Years ago, when I was a young pastor, I traveled to teach at a training for evangelical pastors soon after the fall of the Soviet Union. While walking through the centers of Russia’s great cities, I was struck with horror at how many churches had been violently shut during the Communist period and converted into scientific institutes or schools. Yet Christian art was sometimes allowed to remain because of its inherent beauty. It was then that I first realized the usefulness of art in opening an avenue for the presentation of the gospel.
I visited the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg and the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, where I found opportunities to begin gospel conversations. In the latter museum, Alexander Ivanov’s massive masterpiece, “The Appearance of Christ before the People,” continually drew crowds. Human characters in various postures of depravity confronted viewers, while John the Baptist pointed toward the approaching Christ. I was fascinated by the painting itself, which took the artist 20 years to complete, but even more by the audience’s emotional reactions.
When a Conversation About Art Leads to the Gospel
I struck up a conversation with our Russian guide and asked if she understood what the curated artwork really meant. She demonstrated a simple atheistic understanding of Russian Orthodox iconography. Alas, she did not understand the gospel behind the art. I asked her if the evil portrayed in some of the paintings required judgment. She agreed it did.
This conversation allowed me to present the good news that Jesus Christ became a human being in order to die on the cross and atone for human sin. I asked her if she believed what I was explaining. Surprisingly, she had no difficulty assenting to the deity of Christ or his incarnation, death and resurrection. What she struggled with was her own need for personal redemption and fear of change. She admitted there was something powerful behind the art she escorted Western visitors to view.
“Architecture, music, literature, paintings, jewelry, even the clothes we wear, can be an avenue to start gospel conversations and teach basic Christian doctrines.”
It became evident to our small group that she was on the edge of receiving Christ. I pleaded with her to receive the gift of life as the other men in my group prayed. Although she hesitated to do so that day, she asked us to pray for her. She also promised she would attend the church to which we referred her. It was our last full day in the frigid city. I hope she made it to church, heard the Word in her own language, and was born again.
Visualizing Christian Doctrine
That event taught me that art can serve as an avenue for cross-cultural evangelism. But art can also be used to teach important Christian doctrines, such as the Trinity. For instance, the 15th-century work, “The Trinity” by Andrei Rublev, is world-renowned among theologians. On the one hand, its beauty captivates the eye through intertwining exquisite gold-leaf with brilliant blues, greens and reds.
On the other hand, it places the three persons of the Trinity in precise positions with delicate dimensions intended to reflect what Scripture teaches about the internal divine relations of the one God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Moreover, the painting introduces both baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which Christ intended to symbolize the concrete gospel of his death and resurrection.
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Source: Church Leaders