Artists Build the Church

Inside a dark theater in the center of Chicago, the frontman for Milano sits at the piano, illuminated by only a dim spotlight. He begins singing a composition based on Psalm 127.

I work for a wage but my pockets have holes

He won’t leave us, He won’t leave us

I’ve seen a lover betray and I am she

He groans out for you, he groans out for you.


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It’s Sunday morning. Jon Guerra is leading worship at The Line, as he does every Sunday. But he is not a music pastor. At The Line, an Acts 29 church plant in Lincoln Park, they do things differently; Guerra is their artist-in-residence.

The Line was planted in 2009, and the artist-in-residence program began shortly thereafter. It was a product of two uniquely gifted people—Jon Guerra and Aaron Youngren, The Line’s lead pastor—coming together under a unified determination to tear down the walls between church art and city art so that music can freely flow between the venues.

Jon Guerra (photo by Joe Lieske)

As The Line’s artist-in-residence, Guerra (pronounced Gare-A) receives a livable income simply for making music. Though he is not a music pastor, Guerra leads worship on Sunday mornings, often playing original compositions or creatively rearranged covers. He also disciples other artists in the church. Aside from those responsibilities, he is set loose to create. He spends his days writing music, studying theory, editing recordings, and reading the Bible. “I can make my schedule around writing music,” Guerra, 25, said. “That is a dream come true.” And it’s a dream that both he and Youngren have worked hard for.

Guerra, the son of a pastor, was raised in Wheaton, Illinois. He began writing music in high school, and in 2004, he formed the band Scarecrow Garden. The band’s popularity quickly swept throughout the Chicago area. They entertained various contract offers with Warner Brothers, Virgin Records, and their subsidiary labels while performing all over the United States. But as quickly as the band formed, it broke up. In the aftermath, Guerra enrolled at Moody Bible Institute, where he studied historical theology. When he graduated in 2008, he tried to dedicate himself fully to his new band, Milano, while also working various jobs to pay rent. It was a tough balancing act.

Meanwhile, as Guerra was making his way through school, Aaron Youngren was in Seattle quickly climbing the corporate ranks of Amazon. Though successful in his work, Youngren’s real desire was to plant a church in an urban hub that would cherish art as revelation and value artists as spiritual leaders. Being an artist in his own right—a musician and a writer—Youngren had long struggled to reconcile the seemingly off-kilter role the arts had played in his own church experience, and he hoped to correct that at The Line.

“We never say ‘something is missing in my Christianity because your voice isn’t there,'” Youngren said. “We never say, ‘I want to see artists who are theologians and leaders who will teach me something about God that I otherwise wouldn’t understand.'”

What Youngeren was frustrated by is exactly what painter and founder of International Arts Movement Makoto Fujimura mourns in his must-read essay, “A Letter to North American Churches“: “An artist’s relationship with you has not been easy; we are often in the margins of your communities, being the misfits that we are. . . . Instead of having quality artists at the core of your worship, we were forced to operate as extras; as in ‘if-we-can-afford-it-good-but-otherwise-please-volunteer,’ Extras.”

Youngren, the son of church planters in Ecuador, began to see artists through a missiological lens, thinking of these “misfits” and “extras” as a lost tribe.

“Modern missiology says you don’t value a tribe or people group until you go in and preach the gospel,” he said. “But at some point you have to hand it off to them and then sit under them and learn about God.” Youngren hoped to plant a church that could specifically minister to artists and clear a place at their feet where the entire congregation could sit and learn from them.

So in January 2009, Youngren, his wife, and three children moved from the Pacific Northwest to Chicago to plant The Line. One of Youngren’s hopes was that The Line could ask and then affirmatively answer the question: “Can the art that is present in the world be redeemed and be a part of the church?” By “redeemed,” Youngren doesn’t just mean hung up on the wall, but fundamentally changed from the core so that, as he said, “everyone can respect it and see it right alongside the rest of art and know that it’s different.”

Many churches in Youngren’s past had been aware enough to ask this question, but answered it negatively, believing refined art is not appropriate for a church setting. “In other words,” Youngren said, “We can turn the amps up, we can make it sound more modern, but when it comes to things like abstraction, impression, and subtlety, we think they are best left outside the corporate church setting.”

The poet Luci Shaw has also noticed this trend, and in her essay “Beauty and the Creative Impulse,” she expresses her concern:

The church has given considerable attention to Truth and Goodness, to theology and ethics. But too often beauty has escaped us, or we have tried to escape from it. This is partly because of its innovative, experimental aspect, its way of reaching for originality or a new way of expressing an old standard. In many Christian circles this is felt to be dangerous; the pursuit of beauty is seen merely as an option, and a seductive one at that, because beauty can be neither controlled nor programmed.

Despite many churches’ fear of artistic impression in a corporate context, impression is often how God works. At The Line, they look to Abraham for their theology of impression. When God called Abraham and first told him he was going to make him into a great nation, he didn’t sit him down and say, “Here are my promises 1-5, sign here.” Rather, God said, “Abraham, come outside. Look up.” Abraham gazed into the luminous Middle Eastern sky. As he was contemplating the stars, God continued, “See how amazing that is? That’s what I’m going to do with you.” God started with impression and then moved to propositions. He directed Abraham’s attention to his handiwork, and then asked him to imagine the impossible.

In his essay “The Imagination: Its Function and Its Culture,” George MacDonald writes:

In truth, a very wise imagination, which is the presence of the Spirit of God, is the best guide that man or woman can have; for it is not the things we see the most clearly that influence us the most powerfully; undefined, yet vivid visions of something beyond, something which eye has not seen or ear heard, have far more influence than any logical sequences whereby the same things may be demonstrated to the intellect.

The church should foster imaginations, but they must be wise imaginations. At The Line, artistic excellence is always paired with spiritual maturity. Becoming more Christ-like, not just better artists, is its main priority. “If we ‘re not doing the hard work of studying Scripture and taking care of our own spiritual lives, why in the world would people listen to anything we put out?” Guerra asks. “There needs to be a well from which we are drawing, and that well needs to be rich in the truth so that we aren’t given to vagueness or heavy-handedness.”

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Together for a Purpose

Shortly after arriving in Chicago, Youngren began his search for a mature Christian, a theologian, and a public artist who was making art that could hold its own in the city and enrich his church. He didn’t want the history and tone of evangelical culture to shape The Line’s worship. He wanted the church to reap the benefits of an artist who was creating within the context of the Chicago music scene. Knowing how difficult it could be to find someone who could straddle sacred and secular music, Youngren expected to be looking for a while. So when he met Guerra at the second church meeting he held in his apartment, he was skeptical. Could he have found his artist so easily?

Milano (photos by Joe Lieske)

As Milano shows filled to capacity, Youngren carefully observed Guerra, getting to know him as a Christian and as an artist. Not too long after their initial introductions, it became undeniably clear that God had brought Youngren and Guerra together for a purpose. Youngren approached Guerra and made his proposal: The Line would support Guerra with a salary, and in return, Guerra would continue making great art and shipping it into the city.

The financial strain of such an arrangement on a new church is no small matter. In fact, the program initially began as a patron program, in which The Line asked those within and without the community to financially support Guerra. Papers were written to explain the theology behind the methodology, websites were made, and the vision was cast. But in the end, only a few signed up as patrons while the rest remained unsure about what their money would actually be buying.

Despite the discouraging response, Youngren persisted. “We decided that we were going to have to do this regardless of if anyone got it,” he said. And so even with a tight church-planter’s budget, The Line chose to prioritize its vision for the arts by funding Guerra without any patrons, hoping others would follow.

The challenges to such a program are not only fiscal. Perhaps the biggest difficulty with launching the program was leading the congregation into unchartered, artistic territory.

In most evangelical churches, many view artistic expression as being merely supplemental to other forms of revelation and understanding. Its centrality to worship is muted.

Put another way, “This practical modern world is prone to conceive beauty as an extraneous luxury,” Charles G. Osgood writes in “Poetry as a Means of Grace.” “We do not think of it as an integral and inseparable element of our living, as did the Greeks; or as did the Christians for many centuries. . . . .Beauty is an indispensable and logical part of practice and worship in the religious life.”

Because many don’t treat art as an integral part of living or worship, they do not  know how to experience God through creative impressions and musical abstraction. They don’t know how to receive art unless it is spelled out plainly.

At The Line, it wasn’t any different. Since its beginning, Youngren and Guerra have worked tirelessly to coach people on how to read and listen critically, how to understand the tones and backdoors through which beautiful truths and experiences of the gospel can enter. As Youngren and Guerra helped their congregants mine the depths of impression as part of a worshipful experience, the people submitted themselves to it, and they grew. “It was a wonderful, wonderful process,” Youngren said. “The rewards! The rewards are so great!”

Before attending The Line, Sarah Lee, a 26-year-old elementary school teacher who has been at The Line since February 2009, had for eight years attended a church in the suburbs where the worship was mostly traditional hymns and contemporary Christian music. She says that when she first came to The Line, she was a little uncomfortable. “My personal taste didn’t jive with Jon’s vocals or music style at all, so everything seemed so melodramatic!” But through the leadership of the church—the preaching and the music—she has grown in her understanding of God through a growing understanding of the arts.

I particularly remember a Sunday when Jon and the crew were playing “Gloria.” The powerful dynamics of the lyrics to the glorious orchestral sounds brought me to my knees, and I was more worshipful than I’d ever been before. Corporate worship took on a greater meaning to me from that point on. We preach God’s transformative power through the Word and the gospel; shouldn’t the music be just as powerful? There are times when a melody brings me to tears because I’m in pain with the impossible beauty captured in the sound. Then there are times when the thumping beats of one of their electronica-renditions of an old hymn have me and even unbelieving visitors really listening to the words for the first time and carried away to a place where we’re truly celebrating with our every being as the author had originally intended.

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Jon Guerra leads worship at The Line (photo by Joe Lieske)

Joe Lieske, a 22-year-old photographer, was initially suspicious that what was happening at The Line was authentic. “I spent some time in the Emergent church, so I had learned to doubt if what I was hearing was real or just pretentious,” Lieske admitted. Now attends The Line regularly, sometimes helping Guerra lead worship or making coffee on Sunday mornings.

When Les Rorick, a 25-year-old actor, started coming to The Line, he was surprised to find himself rooting for Guerra as an artist, challenging him to push his music to new limits. Rorick admits that he has never felt that way about a worship leader before. “I always gave worship leaders a huge latitude of grace, thinking that, as an evangelical, the text is more important than how it sounds. But now I’m in a process of finding a balance in that. Finding that the sound is an expression of other attributes that are important, like goodness and beauty.” Text remains important of course. But, as Rorick has learned, artistic impression, wordless conduits of truth, are also of great value.

‘Through the Eye into the Eternal’

In his letter to North American churches, Fujimura writes: “An artist’s task is to see through the eye into the eternal, into the invisible.” So much of God’s truth is located in the eternal and invisible. God is in the sublime, but the sublime is often only accessed by artists. To inadvertently push artists into the margins, then, is to limit a congregation’s experience of God to the finite realm of mediocrity. Artists ought to be central to any church body, because they can reinforce these unseen truths in people’s souls. Guerra is well aware of his responsibilities as an artist and does not hold their power lightly. “It’s a gift to participate in the searing of truth in people’s lives,” he says.

The Line is on a mission to give back to the church a voice that has long been muffled, the voice of artists who lead in the church. “There is an undiscovered richness of the character of God that we will find when we are led by this particular tribe of serious makers and artists and when we submit to that,” Youngren said.

