On his way to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum to get inspiration for his next novel, Shusaku Endo was diverted to the smaller, almost hidden, Twenty-Six Martyrs Museum nearby. There he first saw the fumi-e (“trampling pictures”)—brazen images of Jesus hanging on the cross or of Mary with her iconic cucumber (perhaps Eastern-styled as a lotus), representing purity even in the midst of swampy filth.
The unswervingly Buddhist 17th-century Shogunate commissioned these brazen images specifically to be desecrated as a public sign of apostasy, and Japanese peasants would step (or trample “if you prefer a more florid reading”) on the fumi-e as proof that they posed no threat to the order and solidarity of Buddhist Japan.
If you are like most Christians, you have probably been led to believe two things about yourself when it comes to poetry:
- You don’t get it.
- You don’t like it.
In all likelihood, neither of these things is actually true. But believing them to be true hinders both your willingness to read and your capacity to understand and enjoy poetry.
In Part 1 of this two-parter (you can read it here), I talked about how the overwhelming majority of the pages in the Bible are devoted to showing the truth through narrative and poetry, over against telling the truth in expository teaching. There are two questions that arise from this—is it possible that God endorses different kinds of preachers and preaching than what we have become accustomed to in the contemporary church? And if so, what does that mean for the importance of the arts in, for, and from the church?
How Will They Hear Without a Preacher?
What does it mean to preach? Our first thought when we hear “preacher” is of someone behind a pulpit explaining some biblical truth. But is that the only way to preach? Again, going back to the Bible, it becomes clear that the biblical prophets and preachers employed a variety of methods in a variety of venues to deliver God’s message. Some of these methods seem quite unorthodox to the contemporary Christian: marrying a prostitute (Hosea 1:2), preaching naked (Isaiah 20:2), naming children (Isa. 7:3; 8:1–3), building a 450 ft. boat (Gen. 6:13ff; 2 Pet. 2:5), eating bread cooked over dung (Ezek. 4:12f), and various other acts of sacramental symbolism and prophetic theater.
“Why should I give money to support the arts? Why not give money to preachers or missionaries instead? After all, the most important Gospel work is preaching, isn’t it? As Paul says in Romans 10:14, ‘How will they hear without a preacher? It never says, ‘How will they hear without an artist?’ does it?”
During the Nehemiah Foundation’s nearly decade-long effort to renew the arts within the church, I have regularly heard some version of this objection. At first blush, it seems true and obvious, doesn’t it? If the Word of God is primary and fundamental to the work of the Gospel, then preaching the Word of God and explaining it in sermons must be fundamental and primary to the work of the church. Most people in the church believe that it’s okay to have the arts as an adornment for a Gospel message or as a harmless amusement, but they believe the real bulk of the church’s emphasis and resources should go to spreading Gospel sermons far and wide. They think explaining the Gospel in sermons is the most effective way to evangelize the world and edify the church, and “preaching” is therefore the most important and primary work of God’s people.
These days, calling someone amateur is an insult. If you’re an amateur, you don’t have the “skillz to pay the billz.” By amateur, we generally mean an inept know-nothing with no expertise—a hack.
But I want to rescue the label amateur from its current dishonor. It’s my opinion that the greatest potential in the arts today comes from amateurs. We need more of the amateur spirit, not less. What do I mean?