David Taylor – The Visual Arts and Worship

Christianity Today has just published an article by our friend David Taylor entitled “Discipling the Eyes Through Art in Worship.”  This is a really important discussion for many of us who are interested in supporting the arts in christian worship, loving on artists, using arts as part of our liturgical landscape, etc.  You can read the full article at the link above. After you have finished reading the article please check out two follow up posts from David here and here.

Here is a brief excerpt which features my old church Redeemer Presbyterian in Indianapolis.

Didactically. At other times the visual arts instruct us in the teachings of Christian faith. In Indianapolis, Redeemer Presbyterian Church recently created an art installation whose intention was to accompany a sermon series during Advent. A key idea was that life springs forth from the Word of Light. Stacks of Bibles, paper-collage banners embedded with live plants, jasmine set in the windows, tall glass candles, pink lanterns, and encaustic (painted with hot wax) paper hovering fantastically over the stage communicated a visual dimension of this idea. The installation also contributed aesthetic beauty to the space—a delight in line, color, smell, and texture.

Here is an appendix written by David Taylor that includes a list of books, articles, and organizations that you can pursue for further reading, reflection, and sharing!

David Taylor – A Reflection on Pentecost Songs

"May Hour Pentecost" by Makoto Fujimura

This past week Cardiphonia released a large collection of songs [Pentecost Songs] celebrating the person and work of the Holy Spirit in conversation with over a 1000 years of texts for Pentecost Sunday (June 12).  The response to the project was so verdant in its musical presence that I hoped to continue the conversation with other forms on what it means to worship the 3rd person of the Trinity.

To that end I asked David Taylor, a Thd student in theology and the arts at Duke, an avid blogger at “Diary of an Arts Pastor” and the editor of “For the Beauty of the Church” if he would engage the project in a conversation on the Holy Spirit in faith formation and worship.

Here is the brief article he was kind enough to craft for us:

June 12, 2011

w. david o. taylor

Reflection for Cardiphonia Pentecost Album

“Christian worship is, therefore, our participation through the Spirit in the Son’s communion with the Father, in his vicarious life of worship and intercession.” – James Torrance, Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace (1996)
“[The Spirit] who created a praiseful worship of the Father and the Son in ways that were authentic to all the cultures and centuries in which the gospel has been confessed, will do the same in new ways that are authentic to the end of the twentieth century. The prayer of the Spirit will be liturgical, in continuity with what has gone before, but it will also be free, creative and spontaneous.” Tom Smail, The Giving Gift: The Holy Spirit in Person (1994)

The first thing to say about the Holy Spirit is as obvious as it is regularly forgotten: nothing is possible in Christianity without the Spirit. In fact, without Pentecost we remain estranged from the saving purposes of God in Christ. John Calvin certainly said as much. As did St. Athanasius and Jonathan Edwards.

It is surprising, then, and not a little distressing, to note how often our speech habits as Christians follow a binitarian rather than a trinitarian pattern. Listen to the preacher’s sermons. Read through the devotional books. Watch the blogs and prayers. Grab a hymnal. Once you begin to look for it, you see it nearly everywhere. God language and Christ language suffuse our common life as Christians, yet Spirit language receives only scant attention, surfacing far less even than language of “spirit” or “spiritual.”

The weak pneumatology that often surfaces in our doxological life as Protestants stretches far back. (A certain reading of St. Augustine might bear part blame.) We frequently conceive the Spirit’s role in passive rather than active ways. The Spirit becomes the harmony of the Trinity rather than the harmonizing One. He becomes the static presence of divine life instead of a Person with dynamic functions, dimly perceived through his works of inspiration and sanctification, but quickly fading, yielding to the more prominent roles of Father and Son.

To my mind, it isn’t the Spirit’s “invisibility” that is at stake, it is the Spirit’s de-personalization and therefore the weakening of the trinitarian character of classical Christian faith that is at stake. Our speech habits and our practices of worship simply make manifest what we uncertainly believe.

It doesn’t have to be this way, of course, and both Gregory of Nazianzus (329-390 AD) and this Pentecost album summon the church to a more vibrant pneumatological faith. The one reminds us of the worship that is proper to the Spirit, while the other invites us to inhabit this worship.