Submitting yourself to this tribe is not limited to attendance at The Line, or churches with a similar elevation of artists. Anyone can submit to beauty and art by simply learning to appreciate it. Learn how to read a novel or a poem. Learn how to listen to music and experience a painting. Support the artists in your community not just spiritually but also financially. Seek out creative and unsolicited ways to do this. Attend a Milano concert or buy their new EP. Purchase a painting or attend a friend’s show. By supporting artists, you are co-collaborators with them in creativity and truth-searing. And remember that, as Fujimura pointed out, “the first people known to be filled with the Holy Spirit were not priests, kings, or generals, but artists named Bazelel and Oholiab, who built Moses’ Tabernacle.”

We need artists who can build the church, and others who are willing to fund the construction. “We need artists who are strong, who are free, who know their story, know their songs well, and can lead people into our freedom dance,” Guerra urged. And we need people who will follow them.

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  • Tim Smith

    Yeah, this is all over the New Testament: “Artists ought to be central to any church body, because they can reinforce these unseen truths in people’s souls. Guerra is well aware of his responsibilities as an artist and does not hold their power lightly.” The Gospel Coalition is becoming less & less of a media outlet I turn to as a pastor. Nicely written article, however.

    • Ryan

      While it’s true that nowhere in the NT does it state that the arts/artists ought to be a central aspect of a church body, don’t you think a measure of grace in regards to understanding is in order here?While I don’t know much about the church, I was acquainted with Jon while attending Moody and was able to lead worship in some bands with him while there. I never got to know him terribly well, but he’s clearly a gifted and creative individual who will (Lord willing) bring many a treasure to the Church.

      Wouldn’t it be best to believe the best about this church, its mission and its workers – that their primary motivation is to bring the Gospel to sinners and saved alike, for the ultimate purpose of bringing glory to the Triune God? And that while doing so, they happen to be contextualizing with and emphasizing on the arts? Is that really so bad? If so, I would genuinely like to know.

      • Todd Pruitt

        I don’t think Tim is being ungracious but rather pointing out the obvious (or what ought to be obvious for a group called “The Gospel Coalition”). I find the article to be not only unhelpful (where does the NT EVER suggest that artists are central to the church?) but also whiny. I know people that are truly marginalized. What is described in this article is not marginalization.

        • Ryan

          Apologies. After re-reading through a part of the article and Tim’s comment, I understand the grievance is with The Gospel Coalition and this article and not with the nature of the church being reported. Sorry.

          • Adam

            I couldn’t ditto enough. I mean really, where is the Biblical emphasis on this artistic push within the church? I certainly am one more touchy feely article about how we need to be artistic within the church or how we can really learn about ultimate reality from watching a lot of movies (Mike Cosper) from removing “The Gospel Coalition” from my favorite menu. And I am one of those 20 somethings who this push would supposedly appeal to.

          • David

            I’m fresh to this discussion, but it seems to me that what is needed is not a so-called “artistic push” in the church but a need for Christians to return to excellence, the protestant work ethic, in every field, including the arts. The church should encourage all Christians toward excellence in their vocations, whether that’s a plumber, a lawyer, or a painter. When we read of Bezalel in Exodus we learn that God gives “gifts and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills”. I think its interesting that God essentially just made him a very good craftsman.

            Another key thing to point out is that these skills and raw materials are fine in and of themselves but can be used for either good or ill. When the Israelites took the Egyptian gold out of Egypt when they were liberated, it was for the purpose of building the tabernacle. In short, it was for service to the church. Instead of using it to worship God however, the Israelites got impatient and turned it into a golden calf. They used it to worship an idol instead of God. So, Christians should endeavor to become excellent craftsmen of the skills God has given them and then seek to use those skills in the building up of the church. In the New Covenant, that not only means the physical building, but also the Christians that make up the Church, the bride of Christ.

            • Olive

              Couldn’t agree more.
              Keep The Main Thing the main thing.

            • Henry

              David, I agree with you, and I’m guessing so would the folks at The Line, but I think the point they are trying to make, above the point that you’ve made (which you made very well), is that God is a God of beauty (“And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight…” Genesis 2:9), and to limit the means by which we experience beauty is to limit the ways in which we experience God.

              So, yes, every follower should strive for excellence in his/her profession/vocation/trade, but there’s something to be said about letting art in particular enter the stage of corporate worship.

              While there is beauty in a job well done, whatever job that might be, there’s nothing quite like beauty for beauty’s sake. This is a place where God can most powerfully reveal to us His nature as well as the nature of the creation He’s placed us in.

            • David

              Henry, thanks for the reply. I guess I’m curious what you would understand as “beauty for beauty’s sake”. The secular/popular understanding of the purpose of art in the modern era has been ‘art for artists sake’ which is what I was discouraging. For Christians, it should be art for God’s sake. I also agree that the worship of God should be done beautifully. The OT tabernacle and temple buildings were very beautiful structures inside and out. I guess I just think that as Christians we need to be patient in our expectations and timeline in restoring an appreciation of aesthetics. We need to be conscious of the baggage that being an “artist” brings with it in our modern era and seek to encourage the good and discourage the bad. In short, I think the bride of Christ (the people who make up the church) need to be reformed and restored first and then I think that a reformation and restoration of the structures (church buildings, art, culture) will organically follow.

              Frankly, I’m encouraged that a church is experimenting with this sort of ‘artist in residence’ project, but I’m worried that it may be a little premature. I think that too often in our modern church we are too focused on improvements and programs being done now rather than letting them naturally flow out of a larger body of Christians feeling moved to support and develop such a thing. I think we too often have done things out of a reaction to what our parents churches didn’t do and consequently I think we may end up overcorrecting. I’m afraid the result may simply be just another generation of hymn and spiritual songwriters that will produce songs that will definitely speak to our generation but unfortunately could simply be reacted against by some other movement years from now by our children or grandchildren. What are we really reacting against aesthetically other than the aesthetic sense of our parents and grand parents generation? We don’t like flannelgraphs and cheesy art in our churches that has the 1970’s written all over it but are we really going to change things effectively if we just replace those fads with our own 2010 aesthetics? I think we need to take a longer view of things and seek to grow robust and generationally faithful Christians who in turn can produce robust and faithful art for use in church. We aren’t going to effectively develop an appreciation for the arts in church unless we study the history of the arts in church and try and learn from their mistakes and missteps. I don’t want to discourage the pursuit, in fact I encourage it. I just think that we need to aim for the transcendent, the timeless, the stuff that will speak to the entire church body and not just a particular generational cross-section of that body.

  • Peter Newton

    Tim’s tone is rather sharp, but he has a point – all the way through I was asking myself, ‘Where does the NT vision of the church fit in here?’ The church is to go and make disciples, not to use a ‘tight church-planters budget’ to fund something which is great in itself but is not at the core of the churches mission. The church is to make disciples and then I hope and pray those disciples that are artists will make great art to the glory of God.

    • ZT

      In a way, you’ve proven the need for The Line.

      The American church has done a pretty good job with truth. We’ve got great theologians, great biblical scholars, and a really deep, extensive, accurate study and presentation of truth. We’ve also done a really good job with goodness, on how to behave, on how to live your life well…the rules, the ethics.

      But we lack the proper container for the two. Truth without beauty becomes harsh and dogmatic. Goodness without beauty becomes pious and self‐righteous.

      Beauty provides the form by which these things can be held together. This is what Hans Urs von Balthasar calls “theological aesthetics,” and I think it’s what The Line and Guerra are after…something aesthetically truthful and good.

      There’s no formula for making disciples, and though the beauty of Guerra’s music may not appeal to your taste, I know a slew of unbelievers who have yet to be intrigued by Chris Tomlin.

      • Todd Pruitt

        Are you making a connection between music and making disciples? Not sure I understand.

        • ZT

          Do you think there’s a connection between music and making disciples?

        • Pete

          Are you seriously suggesting that there’s not a connection?

      • Peter Newton

        That all sounds very clever, but what’s your biblical basis for bringing these things into the corporate gatherings of the church? Paul seemed to expect the early church to hold these things together without an artist-in-residence – in fact we don’t even know if they used musical instruments to accompany their singing! There is a gaping hole of relevant NT data in this article and discussion that no one seems to want to address.

        • yuck

          Wrong question.

          The fact that you’re asking for a biblical basis is exactly the polarizing rhetoric that has brought about talk of redeeming the arts in the first place. Do you see the binary you’ve created?

          art | church

          The question we should be asking is who? Who are we worshiping? If you are calling into question who Guerra is worshiping, that’s another matter.

          • Rachael Starke

            Yuck (what an interesting moniker for someone made in God’s image who is arguing strongly for the elevation of the beautiful ;) )

            With respect, are you really classifying “Does God have anything to say about beauty?” as “polarizing rhetoric”?

            Of course God has much to say, and far more than many evangelicals consider, as is evidenced by things such as architecturally sterile places of worship, most music played on K-Love, prairie romance novels, Precious Moments figurines and Thomas Kinkade (TM).

            But in the last few years, we’ve also seen the welcome of authors such as N.D. Wilson and Marilynne Robinson, musicians like the Gettys and Adam Young (Owl City) and, yes, even artists like Makato Fujimura, not just in the church, but in the world. (And the recent bankruptcy of Thomas Kinkade Inc., for that matter.)

            But you don’t see N.D. Wilson using the argument that God reveals Himself through words, and N.D. Wilson reveals God through words, so the church should start commissioning him to write more kids’ books. And maybe let him read aloud from a couple chapters each Sunday morning during the worship service.

            The bottom line is, the arguments this article puts forth are certainly imaginative, but perhaps not sufficiently wise. (The whole “theology of impression” argument alone seems like pretty sloppy exegesis.)

            I’d be tremendously interested to read what someone like D.A. Carson or C. J. Mahaney might have to say about it.

            • yuck


              I think we agree? Yes, God has everything to say about beauty. And if scripture is the Word of God, well then beauty is chalk full of character far beyond the architectural sterility and musical banality of the modern evangelical church, including the penultimate culture-copier Adam Young.

              What I mean to address was the resistance to artful expression in the church, or even as an integral part of a church’s outreach. I guess this is a discussion between regulative principle and normative principle?

            • Henry

              Here’s my two cents:

              God is a God of beauty (“And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight…” Genesis 2:9). To limit the ways in which we bring beauty into the experience of worship is to limit the ways in which we experience God in worship. All I’m saying is that beauty for beauty’s sake, in the context of corporate worship, whether that be music, visual arts, drama, dancing, etc., is a holy and sacred pursuit.

  • Caroline

    It’s so wonderful to see churches supporting artists as they creatively work out their salvation… God has created us for nothing less. We are to present ourselves as living sacrifices and for so long artists have not been invited to fully participate in the ways they have been best equipped. I’m just so encouraged by this concept and this church and this movement toward celebrating art as a both a gift from and a reflection of the Lord.

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  • Sarah

    I went to college with them at Moody, and they often led worship. They’re really talented. Congrats guys!

  • KG

    While I understand the strong reactions (although not the strong words), I think utilizing the gifts of artists fits right into the mission of the church. I myself left the Evangelical church and moved to another denomination, and while there were many factors one was its insistent lack of quality and care regarding Sunday mornings. For so long in history the church created and fostered the greatest art in the world, and anyone who has experienced a Caravaggio painting in a darkened chapel knows that art is not superfluous to religious experience. Iconoclasm was in fact a reaction to the perceived over-strength of images. I am an aesthetic worshiper, and if a song is badly written on Sunday, the church space is ugly and the bulletin and powerpoint hokey and cheesy, all I can think is “This is the oil we’re pouring on our hair for Christ? This is the best we can do?” For some reason now people view lack of quality as a good thing–some sort of “honesty”–instead of offering our best to God as a child’s first inclination is. The blatantly quick and, in my mind, arrogant, dismissal of things like art and intellect from the church (not just Bible intellect, but academic intellect) is one reason behind the cultural divide today, the reason my dad always says “liberal intellectual elite” in one breath.

