Could the Church Today Spark a New Renaissance?

I grew up with a seven-foot print of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, from the Sistine Chapel, on the wall above my bed.  I read Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy, a novelized version of Michelangelo’s life, twice in high school and once again in college.  I read deeply on Leonardo Da Vinci, both for his scientific and his artistic genius.  I knew it wasn’t the hippest era amongst the highbrow set, but I always loved the art of the renaissance period.  I’ve grown to love other kinds and periods of art, but the painting and the sculpture of the great renaissance masters has always remained my favorite.

Could the Church once again be Patron of the Arts?

The greater portion of that art was produced under the patronage of the church.  There were controversies, to be sure, and artists then as now liked to push the boundaries.  But the church was much more supportive of artistic and scientific innovation than is commonly portrayed.  Michelangelo’s masterpiece on the chapel ceiling sits inside St. Peter’s Basilica.  It was nurtured within the embrace of the Church and it has remained there ever since.

Christians today, and evangelicals especially, like to complain about the way they are portrayed in today’s works of art — in novels, television shows, movies and the like.  And Christians today like to joke about the low-budget quality of shows and films that are made specifically for the evangelical subculture.  Yet they — we — rarely give generously of our time, talents and treasures to create transcendent, piercing, defining works of culture.  Sometimes it seems like we’re waiting around for another big-money patron to appear.  Wouldn’t it be great if there were a Christian Bill Gates who would give $10B to the creation of enduring works of art from artists of faith?

Yes, it would be great.  And there are some interesting efforts afoot, such as the Wedgwood Circle, and in particular areas, such as the Act One program to nurture writers and directors of film.  But the good news is, with modern technology, we have some excellent means available to us to support the creation of culture that honors what is true and good and beautiful.  Just like Kickstarter supports the launch of new ideas and products, or Causes or Razoo or Crowdrise (or, to which I am particularly devoted), the combination of digital and social media technologies makes it possible for us to gather small amounts of money from many people at once, for the production of art.

We can crowd-source a restored church patronage of the arts.

That’s the idea behind As1, launched by Jonathan Bock, the founder of Grace Hill Media.  I’ve come to know Jon and GHM through the process of creating the Patheos Movies Channel, and I’m excited by the vision he articulates for this new initiative: “As1 seeks to restore the church to its historically traditional role as a Patron of the Arts. Through our demographic size and collective buying power, we will unite to impact the culturally influential art of our time – film, television and music. As we have throughout history, we will generously reward the artists who tell our stories. And they will make more. In addition, As1 seeks genuine relationship and renewed partnership with the Artistic Community. Artists: you are not the enemy, and we were wrong for saying you were. As1 wants the greatest artists telling our stories again.”

I’m aware that, in the odd assortment of people who read this blog, some will be inclined to criticize from the start.  But I would love to see this flourish.  Here’s the video introducing the concept:

Perhaps we don’t need a big-money patron.  Perhaps we just need ourselves, committed, creative, and collaborating.

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  • Amen!!! I went to a church in college that always featured the artwork of aspiring, local artists in their hallways, often in line with the sermon series and it was often captivating stuff. Evangelicals have been good at caring about Truth and Goodness, but Beauty is the one universal that has not featured prominently in our thinking over the last few decades. This is actually why I’m excited to read Brian Zahnd’s “Beauty Will Save the World: Rediscovery the Allure & Mystery of Christianity.” Artist initiatives like these are great, but we honestly need a theological grounding for it being preached on a regular basis in our communities. Christians made in the Image of the beautiful, Creator God should be passionately committed to the creation of Beauty that reflects his glory for the world to see.

  • Mike

    Perhaps we should start with our sanctuaries. Compared to the great cathedrals of Europe, and even some of the more historic churches in this country, it is downright depressing to walk into a typical Evangelical stadium church (I’m talking solely about the buildings here, not the congregations). I think our architecture should do more to give glory to God and should strive to give a sense of the majesty of heaven here on earth.

  • Bob Wiley

    Certainly waiting to read the snarky comments in response to Timothy’s exhortation.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I was trying to head them off at the pass!

  • Barrett Duke

    Well said, Timothy. Christians should be engaging every area of human endeavor, infusing our worldview into the social fabric. Through such efforts, secular society can be introduced to the Judeo-Christian ideas and values that can impact the way they see the world. Just imagine what we could accomplish if we could engage the arts and media to introduce secularized people to the idea of the inherent dignity of human beings in a way that is intellectually and emotionally appealing, for example. When we change the way people see the world, we will make great headway in impacting how they think about themselves and the world. We will make significant progress in the goal of rescuing the culture.

  • Vivian

    Roger Scruton, a British philosopher, has written some fabulous books on Beauty and its connection to God through the exploration of the sacred. Somewhere along the line, we Christians became suspicious of how image, voice, creative drama and even music could reveal man’s desire to explore or to express creation and its multi-faceted dimensions. We Christians have to study and learn that kitsch and art are not synonymous; we need to admit that Christians with deep feelings or robust sincerity do not necessarily produce lasting art pieces. I am thrilled to see this valuable discussion about art and the future of Christian engagement, but let’s look carefully at our heritage and admit that our textual emphasis surrounding Logos, doctrines and daily Bible studies can prevent our stepping into those “sacred spaces” where God Father, Son and Holy Spirit live and breathe apart from linguistic form! Some of the greatest art in the world produces awe, hushed reverence, an epiphany…forms of glory that testify to an Artist of sublime wonder.

    • Bobby B,

      Not sure the evangelical movement is ready to give birth to a renaissance when its intellectuals seem so eager to gang up on David Barton’s (in my opinion silly) books and yet not defend Mark Regnerus. It appears to me that there is more interest in the approval of the broader academy than in the defense of truth and scholarly inquiry.

      • Timothy Dalrymple

        Some prominent evangelical sociologists have stepped forward to defend Regnerus.

        • Timothy Dalrymple

          But I get your point. It takes more courage to defend Mark Regnerus than it does to criticize David Barton. But I think both are necessary.

  • Mary Kay

    Beautiful reminders in your article.
    Yes, let’s do it. Let’s put all our various talents into showing the beauty of our faith again!
    both the great and the smaller among us!