Seeing the Bible Through the Eyes of the Artist: a book review

C.S. Lewis famously said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”By that, he meant that the contours of the Christian story shaped his perception of the broader world. It gave him eyes to see. And with imagination, he helped many of us to see the Christian story (and everything else) through evocative works like the Chronicles of Narnia and the Space Trilogy. What is true of Christianity is true of the Arts and the artist, no less the Christian artist, could also say “That through art and because of it, she sees everything else.”

9781498217330If the biblical story is the lens through which we as Christian see, the Arts have the ability to sharpen our focus.  In Imagining the Story (Cascade Books, 2017), Karen Case-Green and Gill C. Sakakini, engage the biblical story, bringing it into conversation with poetry, the visual arts, and creative enterprise. Intended as a coursebook for artists in community, they retell the bible story through a series of ‘C’ words, helping us to see implications for art and faith: Creation, Crisis, Calling, Conception, Coming, Cross & Comeback, Charisma, Community, Church, Consummation.

Case-Green and Sakakini bring pastoral, theological and aesthetic insight to the biblical story. Case-Green is a Baptist preacher and writer, who has lectured in English at the University of Surrey. Sakakini is an artist and teacher, a faculty member of the Grunewald Guild, and has taught at Carey Theological College. I met her when we were students together at Regent College. She is presently training as an Anglican priest. Her depiction of Christ’s incarnation provides the cover art for this book.  These two women meld their insights into the biblical narrative, with their appreciation and engagement of visual arts and literature.

Each chapter cycles through four components, we as readers are invited to engage. First, we read a passage of scripture (e.g., chapter 1, on Creation has us read Genesis 2:4-20, p 2-3). Second, we are invited to respond to the passage, through a series of questions on the text. Third, we reflect, bringing the passage, and the chapter of the story we are in, into conversation with works of art or poetry. Here also, Case-Green and Sakakini give their own reflections on the implication of the biblical story for them as artists and believers. Finally, we are invited to make—”a chance to playfully participate in the story by creating something—either visual or verbal—in response to the particular theme of the chapter” (xxii).  As this book is intended as a coursebook, the reflections, and creative projects work best in group discussions and contexts, though the book can be read, as I read it, on one’s own. However, in order to fully appreciate what Case-Green and Sakakini are doing, this book ought to be read slowly, and each of the four components engaged fully.

In the forward, W. David O. Taylor, recalls the words of Calvin Seerveld, “God’s Spirit calls an artistic practitioner to help their neighbours who are  imaginatively handicapped, who do not notice there are fifteen different greens outside their window, who have never sensed the bravery in bashfulness, or seen how lovely an ugly person can be” (xiv). Taylor writes:

For the Christian the twin gift of coherence and attentiveness afforded by good works of art comes as welcomed news. In fact, it’s nothing less than gospel stuff. It’s the sort of things, I’d hope, that we ought to be making and promoting and patronzing ourselves. And, in a sense that is exactly what Gill and Karen offer the reader in their book, Imaginging the Story (xiv).

This is the gift that this book offers. Case-Green and Sakakini invite us to contemplate the old, old Story and to reflect on evocative works of art. They have produced an accessible guidebook to a whole new way of seeing the Bible, the Faith, Creation and Creating—and everything else. The book is chock-full of images, though the printing of the book I read, is in black and white. However, a tech-savvy reader can find many of theses images online (including Gill Sakakini’s own gallery). Sometimes, they include web links to artist web pages in their footnotes. To me doing the extra step of looking for full-color and larger renderings, enhanced my appreciation of what Sakakini and Case-Green were doing through this book.

I recommend this for small groups, classes or anyone interested in seeing the Good, True, and Beautiful through the eyes of Scripture and the Arts. Four Stars ★★★★

Notice of material connection, I received this book from Wipf & Stock in exchange for my honest review. I was not asked to write a positive review.

The Storified Missional Revolutionary Leader: a book review

One of the biggest buzzword in the Christian publishing world is ‘story.’ There are countless books which help us connect our stories to God’s story of redemption as described in the Old & New Testaments. Evangelistic books tell us how to ‘share the story.’ Self-help books alá Don Miller which commend to us a purposeful, exciting story of a life (read Miller’s Million Miles in a Thousand Years or attend his Storified conference). There is the Hauerwasian indictment of those of us in post-Enlightenment late modernity, “As people who have no story except the story we had when we thought we had no story.” There are narrative approaches to ethics, preaching, theology, personal finance, etc. Who doesn’t love a good story?

There are other popular buzzwords out there: missional, revolution, leadership, life. Henriët Schapelhouman has managed to write a book with all of these key terms: The Story Lives: Leading a Missional Revolution.  Schapelhouman has a masters in global leadership from Fuller Theological Seminary and is the founder and president of Semper Vita Institute, a complany which utilizes Myers-Briggs and Strength Finders to help buisness leaders ‘discover and develop their personal wiring.’ Besides her current professional ventures, she draws on twenty years of experience as a ministry leader.

In The Story Lives, Schapelhouman weaves together her own story and other contemporary real-life stories with God’s story. She is theologically rooted. She also wants to help people to thrive doing some serious good in the manner that God has wired us, to connect in community, to live a meaningful life, to partner with others for the greater good, to lead well (helping others thrive in their story), and to tell our story in a way that invites people into a deeper more meaningful life.

This is a book which is one part personal growth, and one part ministry/mission minded.  Occasionally I wondered who the intended audience of this book is. Sometimes Schapelhouman seems to be addressing a broad, Christian audience. At other times, she hones in on those in leadership (especially in the last  couple chapters). I appreciated Schapelhouman’s ability to draw people into a deeper faith, and more ‘missional engagement’ with the people in the neighborhood. My favorite part was her chapter on partnering between churches and non-profits serving the community (see chapter eight).

This book is solid, but was not a ‘game-changer’ for me. Schapelhouman says many great things which accord with other writers on the missional  church; yet she does it well so I commend her book. Schapelhouman will help you live a compelling (missional) story. I kidded above about the ‘buzz words’ but I think that she does a masterful job of encouraging us toward a more inviting and nourishing spiritual life. There is great stuff here! Her ‘revolution’ is less about a ‘call to arms’ than it is about changing our comfortable life to a risky faith which dares to care for others (she even tells a story about her son working to share his paycheck with a homeless couple challenged her own lack of faith and commitment. I found my self challenged and compelled well reading this book. I give it four stars. ★★★★

Notice of material connection I received this book from the publisher or author via Speakeasy in exchange for my honest review.