    • Will Pareja

      Hey KG:
      “the church” that produced Caravaggio… was that the true church? If not, should we be taking cues from her (i.e., Rome)? That may sound simplistic but should be worth considering. While I don’t disagree that Christians who are artists could indeed serve the Lord Christ and his people (and those who aren’t his people), it stands that it is the Holy Spirit who gifts his people for service. Where talents come into the picture is for a slightly different discussion. Just because someone is a chemical engineer, say, doesn’t mean that given the right gifting, willingness, etc. they could not lead the gathered church in sung praise. It goes the other way around, a girl who is an actress or artist by day could also serve in teaching the children or another area of gifting or passion.
      I agree w/ you that we should strive for quality as much as possible. Thanks for your thoughts! Blessings.

      • KG

        I see what you are saying, Will, and appreciate your civil comment! This is something I consistently wrestle with, especially since my chosen vocation as an academic is less of a 9-to-5 job than an identification, which I understand is different than the way many people spend their lives working (like both my parents). I am not an artist, but while I don’t disagree at all that artists should contribute in the other, more mundane ways, I think we should maybe view their specific gifts as just as contributive and formative to the Christian community as baking for potlucks or teaching Sunday School usually is.

        I don’t agree with everything in this essay, but Sayers’ discussion of “ministry” work vs. “non-ministry” work is especially relevant here. Thanks for your thoughts as well!

      • BW


        I want to return to your question about the “the church” that produced Caravaggio.

        I am well aware of the problems and history of the Roman Catholic Church, but even though I can pinpoint negative things that the church has participated in,I cannot accept that this church is something entirely distinct from contemporary protestant churches. The churches that exist today (both Protestant and Catholic)are a result of that church; it is part of our history. The people of that church, whether their theology was right or wrong (and I would argue that a generalization about whether a group as large as the Roman Catholic Church has accurate theology or not is doomed to be inaccurate)are our ancestors. Even if we side with Luther’s theses, that does not allow us to evade our own ties to and responsibility for the sins and theologies of our ancestors.

        This is not to excuse any of the faults that popped up in the Roman Catholic Church; it is simply to say that a church that produced Caravaggio is not so different from a church today. We came from them; they are in our history. We share the same weaknesses and, given the right circumstances, would fall into the same problems as our ancestors if not for grace.

        I hope to see your, or anyone elses, response.

        • David

          I couldn’t agree more BW. In fact, if it weren’t for that imperfect church, we probably wouldn’t have Sunday’s off and we probably wouldn’t be able to worship freely on those days.

  • KG

    Oh, and Dorothy Sayers is a great Christian resource for these thoughts. Read her play Zeal of Thy House or her theological exploration of the trinity, Mind of the Maker.

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  • Todd Pruitt

    How about brick layers in residence? Or dry cleaners in residence? Heaven forbid that an artist might actually be expected to volunteer.

    • KG

      You really think that’s anything close to an accurate comparison? Artists-in-residence, like scholars-in-residence, are a time-honored tradition because of the time and concentration required for both those tasks. There is a difference between a vocation and a job, and I don’t personally know any brick layers who want to spend all their free time laying bricks or dry cleaners who forgo payment and free time to practice their craft. Artists, pastors, scholars, musicians, and others who see their vocation as a holistic calling often need the time and space to devote their mind and concentrate their faculties. That’s also why you don’t just pick up any artist from the street–in this scenario The Line carefully considered the work AND the Christian character of the artist it wanted to support.

      • Todd Pruitt

        I have no problem with the artist in residence model. What I don’t like is the whinning. I don’t like the “I’m marginalized” pity party. That is how I read the article.

        • David

          I’m not really sure how you read this as whining. The tone of the article was much more a celebration of a new work that God is doing: contextualizing Gospel truth in a powerful, relevant way to a subculture which has been forgotten at best and shunned at worst by the church for over a hundred years.

          “Youngren hoped to plant a church that could specifically minister to artists and clear a place at their feet where the entire congregation could sit and learn from them.”

          Why is this cause for anything but celebration and encouragement of our brothers and sisters in Christ who have been called to this work?

  • Doug
    • yuck

      “Reformation 21: Encouraging biblical thinking, living, worship, ministry, and constructive cultural engagement”

      There is nothing “encouraging” or “constructive” about your blog entry. What specious malarky.

      • KG

        Hey @yuck, you said it moments before I was going to. “Specious” especially.

        • BW

          Specious is an excellent word. So good, in fact, that I had to look it up to make sure that my definition was accurate. Well chosen.

          I think Trueman’s point is so filled with anger and indignation that he has missed an opportunity to engage in conversation. I’d like to see more well chosen words and less immediate reactions without editing (to that end, thank you Yuck and KG).

    • Rachael Starke

      Wow. Atomic-powered nailgun—-> head. :)

      A kinder, gentler response might be something like “Alongside musicians, Sunday school teachers, nursery workers, website designers and HVAC engineers, artists build the church. They all serve to reveal and illuminate the truth of God’s Word. Maybe they all need a salary. Or maybe they’re all privileged to use their gifts for the glory of God and can look forward to “well done, good and faithful servant” in Heaven.

      But I like Trueman’s answer better.

  • Owen

    A great piece. Really enjoyed the quality of writing and thought. Bravo. The core of TGC as I understand it is indeed to nourish Christian ministry and thought. Surely there is room for one piece on the arts? Doesn’t that have relevance to pastors? Music is a huge part of the church’s core.

    I understand Trueman’s critique and see where he’s coming from. Fujimura’s letter is provocative, as is The Line’s stance. Without tying myself to all of the language (redeeming art, for example, and the church being responsible for secularism), I think that this piece and its subjects are after something good and right. Artists do need a place in the church; Christians struggle to know how to handle the arts; much evangelical art–music, painting, etc–is substandard. The article raises these points, which seem in my experience all too true.

    The ground for the pursuit of beauty is not found in the avant-garde, the hard-modern zeitgeist, or the deconstructionists (that would be ironic), but in the Trinity, the fountain of beauty. God, as theologians like Edwards have explored, is the essence of beauty–no, stronger still, he is beauty. That is our starting point. Much work has to be done to get from this starting point to how we encourage beautiful art as Christians without becoming alternately over-the-top or ignorant. But this is to say that I think that we are the people who have a greater stake in beauty than anyone else in this world–contrary to what secular culture or even evangelical culture might say. One can hope that the conversation, profitably surveyed in this elegant essay, will continue, with all sides being sharpened–those who care a great deal about the arts and those who don’t.

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  • J.R. Wood

    I have to giggle at this article, because I really don’t believe “The Line” is nearly as rich as they would like to think. For all their talk of “art”, they’ve hired a single musician. That’s awfully handy, since a sculptor or painter couldn’t do the practical task of leading worship. So, I don’t really buy the “we take art more seriously than any evangelical ever did” line. I would be very interested to see what their church architecture is like. I see a telephone hanging on the wall in the space from which they lead worship. Whether that’s real or a set, I’m wondering if architects are affirmed or marginalized in their congregation. And, I am sorry, but they are not “leading the congregation into uncharted, artistic territory.” The church for centuries has supported, encouraged and produced some of the finest and most beautiful music the world has ever known – much of which is still performed by sacred and secular artists hundreds of years after it was written. However, many of the groups that would complain about a lack of art in the church are the very same groups that for years have not cared about developing music appreciation, investing the large amounts of money that traditional music programs require, supporting organists or choral directors, etc. This has frequently occurred because the music “doesn’t connect”, “is too difficult”, “can’t be understood by the average person”, or, quite frankly, “isn’t cool.” So, should they expect a different reaction from the general church or evangelical community when they decide to start a much more simple type of program that doesn’t require nearly same educational commitment? I think not. To say that they’re doing something new is historical ignorance at best and a pride so great that it casts a centuries-long shadow over the likes of Bach at worst.

    • KG

      Maybe not “new” but how about “rediscovered”? You mention Bach and I completely understand that, but as an art historian I know that quality visual art infused with Christian faith or theology is definitely lacking, and unfortunately has been for a century or so. Much of that amazing sacred music was created a long time ago also. I think the article is arguing for continued creation and artistic innovation.

      Right now music is the easiest way into worshipful art for Christians, but at one time that also was considered frivolous and distracting by reformers. I would like to see our appreciation and use of art move on to theatrical performance, visual art, creative writing, etc. in ways that Christians of the past created Saints’ plays, altarpieces, etc. (and I don’t count Christmas nativity plays or Thomas Kinkade).

      • J.R. Wood

        In mentioning Bach, I’m referencing not the age but the quality. I desire continued artistic creation. However, I would say that biblical theology should direct the “innovation.” If we want to express the beauty, goodness, and truth of God and His grace, we are pursuing a far different goal than much of the 20th/21st century art movement in general. And while I would love to see reformation and renewal within the church music and art world, are a few more performance and personality-driven worship songs really going to do that?

        • KG

          The discussion of 20th/21st century art movements being Christian or not is not something I want to get into, but I think you ask a fair question about the efficacy of Youngren and Guerra’s effort. I’m not sure that The Line has the answer, but I am encouraged by their attempt to integrate art and worship.

    • SI

      I have never seen the truth of how judgmental Christians can be as much as I do with these unbelievable responses. It is making my stomach sick. Particularly JR Wood. Do you honestly think that you can judge the heart and motives of The Line by this small article based on the subject of art? Have you been there? Do you know anything about the other ways in which they include artists (chefs, actors, poets)? Do you know why there is a telephone hanging on the wall behind Jon? Do you know why they are meeting where they are meeting? And who said “we take art more seriously than any evangelical ever did” ?? Have you talked to these people? Can it be possible that they are quiet and humble people, not being flashy or showy or proud? Can it be possible that a writer found our about them and wanted to write an intriguing article that neither of them pursued or had on some “wish to be famous” list? Do you know that they are proud and not humble? Shame on you!
      You have missed the point of this article and of The Line. Your comment is quite confusing. You start by blasting and then end by giving the same message that this article is trying to give. I don’t know you, but you seem to be modeling far more pride than anything I got from the people in this article.
      Is pronouncing judgement your job? And with as little information as you seem to have (you obviously know nothing of The Line or its leaders)? God help us.

      • J.R. Wood

        SI, I’m am genuinely sorry that my comment upset you so. Unfortunately, this format does not allow you to see my face or hear my tone of voice. I (perhaps mistakenly) believed that in this forum both the writer and the subjects of the article desired some form of feedback.

        I do believe that it is unfair to label me, or Christians in general, as “judgmental” because I, or others, disagree with what is presented in the article. (And, if the article misrepresents The Line, I would hope that one of its leaders would make that clear to all of us.) Just because someone disagrees does not of necessity make them judgmental and negative. The article clearly states that Youngren did not agree with certain aspects of his own church experience, so “he hoped to correct that at The Line.” I do not believe that this makes him a “judgmental Christian.” If so, then Youngren and I both are, because we both look at a particular issue and say, “I don’t agree with that.”

        I make no attempt to judge anyone’s heart or motives. I am simply talking about theology and methodology. If you thought my comments were aimed at anyone’s heart, I apologize. It would seem that you have personal knowledge of The Line. As far as my comment about “taking art more seriously…” My impression came from the quote by Youngren, “We never say, ‘I want to see artists who are theologians and leaders who will teach me something about God that I otherwise wouldn’t understand.’” His statement seems to imply that respect for and encouragement of artists in a substantial way is something that “never” (his word, not mine) happens in the evangelical church. As a third generation pastor, I simply do not believe that to be the case, nor has it been the case in my experience. If you agree with Youngren on this point and my comment offends you, I apologize.