St. Gregory writes in his thirty-first Oration:

“Look at the facts: Christ is born, the Spirit is his forerunner; Christ is baptized, the Spirit bears him witness; Christ is tempted, the Spirit leads him up; Christ performs miracles, the Spirit accompanies him; Christ ascends, the Spirit fills his place. Is there any significant function belonging to God, which the Spirit does not perform?”

Gregory spends a germanically long paragraph answering in the negative. No, there isn’t a function or a title that belongs to the Godhead which does not also belong to the Spirit. The Spirit makes all right worship possible, to be sure, as John 4, Romans 8 and 1st Corinthians 14 demonstrate. But the Third Person of the Trinity is also deserving of our adoration. All that God actively performs, the Spirit performs. Thus He is to be glorified.

This is good and well, but what if we lack means to enact this reality in our public worship? We revert to broken binitarian patterns. So this is where Bruce Benedict and his merry band of troubadours do the church right. They provide the church what Charles Wesley believed essential, namely the musical means to practice right theology, where the good news of Pentecost can become soaked into our hearts and minds and bodies.

In Ephesians 5:18-20 St. Paul declares that the filling of the Spirit occurs as we or perhaps to the extent that we speak to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. From Greg Scheer’s haunting “Glossolalia” to Benedict and Mills’ reworking of the ancient hymn, “Veni, Creator Spiritus,” the music of Pentecost Songs makes this Pauline insight a rich possibility for local congregations. They introduce a broad variety of Pentecost hymns into our worship “play list” and so remind us of the Spirit’s essential and ubiquitous role in the Christian life.

So I say, bravo, songwriters! Thank you for your courage and energy. Thank you for your generous service to the body of Christ. May you be blessed in your creative endeavors even as we the people of God will be blessed by the singing of your songs at Pentecost—and beyond Pentecost too.

Some Further Reading:

Steve Guthrie, Creator Spirit: The Holy Spirit and the Art of becoming Human.

NT Wright – Worship and the Spirit in the New Testament

Sinclair Ferguson, The Holy Spirit

St. Athanasius – Letters on the Holy Spirit

St. Gregory – On the Holy Spirit


Advent by C. Rossetti

Gabriel Dante Rossetti - A Christmas Carol

Christina Rossetti

This Advent moon shines cold and clear,

These Advent nights are long;

Our lamps have burned year after year,

And still their flame is strong.

“Watchman, what of the night?” we cry,

Heart-sick with hope deferred:

“No speaking signs are in the sky,”

Is still the watchman’s word.

The Porter watches at the gate,

The servants watch within;

The watch is long betimes and late,

The prize is slow to win.

“Watchman, what of the night?” but still

His answer sounds the same:

“No daybreak tops the utmost hill,

Nor pale our lamps of flame.”

One to another hear them speak,

The patient virgins wise:

“Surely He is not far to seek,”—

“All night we watch and rise.”

“The days are evil looking back,

The coming days are dim;

Yet count we not His promise slack,

But watch and wait for Him.”

One with another, soul with soul,

They kindle fire from fire:

“Friends watch us who have touched the goal.”

“They urge us, come up higher.”

“With them shall rest our waysore feet,

With them is built our home,

With Christ.” “They sweet, but He most sweet,

Sweeter than honeycomb.”

There no more parting, no more pain,

The distant ones brought near,

The lost so long are found again,

Long lost but longer dear:

Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard,

Nor heart conceived that rest,

With them our good things long deferred,

With Jesus Christ our Best.

We weep because the night is long,

We laugh, for day shall rise,

We sing a slow contented song

And knock at Paradise.

Weeping we hold Him fast Who wept

For us,—we hold Him fast;

And will not let Him go except

He bless us first or last.

Weeping we hold Him fast to-night;

We will not let Him go

Till daybreak smite our wearied sight,

And summer smite the snow:

Then figs shall bud, and dove with dove

Shall coo the livelong day;

Then He shall say, “Arise, My love,

My fair one, come away.”

2 May 1858

Christmastide Poems of Christina Rossetti

Vertical Habits – resources for worship

‘Praise / I Love You’ by Kyle Ragsdale

Do you want a great resource for exploring the basic building blocks of communication in Worship?  The Vertical Habits is an approach to talking about worship that the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship has been developing for a number of years.  In 2006 Redeemer Presbyterian Church-indy and Cardiphonia were asked to develop some visual arts resources to support the program. Sojourn Church in Louisville, KY also participated in this project.

