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Visual Faith

Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue

series: Engaging Culture

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"This book is well worth the attention of all scholars and students of worship, theology and culture, and religious art. . . . [It] would make a good textbook for any course of study on religious aesthetics and art, and would serve well to support a worship and liturgical studies program."--Adrien Burdon, Reviews in Religion and Theology

How can art enhance and enrich the Christian faith? What is the basis for a relationship between the church and visual imagery? Can the art world and the Protestant church be reconciled? Is art idolatry and vanity, or can it be used to strengthen the church? Grounded in historical and biblical research, William Dyrness offers students and scholars an intriguing, substantive look into the relationship between the church and the world of art. 

Faith and art were not always discordant. According to Dyrness, Israel understood imagery and beauty as reflections of God's perfect order; likewise, early Christians used art to teach and inspire. However, the Protestant church abandoned visual arts and imagery during the Reformation in favor of the written word and has only recently begun to reexamine art's role in Christianity and worship. Dyrness affirms this renewal and argues that art, if reflecting the order and wholeness of the world God created, can and should play an important role in modern Christianity.


"Both theological and practical, this wide-ranging study will be of special interest to all who want to get beyond the sterile prejudices that have so often marred the relation between visual art and Protestantism."--Jeremy Begbie, Cambridge University and the University of St Andrews

"Dyrness advocates 'careful historical and theological reflection' and puts this into practice in ways that satisfy the academic mind. Most of all, however, he emerges as a theologian of the arts with a message for the churches. He offers a well-founded critique of traditional Protestant prejudice against matters visual and artistic, and he issues an inspiring challenge to follow the Spirit into richer modes of praise and worship."--Graham Birtwistle, Free University, Amsterdam

"A refreshing and welcome addition to the growing discourse on a Protestant recovery of visual imagination and the need for Christians of all stripes to engage and exploit the visual arts--both in the secular marketplace and within the worshiping life of the church."--E. John Walford, Professor of Art, Wheaton College

"The image-oriented insularity found in certain sectors of the Protestant church is sensitively and thoughtfully challenged by Bill Dyrness in this insightful guide. Visual Faith weaves together a compelling case for the collaboration between art and Christianity. Placing the complex world of contemporary art making within historical, theological, and cultural contexts, Dyrness affirms the necessity of images in the ongoing vitality of the church and her mission."--Barry Krammes Chairman, Biola University Art Department Publications Editor, Christians in the Visual Arts

"With economy, grace, and passion, Visual Faith provides a compelling case for a deeper engagement on the part of Reformed Christians with visual art and aesthetics. Without apologizing for the past, Dyrness chronicles the astonishing renaissance of Christian involvement in contemporary art that is taking place in the present. And by placing art in the context of worship and the rich variety of other Christian traditions of spirituality and theology, he is helping to shape the future."--Gregory Wolfe, editor, Image: A Journal of the Arts & Religion

"Responding to the increasingly visual culture of our time, William Dyrness offers an exceptionally astute and informed discussion of what this cultural shift can mean for art, worship, and Christian faith itself. Taking into account biblical aesthetics and historical church practices, Dyrness dares to hope for a mutual renewal and expansion of artistry and the life of the church. If that transpires, Christians will no longer suppose that art and beauty (or ugliness) are either incidental to life or alien to true religion. Church leaders, artists, and worshipers all need to read and discuss this book together. It contributes insights that are vital to understanding and shaping (both critically and constructively) major changes in culture and worship today."--Frank Burch Brown, Christian Theological Seminary

The Author

  1. William A. Dyrness

    William A. Dyrness

    William A. Dyrness (DTheol, University of Strasbourg; Doctorandus, Free University) is dean emeritus and senior professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, and is the author of several books on global theology.

    Continue reading about William A. Dyrness


"For those of you who have ever questioned the relationship between art and theology, a wonderful new examination has come to print by author and professor William A. Dyrness. . . . Anyone reading this book will definitely receive lessons in visual art and its function in Christianity, and will leave the work ready to use the power of art to make an impact in all areas of Christian life. . . . The language is welcoming from the very beginning, and although art history may seem daunting to some, Dyrness is quick to enlighten the reader with small doses, intermittently dispersing them between potent examples and intelligent responses to Christian critics. But most impressive is the section on new opportunities for Christian involvement in art. Here the reader is truly shown that the world of art does agree with the world God created."--Worship Leader

Visual Faith is an important work of theology, correcting an unfortunate error which has plagued the evangelical Protestant community for far too long. It does so not by introducing a new idea, but by calling us back to the Scriptures. I commend Visual Faith to you. Please read it and give a copy to every elder in your church."--Denis Haack, Critique

I recommend this book for all clergy and for academically adept worship leaders. Much of the text requires a modest knowledge of church and art history."-John Schuurman, Calvin Theological Journal

"This is another 'good read' by an evangelical Protestant author attempting to develop, really reclaim, a constructive Christian perspective on the arts."-Richard C. Stern, Homiletic

"[A] fresh and provocative theological approach to the field of Protestant theology and the arts. . . . Historically informed and convincingly argued, it is a plea to move beyond simplistic oppositions to new religious engagements with contemporary artistic creations. Readers who want a good combination of historical overview of the theological debate, of the many biblical lines of argumentation and eventual practical applications of these insights should look at this book."--Günter Thomas, Journal of Religion

"Dyrness discusses timely, relevant questions with a foundational inclusion of church history and tradition. He considers biblical passages for his application and recognizes the significance of both. . . . The format of the book along with its plentiful inclusion of artistic examples ranging throughout history makes it accessible for academic or lay reading. Dyrness also effectively navigates the stony rapids of a culturally divisive topic without getting swept away or overturned by side points or small arguments. His work provides a thorough historical understanding of imagery in the church that enhances the contextual understanding of applications being considered today."--Kaitlyn Zachary, Artistic Theologian