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CAS Assembly Explores Story of Faith and Art

By Amanda Morad | April 11, 2013

Scott Crosby, executive director of New City Commons Foundation

Scott Crosby, executive director of the New City Commons Foundation for the Arts, addressed the historically contentious relationship between faith and art at the Monday, April 8, assembly of Regent University's College of Arts & Sciences (CAS).

"Being different in many ways and many places is in and of itself evil," he said, citing genocides in Rwanda and Germany, as well as the ever-widening difference between Republicans and Democrats in America today.

"Our response to difference is automatically to exclude, but the gospel's response is to embrace," Crosby pointed out. Since the earliest days of the Church, Christians have historically been divided over the arts.

To illustrate, Crosby compared Greek Orthodoxy and Catholics in their view of art: Greeks imbue artistic icons with power and consider them sacred, while Catholics appreciate the aesthetic and message but warn against idolatry. Calvinism, on the other hand, excludes all art on the basis that it distracts from Christ and can be a form of idolatry. Martin Luther wisely bridged the gap, Crosby said: "Anything that distracted from Christ was rejected but anything that proclaimed Christ was retained."

With visual representation of Christianity an important part of its history before most people were literate, art and faith have always required a semiotic relationship, Crosby explained. "The story of art and faith is one of unity and of otherness," he said.

Drawing from Leo Tolstoy, Crosby offered a definition of art: "Art is a human activity consisting in this, that one man consciously, by means of certain external signs, hands on to others feelings he has lived through, and that other people are infected by these feelings and also experience them."

Art must be received, he surmised. "Art is not merely aesthetic beauty; it is a language that communicates and is meant to be spoken."

Crosby also warned against dichotomizing art into "sacred" and "secular."

"By doing this, we reject the redemptive nature of art," he said. "We've removed art as a bridge between the church and the rest of the world."

For Crosby, distinguishing between Christian art and secular art is on the same level as distinguishing Christian engineering or Christian mathematics. Crosby drew parallels to the Holy Trinity to illustrate. "It's unwise to separate what's meant to be viewed as one," he said.

With this view, art plays a valuable role in creation by pointing patrons to God. In turn, God points to art as a means of expressing humanity's creative imperative, Crosby explained.

He also shared ideas about why art is such a divisive issue in the church today. "We intuitively recognize the influence and power that putting longings, ideas, perceptions and desires in visual, experiential form can have," Crosby said. "And that's what causes fear."

Quoting Jeremiah 29: 4-7, Crosby then addressed how Christians should approach integrating their work and art with their faith. "God is at work in the exile," he said, comparing the Israelites' exile in the Jeremiah passage to the status of Christianity in culture today. "Seek the welfare of the city," he said in light of God's mandate to the Israelites. "Settle in, engage and be productive," Crosby advised.

"We live in a very pluralistic culture where Christianity is no longer the dominant culture," he concluded. "That has major implications for us as Christians engaging the world."

Held each month, the CAS assembly aims to provide students with the chance to hear from distinguished scholars in a variety of fields.

Learn more about the College of Arts & Sciences.

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