        Regarding my other comments, you are right. I only have as much information as this article provides. I was responding to what was presented. The nature of such an article is that it doesn’t provide exhaustive information on a given topic. However, it does provide some information. So, my reference to historically church-funded and sponsored music and artistic endeavors was a defense of the great artistic and musical heritage of the church in the face of the statement that, “the program was leading the congregation into unchartered, artistic territory.” To imply that The Line is doing something completely new is simply not true. After reading your comments, if you are connected to The Line, I think that perhaps this is simple overstatement on the part of the author.

        I hope my comments make sense, and I also hope you forgive any offense. I am not the Great Judge, nor do I believe that I am. I am a poor, sick, and hungry sinner whom God has graciously saved. I hope that you can understand that in the same way that you say the leaders at The Line are passionate and are sincerely trying to follow the Lord, so are others.

        • SI

          Bravo for you! I am much relieved to hear more of your heart and motives. Thank you for taking the time to respond. I am still quite taken back by the tone of so many of these “discussions.” But, you are right, this article only highlighted a certain part of The Line, and that is their passion for the arts. I am not a member of The Line, but I have visited there and what impressed me the most was the uncompromising preaching of the word, not the music – although it was amazing and different. And both Guerra and Youngren came across very unassuming and humble, unlike so may pastors and musicians I have come across in other churches. Thanks again for explaining a bit more. I do still “hear” a judgmental tone in your accessment of their attitude and pride, but I guess that’s part of the “disagreeing.”

    • Jonathan

      Bravo! Now I don’t have to post. Thank you, my friend and a very hardy ‘amen’ to your comment.

  • Christopher Zodrow

    I am a designer and musician who makes a living in the marketplace. I believe in the reformational regulative principle of worship and ecclesiology. I wish discussions like this would start at that level rather than a non-biblical appeal for church based patronage of the arts (which is really the gist of the article).

    Now, back to my music…

    • Aaqil

      Hi Chris,

      Do you apply the regulative principle only to worship and ecclesiology, or to all things? Why?

      Also, in relation to worship, does this mean that you do not agree with modern instruments (i.e. instruments that had not been invented at the time of the writing of Scripture)?

      Just trying to get a sense for where you’re coming from.

  • Tim Smith

    Please explain how pastors can tell stay-at-home mothers or retired seniors only living off social security that they should “read a novel or a poem. Learn how to listen to music and experience a painting. Support the artists in your community not just spiritually but also financially. Seek out creative and unsolicited ways to do this”?

    As someone who’s read every major work from Edwards, I can tell you that the average pastor in America knows that his people sees beauty not in paintings but the average ins-and-outs of life. They don’t need another art exhibit or attempt to “redeem” the arts. I like the arts, as I play 2 instruments myself. Beauty may not be a NASCAR drawing hanging on a living room wall (think red-state America!), but the creativity push from The Gospel Coalition is for the elite only.

    Truman was right on.

    • Laura

      It seems like the quickest way to avoid having to address the issue of beauty in the church is to call discussion of it “elitist.” I believe someone used the word “malarkey” upthread. This is another example of it.

      • Tim Smith

        Laura, do you really think my comment was to obfuscate the issue of beauty in the church?

        Only certain churches can try to hire professional musicians & only certain churches will care to promote the arts and “culture”, namely inner city churches with a younger membership. Artists might “build” inner city churches, but many churches in America are “built” by plumbers, factory workers, farmers, the blue-collar rural types who might feel marginalized at a cool, hip church. Are not Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 1:26-28 are a good reminder: God chose those who had no human abilities (e.g., being an artist, being smart, etc) to build the church.

        Perhaps beauty is hearing a solo during the offertory every week by someone who just loves the Lord and really doesn’t have much vocal talent, as they sing along to a tape(!) recording of a Sandi Patty track. Is that not beautiful? It is, but only in the rural south. Perhaps the rural pastor and his rural church is the one marginalized in this discussion!

        • Eric

          If I (as a city-dwelling musician) said that, I’d be called a snob.

          But I wouldn’t say it anyway because I grew up in a rural working-class church where the song leader was a classically trained operatic baritone. Funny thing, all the “blue-collar rural types” there absolutely loved to sing hymns with him. The bifurcation you describe doesn’t exist (or at least doesn’t have to) in reality. Farmers can enjoy high art, and there are blue-collar workers in my “hip” downtown church.

          Who’s marginalizing whom here? Why does there have to be an either/or? Why can’t every congregation encourage and support the gifts, skills, and ministries of every member–plumber, pianist, painter, and preacher? Why do we have to believe the church is made up of hands and eyes saying to each other, “I have no need of you”?

          Also, the rural church in your example is actively helping to support professional music ministry, assuming they paid for the Sandi Patty tape. Good for them.

        • Aaqil

          Tim, your comments make it seem like you have a pretty low opinion of your congregation when it comes to appreciation for the arts.

          Does your congregation listen to the radio? Do they go to the movies? Then they consume art of a very professional quality . . . not just Sandy Patty.

          You make “the average church” seem like a group of people stuck in an ’80s time warp . . .

  • Gloria Rudd

    My dear brothers and sisters–this has been interesting to see your comments, but can I encourage you not to discourage these dear young people who are using the gifts God gave them to try to reach a special part of Chicago for Jesus…I have been in ministry with my husband for 44 years and I know that harsh, unkind judgement upon our brothers and sisters can take the life and breath out of their ministry…Mercy and Grace are so much better than an ugly, opinionated, judgemental so called “christian”??? I guess those words I just used were pretty Judgmental :-) We really don’t need more division in the body of Christ–we should be loving and supporting each other–don’t you think???

    • Tim

      Thank you for your words of encouragement towards mercy and grace Gloria. I think you provide an apt description when you state “unkind judgement upon our brothers and sisters can take the life and breath out of their ministry…” May God give us all the grace to discuss disagreements and reflect a unified body to the world.

  • John Hartley

    Yes, I too think this back and forth got a little dramatic at points…like I do when I am arguing with my teenager. Ugh. Anyway, Christopher Z. is on the right track. Theology should take the front row here. The regulative principle does not permit us to bind the conscience of churches/Christians on the use of artists. Scolding us for not using artists is a misuse of the law because there is no such law. Of course, God loves art and creativity but it is a common grace. I do not need the platform of the the Lord’s Day to give full development and expression to artistic gifts because these are creational gifts not spiritual gifts. Singing, composing, painting are not gifts of the Body per se, they are for the world, the city of man. Give them fully to the world, beautify the world. Too often we insist that creational gifts be used in the Church and we end up keeping them from the world for whom they were given. The Church accommodates by saying, “Sure, Mary can play cello here,” knowing that Mary can’t make it in the city. This strings Mary along for years (no pun) trying at a gift she might not have and the Church gets stuck with a bad cellist.

    • Aaqil

      Hi John,

      You say that theology should take the front row. I agree. Have you ever worked on (or studied) a theology of art? If not, perhaps that would be the first place to start. I would argue that art is inseparable from theology and is actually the key source for everything we know about God. As one example, take Scripture. It’s not a dry, bullet-pointed operating manual. It’s an amazing, intricate, carefully-crafted work of art, composed of narrative, poetry, song, and even crazy performance art (cf. Ezekiel 4).

  • Eric

    A point of order:

    “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” –Colossians 3:16

    The New Testament specifically says that believers should use music–which, if I’m not mistaken, is a form of art–to glorify God and edify the church. Please, let’s have no more nonsense about “supporting art isn’t biblical.” It is. In fact, it’s biblically commanded. Frankly, I can’t see how this is remotely controversial.

    Should a church financially support artists who are working with them (as the NT commands them to) to spread the Gospel, make disciples, and edify the church? Of course, to the extent that they believe “the laborer is worthy of his hire” (1 Timothy 5:18).

    Major kudos to The Line for putting their money where their mouth is. As a Milano fan, I’m glad to say that the investment is reaping a huge reward.

    • John Hartley

      Eric, I am not sure where in the comments someone said “supporting art isn’t biblical.” The passage you selected from Colossians is inclusive of artists and plumbers and teachers and farmers. We are all to sing. Of course there is the necessary consequence of musicians and hymnody. But this point that “supporting art” is “biblically commanded” needs more nuance from scripture for me to see it in a way congruent with the push of the GC article. I do not say this to support the opposite proposition that we should never pay our pianist/organist or salary a church musician. But is there really a sense to scripture that churches are falling short if they don’t have “supporting artists” on the core values list?

      • Eric

        Start with the very first five comments or so (and go from there) to see what I was responding to. There is evidently a rash of seriously deficient teaching on biblical theology of worship going around when several people can agree “nowhere in the NT does it state that the arts/artists ought to be a central aspect of a church body.” (sigh) If everybody should sing, then that makes art rather central!

        For some more Scriptural nuance, try Exodus 31, 36, 37; 1 Chronicles 15, 25. There’s five whole chapters about commissioning full-time artists to make art for use in congregational worship. I think the idea that The Line typifies, while certainly not obligatory, is definitely in keeping with the spirit of Scripture here.

        I’ll add that by “supporting artists” I don’t necessarily mean strictly financially, though as a musician I do appreciate being able to pay for my supper. “Support” can be as simple as saying, “You have gifts, your time and skills are worth money, and you can use them to edify the church and evangelize.”

  • Adam

    Well, the Colossians verse is basically saying that believers should encourage each with songs and music….not hire some artist in residence. All believers are to do this when they meet together. So, no, supporting art is not biblically commanded of the church or of believers.

    Also, the 1st Timothy verse is referring clearly to paying worthy pastors/elders not hire anyone who is “worthy of their hire” who wants to do gospel ministry. And requirements of the elder do not include “being artistically expressive”.

    What the church is truly lacking is men to fulfill the role of pastor by loving their people. The whole artist in residence is nice, modern, and cutesy and all…but what we are really lacking is men who fulfill the pastor/shepherd role (whose job it really is to “build the church”).

    That is why the whole emphasis of this article is kind of frustrating to me.

    • Eric

      But that’s just it–why can’t music be done as Gospel ministry? When a musician or other artist creates something that encourages the church, shows Christ’s love, edifies, challenges, or evangelizes, how is this not considered Gospel ministry? And if it is, shouldn’t the church be the first in line to encourage and reward it?

      I’m also puzzled that you acknowledge that “believers should encourage each with songs and music” and then suggest that that proves “supporting art is not biblically commanded.” That’s only true if “should” isn’t support or music isn’t art!

      I don’t think there’s any shortage of acknowledgment (at least around here) that we need godly pastors and elders. A loving pastor is exactly what this article describes, incidentally. It’s just that it doesn’t have to be an either/or problem. See 1 Corithians 12-14–Everybody has different gifts, everybody’s gifts build up the church, everybody is an equally important part of the whole. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you.”

      • Adam

        Well the focus of this pastor is to redeem the arts. The frustration that I am having is saying that is a focus of the church. No where in the NT are we to “redeem” culture. We are actually to share the message of Jesus Christ to people. If you want to use music as a part of that, sure, no problem. But this man says in the article above…
        “One of Youngren’s hopes was that The Line could ask and then affirmatively answer the question: “Can the art that is present in the world be redeemed and be a part of the church?” By “redeemed,” Youngren doesn’t just mean hung up on the wall, but fundamentally changed from the core so that, as he said, “everyone can respect it and see it right alongside the rest of art and know that it’s different.”

        The problem with that is nowhere in the Bible is that presented as the mission (or even an emphasis) of the church?\.

        Also musical gifts are not spiritual gifts. So your final point doesn’t hold true. I’m sure that Lynard Skynard has some amount of musical ability but that is not endowed by the spirit. It is a gift that is a common grace. A gift that is common within the church that makes the words of Christ dwell in us richly and it is a good thing for us to compensate musicians who give up a lot of time to arrange the music but reedeming the arts is not and should not be an emphasis of any Christian local church.

