a point. He knows how to reach to those who think a Halo involves Master Chief.

  4. Just to confirm, I do know the future Bruce! What would you like to know?

    Where do you find these pictures? Too funny.

  5. I would like to nominate MONET. Pick one. it’s all in the view of the beholder.

  6. okay Bruce, they can’t spell on that “art”
    your or You’re Jesus.

  7. D’oh! You’re right Shannon.

    How about this one then:

  8. So far I have gone with a print by Rouault called “The Head of Christ”
    I discovered this artist when we were at the Museum of Fine Art in Montreal. Bruce I’m still considering the hockey Jesus!

  9. Had to look that one up Phil! I thought you meant the one by Sallman and I was very disppointed in you.

    Here’s a corrected Hockey one for Shannon:

    These are my favorite Hockey Jesus images:

    Though I’m pretty sure Jesus would wear a Rangers uniform. 🙂

    If you don’t need a painting there’s always the statues:

    I don’t know if this one is hilarious or blasphemous!

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