Byron Spradlin

Artists In Ministry & Missions

Month: August 2018

Imagination, Artistic Expression & Worship? 1 of 2

How Imagination And Artistic Expression Relate To Worship

Evangelical author and philosophy professor Dallas Willard writes, “Sometimes important things can be presented in literature and art that cannot be effectively presented in any other way.” Given the way God has designed the human being and human community, people need all the capacities He created—reason, emotion, imagination, memory and language, all working together. As mysterious as that transaction is, they need all these capacities so that they may “know” God and not simply know about Him.

In fact, the Bible reveals that people are to know Him so intimately that they ultimately live every minute of each day in a companioning-worship-walk with Him. Jesus pressed this very issue when explaining to the woman at Jacob’s well that, “. . . God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24, NIV). The Apostle Paul presses the same mandate when he urges Christians to, “. . . present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your logical, reasonable worship-way-of-living (latreian)” (Rm12:1, author’s rendering).

The Bible reveals that the essence of worship is to find one’s satisfaction in God above all and everyone else. The Apostle Paul boldly declares, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21, NIV).

But based on these submissions, there exists one important question: If humans and human community are to engage in an intimate and interactive involvement with God, how does this interactive transaction actually happen?


Most would say that the goal and essence of worship are both wrapped up in a relationship with God. But still, how do finite people have relational interaction with a Divine God? Is not God unique from humans? Of course. He alone is Divine, Holy, Supreme. But how; or in what way, or in what realm, has God created humans to ‘experience’ in transactional reality, relations with Himself?


At this point it is important to note Bible Role for Imaginative Expression. God designed finite humans in such a way . . . that the mystery of transactional engagement with God happens through environments of imaginative human expressions.

When people go to worship, whether in groups or alone, God designed them to need to exercise their imaginal intellect as much as any other dynamic of their being—including their rational intellect.

When people worship God alone, they “practice” focusing their faith toward God through the gate of their imagination. As they couple their imagination with their intellect, they will imagine the unseen realities they ‘know’ are true in Scripture.


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Is Art Essential for Christian Life?

The Biblical Definition of Art and Artistic Expression

Artistic expression, as observed in the biblical record, is essential to life and Christian ministry—especially the worship ministries of the Church. This is because Artistic expression is the essential context wherein humans touch the transcendent realities of life in general, and most importantly, with God. Artistic and “imaginative” expressions—the metaphors, symbols, expressions, rituals, memorials, ceremonies, liturgies—form the amniotic fluid in which life and community grow and mature.


Art is a part of life. It is not something people can choose to omit from their lives. Artistic expressions—imaginative human expressions—are more than a form of human communication. They are the substance, the amniotic fluid, in which human relationships live and grow—human-to-human, and humans-with-God. Therefore, in order to see the importance that ‘amniotic fluid’ of God-designed-human-expressions is to the flourishing of human relationships with each other and in worship of God, Church leaders and worship practitioners should maintain a biblical view of ‘imaginative human expression’.


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The Modern Falsehood of Artists and the Arts

The Modern Idea of Artists and the Arts

Modern culture’s ideas about art seems to designate “artists” as a specialized elite group of art-makers. First are the elite who’s artistic skills are very high. They possess an extreme level of virtuosity—whether as in Paul McCartney or Yo Yo Ma. Second are those who have either gained some level of fame or who have somehow found some commercial traction with their art-making. Third are the artists who have gained some traction with the general cultural elite – this could include popular graffiti artist David Choe.


There is also another way one could describe the modern view of the artist in the Western Modern World; that of high art which is related to institutions of high art. Christian and philosopher Dr. Nicolas Wolterstorff writes the following:

A striking feature of how the arts occur in our society is that there is among us a cultural elite, and that from the totality of works of art to be found in our society a vast number are used (in the way intended by artist or distributor) almost exclusively by the members of that elite. I shall call those works our society’s works of high art. The works of Beethoven, or Matisse, or Piero della Francesca, are examples. Correspondingly , our society’s institution of high art consists of the characteristic arrangements and patterns of action pertaining to the production, distribution , and use in our society of those works of art.


