Frank Burch Brown
Gesa Elsbeth Thiessen
The central role of the imagination in theology and religion has often been neglected by theologians. The chapter considers how the imagination and, in particular, artistic imagination, faith and theology are related. It provides a brief outline of perspectives on the meaning and function of the imagination in relation to faith and art by leading philosophers and theologians in history from the Hebrew Bible, Plato, and Aristotle to Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Kant, Burke, Schleiermacher, Schelling, and Kierkegaard. The chapter discusses the act of imagination as a fundamental source and requisite in faith, art, and creativity, in beauty and the sublime, in aesthetics, and in any development of human knowledge. The role of art is explored as a locus theologicus with reference to Tillich and contemporary theologians. Finally, the eschatological dimension as the ultimate link between artistic imagination and Christian faith concludes the chapter.
Whether we are trying to judge issues of immediate interest or fathom matters of long-standing concern, history gives us the key for understanding the complex and often tangled relationship of evangelicalism to the arts. We need the help of that history for two reasons, the first of which is that the story of the evangelical engagement with the arts has largely been one of action and adaptation rather than one of theory and reflection. A second reason has to do with the fact that evangelical Christianity and the contemporary arts are fluid realities rather than fixed entities. Throughout their history, evangelical Christians have faithfully borne witness to what Karl Barth calls the “covenant of grace,” and in works of mission and mercy they have brought the message of the cross into virtually every culture and corner of the world. This article discusses the relationship between evangelicalism and the arts. It also examines Romanticism, Reformation, Protestantism, modernism, and fundamentalism as well as the resurgence of the relationship between evangelicalism and the modern arts in the mid-twentieth century.
Beauty is probably the least considered of God’s attributes nowadays. After looking at the Biblical, Platonic, and Patristic roots of the topic, the chapter discusses briefly a few modern writers who have treated divine beauty, especially Jonathan Edwards, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Simone Weil, and then some non-Christian sources. Next it considers first the world’s beauty, regarded as brought about through Creation (including works of art as inspired by God’s spirit), and secondly the beauty ascribed to God Himself. It reviews the grounds for such an ascription, including mystical experience and natural theology. It concludes by suggesting ways in which a recovery of the concept of beauty in theology might benefit the Church more widely, especially by fostering joy in worship.
A Christ figure in film illumines a theological dimension of the person of Jesus. The Christ figure in Babette’s Feast is a French Chef, Babette. The feast which she provides at great cost and sacrifice heals and illuminates a small Lutheran community in Denmark. The movie’s lesson is that, in a world gone wrong, there is no communion without sacrifice. The Shawshank Redemption illuminates the way in which Christ liberates us from the prison of sin. Gran Torino illustrates the theme of Christ’s defeat of evil and the devil. Its illustration of this theological theme is made much more powerful by the fact that the protagonist is Clint Eastwood. We expect Clint to play Clint, and blow the villains away. Instead, like Christ, Clint conquers by dying. Clint here plays Christ as the trickster who defeats the devil by a cunning and self-mortifying trap.
Heidi J. Hornik
This article discusses eschatology in fine art, focusing primarily on Christian eschatology during the medieval and Renaissance periods. When one thinks of eschatology in the field of art history, the examples chosen are from this period in Western culture. This article compares several eschatological themes and their changes in respect to history, culture, and changing doctrinal issues. The “four last things” (death, judgment, heaven, and hell) summarize Catholic eschatology today. In the medieval and Renaissance worlds, the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church dominated the artist's individual eschatology with its concerns about death; particular judgment; heaven, or eternal happiness; purgatory, or the intermediate state; and hell, or eternal punishment. It is logical then that the art of this time period can be divided according to these subject areas: the crucifixion and resurrection, the harrowing of hell, the last judgment with depictions of heaven and hell, scenes from the Book of Revelation, the approach of the end of the world, and the new Jerusalem.
Douglas E. Cowan
This article deals with predominant trends in the construction of apocalyptic visions in the West. Americans being the best at absorbing and reacting to simulated perceptions of apocalypse, the USA became the hub of apocalyptic pop culture, which has now spawned out myriad genres in content and narratives. An overlapping of communicating medium—using means of communicating public information to serve fictitious content—can substantially influence and trap the convictions of the masses. Apocalyptic themes range from alien encounters to planetary escape, to destruction of doomsday courtesy, natural calamity, and alien interference, and even to destructive self. It is difficult to touch upon an exact source of fear generation but it seems that the coveted effect is to instill a kind of hope amid very real, objective prospects of the same being lost. It inspires the theme of salvation from imminent apocalypse by supernatural/superhuman means.
Cleo McNelly Kearns
While a literary and critical modernism seems on the surface independent of and at times oblivious to theological modernism, the modernist stances taken by major twentieth-century artists and writers raise theological issues and concerns with which they are very much engaged. These issues are incarnated in their stylistic and formal innovations as well as in their range of interests, often sensitive as well as challenging to conservative and orthodox understandings of Christianity and prescient with respect to problems to come. These include problems of comparative religion, esotericism, spiritualism, and pagan and natural theology, as well as questions of politics, ethics, and revolutionary change. Engagement with these matters did not prevent many moderns from finding their way towards religion, Christian and otherwise, on terms both new and old.
Any general consideration of postmodernism must begin with more than a ritual bow to Jean-François Lyotard, whose The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge extended and accelerated the circulation of the word. Lyotard uses ‘postmodern’ to denote the impact of twentieth-century cultural transformations ‘in the context of the crisis of narratives’, and thereby brings literature onto centre stage in discussion of the postmodern. In treating English literature and theology from the perspective of postmodernism, one can do more than reflect on fiction influenced by cultural postmodernism that also touches on religious matters, and theology marked by postmodernism in one or another sense. One also needs to take account of attempts in Britain to make ‘literature and theology’ into a discipline in its own right and assess the ways in which that has been shaped by postmodern concerns.
The religious sublime is a key concept in our understanding of the relationship between humans and God. Historically the sublime had a deep connection with religion but it underwent considerable refinement after Kant and Hegel’s reflections on the sublime. The chapter examines the humanist tradition of the sublime beyond Edmund Burke and the Romantics and analyzes how the sublime may be viewed through both aesthetic and religious lenses. The argument that the sublime is linked to reason and makes sense only in the context of a theistic mysticism is critiqued to show that as a category of the mind it is not exclusive to monotheistic religions alone. By examining a classic Hindu text it attempts to give it a different order of epistemological legitimacy.