A Place of Dwelling for the Most High God – The Arts as a Digital Temple?



Solomon’s Temple towers over 1 and 2 Kings – or rather it looms in the background. A temple almost as grand as the king’s palace. But a temple and a faith which is fought over throughout the rule of the various kings. A faith which is brought into disrepute by some of the kings such as Ahaziah and Manasseh, or restored by others such as Hezekiah and Josiah. The picture is Ugglan’s reconstruction based on the Bible’s instructions rather than on archaeology – an artists representation…appropriate for this post…

The Shard, picture (c) Pete Phillips

The Shard, picture (c) Pete Phillips

The temple would have been a wonder to behold: a monumental piece of architecture, place of beauty, of art, of song, of incense; a place full of sensual experience. We tend to underestimate the impact of such a building in a world where monumental architecture is an everyday experience, whether that be Durham Cathedral towering over the city, or the Shard dominating the skyline for miles around.

Whilst we pull all the multimedia into our houses and onto our phones, we envelope ourselves with multimedia and immerse our identity within it, in the ancient world, the temple would be a place of multimedia experience unknown within the daily life of the people. Just imagine going from your poor house in a Galilean hamlet – where some people probably lived in caves right up to the time of Jesus – down to Jerusalem and seeing the wonder of the temple from the Mount of Olives. Imagine the scenes, the people, the noises, the smells, the decoration, the materials, the sense of God’s presence amidst the multimedia wonder.

Durham Cathedral during Lumiere November 2013, Picture (c) Peter Phillips

Durham Cathedral during Lumiere November 2013, Picture (c) Peter Phillips

And all of it created by human hands…creativity, multimedia, spirituality, holiness all going hand in hand. I am passionate that the arts are central to the life of the Church, sometime to the dismay of my more reformed friends who want to focus on the printed and spoken word as normative for faith. I’m convinced we need all the arts to enrich the life of the Church and share the message of our multimedia God. Indeed, that’s part and parcel of what CODEC and BigBible are about – not just digitizing the printed word but also finding new ways to bring the arts into the world of the digital.


Source WikiCommons

I remember a course I set up at Cliff College when I was a tutor there – Evangelism through the Arts.  We took students down to London and stayed in a convent in Wimbledon. Sharing some of the sessions with the ShareJesus initiative in Raynes Park, we talked about mission, visited galleries and theatres, explored the presence of God amidst the art of the city. I will always remember dropping a minibus load of wary students outside Tate Modern in London and telling them to go and find God. Now, I find Tate Modern to be a thin place – a place to savour the wonder of God’s presence, the richness of his creativity in which we are called to share. I was a bit surprised at the results. A good number of the students headed directly over the Millennium Bridge to find God at St Paul’s Cathedral. Another group went into Tate Modern but found it to be a godless place of stupidity and emptiness. Another group, a small group, came out with eyes wide with wonder and telling stories of a God who came to meet them through the art, through the venue, through fellow searchers. The whole course was full of strange conversations where evangelical students argued with one another whether you could find God in a piece of art, or in a comedy show, or in a strange film about Che Guavara’s early career motorcycling around South America.

How might we develop arts and creativity within the digital age?  We were delighted to invite Jim Craig to a research seminar at CODEC recently (partial recording here…sorry about the adverts!). He’s an arts chaplain at The Sanctuary in Gateshead and explored the use of the arts within the Church today. I understand much of the push of BigRead 2014 will be centred on the development of arts and creativity. This is all very exciting. And so much more could be done and indeed is being done. Why not add a link to your favourite arts/creative programme, or indeed to your favourite artist, in the comments? Please note, I have not tagged either as ‘Christian’. The Church traditionally sponsored artists for arts sake. Perhaps we need to do a bit more of that today.

I’ll start the ball rolling…

Here’s one which we were talking about in a meeting I was at the other day…

[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIhGxEdez98′]

Matthew Fox, a theologian exploring creation-centred spirituality, once spoke at the Nine O’Clock Service in Sheffield back in the 1990s. Fox is way beyond the bounds of orthodox Christianity (in my opinion) and the Nine O’Clock Service crashed in a wave of accusations about inappropriate behavior. But while it lasted, it was wonderful, developing along similar lines to what so many of now enjoy at festivals like Greenbelt.  NOS was clearly a fresh expression before fresh expressions were fresh.

(c) Ric Stott

(c) Ric Stott

(BTW, here’s a piece by a prophet working within the Methodist Church, Ric Stott. See more of his work on his blog and an introduction to him and his work here.)

At one of the events, Matthew Fox said that revival would only come to the Church when we re-embraced the artists. I passionately believe that is true. We need to embrace creativity. Embrace the digital possibilities of creativity and of the arts. We need to promote and sponsor creative people to do creativity, to be creative, to share in God’s own continued creativity. Those people are often edgy, often push at the boundaries, often walk paths which we safer people fear to tread. But the artists are prophetic, creative, evangelistic. They have the potential to talk to us of the power of God. That was the point of the monumental architecture of the Temple.

Is that the role of the artists for the Church today – to offer for us a place of dwelling for the most high God?

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About pmphillips

Pete Phillips Bio: I'm into the New Testament (especially John's Gospel), technology, literary theory, postmodernism, football and that kind of stuff. I am married to Theresa and we have three great kids (and a Westie called Grace). I'm a Christian and love the whole church thing, which is good because I also work for the Methodist Church in the UK. My formal job titles are: Director of Research for CODEC at St John's College, Durham University and Secretary to the Faith and Order Committee of the Methodist Church.