God’s Artwork: The Convergence of Beauty and Mission

A couple of years ago my family and I visited the Smithsonian Museum of Art in Washington D.C. I’m almost ashamed to admit it but here I was, in my early forties visiting an art museum for the very first time. I always thought it would be a boring way to spend my day but as I gazed upon so many fascinating pieces of craftsmanship, I realized that I could spend my entire day and then some.

That’s what good art does. Whether it’s a painting, a song, or else, beauty commands our attention. We are mesmerized, smitten with a sense of appreciation and even curiosity. The particular work may even cause us to think and reflect upon life in some particular manner, and it may also inspire us to participate in some capacity. Who hasn’t found themselves humming or even singing a catchy tune heard on the radio? As a guitar player who loves the blues, every time I hear the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, who I consider to be one of the best blues players to ever pick a guitar, I want to play my guitar — not that I am anywhere close to the caliber of SRV.

A lot of Christians may not realize this but the church, both in its universal and local expression, is understood as artwork. Ephesians 2:10 says,

Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.

The English word “accomplishment” is a translation of the word poiēma which other Bible translations render as “handiwork” (NIV), “masterpiece” (NLT), or “workmanship” (KJV). The word poiēma is a word for art and it is where English words like “poetry” and “poem” derive from, which makes sense because poetry is a form of art. Because of artisan meaning of this word, Ephesians 2:10 in the New Jerusalem Bible reads “We are God’s work of art…”

Though this is only one passage of scripture, the imagery of the church as artwork seems important and needs more consideration among Christianity in America. Understanding the capacity of art to speak is relevant to how local churches understand what it means to live as witnesses of Jesus and the kingdom as well as making disciples. Bryan Stone writes:

A faith born out of a response to beauty inclines organically, naturally, and perhaps even necessarily toward sharing. If Christians do not share their faith or seek to inspire it in other, perhaps the solution is not to berate, cajole, or otherwise ‘fire up’ luke-warm believers so they will go forth knocking on doors, button-holing passengers sitting next to them on a plane, or passing out tracts at the neighborhood grocery store. Perhaps the Christian faith has become unimaginative and unattractive and somehow disconnected from beauty. When faith is solely preoccupied with truth so that evangelism is aimed at securing belief understood as mental assent, perhaps it is no wonder that the average Christian has little interest in going about evangelism when it means convincing people to believe certain things. (Evangelism After Pluralism, pp 120-121).

As local churches embody the gospel as their way of life, evangelism happens naturally or organically. While there is a place for apologetics where there are intellectual questions about the credibility of believing in Jesus, the church as God’s artwork is a beautiful portrayal of the gospel and so preaching involves more explaining rather than debating about what is true and believable. Also, the commitment necessary for people to follow Jesus happens naturally because they are inspired and even compelled to do so based on the beauty that is seen in this living artwork known as the church. Just as person who loves to cook naturally wants to share a good recipe, the new disciple that has found the beauty of the gospel embodied among a local church will naturally want to share this discovery with others.

So this past year the Newark Church of Christ began making efforts to be more engaged and hospitable to our neighbors living in a nearby apartment complex. Most of the residents living in these apartments have endured plenty of struggles in life and seemingly have plenty of reasons for any skepticism. However, last year after one of the women who lives in the apartments was baptized, I asked her about starting up a Bible-study in her apartment that others living in the apartment complex could join. She agreed without hesitation and then without any suggestion or coaching on my part, she made up some flyers with details about the Bible study and posted them around the apartment complex.

Participating in the mission of God as a local church happens quite naturally when our imagination is captivated by the beautiful artistry of what God is doing among us.

Grace and Peace,

K. Rex Butts

2 responses to “God’s Artwork: The Convergence of Beauty and Mission

  1. Matthew Miller

    Rex, I am a first time reader of your blog and was pointed to it by a mutual friend (Steven Hovater) who knows my interest in beauty, aesthetics, and the identity of the church as well. I look forward to following your work moving forward!

    I enjoyed your post and especially liked how you illustrated toward the end how beauty evokes change through the person who started a Bible study in her apt complex. Augustine once made the point that we only love what we find beautiful. If he is correct, then beauty can perhaps be our greatest apologetic. Further, Stone makes a great point above, for when we remove truth from its communion with beauty and goodness it leads towards aridity and legalism…it fails to evoke wonder and devotion. But in collaboration as an identity within the transcendentals, truth frees. In the churches of Christ, our Lockean bent greatly emphasizes how the early church was locked on the apostles teaching in Acts 2…however we miss how they were filled with awe and wonder…we miss how Paul compared our mission to the beauty of fragrance in 2 Corinthians 2:14…we fail to realize that light and dark (important themes in Scripture) are fundamentally aesthetic elements. And we miss that the church is God’s masterpiece as you have wonderfully pointed out. Thanks for writing this and blessings on your pursuit of the beauty of God’s mission! In Christ, Matthew Miller

    • Thank you for visiting my blog and commenting. The Lockean bent, as you pointed out, has obscured the aesthetics within scripture and so we miss how art and architecture in our worship spaces matters.

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