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A Generative Excess in Reality

A Review of
For the Beauty of the Church:
Casting a Vision for the Arts
.

W. David O. Taylor, editor.

Reviewed by Brent Aldrich.


For the Beauty of the Church:
Casting a Vision for the Arts
.

W. David O. Taylor, editor.
Paperback: Baker Books, 2010.
Buy Now: [ ChristianBook.com ]


“Beauty is simply reality itself, perceived in a special way that gives it a resplendent value of its own. Everything that is, is beautiful insofar as it is real… The genius of the artist finds its way by the affinity of creative sympathy, or conaturality into the living law that rules the universe. ”

— Thomas Merton, from No Man is an Island

For the Beauty of the ChurchThese lines from Merton’s essay “Conscience, Freedom, and Prayer” have seemed to me to be the most generous description of art as anything I’ve come across: it is expansive and encompassing (“everything…insofar as it is real”) and it binds art to the rest of life, and not just life, but life in its reality, (a “resplendent value of its own”). This broad vision for art (which I will try to expand further) is in contrast to theories of aesthetics, of work, of theology, of ecclesiology, etc., that are marked by limitation and fragmentation. What Merton does so wonderfully is to affirm that none of these can be separated; God is at work reconciling all things, and in our human arts we participate in that work. The reconciliation of all things seems to be the starting place for any vision for ‘the arts’ or for the church.

For the Beauty of the Church: Casting a Vision for the Arts is a new collection of essays edited by W. David O. Taylor, and birthed out of the “Transforming Culture” conference in Austin, bringing together artists and pastors to talk about the church and the arts. The eight essays in this book, from writers such as Andy Crouch, Eugene Peterson, and Jeremy Begbie, traverse often very different perspectives on said topic, from Andy Crouch’s chapter which offers a broad view of culture-making, to what seems to be more of an emphasis on some sort of “arts ministry,” whether it’s directly called that or not. That said, I have a hard time engaging with very many of these essays because of an underlying vision of art, church, worship, and work that is too narrow. I want to be careful because I do appreciate that these conversations are being had, but I hope to stir imaginations beyond ‘ministries’ or ‘outreach;’ beyond the once-a-week ‘worship service;’ and beyond making “Christian” a marketable adjective.

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