These notions of works of and institutions of high art are mentioned here for three major reasons:

  • First, these categories are not biblical categories. They are not the categories, nor the realities that truly define either the essence of or the role of artistic expression, or artistic expressions themselves.
  • Second, these categories seem to form the unconscious grid through which most Church Leaders evaluate artistic specialists and imaginative human expressions they facilitate.
  • Third, Church Leaders generally hold these modern but incorrect views about the arts and artists; and that leads them to either see no connection between artists and the Church, or to fear that artists and arts might do damage to the agendas of the Church.

This preconceived concept about art, and its relationship to the Church, does major damage to the Church’s ability to pursue artist expression as a means for making worship central to the mission of the body of Christ. Church leaders need to reject this modern view of artist expression, which excludes the imaginative realm of metaphors, symbols and human expressions (or signal systems), and come back to a biblical view of the arts. In doing so, they will find new vitality for worship as the central agenda of the churches.


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2 Sides of an IMagination Coin

  • Imagination, as revealed in the Bible, is two-fold: First, humans have a capacity to invent things. This is the capacity to see what could be but is not yet.
  • Second, humans have a capacity, through the working of the Holy Spirit, to interact with transcendence—including the ability to engage with God. This is the capacity to see through what is known into the realities beyond what is known.

Once the Biblical concept (and definition) of imagination is seen in context with the biblical definition of the artist as a craftsman, the connection between God’s plan for worship and man-kind’s ability for expression can be seen. First, it affirms the way God has made human kind. Second, moves Christians to reject the notion that the arts and artists are simply elitist and somehow disconnect-from-main-stream-culture. Third presses Christians to seek out and include artists, creativity and beauty as mainstays in the life and worship of the Church.


Throughout Scripture1, and certainly exemplified in this Exodus 35 passage, one sees that God has directed His people to be engaged in a holistic, multi-sensory assortment of imaginative and emotional expressions to engage Him in worship—a worship-way-of-life. Dr. Ronald Allen, professor of Old Testament and Hebrew Languages at Dallas Theological Seminary addresses this issue:

Many Christians who cherish the bible for its teaching about Christ and about the nature of salvation have yet to learn to experience the Bible itself . . . We (must) learn how to develop the discipline of imagination from the Scripture in two ways. First, we must recognize the role of imagination in the very process of writing the bible. Second, we must exercise our own imagination in developing the art of creatively reading the Scriptures. . . . Many evangelical bible readers . . . read the Bible for its content, but we rarely linger over its style.. We read for doctrine, but we miss its art.2

God has created humans and human community to engage Him through the fullness of the mind: the imaginal dynamic of intelligence, the emotional dynamic of intelligence, and the intellectual dynamic of the intelligence. God designed man to enjoy all three dynamics in worship.


    1 Other Scripture passages that reveal both, God interacting with believers, and directing believers to interact with Him, in multi-sensory ways are: The Three Visitors appear to Abraham, Gen 18:1-33; the ram in the bush and the voice of God for Abraham to substitute for Isaac, Gen 22: 1-14; Jacob wrestles with God, Gen 32: 22-32; Moses and the burning bush, Ex 3:1-22; Moses, Pharaoh and the ten plagues, Ex. 6-12; Moses and the Red Sea crossing, Ex. 13:17-14:31; God’s directions to build the Tabernacle Worship Center, Ex. 25-50; Joshua and the Jericho Battle, Josh 6:1-21; The Singers in Solomon’s Temple, 1 Chron. 25; Solomon, the Temple, and Huram-Abi, Solomon’s Temple Designer, 2 Chron. 2:13-5:1; Isaiah’s Vision, Is. 6:1-8; Ezekiel’s call, Ez. 1:2-29; King Belshazzar, Daniel and the Hand writing on the wall, Dan 5:1-30; Jesus’ Birth, Lk 1:26ff; Jesus’ baptism, Mt 3:13-17; Jesus’ Transfiguration, Mk 9:1-12; Paul’s conversion, Acts 9:1-19; John’s Revelation, Rev. 1:9-19; The New Heaven and Earth, Rev. 21-22. 2 Allen, Ronald Barclay. Imagination: God’s Gift of Wonder. Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1985, p. 9.


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