        This is a frustrating article to read because it reports on this pastor who hires this person to be an artist-in-residence to fulfill a task that was never articulated in the Bible, namely, “redeem the arts” to the Lord. While in our churches the missions that God has actually given us is in a large way neglected.

        • Eric

          I see your point– I’m no big fan of the whole “redeeming the culture” buzzword. I think though, from the way he phrases “changed from the core,” it’s more about encouraging and enabling redeemed people to reach the culture. We can’t fully use music as a tool to evangelize or edify until we’ve become excellent at making forms of music that speak deeply to people’s hearts in our culture. Of course that’s the difference between music as the end or as a means to it, but I think the rest of the article bears that reading out.

          On music and spiritual gifts, consider 1 Corinthians 14:26–“What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” Naturally musical ability doesn’t equal spirituality, but on this list of (clearly) spiritual gifts that build up congregations, hymns take the first spot.

          • Andrew Stravitz

            I also do not care for the”redeeming culture” buzz, because it is overreaching and doesn’t seem to hold the tension of Christian influence on the world with the world’s hate for Christ – not because Christians cannot/should not have influence on culture (the more, the better).


            It’s interesting to me that what Scripture does say about music as worship is unilaterally positive. It is quite formal, skilled, even appointed by God (thanks Eric for being one of the few to actually cite scripture). It is certainly a spiritual gifting, one that is put on a spectrum with teaching (again 1 Cor 14; Col 3). In as much art uses language (thus, esp musical lyrics), so also is art a ministry of the word. Clearly, it is not the word, but in as much as lyricists are hearers and interpreters of God’s word, so their lyrics become exposition, and Lord willing, borne along by the Spirit who so gifted them to understand and proclaim.

            Luther 1538
            “The riches of music are so excellent and so precious
            that words fail me whenever I attempt to discuss and describe them….
            In summa, next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits…This precious gift has been given to man alone that he might thereby remind himself that God has created man for the express purpose of praising and extolling God…
            A person who gives this some thought and yet does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs.”

            • Eric

              Very well put, Andrew (and Martin!).

    • Aaqil

      Hi Adam,

      The Colossians passage contains an assumption that I think you may have missed.

      A psalm, a hymn, or a spiritual song must be written/composed by someone. Who is to do this?

      Sure, the plumber or the electrician that you refer to is free to try their hand at it, but are they the best one for the job? Would it be better if someone who is specifically gifted in that area crafted the songs that will be used by the congregation? And if they are working on something that benefits the congregation in worship, would Paul’s “don’t muzzle an ox . . .” principle apply?

  • landon

    that music is truly beautiful and it ministered to me. i am glad that jon is doing what he is doing.

  • Christopher Benson

    MS. SCHAROLD: Thanks for writing an interesting portrait of artists and their role in church life. I’d like to see artists move from the margins to the mainstream, so I’m intrigued by the vision at The Line.

    With Luci Shaw, I say: “Yes, the church has neglected Beauty in its attention to Truth and Goodness. And yes, we should pursue Beauty rather than escape it.” But . . . why must beauty be the enemy of tradition? Too often, beauty is aligned exclusively with innovation, so that Jon Guerra expresses himself through “original compositions or creatively rearranged covers” rather than finding himself expressed through time-honored and theologically-rich liturgy, as found in some Reformed and Anglican churches (not to mention Orthodox and Catholic churches). I have no doubt that Guerra and others can produce art that’s edifying and educational, but why must artists feel the pressure to create ex nihilo? Isn’t this a cultural pressure that risks the apotheosis of the artist (a second commandment violation) or at least the idolatry of art (a third commandment violation)? In our society, is true “originality” making something from scratch or returning to the old, as Robert Webber encourages in his idea of “ancient-future” faith?

    Above all, what concerns me here is the emphasis on laypersons submitting to the tribe of artists rather than artists submitting to the Artist. In my opinion, the aesthetic way forward is backward, as the prophet Jeremiah instructs: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” With all due respect to the artists at The Line, I find beauty is mediated more powerfully and gracefully in “The Book of Common Prayer” and “Common Worship” than in contemporary church music that seems vulnerable to the expressive individualism of American life.

    • Graham Buck

      Question for you Chris, if the way forward is the way back, at what point was it appropriate for the church to move forward?

      I ask this because at some point it had to be appropriate for the church to move forward, to be creative in a new sort of way. When was the turning point?

      Having lead worship in settings ranging from free-church to anglo-catholic traditions, and several in between, I find that the way forward is in fact a via media. In the same way we live our lives in the tension between the already and the not yet, our sacraments both remember and eschatologically participate in the future, and our faith is one of remembering and of hope, our worship ought to have one hand firmly gripped to the past and the other resolutely grasping for the future.

      This would seem to point to a need for the church to continually apply the Word of God to it’s theology of worship, both academic and practical putting it crassly, in ways that are expressive of it’s continually changing situation. In a way that is new and yet faithful to church history as well.

      Your thoughts?

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  • lander

    An artist in residence who beautifies worship and furthers biblical mission–sure why not?

    I have, however, been to PoMo churches where they “do art” in the middle of worship: “If you wanna paint something, go over there…” Silly solipsism.

    Aesthetics are so undervalued. But the article makes me wonder, “What is displaced if art performance becomes more central in the service?”

    There is only so much time in a gathered assembly: worship music, the Word read and explained, communion, liturgy or responsive readings/confessions, prayer, offering, fellowship (at least a token greeting), community needs and announcements…

    No reason the above has to be ugly or dull or rote aesthetically anemic.

    But when is art pushing out ordained means of grace? Why can’t artists be part of the fellowship after gathered worship or on Friday nights or in the marketplace? Live music, art shows, etc., don’t have to be part of the gathered worship service to be embraced as part of the mission of the community.

    • Aaqil

      Hi Lander,

      Thanks for your post.

      Sounds like your understanding of what a church service looks like it very specific. Where do you get your biblical basis for it?

      I think part of the problem with many of these discussion topics is that the American church has become so entrenched in certain styles and methods that it becomes difficult and painful when those styles and methods are questions or changed.

      I am not speaking about core doctrinal truths, only stylistic or methodological elements like the order of service, the liturgy that is used (or not), the type of music, the worship environment, the role of the pastor, the format of the sermon, etc. Much of the way we do church was not prescribed in Scripture, but many seem to act it is. If your concern is not having enough time, or not fitting something into the church schedule, then experiment with it! Can’t we be flexible with style and method, as long as we are faithful to orthodoxy in belief as well as the core commands (communion, prayer, etc.)?

  • Lucy

    Every single person on this thread should read Nicholas Wolterstorff’s wonderful book “Art in Action: Toward a Christian Aesthetic.” If the idea of creating “shalom” is to have any relevance at all to the mission of the church, then aesthetic concerns cannot be overlooked. In fact, such matters might need to be prioritized more than they currently are.

    It really is a shame to see the cruelty and combative nature of so many of the comments above…

    • KG


      I completely agree and I love that book! Thanks for bringing it into the conversation.

  • bw

    art is so tricky to talk about because you may be distracted and annoyed by what i find beautiful. there are so many distractions to true worship, that sometimes i think less is more. i would love church to fit my personal aesthetic taste but alas its not yours. oh well.

  • David

    I found this article on the artist and the christian community to be insightful, educational, and edifying. Y’all might give it a read.

  • bw

    thanks, that was a really informative article.

  • JB33

    It seems as if Trueman was critiquing Fujimura’s words as opposed to actually disagreeing with the whole article and The Line’s mission.

  • Kim

    I’m a woman in an evangelical church who is more doctrinally centered than the church I attend. I am more Reformed than the leadership of the church, and I don’t like Beth Moore’s bible teaching even though I must abide by it being taught in my church. And I’m a stay at home mother to boot; I’m “marginalised” all the time.

  • Dean P

    Thanks Eric for posting some of the only sensible,unreactionary, and mostly charitable words on this pitiful and sad comment form. May God use the arts as he sees fit despite this unbiblical unloving but typical posture of most evangelicalism. How utterly depressing.

    • Eric

      Thanks, Dean– I’m glad I achieved “mostly charitable”! This comment thread seriously startled me; I wasn’t aware there was still so much resistance to the very idea of a church encouraging artists. I guess I’ll have to start blogging some more about the biblical theology of worship….

  • Tim Keller

    Eric and Dean P–

    I think what many of us are trying to say is that churches–especially in cities–sometimes give unnecessary offense to artists in the way they go about ministry. We need to bring Christians who are artists into the church and listen to them so we can communicate the gospel in ways that encourage other artists even as they challenge them with the gospel. Don Carson speaks about this, looking at 1 Cor 9:20-23, where Paul says he becomes like a Jew to win the Jews and like a Gentile to win the Gentiles. Don carefully exegetes the passage, and concludes this—

    “When in the last century Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission (now the Overseas Missionary Fellowship), started to wear his hair long and braided like Chinese men of the time and to put on their clothes and eat their food, many of his fellow missionaries derided him. But Hudson Taylor had thought through what was essential to the gospel (and therefore nonnegotiable) and what was a cultural form that was neither here nor there, and might in fact be an unnecessary barrier to the effective proclamation of the gospel…This is not to say that all cultural elements are morally neutral. Far from it. Every culture has good and bad elements in it…Yet in every culture it is important for the evangelist, church planter, and witnessing Christian to flex as far as possible, so that the gospel will not be made to appear unnecessarily alien at the merely cultural level.”

    (Don Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry p.122)

    I think some of the commenters are right when they warn against adapting a church’s ministry too far for the sake of artists (or any group!) so as to lose a grasp on the non-negotiables of the gospel. But some of the commenters don’t seem to want to “flex as far as possible” to connect to artists. Paul says in 1 Corinthians that if something we do gives cultural offense and it is not crucial to the gospel, we should we willing to consider changing it. But the commenters seem to feel that if someone has taken cultural offense at the way they do church they are simply whining. I think that is a missiological mistake, and a failure to understand texts such as 1 Corinthians 9, as well as being uncharitable. Nevertheless, I don’t think we should write off the concerns of those who fear that catering to artists will lead to theological compromise. It is always a danger.

    • Eric

      Excellent assessment all around, Tim, and very well put. I appreciate your framing the question in missiological terms, where it certainly belongs but which is often missed.

      Of course once artists are evangelized and discipled, they will in turn be able to use art to edify the congregation–musicians leading in worship is an obvious example, though I’ll admit a bit of bias as a composer/hymnographer.

      Thanks for your balanced and encouraging tone.

      • Tim Smith

        I could not disagree with Tim’s wisdom, either. We also need more pastors who can write music and lyrics. Think of Wesley or Toplady.

        Though I am a musician myself (though it’s not my job description as a pastor), there can be a serious tone of hubris and condescension from the music community. It’s phrases like, “God is in the sublime, but the sublime is often only accessed by artists,” and, to quote Fujimura , “the first people known to be filled with the Holy Spirit were not priests, kings, or generals, but artists named Bazelel and Oholiab, who built Moses’ Tabernacle,” pushes the limit of divided the cultured church member and the non-cultured. By whose standard is God “often only accessed by artists”? That’s highly subjected and offense for regular people who just want to love God but can’t discern Picaso from Thomas Kincade.

        More importantly, Fujimara misses an important point: it’s that in the New Testament all believers – regardless of whether or not their a musician or artist – has the Spirit indwelling them. The use of his quote in the article misses a good chance to actually reach out to those who disagree.

        The reaction against this article is probably due to such statements. The “debate” about redeeming culture / cities will continue, but both sides do need to be gracious and avoid statements that say that some have insight into God that others don’t merely because of their view on the arts.

