Among other things both wondrous and mundane, two revelations stand out from our day-to-day work last week that lead me to this BookNotes listing of some new books about the arts, creativity, the imagination, and such.
First, we did that fabulous hour-and-a-half webinar conversation with Dr Paul Louis Metzger on his fabulous book Setting Your Spiritual Clock: Sacred Time Breaking Through the Secular Eclipse on the significance of the church calendar. Thanks to all who joined in — we’ll soon offer a free link (at least at the Hearts & Minds Facebook group) to that Zoom discussion so you can join it. One of the things that struck me — besides Paul’s cheerful charm in his serious call to radical discipleship (not to mention his love of rock & roll and the blues) — was that conversations about the church calendar pretty quickly move towards symbols, metaphors, images. Talking of sacred time and practices to attune ourselves to the holy requires some imagination. To press against the encroaching modernist secularism — “secular creep” Metzger playfully called it — we need all the help we can get and some sort of sanctification can happen (slowly, perhaps) when we pay attention to rhythms and rituals and colors. We didn’t talk about aesthetics and the arts as such, but I know we were on the edge of that mystery that evening.
Secondly, some saw on my own Facebook page (and, again, at the Hearts & Minds group page) a link to an informal Sunday school class I helped with to kick off the first Sunday of Advent. We are doing a series at First Presbyterian Church (of York, PA) on poetry called “Waiting Words.” Our oldest daughter, Stephanie, did a really fabulous job setting the table with a little talk on Advent, slowing down, and how the practice of listening to or reading poetry can help. She cited, nicely, from the introduction to the marvelous book When Poets Pray by Marilyn McEntyre. After reading this BookNotes, jump over to our Facebook group to hear her good words, at least, and stay, if you’d like, to hear words by the great Presbyterian pastor and poet, Thomas J. Carlisle, Madeleine L’Engle, Luci Shaw, Drew Jackson, and Joan Rae Mills. I was inspired to think about how creativity and the arts, imagination and aesthetics can help us all.
And so, here are a handful of recent books which you may or may not know about. I hope you consider them for yourself, for creatives you know, and certainly for anyone interested in the art world.
We have many BookNotes lists — some quite extensive — showing some of the selection we have regarding books about faith and art. From classics like Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art or one of my all-time favorite books, Rainbows for the Fallen World by Calvin Seerveld, to the must-have anthology edited by Ned Bustard (It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God) published by Square Halo Books or even their lovely, small one called Naming the Animals: An Invitation to Creativity by Stephen Roach, there are so many good ones. For serious folks, we have all the IVP Academic ones in their great “Studies in Theology and the Arts” series. Visit our website, click on BookNotes, and enter “the arts” or “creativity” into the little search box and you’ll be surprised by how much it will bring up from past BookNotes. The prices might have changed, but some of those old lists are really good. Enjoy!
For now, here are some fairly new ones, all 20% off. Order today.
The Artistic Sphere: The Arts in Neo-Calvinist Perspective edited by Roger Henderson and Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker (IVP Academic) $45.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $36.00
This splendid, extraordinary, remarkable book deserves its own full review but that will have to wait. For now, just a few quick words to say how much this means to me, how much we recommend it, and how wonderfully affirming it is to those who are both seriously theological and intentional about forging a faith-informed sense of aesthetics, a Biblical-driven vision of the imagination, and a critical (if gracious) view of art history.
First, this: the “neo-Calvinism” in the title is a faith tradition emerging from Holland in the early 1900s. The preacher/social reformer/Prime Minister Abraham Kuyper and his associates created a fresh take on the ways in which the sovereignty of God works in the world, and a call to be serious about cultural renewal. There are some who appropriate this tradition in stodgy, doctrinaire ways, but the thinkers — some art historians, some philosophers, some artists — show that the tradition (with its delightful emphasis on common grace for the common good) need not be sectarian. dogmatic, or traditionalist (as some pitch it these days)
Two names come up on occasion in this fascinating collection who represented various strains or tones of Dutch neo-Calvinism; one is Hans Rookmaaker (whose artful daughter co-edited this volume from Holland), a Dutchman who found faith in a Nazi concentration camp (and who had, perhaps, the best record collection of American jazz and blues in all of Europe in those years) who later influenced early Francis Schaeffer.
