16 Books on Faith and Art

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Editor's Note

This article is part of a series called Art Month. We'll highlight more on the intersection of faith and art during December.

How should Christians think about art? Is art something frivolous and “extra,” like a hobby? Is it an arcane interest accessible mainly to specialists or the well-to-do?

I’m convinced that art is in fact far more important to the Christian life than we often believe. After all, we all participate in art every day, whether through the way we adorn our homes and yards, or the way we outfit our offices, or the way our places of worship are designed. Art is all around us. We see and hear it, but that doesn’t mean we give it the thought and attention we should. Art is a profoundly theological subject. Here are some books to help you think more deeply about the intersection of faith and art.

Introductory Books on Faith and Art

The following books serve as introductions to thinking about art as a Christian. Although I’m describing them as introductory, they are excellent for the already-committed art lover, too:

  • 1. Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer is a short, accessible introduction that first offers a brief survey of what the Bible teaches about art, then offers some helpful principles for evaluating art.
  • 2. Russ Ramsey’s brilliant book, Rembrandt Is in the Wind: Learning to Love Art through the Eyes of Faith is like a mini-course in both art and art history, viewed through the lens of the Christian faith. This book is for art aficionados and newcomers alike and offers a theological education as well as one on art.
  • 3. Terry Glaspey’s Discovering God through the Arts: How We Can Grow Closer to God by Appreciating Beauty & Creativity is another primer on art. Like Rembrandt is in the Wind, Glaspey doesn’t just offer lessons about art, but provides a robust theological framework for why art and beauty matter.
  • 4. A forthcoming book I’m personally very excited about (having had the opportunity to read the manuscript in advance) is Redeeming Vision: A Christian Guide to Looking at and Learning from Art by Elissa Yukiko Weichbrodt. While written for the layperson, this book goes more deeply into technical aspects of art than many introductory works do. But it also is full of rich theological and cultural analyses that equip the reader for encounters with art out in the world beyond the pages of this book.
Art is a profoundly theological subject.

Books Beyond the Visual Arts

Here are some excellent books on art and faith that go beyond the visual arts in exploring a range of artistic forms from a Christian perspective:

Books on Art History and Artists

If you are interested not only in works of art but also in the history and cultural contexts that give rise to artists and artistic movements (and how we as Christians might thing about these contexts and movements), these books are great places to start:

Both of these books ought to be complemented by thinkers who have more sympathy with some of the underlying developments that led to modern and postmodern art, which Christians too easily dismiss or misunderstand.

  • 12. Daniel Seidell’s God in the Gallery: A Christian Embrace of Modern Art will help even the most skeptical Christian better see behind the surface of so much modern art that may not be as hostile to belief as it seems.
  • 13. One book that offers this more nuanced perspective, one that sees beyond the despair often expressed in art that comes from Christ-hidden cultures, is Silence and Beauty by Makoto Fujimura, who is himself a world-renowned artist in the vein of one modern style, abstract expressionism.

Speaking of Makoto Fujimura, some books can help us to better understand the artists in our lives (and our churches). Two of Fujimura’s books do this quite well:

A Series of Books on Theology and the Arts

  • 16. I would be remiss not to highly recommend this leading series from IVP: Studies in Theology and the Arts. (In full disclosure, I serve on its advisory board.) The series goes both deep and wide in showing just how theological art (and our thinking about art) can be.

As all these books show, art isn’t, for the Christian, an option or a luxury. Beauty and art reflect the nature of God, and the nature of all human beings who are made in his image. Thus beauty and art must have a place in any robust, complete Christian theology.

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Karen Swallow Prior

Research Professor of English and Christianity and Culture

Karen Swallow Prior serves as Research Professor of English and Christianity and Culture at Southeastern Seminary. Her books include 'Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me' and 'On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books.' She is co-editor of 'Cultural Engagement: A Crash Course in Contemporary Issues' and has written articles for Christianity Today, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Relevant, The Gospel Coalition, and many others.

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