Here is a great introduction to Vertical Habits from Betty Grit, Program Manager at CICW – (link to RW article)

HERE is a handout for teaching this in your church. HERE is a page with all of the Vertical Habits links on CICW

HERE is a link to a John Witvliet article @ The Banner on using Vertical Habits with children.

HERE is the link to the CICW where arts resources have been posted for the Vertical Habits Program.

— (Excerpt) —

Vertical Habits: Worship and Our Faith Vocabulary

Faithful speech is central to the Christian life. God is not just interested in having us contemplate or appease him. God is interested in the dynamics of life together, shaped by good communication. Just as words form our habits in relationships with other people, the words of worship can form the habits of our relationship with God and the way we live out our faith. Consider these eight parallels:

Relational Words / Worship Words

I love You. / Praise
I’m sorry. / Confession
Why? / Lament
I’m listening. / Illumination
Help. / Supplication or Petition
Thank you. / Thanksgiving
Here I Stand / Creed
What can I do? / Service
Bless you. / Blessing


A Video of Calvin Grant Recipients discussing the Vertical Habits

Vertical Habits Paintings: (LINK to download Hi-Res)
These were painted on board and used both in worship services as well as reinforcement for good communication habits in our children’s worship rooms.

*Paintings by Kyle Ragsdale

Vertical Habits Icons: (LINK to download Hi-Res)
We used these icons in our worship guide, in print publications, and as a form of the game “memory.”
Here is a brief pamphlet written to guide children through a worship service with these icons – PDF

*Icons created by Matt Hale

Music Resources – for the Vertical Habits Program.


By/For Arts

The Descending of New Jerusalem, by Scott Erickson (photo by Ken McAllister)

By/For encourages artists to create sacred worship art by the church, for the church.

Recently (2008-2009) Brian Moss curated and facilitated a collaborative arts project with a number of visual artists in Vancouver. The Vancouver Project contemplates the beautiful, grotesque and sublime in this visual art exhibition. These are beautiful images that the Church is encouraged to integrate, reflect on and interact with.

Here is more on By/For’s approach to creativity and the Church.

Enables art in community.
Great art happens in community. By/For desires to strengthen ties between artists and their worship communities, so that both can grow together. God gives gifts in every community, for the edification of the whole Church.

Encourages art patronage.
Patronage of the arts is an ancient idea, and By/For thinks it can be a modern one too. Churches can support artists in their communities and reclaim their historic role as patrons of the arts.

Expands art copyright.
Worship is a gift freely given. By/For projects are licensed under Creative Commons, so churches can freely use the art in worship and other artists can adapt and extend it. Removing profit motives can enrich both art and worship.

Extends art across borders.
God connects His Church across borders. By/For believes the local church can strengthen and support fellow worshippers down the street, across town, and over oceans. Using the Internet and digital media, By/For helps churches and artists share sacred art across borders.

note from Brian Moss – By/For is entering into a new partnership with International Arts Movement that should prove to be exciting and fruitful.

For the Beauty of the Church

A new book out with contributions from a number of stellar folk.  My copy is on the way, but from the excerpts I’ve seen floating around the web it promises to be a rewarding read for anyone who labors with a love for the church, her beauty, and her artists.

Amazon Link

There is a great discussion on each chapter of this book going on over at the Transpositions Blog – check it out HERE.



1. The Gospel: How is Art a Gift, a Calling, and an Obedience – Andy Crouch

2. The Worship: How Can Art Serve the Corporate Worship of the Church? – John D. Witvliet

3. The Art Patron: Someone Who Can’t Draw a Straight Line Tries to Defend Her Art-Buying Habit – Lauren F. Winner

4. The Pastor: How Artists Shape Pastoral Identity – Eugene Peterson

5. The Artist: What Exactly Is an Artist, and How Do We Shepherd Them? –  Barbara Nicolosi

6. The Practitioner: Nurturing Artists in the Local Church – Joshua Banner

7. The Dangers: What are the Dangers of Artmaking in the Church – W. David O. Taylor (Editor)

8. The Future Looking to the Future: A Hopeful Subversion – Jeremy Begbie

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