The other is the extraordinary legal scholar and Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd, whose followers nearly started a movement which in the 1960s and 70s created Toronto’s Institute for Christian Studies. Co-editor Roger Henderson studied at ICS (with Calvin Seerveld, the legendary philosopher of aesthetics there) and so represents that unique, mostly North American form of culturally engaging, smart, neo-Calvinism. These are two streams of the theologically-Reformed “neo-Cal” tradition that influenced Beth and I; those that know the origin story of Hearts & Minds have heard us talk of friends from Toronto’s ICS and the Swiss L’Abri that formed our vocation as booksellers.
This big, new book does have a tiny bit of insider baseball lingo, I suppose — Henderson gives us a good chapter on Dooyeweerd’s view of spheres of life and it is a gift for any serious thinker, it seems. There is a chapter swiping a line from Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn (“Rumors of Glory”) that explains how the theme of the Kingship of Christ over all of life in Abraham Kuyper reformed Calvin’s view of the arts. Whether readers are Reformed or not it’s a great chapter!
Most of The Artistic Sphere, though, will be fabulous for anyone even vaguely interested in the conversation about faith and the arts. I can hardly think of a better follow up to, say, the Square Halo Books anthology, It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God, or the good books by Mako Fujimura. It is truly interesting, a winning case study of what folks mean when they talk about the integration of faith and scholarship. With the variety of top notch authors — from E. John Walford to Nicholas Wolterstorff to William Edgar to Adrienne Dengerink Chaplin to Calvin Seerveld (whose essay is spectacular, by the way) just to name a few — this book is nothing short of magnificent.
And it is a visual delight. Kudos, again, to IVP. Most authors have been given a way of showing how their theories or insights work out in practice by them doing a second, companion chapter where they celebrate and evaluate art pieces. From James Romain on “I See the Promised Land” in the collaborative work of K.O.S. and Tim Rollins to Seerveld’s piece on the meaning of the crucifixion in Grunewald and Perugino to several pieces on contemporary protest art, the book is a full color feast. It is serious, of course, but there are playful design touches and light colors throughout. Full color art enhances every chapter.
There is, for those who care, a re-printed chapter from a previous book by Hans Rookmaaker and his lovely “Letter to a Christian Artist” from The Creative Gift. Also, Victoria Emily Jones has an excellent closing essay about the books and movements and scholars who have contributed over the last decades. It will be very important for scholars, students, and fun for aficionados.
More should be said — this is one of the grand releases of 2023. Whether you are familiar with the broad themes of a good creation that is drastically damaged by sin but that is being redeemed by a saving Lord, who promised to bring restoration even as we now live into the Kingdom of “all things (re)need” or not, The Artistic Sphere will inspire you to want to live a more full, more human, more full, richer life. Five stars — very highly recommended.
For many decades, the Kuyperian tradition has been at the forefront of nourishing a Christian imagination in the world of the arts. This excellent collection proves the point, as well as demonstrating how Neo-Calvinism can resource artists and Christian thinkers to tackle together the challenges of the future. — Jeremy Begbie, Duke University, author, Abundantly More: The Theological Promise of the Arts in a Reductionist World
The Artistic Sphere is an engaging antidote to stereotypes that often cluster around Calvinism and visual images. These essays are not characterized by a uniform viewpoint. There are refreshing differences of emphasis and interpretation in the way topics like beauty, the imagination, or the social roles of art are discussed. This book is an excellent introduction to how the visual arts were and are shaped, understood, and used in Reformational cultures. — Theodore Prescott, emeritus professor of art at Messiah University, author, A Broken Beauty
Abundantly More: The Theological Promise of the Arts in a Reductionist World Jeremy S. Begbie (Baker Academic) $39.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $31.99
I’ve highlighted this previously, but surely it is, as one reviewer insisted, “A remarkable achievement that breaks new ground.” So it’s very worth whilte naming again.
We’ve obviously appreciated — and carried — every Begbie book since his extraordinary (and scholarly) work on music, released years ago. A few years ago he did one exploring what theology has to say to the arts, and another one on what the arts have to say to theology. He is prolific, academic, passionate, and a master of classical music. He is one of our finest writers in this whole genre, at least for those who want rigorous, dense prose.
