Historical Attitudes That Have Shaped the Church’s use of the Arts



Historical Attitudes That Have Shaped the Church’s use of the Arts

Matthew R.S. Todd


Fifty years ago, Dorothy Sayers lamented, “The Church as a body has never made up her mind about the Arts…[and] has seldom made any consistent attempt to relate their aesthetic to the central Christian dogmas.” Strong words, and likely a fair critique. However, within the last 15 years we have witnessed a growing interest and new vitality around the relationship between Christian theology and the arts. Former Port Moody (B.C.) Pacific Grace MB Church pastor Matthew R.S. Todd’s latest book is one example.

In Historical Attitudes That Have Shaped the Church’s use of the Arts, Todd offers a brief overview of postures of the Western church toward the arts, outlining how this ambivalent relationship has been at times suspicious and suppressive, sometimes supportive.

The book works like a series of snapshots organized in four sections: Ancient, Medieval, Reformational, and Modern Church. Todd succeeds in showing how these attitudes were not formed in a vacuum. He works to uncover the defining cultural and philosophical influences behind the church’s relationship with the arts.

It’s an ambitious undertaking – attempting to cover two millennia in only 100 pages! Todd gives a disproportionate amount of space to Lutheran Pietism, without making mention of the Radical Reformation.

Even with such a disjointed and cursory survey, Todd’s 2,000-year overview of the attitudes that have shaped the relationship between faith and art is helpful. Todd’s work is ultimately hopeful, affirming that, “the way forward points to investigating Scripture, affirming the goodness of God’s creation, and encouraging art and artists in a future that holds profound potential.”

Though the relationship has been strained, the many new attempts at relating Christian theology and art, such as Todd’s, signal the possibility of a growing, vibrant fellowship.

Lance Odegard lives in East Vancouver with his wife Aimee and their three kids. A church planting apprentice, he is currently pastoring with the Artisan community (artisanvancouver.ca).

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