In a recent article, I suggested that a great way artists and churches can come together is by hosting small group studies where they read books on how art and faith connect to each other.
Here are five of the best books I've found on this topic.
1. Art and the Bible by Francis Schaeffer
Schaeffer examines Bible verses that discuss artwork -- from God creating the world to the Israelites building the Ark of the Covenant.
He then considers what Christians should know about art based on these verses -- whether art has to be realistic, whether God cares about art -- and from the lives of Christian artists such as T.S. Eliot.
2. Scribbling in the Sand: Christ and Creativity by Michael Card
While Schaeffer focuses his book on Scripture that specifically talks about artwork (sculpture, painting, etc.), Card focuses on creativity itself.
He argues that creativity is a basic human trait, one that’s present in Scripture from Adam and Eve tending to the Garden to Jesus’ seemingly absurd actions (washing the disciples’ feet, writing in the dust) to illustrate his teachings.
3. Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts by Steve Turner
Steve Turner, one of Schaeffer’s students at L'Abri in the 1970’s, and a music journalist as well as a poet, addresses why Christian art tends to be substandard and why evangelical Christians struggle so much with art.
Starting with the earliest known Christian artwork in the 4th-century and continuing to the present day, Turner analyzes what good Christian art looks like, why modern evangelicals have had problems with it, and what artists should do next.
4. Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2 by Steve Stockman
Steve Stockman -- poet, pastor, and frequent attendant of Greenbelt Festival -- talks about rock band U2 and how its Christian members have reconciled their faith with their careers.
This is very much a book about music. Stockman describes how U2’s music and stage personas have evolved, then uses interviews to explain the spiritual side of those changes.
So, the book is one part music biography (like reading an in-depth analysis of every Beatles concert and album) and one part spiritual discussion.
Sometimes the author gets rather enthusiastic.
However, the book provides an interesting look at what Christian artists must do to work in secular entertainment and stay relevant over time.
5. The Christian World of the Hobbit by Devin Brown
C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien both wrote excellent stories with Christian elements and any work that analyzes their work is worth reading.
However, most Christians don’t have a hard time finding the Christian ideas in Lewis’s work.
His overtly Christian approach makes it relatively easy to find the faith-based elements.
Tolkien, on the other hand, had a subtler approach which requires some digging.
Devin Brown, who’s written books on both Lewis and Tolkien, is up to the task.
He examines the Christian themes and ideas in The Hobbit in a straightforward manner even people unfamiliar with literary criticism can understand.
6. Culture Care by Makoto Fujimura
What is beauty?
How does it affect people -- is it necessary for life or something extra?
Painter and author Makoto Fujimura deals with these questions throughout this book, building a Biblically-based case for what beauty is and how Christians should cultivate beauty in their cultures.
Along the way, he does an excellent job of explaining the concepts in a way even secular readers can respect.
Fujimura also highlights the role of "border-stalkers," artists who operate on the edges of groups but can bring new knowledge and growth to others.
Alternate Choice: Short Fiction
Sometimes it's best to learn by example.
Pick any short fiction by C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, G.K. Chesterton, or J.R.R. Tolkien, and analyze it for religious themes or ideas.
Infer principles about what good Christian art is.