Here he is surely doing much more than affirming that God cares about our creative juices or saying that our faith should give us lenses through which we can perceive goodness and delight in the arts of our fellow humans. It is even more than saying that beauty should be a key notion for our theological efforts. Sure.
In Abundantly More Begbie is making a major argument against one of the grand themes of Western philosophy and culture, what is summed up in the word “reductionism.” Think of C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man, perhaps, or other critics that explain how reducing life to just this or that is always troubling and never ends well. No, we need a robust, opened-up, multi-dimensional view of things, the very “teeming” creation God has given us.
As it says on the back, “In a culture that so often seems to shrink and flatten our vision, reducing the world to mere atoms and us to mere things, the arts can break our imaginations open.”
James K.A. Smith has written much against this anti-creational vision or reductionism, and recently, in a column in Image (the arts journal he edits) he explained how very important this new book is. Here is what Smith said on the back cover:
As only Jeremy Begbie can do, this book weaves theology and music, philosophy and poetry, science and Scripture to explore and celebrate the uncontainability of the triune God and the irreducible complexity of creation. Beginning with an astute analysis of our modern tendency to reduce, flatten, and de-complexify the beautiful, swirling kaleidoscope of divine and created reality, Begbie articulates a creative, constructive pneumatology that deepens our understanding of the resonance between theology and the arts. A remarkable achievement that breaks new ground. — James K. A. Smith, Calvin University; editor, Image; author How to Inhabit Time.
Redeeming Vision: A Christian Guide to Looking At and Learning from Art Elissa Yukiko Weichbrodt (Baker Academic) $29.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $23.99
Funny, as I pulled recent books off the shelf that I wanted to list alongside our lead title on the neo-Calvinists insights about the “artistic sphere” (above), this is the one I first grabbed. I selected it because it is the brightest, most interesting, best-done arts book of the recent past and it just shouted to be listed again. It is colorful and wise. Fun,too.
Yes, I highlighted it last February — we had it before the official release date and celebrated it by releasing it at the CCO’s great Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh last February. Now, this coming year, Elissa is a keynote, plenary speaker there and doing a workshop on the arts. Hooray. This is righteous!
Redeeming Vision is somewhat like other books which invite people of faith to a deeper awareness of the aesthetic gift, of redemptive moves in interpreting art, in seeing goodness and learning from it by way of engaging classic and contemporary art. It is a Christian guide but, frankly, is so very well done with so many full-color reproductions and insightful comments, that nearly anyone could appreciate it. It is rich and thoughtful and gives actual tools for evaluation and a helpful framework — so much so that Rachel Hostetter Smith of Taylor University says it provides a “useful toolbox.” It is one of those books that deserves a very, very wide readership. We are very happy to suggest it.
Redeeming Vision is an erudite and yet wonderfully hospitable invitation for the layperson to engage deeply with art and art history through a profoundly Christian theological perspective. A vital contribution to the library of any sincere student of visual culture and its central importance in our lives. — Bruce Herman, gallery director, Barrington Center for the Arts
Weichbrodt has provided what Christian discourse about the visual arts over the last fifty years has lacked: an on-the-ground guide to looking. Redeeming Vision is a remarkable text that will play a crucial role in helping to initiate countless curious but often confused seekers into the practice of looking at art. — Daniel A. Siedell New York City, author, God in the Gallery: A Christian Embrace of Modern Art
Rembrandt Is In the Wind: Learning to Love Art Through the Eyes of Faith Russ Ramsey (Zondervan) $24.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99
Okay, this came out late last year and isn’t brand new. We celebrated it as one of our favorite books of 2022. I mention it here, now, not only because it fits this column so nicely but because I wanted to suggest it as a great gift for a wanna-be art lover. Russ is a good writer, a beloved pastor, a cool guy, but he is not a professional critic, not an artist by vocation, not one who is known for this sort of book. But that’s it’s strength — call it “growing your faith by learning a bit about the arts” and coming to appreciate art more by learning some of the spiritual backstory of the artists. It does what it sets out to do, which is, frankly, to help ordinary folks learn to appreciate visual art better and to do so religiously.