    • Adam

      Well, I’m not sure Dr. Keller, with all respect, that if you go into a large city that 4 out of 5 people in that city are artists. And that if you don’t flex someway by hiring an artist in residence then the gospel will seem culturally alien to them. I don’t really disagree with your statements about the necessity to flex to the culture but that, in this case, is completely unnecessary. I don’t think that the miniscule (and I mean miniscule) slice of society called artists need an artist-in-residence in order for the gospel to not be foreign to them. (It is not as if artists are some different race or people group or anything with completely different cultural norms and mores. They are Americans, right? :) )

      You know what they need? Probably just a Christian who is in a trusting loving relationship with them who can live out and share the gospel with them.

      (the same thing a crane operator needs)

      • Eric

        But artists don’t just reach other artists. They reach other people who appreciate art. Don’t you know anyone who has a music collection, watches movies, reads books, or has something hanging on their wall? I’d guess way more than 4 out of 5!

        In other words, the church should reach out to artists along with crane operators, because the artists can do exactly the same.

        • Adam

          Well, I guess nobody in the past 100 years in American culture has appreciated art, watched movies, read any books, or had anything artistic hanging on the walls until now? But now, all of a sudden, the church needs an artist-in-residence to really reach people.

          No, what they really need is trusting, loving relationships with Christians who share the gospel in deed and in word.

          Believe it or not even older baby boomers can really make an impact on young people who have different ideas and assumptions. Piper, anyone? I mean….he’s old…and he is far from hip in any artistic way in the way he preaches. Yet he is tremendously influential in launching a huge young reformed bunch of folk.

          Why do we evangelicals zoom like moths to the newest missiological thing dangled before our undiscerning eyes?

          Nevertheless, I think that the Gospel coalition should put a cap on comments at the 100 marker because, boy, my inbox is bursting. :)

          • Aaqil

            Hi Adam,

            You’re right, of course. Americans have indeed consumed much art over the past 100 years. The problem is that, for the most part, Christianity removed itself from art and art from itself. Ever seen a good “Christian movie” from the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, or 90s? What about painting? Performance? Music is probably the only area in which we had any quality artists crafting quality work, and even then the majority of Christian music was seen as kitschy, cheesy, or just plain inaccessible, and so marginalized in its ability to impact the lost.

            What exactly is this new missiological thing? Art? Art is as old as Genesis, when the Great Artist crafted all things specifically to communicate ideas, feelings, concepts, and emotions to us. Scripture itself is art – narrative and poetry and song.

            (As a side note, Paul’s speech on Mars Hill would have gone a lot differently if he hadn’t been well-versed in the work of secular, and sometimes vulgar, Greek poets).

            Art is nothing new when it comes to us and God. Unfortunately, the Church has done a very good job of slowly segregating itself from the greater artistic community and so of course when some Christians begin reversing this trend, it seems “new.”

          • Ryan Fishel

            Dear Adam,

            In response to you statement:

            “Piper, anyone? I mean….he’s old…and he is far from hip in any artistic way in the way he preaches. Yet he is tremendously influential in launching a huge young reformed bunch of folk.”

            I think you might be taking for granted the fact that John Piper taps into art in a big way, grammatically. John Piper is 100% intentional in how he crafts each and every phrase. Some artist are photographers, some are painters, and some write books, or poems, or are orators. Here are some examples:

            1. The poems John Piper releases each year:


            2. Or the graphic novel he just released:


            3. And I believe this lecture is the most revealing piece of evidence, even from the way he crafts the titles of his conferences, or states rhyming phrases as “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him:” see Is There Christian Eloquence?:


            4. You could also consider the fact that his website, from the Desiring God logo, to the high quality video which are shot with high quality cameras, positioned in a semi-wide angle display, seems purposely minimalistic. The way John writes to the art of the site to the shots of his videos all represent minimalist qualities (i.e., Lost in Translation, About Schmidt, ) Here is a writing example:


  • BW

    I’m on a church mission assignment to Thailand right now. I find this article interesting in relation to what I’m up to.

    I’m here with a band that was brought to Pattaya to perform Christmas music in the middle of bars full of women who have been enslaved to the sex trade (there are around 34,000 sex workers in this city alone). We have two main purposes, one is to be a light in a dark place, the other is to raise funds for a welcome center which greets the woman, men and transgender people (often poor highlands people who are not considered Thai citizens and therefore have no hope of “honest work”) and finds them other professions and ways of sustaining themselves and their families so that they will not become trapped in a system that is nearly impossible to escape.

    I am most excited about this trip because it is the first time I have seen a form of art allowed to be the “evangelical message” on its own. We go to these places as a professional band, and our program is in the form of a concert. We can argue about the merits of sermons verses the merits of music and singing, but I want to say that huge things are happening here right now and the message we are bringing has been clear and powerful to the people around us without anyone ever preaching a word. To me, that alone is proof enough the art can be a tool of communication, outreach, ministry and discipleship. I am glad to be part of a church that believes this, and I am glad to hear about a church such as the Line which is attempting to address that which the church has, of late, overlooked.

    Now I must mention my role. I’m not really a musician on the team. The church sent me out here to take photographs, shoot video and write to them. In essence, the church has sent me to be an “artist-in-the-field.” I am humbled by their trust. Over the past weeks, I have found that my being here has allowed the church back home to better understand the needs, emotions, desires, loss and hope in this city. I would even go so far as to say that my presence has helped express and teach something that otherwise might have been lost, forgotten or not communicated. Some things are communicated better in words, some in sound, some are better in paint, some are better seen in video. I believe that we will never be able to describe God or express his work fully while we walk around in this tired and worn bodies, but I also believe it is our responsibility to try to express things about him and his work as clearly and effectively as we can; this means we must use as many multiple means of communication.

    I see the Line and this article not as whiny or complaining. Rather, I see this post as a recognition of a place that is trying to express something about God in a voice that they believe has been overlooked. Whether the Line is suitable to my tastes or not is not my concern, whether the Line solves a rift between the church and people in other vocations or professions is not my concern. The Line simply seems to be a church called to foster and support a form of art–one that expresses something of God and his grace. How can that be a bad thing? How can someone writing a blog post about this church be a bad thing?

    • KG

      BW, I really appreciate your comment about seeing God in different ways. I think that is a key issue here–a part of the article a lot of people had trouble with (the “sublime” part) was, I think, indicating that artists see the divine in a different way. I believe the same about scientists, teachers, pastors, social workers, even plumbers. Although obviously we are not all easily quantified by our career, I think doing different jobs gives us different perspectives. A scientist may see God as she discovers the intricacies of RNA nucleotides and their relationship to our bodies and health. A social worker may see God in the struggling humanity he encounters every day as he confronts the world’s brokenness. And a plumber not only serves a wide range of people in our society (from the power brokers to the powerless), but often must deal with messy situations and frustrated people.

      For some of these vocations, we will only be able to vicariously experience their new knowledge and experience of God, which is why storytelling and testimony-sharing can be so powerful. Art, though, can be incorporated right into a service, where each member can benefit from the knowledge and truth of God embedded in it. I don’t think that, as one commenter warned above, it has to “push out” anything else like Gospel-reading or Communion, obviously. But I do believe that it offers a view on God that can’t be communicated otherwise; who, feeling the swell of the ageless body of witnesses when singing a congregational hymn; or who instinctively kneels before the moving, wounded body portrayed on the cross; would argue?

      • lander

        There are 75 minutes of gathered worship per week in US culture and a perennial hankering after anything other than the ‘boring old ordained means of grace’. So it’s a fair warning, with no rancor intended, to say there is a risk of art ‘performance’ displacing essentials. Aesthetic seriousness and excellence within the means of grace is much to be desired!

        I’ve seen essentials displaced by performance (of all kinds) in churches. And it starts with the assumption that God does not have opinions on what elements He wants in a worship service. I’m not advocating RP. Cultural forms are many—though not neutral: power points on a jumbotron, Anglo-catholic church in a pub, a sentimental Willow skit, a jazz ensemble at Redeemer…

        Do these aesthetics encourage biblical worship in Spirit and Truth and further our Lord’s mission? Do they detract, dilute, divert? Are people pointed to Christ and empowered to take a break from the week-long manufacture of idols in their heart?

        Essentials of worship in Scripture are not unclear: preach the Word, pray the Word, sing the Word, portray the Word in bread/wine. A wise pastor does not allow any ‘performance’ (especially his own) to divert from worship of the Living Word.

        These endless discussions devolve to style: aesthetics that enhance worship for some stumble others. And this too requires wisdom.

  • Earl

    I do find it interesting that many or most churches hire secretaries and janitors (something most people can do) but the musicians (a specific skill that requires years of training) are all volunteers. I believe only pastors/elders should be paid, the rest should be volunteers. That is the model we see in 1 Tim.

  • Earl

    “To inadvertently push artists into the margins, then, is to limit a congregation’s experience of God to the finite realm of mediocrity.” –

    that is simply nonsense. My experience of God is NOT mediocre because I have the word of God. To place art above God’s direct revelation from his word is entirely unbiblical.

    “We need artists who can build the church, and others who are willing to fund the construction. “We need artists who are strong, who are free, who know their story, know their songs well, and can lead people into our freedom dance,” Guerra urged. And we need people who will follow them.”

    That is nonsense as well. We need Christ to build his church and faithful preachers to properly exposit the word for our edification and spiritual growth. And we need the sheep to submit to the shepherd….not to the artist.

    I’m a musician. I lead music at church. But, we don’t build our foundation on art. We build it on the gospel of Christ. We center our lives around the revelation contained in Scripture.

    Sorry to be harsh – but I think the general intent of this article requires it.

  • Michael Matthews

    What is this nonsense article doing on THE GOSPEL COALITION WEBSITE? “Artists build the church”…WHAT ! I’m embarrassed to read this article! Very disappointed and I find it unbelievable that the editors of this usually excellent, Christ centered, cross centered, gospel centered web page have allowed this to be put on here.

    I agree with Trueman:

  • Dean P

    Thank you Pastor Keller for those words of wisdom and encouragement. It is great to hear you and Dr. Carson articulate a fleshed out apologetic for the need of the church to support the arts. Thanks.

  • Dean P

    Clarification, maybe I should’ve said the culture of artists.

  • Andrew

    “More matter, less art” – Hamlet

    Art is one of God’s blessings to be enjoyed…so we should enjoy it.

    Like many blessings, Art is fruitful, but not essential to the Christian life.

    Mature Christianity is reflected in what we make our priorities and also how we enjoy our privileges.

    There is a difference between the “shadows” and the “substance” of Christian worship.

    We should never make our blessings out to be more important than they are.

    Art is just a blessing, nothing more. Christ is all in all.

  • Rachael Starke

    Yuck – I’ll try and conflate a response to you and Tim Keller and the rest of our agitated gathering, if that’s possible. The truncated reply mechanism makes keeping track of different comment threads here really tricky.

    Even trickier are the myriad of issues around the connection between truth and beauty and how we can be most faithful to represent them, in the church (cue the regulative principle questions), and then as we go into the world and make disciples (how can people gifted in the arts use their gifts to make disciples, how should they be supported and recognized, etc.)

    Tim’s response seemed more nuanced and general than this article seemed to be. The article seems to advocate for a very specifically-defined approach – a church dedicated to a cultural group (rather than simple geography), financial sponsorship of people in that group(sidenote – I’ll bet more than a few cash-strapped seminary students working two jobs and praying their wife doesn’t get pregnant until they finish school might have a small objection to that model), the elevating of art to a level alongside preaching and teaching as a means of revealing God to people, etc.

    That these elements were highlighted the way they were might just be the factor of a guest writer not fully considering or knowing her audience and not adding enough background to qualify what’s highlighted here and set it in context.

    Or, it could be that this church is doing what it seems to be described as doing, which is deciding that artistic expression has an equal role with preaching and teaching in revealing God to His people on Sunday, and prioritizing their resources accordingly.

