32 n July / August 2014 n www.faith Today.ca
f T: You teach theology and the arts. I as-
sume you have a theology of the arts? Can
you explain it to us?
IRJ: For me, it’s something very basic. It’s
about being a human being in which the
imagination plays such an important role.
It’s an amazing thing to be a human being, to
listen, to see, to feel, to touch, taste. All of this
is part of our humanity. The imagination is
absolutely tied in with all
of this, the ability to conjure up things. We may be
sitting on a park bench in
the middle of a city and we
close our eyes and we’re in
the Alps, or the mountains
of B.C., or the beach. This
is a phenomenal aspect of
what it means to be a human being. For me,
it is absolutely tied in with something central to our humanity, theologically as human
beings made by God. A Christian theology
of the arts is absolutely rooted in Christian
biblical anthropology – our understanding
of what it means to be a human being in the
world before God.
f T: I wonder if some of us fear the im-
IRJ: There’s a long history of it, isn’t there?
Clearly in the Protestant tradition we’ve
had a problem with it, but it goes back
farther than that. In the early centuries
of the Church, there were images being
made and people became uncomfortable
with it in certain aspects. In the 8th and 9th
centuries, there was a big reconsideration
if Christians should be making images or
not, the Iconoclastic Controversy. The question of
is it possible to make images precisely because of
Jesus, because God has
become a human being
and taken on all of what
it means to enter into
this world and become
physical. So to make images is valid. Image
making is valid because of the incarnation.
Then we have had the questions like: Are
we worshipping the work of our hands?
Are we distracted from the reality of God
by what we made? It’s not an accident that
Christians have had a problem.
f T: Some churches are so plain and so
clearly purposely without adornment, is
that part of it?
IRJ: I think it’s there. You find it too in
some Catholic traditions. There’s a scarcity there. It’s the absence of images. It’s
the purity of the building that has its own
beauty, actually. That can also be a beautiful tradition, but for a lot of Evangelicals
it’s more the suspicion of beauty itself, the
suspicion of anything that will distract you
from worship. I think that probably comes
from this overwhelming fear of the seduction of beauty, the seduction of image. I
think that is an overreaction.
f T: Let’s talk about bad art. Some Chris-
tian movies, Christian fiction and so on, I
approach them with the attitude that they
may not actually be as good as secular work.
The Faith Today Interview:
Iwan Russell-Jones is an award-winning filmmaker, theologian, writer, and the first incumbent of the Eugene and Jan Peterson chair in theology and the arts at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C.
Russell-Jones (IRJ) has been a producer and director for the BBC in
both television and radio. “I didn’t enter the BBC thinking of myself
as an artist. I thought of myself as a journalist. That grew on me over
the years. I started to view filmmaking as an art,” he says. Documen-taries are one of his specialties. He is an explorer of the intersection
between faith, media, art and culture. He spoke with Karen Stiller
(FT) about Christian art (the good, the bad and maybe the ugly), how
Christians can encourage artists and why art matters so very much.
In our time
examples of great