In this sense, this fabulous 2022 narrative reminds me of two favorites we very often recommend — Terry Glaspey’s tremendous 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories Behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music and Film and his very useful Discovering God Through the Arts: How We Can Grow Closer to God by Appreciating Beauty & Creativity.
But Rev.Ramsey’s Rembrandt Is In the Wind is so, so interesting! The foreword by Mako Fujimura is excellent, the full color plates are great, and the back-cover endorsement of Karen Swallow Prior is punchy and to the point. She says, “The artists featured in these pages, artists who devoted their life and work to that which is good, true, and beautiful, remind us that we can — and should — do the same.
Imagining Our Neighbors as Ourselves: How Art Shapes Empathy Mary W. McCampbell (Fortress Press) $28.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $22.40
Again, this is a 2022 release, another of our favorite books of last year. It deserves another big shout-out, as does the fabulously interesting author, the great Mary McCampbell. Anyone who has heard me speak about the importance of books and reading have surely heard me insist that reading widely has a benefit of deepening our sense of empathy — walking a mile in another’s shoes, ya know. This documents that with as much vigor and passion and scholarly wisdom as you can imagine. The opening chapter on what empathy is and the Biblical warrant for it is excellent and shapes her evangelical vision of why and how narrative works its magic on us.
Imagining Our Neighbors… is, unlike the other books on this list, about narrative art, which is to say novels, movies, plays, TV shows, music. She explores graphic novels, YA fiction, the big classics of contemporary fiction, and pop culture. I simply cannot say enough about this but it is a gem; thoughtful, serious, but utterly engaging. Hooray.
McCampbell takes the ingredients of the familiar and invites us on a theological and experiential journey to self and neighbor compassion. In her book, both storytelling and story analysis, from film to Holy Scripture, inspire and equip us to grow what seems so lacking today: empathy. — Christina Edmondson, psychologist, cohost of the Truth’s Table podcast, and author of Faithful Antiracism: Moving Past Talk to Systemic Change
God and Wonder: Theology, Imagination, and the Arts edited by Jeffrey W. Barbeau & Emily Hunter McGowin (Cascade Books) $35.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $28.00
This book is not brand new but it is new to me, and perhaps new to you. I discovered it from two sources — there was a great review in the recent Christian Scholars Review that made me sit up and wonder how I missed this great anthology. And then I realized the co-editor, Emily Hunter McGowin, is the author of the little “Fullness of Time” book on Christmas, called Christmas: The Season of Life and Light. I loved that little book (that precedes the equally brilliant Epiphany:The Season of Glory by Fleming Rutledge.) Maybe I was right, as I alluded to above, that thinking about the liturgical calendar and church year allows one to think about the imagination, about wonder and light and glory.
God and Wonder is a rigorous set of various academic pieces, mostly by theologians of sorts, some academics, some not. Here you’ll read an array of multi-ethnic and trans-denominational voices (Scott Cairns, a poet, is Orthodox; Karen An-hwei Lee is a provost and poet at Wheaton College and here writes on the Psalms; Cheryle Sanders is a beloved and respected professor of ethics at Howard University in DC (and a pastor of the well known Third Street Church of God there.) Nijay Gupta is a New Testament scholar and seriously published Pauline scholar — he teaches at Northern. In any case, these various writers are weighing in on the question of wonder. How does a Biblical and spiritual sense of awe lead to not only an enhanced imagination but a passion for the arts?
There are chapters on children, on a theology of the imagination, of “radiant awe.” Jeremy Begie has a piece called “Encountering the Uncontainable in the Arts” that is akin to his new book that I mentioned above.
A few chapters that I’m diving into soon:
- “Making as an Act of Longing and Lament” by Tish Harrison Warren
- “The Artistry of Place” by Andrew Peterson
- “Placed Wonder through the Arts” by Jennifer Allen Craft
- “The Wonder of Cinema in Dorothy L. Sayers and Spike Lee” by Crystal Downing
- “Songs and Symbols for an Overcoming Church” by Cheryl J. Sanders
Doorway to Artistry: Attuning Your Philosophy to Enhance Your Creativity Esther Lightcap Meek (Cascade) $32.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $25.60
This, my friends, is a very impressive book with which we have great affection. Esther Lightcap Meek is a friend and a retired philosophy professor we admire very much. Her other books are about (get this) knowing. That is, to use the fancy-pants works, epistemology but she brings a common person’s tone to it because her deeply Biblical / covenantal view of knowing is, as the Bible seems to teach, with head, heart, and hand. That is, we are full-bodied creatures, not only brains, and to “know” in the Bible is much, much more than mere cognition or brain knowledge. We know with our bodies, actually.
