I went last night to the 2nd F. D. Maurice lecture at King's College London given by NT Wright entitled 'The Bible & the Christian Imagination'. A simple summary would be that Wright was looking at how the biblical tradition encourages artists to re-imagine the world. Here are some of my notes. They miss out some key points in the argument.
Wright began by looking at Isaiah 6.1-5 and 11.1-9 and the tension between the present and the future. So that 'the whole earth is full of his glory' (6.3) and 'the earth will be full of the knowledge of Yahweh' (11.9).
There are two trends in art either sentimentalism (seen most starkly in kitsch) or brutalism. The church tends to stray towards a sentimentalism. Sentimentalism is the seraphs songs without Isaiah's recognition that he and the people have unclean lips. Brutalism is the opposite, a darkness without any light. Wright argues that art at its best is neither merely sentimental or brutal.
Moments of beauty are glimpses of God's future world breaking in - creation is designed for something richer than it is - art then is an anticipation in the present. Art can have a priestly role/function. Arts are then not just decoration, but pathways into the imagined world of the God of the Bible. Art should not just illustrate, but embody and expound of God's new creation. Artists should lead the way and capture the possibility of new creation in the present. So the Psalmist sings 'sing to the Lord a new song'.
In a lot of places the emerging church is becoming the home of artists, because there art is allowed this priestly (and maybe also prophetic) role. It seems to me that the emerging church with its engagement with culture and celebration of the arts is attempting something of what Wright is suggesting.
Next Wednesday (1st March) is the final lecture entitled 'The Bible, Postmodernity & the New Imperialism', which I think will focus on Wright's emphasis of God's future breaking into present and what this means for politics. The lecture will be held in the Great Hall (King's College London, Strand Campus) and will start at 5.30pm.