    That just seems like a pretty big stretch.

    The Bible has far more to say about food than it does about art. Christians, in my opinion as a prospective master’s degree student in nutrition, are sinfully neglectful in their understanding of the connections between physical food and Christ as our spiritual food. I’m sensing a calling to move into this field and learn about it so that I can begin to write and speak on it for the glory of God to the church and the world. Tuition is going to be expensive.

    Can I ask my church to pay for it? ;)

    That’s my last comment. I very much appreciate the questions this post raised in my own mind; I don’t know that I agree with all its assumptions or conclusions. I do believe that the church needs to keep asking the questions, and be thoughtful and careful about the answers, and the process along the way. God bless.

  • SI

    The hecklers have spoken. Not sure they even read the article, and very sure that they have completely missed the point and used this as a platform for their own biased and uninformed rantings (as hecklers often do), but they have spoken. My heart grieves at the insane and unjustified misinterpretation of this splendid article and the heart and passion of The Line.

    None of the ranting hecklers seem to have read the repeated emphasis on theology and the gospel in this interview’s description of “art in the church.” Somewhere they have gotten the idea that this article is placing art above God, theology, doctrine, and preaching. Exactly the opposite of what this article, Youngren, and Guera have emphasized. Again, I ask….do you know these Guys (Youngren and Guera) in order to make such heavy accusations? I have gone to The Line’s FB site and listened to Youngren’s preaching there. The most gospel, truth centered, biblical preaching I have heard in a very long time. No fluff, no “seeker sensitive” junk, well studied, passionate pleas for gospel centered holiness, and wonderful exegesis. Maybe the hecklers time would be better spent doing their homework before blasting away at the heart of these brave young men and the church they are planting.

    The hecklers are providing an embarrassing and, for me, shocking illustration as to the truth of this article (church not engaging nor understanding culture, of which artists are a vital part, and that the truth of the gospel can flow beautifully out of art that is theologically sound). I guess we can thank the hecklers for giving us this example of just how far removed the church is from the God given beauty found in art and culture. Truly grievous. Thank you Gospel Coalition for “getting it” and representing this intriguing missionally minded, gospel centered church.

    • Bill Hancock

      SI, what about giving people who disagree with you the benefit of the doubt? Sure, there are those who heckle on every blog, but generalizations never amount to much other. Please search your heart and don’t let any bitterness take hold of it just because people disagree with you on a blog.

      • SI

        I am not grieved about people disagreeing, that would be down right silly. I am grieving about the WAY and tone of this disagreeing. If you read through these comments, it is not just me that has been offended and shocked by the lack of loving integrity in these responses of “disagreement.” I am not a thin skinned whiney Christian. I love great discussion that wrestles through tough issues and points us to Christ. It just seems that with blog anonymity comes a lack of responsibility toward our brothers and sisters in Christ and a freedom to offend and condemn – all in the name of “harmless blogging.”

  • Michael Graham

    Aesthetics without a doubt have been marginalized in the church. Another work that should be brought into this discussion is Hans Urs von Balthasaar’s Trilogy on “The Glory of the Lord.” Shame on Protestants for letting a Catholic write probably the best treatment of aesthetics (alongside Wolsterstorff’s work). God’s holiness and God’s glory are at the very core of the character of God. Hence, art and aesthetics are at the epicenter of our Christian faith.

  • M

    Hi. Longtime attender of The Line here. Not a staff or one of the leaders.

    While “Artist-In-Residence” is Jon’s official title at The Line, we don’t see him as “the church artist”, but as a missionary to the city of Chicago and beyond. Which is really the same way we see every other Christian– as a missionaries, who are to use all their gifts and talents to point people to The Gospel.

    Not to add fuel to the “it’s not by our talent, but by God’s grace” fire, which I think is a misunderstanding (because we agree–with the statement, not the fire), but Jon’s work as a missionary in Chicago has been pretty unique and very fruitful. Of anyone I’ve ever met (as a musician myself), Jon’s built in a way that allows him to infuse the nuances of the Gospel into a very rare level of musical engagement. Many people have gone to his concerts and thought, “Whoa– I’ve never heard anything like this before, or been challenged like this before (about my sin). Who is this guy?” And then they find that he loves Jesus and bam, his songs suddenly make sense, and the Gospel begins to make sense, begins to be intriguing. While this should be every Christian musician’s aim, it often doesn’t happen that way– except, with Jon, it does with remarkable frequency and power. The kinds of people who listen to his music are largely unreached, and are now being reached– people who would otherwise not be reached. That’s why he’s a missionary. So mainly, we hire him as a missionary.

    As for the whole “Art over Gospel” debate– I encourage you to go the the website & facebook, and listen to the sermons. They’re about Jesus, absolutely, first, foremost, and only– not about the music, or anything else. The church is not built around the music– at all. I understand why the article might make it seem that way, but it’s not.

    “We need artists who can build the church, and others who are willing to fund the construction. “We need artists who are strong, who are free, who know their story, know their songs well, and can lead people into our freedom dance,” Guerra urged. And we need people who will follow them.”

    This isn’t nonsense.

    • Rachael Starke

      M –

      Well I’m violating my promise to be done commenting because I wanted to say how much your comment helped clarify things (at least for me!) Mako’s clarification at his own site helped as well. It seems that what you’re describing is simply unique missionary work for a unique group within your community. I think any church whose ever sponsored a sports ministry or a missionary to the business world, might consider the possible parallel. (For the record, I know many evangelicals in both types of ministry, sponsored fulltime by churches, and they both make me a tad squeamish too. :) )

      The Guerra quote does seem a little, well, artsy, so perhaps at some point you will be able to clarify that also. Perhaps he could have contextualized it a little better for this audience of people not so comfortable with all this freedom dance and story terminology? (That’s meant to be ninety percent jest and ten percent serious.) Lots of people who read here are people who literally parse sentences, in multiple languages, as their day job. There are just a lot of ways that comment can be interpreted and received.

      If I synthesize your and Mako’s qualifying comments correctly, you’re arguing that all people are called to be seers and declarers of the transcendent glory of God. Evangelism and discipleship are the means by which we help people do that. Artists have a significant role to play because they both see and declare the glory of God in a unique way. They can help significantly, especially in doing this with other artists who are not yet saved and need to be uniquely challenged in how they see.

      And with that I heartily agree and say amen. What I struggle with is the relative significance of artists in this work, as compared with seeing and declaring through preaching and teaching, and as compared with those involved in other types of seeing and declaring – astronomers, astronauts, natural scientists, doctors, architects, chefs, etc. There are many people in those fields who have chosen them for the same reason, and who may even be so gifted in how they work that the world takes notice. That’s when we come back full circle to the question of when/how disciple-making ought to be cross-cultural (do I as a prospective nutritionist have nothing to say to a sculptor that would bring them one step closer to seeing Christ?), and when/how/if there is profit in unique ministries to unique groups.

      I’ll end by noting that Justin Bieber was just nominated for a Grammy for best new artist. If that’s not an indictment about how the church has not done what it ought in the world of art, I don’t know what is. :) So God bless you. Thanks for being willing to offer an insider’s perspective with grace and clarity. It really helps.

      • M

        Thanks, Rachel.

        As for this quote:

        “We need artists who can build the church, and others who are willing to fund the construction. “We need artists who are strong, who are free, who know their story, know their songs well, and can lead people into our freedom dance,” Guerra urged. And we need people who will follow them.”

        I don’t think he’s saying that the church is founded on the art that is made. He’s saying that artists are to participate in building up the church, along with every other member– but also that many artists fail to take their role seriously.

        The reason he says “we need artists who are strong, free, know their story, etc…” is because many Christian artists don’t and therefore, their work is less full and powerful than it could be. There’s a difference between someone who simply sings songs about redemption from a chord sheet, and someone who has songs burst out of the overflow of his own redemptive experience. The places a huge responsibility on guys like Jon, who lead worship and sing songs to engage people with the Gospel, not just with their songs, but with their lives.

        As for the “freedom dance” thing, I’m thinking of David dancing in the ephod before the Lord– which isn’t so abstract or artsy after all. =) Ok maybe it is a little strange haha.

        As for the relative significance of artists in this work– actually, before Jon came along, Aaron was seriously considering planting the church without any musical worship at all. That should say something about where the priorities lie. We always say that our church really thrives on our CORD groups, which are our discipleship groups and are deeply connected the the preaching.

  • M

    Oops, sorry about the quote at the end… I had pasted it there with the intention of following up on it!

    I’ll have to address it later though– don’t have time right now!

  • Chris

    Where can I find the first song to purchase? It is beautiful!

    • Andrew Lisi

      You can go to our website,, click on “Sermons & Music” and download several tracks for free. The one you are looking for is called “Psalm 127.” We are thrilled that you find this track beautiful and trust the others will bless you as well.

      By His Grace.

      • Chris

        Thanks so much!! What a huge blessing:)

  • Kathy

    It seams to me that the art of music to worship the king goes way back, take for example of King David in the bible wrote many songs to the Lord. But them comming up to our times lets just look at one example, The Arts weather music, poetry, or painting have a great place in the church.

    The song “Little Drummer Boy” has been a perennial favorite Christmas song of mine. There are lots of things that I love about the song, like the subtle march-style drum beat or the “pa rum-pum-pum”s, but it is the lyrics that truly draw me in. Have you ever really contemplated the lyrics of “Little Drummer Boy”?

    The story of the song, told from the perspective of a little boy on the night in which Jesus was born, begins like this: “‘Come!’, they told me. ‘A new born King to see! Our finest gifts we bring to lay before the King, so to honor Him when we come’.” Those instructing him to come see the baby Jesus are likely proudly displaying their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh — none of which the boy has, nor could he afford anyway. With nothing extravagant to offer as a gift, the boy decides to go anyway.

    Standing beside the manger, the boy musters the courage to speak: “Little baby,” he says to Jesus, “I am a poor boy, too. I have no gift to bring that’s fit to give the King. Shall I play for you on my drum?”

    This boy gets it. Here he stands, at the side of the promised Messiah, knowing full well the significance of the event unfolding before his eyes. Yet he also recognizes that there is something peculiar about the situation. Playing the role of amateur detective, the boy surveys his surroundings and deduces that the Christ-child is not simply wrapped in swaddling cloths, he is wrapped in humility.

    Upon the realization that the ultimate gift from God has come in utmost humility, the Little Drummer Boy reciprocates, and although he wishes he had precious gifts to offer, he offers his own humble gift: Playing his drum.

    The story concludes with the ox and lamb grooving to the boy’s drum beat (I love that), and after he plays his absolute best, the baby Jesus looks up at the boy and smiles. In his smile, the Messiah says, “Thank you, little boy. The gift you have brought me is better than all of the gold, frankincense, and myrrh in all the earth.”

    Martin Luther once said, “God created the world out of nothing, and so long as we are nothing, He can make something out of us.” When we humble ourselves before Christ and offer the best of ourselves, however simple, God smiles

  • Looselycult

    Bill Hancock: Can you give the posters before SI the same benefit of the doubt? Or will you ignore the significantly larger amounts of bitterness present in many of the comments of the said hecklers that she spoke of above her post? Why do they get a free pass and she doesn’t?

  • Dean P

    I am significantly pleased by the more recent posts here now.

  • Aaqil

    Several commenters have made statements to the effect of, “Where in the Bible does it talk about art?” The idea, I gather, is that the Bible makes very few explicit references to artists or art. From that jumping-off point, commenters reach a variety of conclusions.

    I feel the need to point out that a couple of things.

    First, what is art? It may seem a bit remedial for most of you, but it bears discussing. We all know how important it is to define our terms, yes? Art is anything created to stimulate thoughts or emotions. Usually the artist (creator) has some very specific thoughts and/or emotions he or she wants to stimulate. The artist has experienced something profound on the intellectual or emotional level and he or she seeks to give that same experience to others.