She makes this point in several important books drawing on the amazing 20th century philosopher of science, Michael Polanyi (and, I’d guess, somewhat in league with that great popular writer, Steve Garber.) In any case, Esther has inspired students — even a rock band who did an album called Esther to show how much her courses influenced their artistry — and now, here, she is showing how all that works for artists.
The subtitle says it all — this is about attuning one’s philosophy so that we might have a proper framework that elicits an attentiveness to our creative impulses. Being an artist — or inhabiting that “artistic sphere” whether an artist, formally, or not —“involved you intimately with the world around and beyond you.” So, she says, “your artistry involves profound but simple philosophical matters.” It goes to the very core of your being.
This book is grand, with a big, caring vision. It offers philosophy for the common person, but, especially designed to help them with their creative side, offering exactly what the title promises: a “doorway to artistry.”
There are nifty illustrations by Martin Smith and a great, collaborative foreword by Makoto Fujimura. She draws on thinkers and writers from Wendell Berry to Robert Farrar Capon to Lewis Hyde to D.C. Schindler — especially his Love and the Postmodern Predicament. Can you know in order to love? Want to learn to love in order to know? This book will help.
Oasis of Imagination: Engaging Our World Through a Better Creativity Ted Turnau (IVP-UK) $39.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $31.99
We import this one from the UK and we couldn’t be happier. Well, it is a bit big and a bit pricey, but, man — what an inspiring manifesto. Turnau is a leader in both church and the arts community in Prague. He wrote a very thoughtful book a decade ago called Popologetics, which offers a method of classic apologetics drawing on popular culture. (He also wrote last year and published on New Growth Press one called The Pop Culture Parent.) He is currently Chair of Literature and Culture at Anglo-American University in the Czech Republic.
This book is upbeat and readable — even at 450 pages you will not be wearied — and although he draws on serious philosophers and theologians (from Heidegger to Kundera to N.T. Wright, from Dooyeweerd to David Dark to Neil Gaiman. Wow.)
Turnau here offers a consistently Christian, thoughtful overview of a theology of imagination, drawing on worldviewish thinkers like Al Wolters and artists like Makoto Fujimura. He is indebted to Tim Keller and even Francis Schaeffer. And like each of those thinkers (each in their own way) he interacts with contemporary scholars, European thinkers, playwrights, artists, cultural critics. He has Biblical work (including some great footnotes) and helps Christians in their creative culture-making. His hope is to “help the Christian church enter into and contribute to this conversation in ways that build bridges, ways that heal rifts, even in a world that might no longer welcome Christian commitments.” We excited about this.
Imagination Manifesto: A Call to Plant Oases of Imagination Ted Turnau & Ruth Naomi Floyd (IVP-UK) $14.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99
Okay, this (as you can tell from the cover) is a companion volume to the bigger Oasis of Imagination. This is, as they put it in the back of Oasis, “to put theory into practice.” Nice
Three quick things: Jesus calls us into the world so we should be intentional about our engagement with our cultures. This book helps us quickly get up to speed about how the imagination is an important part of how God made us and why it is part of God’s call to seek the good of our communities. It is about why Christian artists need the church but also about why the church should not only be helpful to artists, but should be planting some kind of artistic / creative works in our community.
Secondly, you should know that Turnau’s co-writer here is, in fact, a vibrant black woman — from Philly! — who is a jazz composer and singer (and who has worked with the anti-trafficking work of the International Justice Mission.) She is known for exciting lectures of art and justice, on music and beauty and racial reconciliation. We are fans.
Thirdly, this is not only a distillation of his bigger book, but this team-effort offers a path beyond culture wars with a compelling call to action; Naomi is an artist and activist and perfect for this on-the-ground manual. This little guide offers practical suggestions for “getting started with planting oases right where you are.” Wow.
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