Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Has BJU Gone Emerging?

I've got to be honest. I don't really think I've developed enough theologically to reach dogmatic conclusions about the BJU Living Gallery that's open tomorrow through Saturday. My sense from reading the Puritans and some 19th century Baptists is that they wouldn't have been big fans. I'll speculate that they wouldn't be debating whether the Living Gallery violates the Ten Commandments, but rather how many are broken. J.I. Packer's comments in Knowing God may well reflect their convictions:
Accordingly, we take the second commandment--as in fact it has always been taken--as pointing us to the principle that (to quote Charles Hodge) "idolatry consists not only in the worship of false gods, but also in the worship of the true God by images." In its Christian application, this means that we are not to make use of visual or pictorial representations of the triune God, or of any person of the Trinity, for the purposes of Christian worship. The commandment thus deals not with the object of our worship, but with the manner of it; what it tells us is that statues and pictures of the One whom we worship are not to be use as an aid to worshiping him. (44)
But what really surprises me is how the Living Gallery is portrayed in its official description. Am I off my rocker, or don't many of the themes, buzzwords, and strategies of the Emerging Church pop up in this description?
In the Living Gallery, the imagined becomes real. Have you ever viewed a work of art that looked so real that the depicted characters seemed to almost move and breathe? Such imaginations come true as you experience works of art re-created life-sized on stage.

The program consists of original drama and special choral and orchestral arrangements tying together a breathtaking live portrayal of great works of art. The entire program centers around the life of Christ.

Although the drama and music play an important part in the celebration, the paintings take center stage in telling the story of Christ through this unique medium.

The characters you see portrayed in the paintings are live actors. A special set, costumes, makeup, and lighting expand the painting to more than three times its original size.

Come experience "art come to life"—a unique combination of art, drama, and music that together form the Living Gallery.
Like I said, I'm thinking through this stuff and don't feel equipped to make dogmatic pronouncements. I'm just intrigued by what seems to be a strange juxtaposition, and I'm interested to see some diverse perspectives.


Phil Gons said...

Just what buzzwords are you seeing that I'm not? Buzzwords that I hear often are "emerging" (obviously), "revolution," "authentic," "transformation," and "journey"--to name a few.

I don't see anything in their description that makes me think of the emerging church.

Ben said...

I'm not implying that anything here is quite at the buzzword level of "missional," but the whole imagination concept seems to come up in conjunction with the whole creative arts segment. Here's one example I had seen some time ago that probably informed my thinking. Google "worship arts emerging imagination" and I think you'll find some other examples. How about "experience" and "celebration" as a couple more common Emerging terms?

If it gets the point across better, strike "buzzwords" and just think about whether the whole concept worship arts as an experience of something "real," augmented by special audio and lighting effects, is a big deal with many Emergings.

Anonymous said...

I honesetly don't know what you're seeing. If you lived in Greenville, SC, you'd know that BJU and the emerging church movement are nowhere near each other. Must be how you define some words that makes you question. Angels are big to New Agers and yet I'm not stiking "angel" from my vocabulary. Come sit in on the Living Gallery sometime and then let's chat:))

Ben said...

How could I do that, Anonymous? You're fully and completely anonymous! If I weren't such a magnanimous fellow, that might be enough to make me question your sincerity. But of course I don't.

I'll be glad to interact with your comment if you'll give me some kind of handle (even if it disguises your true identity) to call you.

Bruce said...

Okay, Ben, I'll help you out here with some interaction. I'm really not all that concerned to respond to the provocative question in your title, but here are some other thoughts.

I did find that phrase to be quite interesting: "the imagined becomes real." I would suppose that the copywriter here is working more at communication and promotion than ontology and epistemology, but there are some intriguing assumptions at play.

This seems to say that even representational art (as opposed to abstract art) is still removed from reality to some degree, and the staging of such art with live actors brings it closer to reality in a way that allows the audience to enter into the experience that the art was intended to convey.

Well, maybe. I'm not sure if this is a compliment to the art or not. As they say, it is meant to be a celebration of the art, but if it's implying that their presentation is somehow better for being more "real," I wouldn't wonder that the artists would be a little miffed if they knew what this presentation was claiming to do.

I also have a concern about this theologically. I think it's basically the same thing as the Second Commandment issue, but coming at it from a different angle. If one wanted to meditate on the life of Christ, is art an appropriate means? We believe that Christ is revealed fully, beautifully, and definitively in Scripture. Now, I understand that words are somewhat abstract, but it seems to insult the text (in the same way as the aforementioned artists) if we come to it with a desire to make it more "real" somehow.

I think "the imagined becomes real" statement reveals that this is really more a show about art than about Christ. One might say that in art, the real (Christ) becomes imagined. In this particular show, the imagined (the art) becomes realized in another sense, but it is only a further re-presentation of that art. Thus, this show might provide more insight regarding the original artists than to the subject of their art.

f we really want to go from the imagined to the real, we might look at the painting and then read aloud the appropriate text of Scripture and allow our meditation to interact with both, just as we might with a commentary. One has authority, and the other offers perspective and insight, albeit from a very particular standpoint.

Of course, it would be even better to go from the real to the imagined back to the real again, by reading the text before interacting with the art and then returning to the text with new eyes, but I suppose that the audience's familiarity with the biblical account is assumed by those putting on the show.

So, whether you like to think of yourself as fundamentalist or emerging, it's best to have carefully considered how to "experience" Christ, and utilize the means of revelation and tradition in appropriate ways.

Yikes, I think I just brought the Catholics and Orthodox into the discussion as well!

Kent Brandenburg said...

I agree with you, Ben, but, of course, you would think that I would, I would guess. If I had any more woulds in there, we could build a house. You are drawing the lines between Dan Kimball and his "art" and BJU's art. I would say that BJU definitely has my worldview on art than the emergents. Have you seen what emergents call art? It is quite Picasso-esque, da-da-esque.

I agree though in principle on the images conviction. We don't use "pictures" of "Christ" in any of our ministry because of the second commandment. It's one of the ways we are working our way to heaven.