    Imagine a musician who was walking home one night, after dark, and was attacked by a huge, vicious stray dog. This musician experienced, in a very visceral and profound way, fear, hurt, powerlessness, and a number of other thoughts and feelings. If this musician really wanted to convey this experience to someone else, would he or she simply come up with a factual summary of events? Or could the artist better help others experience what he or she experienced (on an emotional and intellectual level) by crafting a piece that helps his audience feel fear, powerlessness, etc.?

    Thinking in these terms, almost anything could be art if it is crafted intentionally to stimulate thought or emotion. (This doesn’t necessarily mean it is does well what it was intended to do).

    Second, if we stay with this basic definition, art is everywhere in the Bible.

    In the beginning, God creates all things – every single thing that exists – to communicate to us emotionally and intellectually about who He is.

    (Have you ever stopped to consider this? Every created thing is art; God didn’t just slap stuff together – He intentionally and carefully crafted everything that is in existence to speak to us.)

    There are numerous artists in the Bible. (It’s a fact, but if you’re from academia and my lack of footnotes just gave you an aneurism, you’ll have to take the time to do a study of it for yourself – I don’t have the time to go through and pull references).

    Thirdly – and this is a big one – the Bible itself is art! The very Bible that is the foundation for your theology, missiology, Christology, soteriology, eschatology (and all of your other “-ologies”) teaches you about those things *through* art! Every time you study Scripture, you are consuming the work of an artist. Those of us who study Scripture are studying weighty theological issues from source texts than include the most beautiful, compelling, well-crafted narrative, poetry, and song.

    And if you’ve never considered yourself a fan of artists who are a little bit “out there” with their work (maybe a little vulgar or crude?), re-read and consider texts like Jeremiah 8:2, in which God Himself describes people being spread all over the ground like excrement, or Ezekiel 4, which describes some performance art that would rival anything Lady Gaga has done lately when it comes to edginess.

    (If you don’t want to look Ezekiel 4 up, I’ll summarize it: God is trying to communicate to His people, so He makes Ezekiel do some pretty extreme things to make his point, like laying on his side for over a year without moving and cooking his food on cow poop.)

    And of course there’s Hosea, whose entire personal life became a God-crafted piece of art that communicated unfaithfulness, betrayal, shame, dishonor, impurity, as well as grace and redemption.

    We we speak about Scripture, we are speaking about art. When we speak about God, we are speaking about the Artist. You cannot separate art from Scripture, theology, or ecclesiology. If you wonder about the role of art in the early church, just look at the letters that were written to them, which contain some pretty great art (one of my favorites is 1 John 1).

    Lastly, it’s important to remember that your church is always using art, whether you realize it or not. The physical space you worship in (even the carpet, the chairs, the paint on the walls) communicates intellectually and emotionally to your people. The clothes you wear communicate. The type of worship you use (Chris Tomlin, Hillsong, or Charles Wesley’s hymns) communicates.

    The main thing that distinguishes churches like The Line from many others isn’t that they’re communicating artistically – all churches unavoidably do this. The Line just acknowledges that everything they do communicates something, and tries to intentionally craft and shape what they do so that they can have more control over what and how they communicate, which results in a more powerful and effective message.

  • Kathy

    It is my personal belief that God speaks through art of every type, and as I look around me I see His art work each and every day, Have you ever saw a sun set, or the mountians in there winter splender, or their summer beauty, the ocean on a clear suny day or even a storm watch on the ocean, How can one see these things and say that God and art does not mix.

  • Nick

    Call me crazy, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that this church is filled with a bunch of young hipsters and not much else. No offense to young hipsters.

    • Aaqil

      Hi Nick,

      Why would you guess that?

      Also, could you define “hipster” as you use it?

    • orsay

      wrong. i am one of the few hipsters.

  • David

    Justin Taylor just posted about BiFrost Arts and their artistic project. It’s well worth checking out, especially in light of the conversations here.

    • ZT

      I was wondering why Bifrost Arts or Welcome Wagon hadn’t been mentioned yet. Maybe I missed it. Thanks for the heads up!

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  • Dean P

    NIck, Hipster Christianity can be a problem with issues of indentity where there is a potential for image idolatry. And there are Christian hipsters out there who don’t have an artistic bone in their body but they just want to fit in and be cool for the sake of being cool (See Brett McCracken’s book “Hipster Christianity” for a more in depth study on this subject) On the other hand just because a talented artist may dress hipsterish or like things that hipsters like, does not mean that we should automatically assume that they worship the idol of relevance/cool nor should it diminish their artistic contribution to the church as artists. Also currently the arts community demographic look a lot like Hipsters. If so shouldn’t the church be all things to all people if that is indeed the demographic of their location? (See Pastor Keller’s quote from D.A. Carson about Hudson Taylor above.)

  • John Hartley

    Much of this discussion has required me to distinguish between the presence of art in creation and redemptive history and the prescription of art. If something is present by the Creator/Savior does it necessarily follow that it is prescribed, that is, required as a mark of godliness and obedience? I do not see it prescribed with the force I see apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastors and teachers prescribed in Ephesians 4 “for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12). Are there not many things present in Creation/Redemption that are not prescribed with the force of other things? Such as marriage.

    I think this is why many protest this article at GC. It has the tone of prescription and shaming. I recall hearing an Emergent Church leader speak at Christian Congress in Boston several years ago. His preaching text was a series of e-mails that basically scolded the church for failing to reach a particular woman. He then never offered his audience a gospel that forgave them (assuming he was right in the first place). I sense a similar attitude among several posts here. For example: Justin Bieber indicts the church. Really? Is redeeming the culture such an obvious mark of the true church that we rise or fall with pop-stars?

    Re: the Corinthian passage on contextualization…does this fit: “Unto the artist I became an artist.” I don’t think so. I don’t think the non-artist Christian/Pastor allows his identity to be absorbed by the artist identity. Nor does the artist Christian/Pastor get absorbed by the artist identity either. Nor does the educator, the homeschooler, the businessman, the physician get absorbed by these identities. What seems more fitting to Paul’s teaching is “Unto the artist I became appreciative and conversant in art to reach the artist.” But what does it mean to reach the artist? Reach is the key word here. Reach assumes a metanoia in the artist where the artist himself is no longer primarily and inflexibly an artist. He has been reached when he, for the sake of Christ’s gospel, can become all things to all people too. The gospel has loosened him from old primary identities and bound him to a new primary identity: servant of the gospel of Christ. Thus a church designed to serve a niche of artists leaves me concerned for how it defines “reach.”

    Aesthetics are often but not always under-appreciated by a task oriented culture. But the solution is not an over-appreciation in the Church. Why? Because our culture’s intermittent under-appreciation for aesthetics is not the primary concern/mission of the Church. An excellent review of this GC article can be found at

    • Aaqil

      Hi John,

      Thanks for your thoughtful post.

      Again, I feel like you are, perhaps, defining art differently than some of the other people who are taking part i this discussion. For the sake of clarification, how do you define “art” as you are using the term?

      While you are certainly right to address the difference between description and prescription vis-a-vis art in Scripture (and again, this depends on how you define art), I would argue that the commands to go and proclaim the gospel *assumed* that art would be a crucial and integral component in this. We are sent as Jesus was sent. Jesus taught the crowds almost exclusively through fictional narrative. Should we question his methods?

      You might be thinking, “Well, that was Jesus. He’s obviously different from the norm.” I would argue no. Teaching through story, poetry, and song was actually quite common and is a tradition that is traced back long before Jesus.

      • John Hartley

        Aaqil, I am afraid I have run out of gas on this discussion. I like the Socratic method you are employing but I no longer have time for it. I am reducing my influence, shrinking my territory. Praying Jabez backwards. Grace and peace.

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  • Dean P

    Thank you John for your more nuanced clarification of what I meant with the “All things to all people” statement. You framed it and tied it together with the issues of identity way better than I did.

  • Rob

    Artists can’t build the Church because they are busy working flipping burgers (I can say this because I was a Fine Arts major and, following graduation, when I was shelving VHS tapes at the local video store, I realized it was time to study computers in order to get a more substantial job.)

    Even the Apostle Paul made tents, not sidewalk chalk art…

    • orsay

      that comment made no sense in the slightest. paul made tents because he was a tentmaker. it is insulting to both Christian artists and disrespectful to the author of most of the NT (as well as incredibly ignorant) to compare this with the apostle Paul doodling with sidewalk chalk. intolerable.

      the point is to sustain Christian artists, not to force them to go study computers to get a “more substantial job”. imagine you were able to pursue your art (if that is what you care about) in order to spread the gospel (if that is what you care about). that is an amazing thing! it glorifies God! it is a preview of things to come!

  • Dinah Clarke

    “There are times when a melody brings me to tears because I’m in pain with the impossible beauty captured in the sound….”

    I have never heard anyone else express this …. but it is exactly what happens.


    Evangelical churches seem to have lost that sense of beauty which I think is so important in the worship of God

  • orsay

    i am not a leader at The Line. i am a member. i have been for over a year now. i can tell you, with complete certainty that what we are attempting as a church is primarily focused on the gospel. Christ is preached every sunday. the makeup of our members is not an artist (in the literal sense) majority.

    growing up in a typical evangelical church in a suburb, i grew to despise the church because of its lack of art (and i was filled with more pride than you can shake a stick at). it was upon becoming a part of The Line community that i was taught to love the church. not hate it for lacking art. I am not saying we are better.

    the holy spirit works through art. the spirit also works through “poorly” designed programs. the clothes change, the mannequin does not. this mannequin seeks to be constantly posed in a way that points directly to Christ.

    Christ is our redeemer.
    Christ is our redeemer.
    Christ is our redeemer.

    all that to say, i understand any hesitancy to all who hear about this church, for this could surely appear to be a stupid attempt towards being “cool” and “relevant”. however, i cannot emphasize enough, Christ is the center. I cannot picture an incredibly gifted artist hearing the gospel and not creating work the only way he/she knows how; in the same way i cannot imagine a lawyer accepting the gospel and in becoming more Christlike treat his/her job differently.

    i came from a place of hatred towards the church towards a love for all of it because God spoke His Gospel to me through this church. I am a sinner. I am also loved and forgiven because of His sacrifice. I am free!

    The Line has played a big part during the Holy Spirit’s most altering and reforming point in my life to date. it is because of this that i find it incredibly difficult to read some of these comments.

    peace, by his grace, to all.

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  • Mike Flaz

    Glad that the gospel continues to challenge christians like me without changing the core truths.

    I mean, it says something right?…. that what God leads some doctrinally conservative christians to do can still ruffle some feathers (and those of you who feel your feathers ruffled, don’t think I am demeaning your caution…)

    I mean when was the last time the Kiwanis club agenda caused concern?

    It is amazing to me (in a good way… not in a frustrated way) that the same core truths and doctrines can be presented in such a variety of ways and methods as to challenge even those who already accept those truths. If this were a man made, human driven organization than surely it would be stale after over 2,000 years… it would take controversy or a bucking of orthodoxy to challenge its members.

    But here we are, and here we have been… Submitted to the same truths for over 2,000 years…. and still, surprised by the variety of ways in which the author and perfecter of our faith continues to push it forward.

    Maybe another reader would know and can comment, but is this what it is like to be blessed with decades of marriage to the same woman, only to have her continually surprise you with her beauty…. still the same woman, but continually inspiring you?

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  • stevo

    I’ll add this cos I can… thankyou Jon for doing what you do, the way you do it. Your ministry continues to reach countless lives on both sides of the ocean.

    • Jonathan Griffiths

      agreed, Stevo.

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