Epic Theology

Finding God through the lens of an artist



Worship Language: Naturalist

Hello everyone,

I hope this post finds you in a place of deep connection with God. As we move into the Lenten season, I want to talk about how we connect with and worship our Creator.

Our church’s Design Team has been using Gary Thomas’ Sacred Pathways to inform how we craft our services to best serve our congregations. For those unfamiliar with Thomas’ book, he outlines nine pathways by which we connect with and worship God. Each person will have one (or more) paths that they are drawn to and will likely have paths that do not come easily at all. For clarity’s sake, we have decided to use the term Worship Language to emphasize the idea that these are ways we speak to, hear from, and worship our God.

For those keeping track, here are the nine languages/pathways:


Today, we’re going to start our exploration with the Naturalist.


Naturalists connect with God outside. They deeply feel God’s presence when surrounded by the majesty of the mountains, or sweeping plains, or a delicate flower. God left His fingerprints all over His creation, and the more unspoiled this creation is, the more Naturalists can see the Creator.

If you find yourself stunned by the beauty of the outdoors, you may be a Naturalist. If you hear God’s voice more clearly when you get out of the city and go on a hike, you may be a Naturalist. If you find cities to be scars of human sinfulness on God’s otherwise perfect Creation, you may be a Naturalist.

Churches can find it hard to create experiences that allow Naturalists to worship God with their native language. Large windows with natural light, plant life, gardens, or pictures/paintings of nature can help. Sermons on the first two chapters of Genesis may do it. Farming metaphors or outdoorsy stories may speak better.

For any Naturalists reading this, it may be in your best interest to take time regularly to go out into nature just to be with God. Go to a retreat centre away from the city. Go for a hike alone or with fellow Naturalists and spend time soaking in the glory of God. Speak to Him and listen when you are away from the distractions of home and hearth.

You may also benefit from filling your home and work with landscape or wildlife photography. If you can, find an office with a view of the mountains. Or, build yourself a nice little cottage by the lake.

View from my office…wonderful on a clear day!

For your art, find a way to incorporate Creation into your creation. This may already be happening, if Naturalist is your primary worship language, but perhaps its something you should start looking into.

The danger for Naturalists is the temptation to worship God’s Creation instead of God Himself. Nature is beautiful, but remember that all of Creation was marred by humanity’s fall. As long as nature points to its Creator, you are good.

Bottom line for Naturalists: find more ways to be outside, talking and listening to God. From this place, join Him in creating!

If you are a Naturalist, how do you best connect with God?


How Do You Worship?

Four simple little words. Four words that may seem simple, and a question that is anything but. Four words that, if you really stop to contemplate them, can change your life.

Photo Credit: Ian Muttoo, Wikimedia Commons

I have a concern about many of my fellow Christian brothers and sisters and their use of the word “worship.” It has become a Christianese alternative to the word music. Instead of bands, we have worship teams. Instead of singing, we have “gettin’ my worship on.” Now, I have no problem with using music for the worship of God, but if we only use the word worship in relation to music.

While I understand that language evolves and changes to suit those who speak it, the path we are on can be rather dangerous. There is a long history of using music for worship, but worship encompasses so much more. We are called to worship God in every aspect of our lives. There is no “worship box” that we get to jump into and party every once in a while. We need to realize that we should never get out of our worship box. This might sound hard, but it becomes very simple after a little contemplation.

Let’s look at a few other ways that we are to worship:

1. How We Work

We live in a world where many of us define ourselves by our work. One of the first questions that we ask after meeting someone new is usually, “So, what do you do for a living?” It isn’t a bad question, but it is indicative of how obsessed we are with our jobs. We also have a tendency to keep our jobs and our faith separate. Sometimes this is because we are discouraged from talking about faith at work, and sometimes it’s because we are afraid to be laughed at for our beliefs. So, how do we worship as we work?

We need to work like God is really in charge. If we really believe that God is boss of our lives, we need to live that out at work. Integrity (like not stealing from work, either work supplies or time, working hard, helping out) should be paramount as you conduct yourself at work. As a representative of your faith, people are watching how you do life. If you are no different from those around you, what does that say about the power of your God? If we consistently go above and beyond what we are asked to do, people may take notice and wonder why.

In addition, God has gifted and called us to do certain things. This may be creating art, or it may be running a business, or it may be sweeping floors at a local diner. In each of these situations, God can be glorified and worshipped if we put everything we have into our work. Brother Lawrence, a 17th Century monk, worshipped God by washing the dishes and serving in the kitchen of the abbey. His book, The Practice of the Presence of God is still widely read for its usefulness in finding God in our day-to-day life.

2. How We Play

What do you do with your spare time? We may have less and less unused time, but how we use our downtime is vital in how we worship. We are definitely supposed to enjoy our time (God didn’t make Creation just to watch us toil), but our enjoyment should still be for His glory. Before we engage in any particular recreational activity, we need to ask, “Does this glorify God?”

I love movies. I love stories, and movies are one of our greatest forms of storytelling in the West. I get great enjoyment out of watching good conquer evil and the boy getting the girl. But I’ve had to start asking myself: “Does watching this film bring glory to God?” If I can draw something out of the story to use (either on this blog or in writing my own stuff), then I can say that it does glorify God. Yet, there have been times where movies that I would otherwise like to see have very little content that I felt would bring me closer to God. In these cases, I’ve realized my time would be better spent elsewhere.

3. How We Treat People

Like I said above, to many people we come across, we are ambassadors for our faith. This can be great when we are able to talk about what we believe and why. It can also be awful when we realize we just blew up in anger, solidifying common stereotypes about religious people. If we are really called to love one another, perhaps that should be a common theme throughout our day.

This isn’t easy. Not by a long shot. There are times I don’t feel particularly loving to people, but my worship to God is in treating them lovingly anyways. We often think of love as an emotion, but the heart of love is sacrifice. Love is easy when we care deeply about someone. Loving someone who just gave us the finger as we drove to work is much harder. Yet, this is where worship lies.

4. How We Treat God

Finally, our relationship with God is our overarching act of worship. We draw nearer to our Creator to worship Him. We grow in our love and trust in Him to worship Him. We study and learn about His ways to worship Him. This relationship is the foundation upon which we build the rest of our worship.

This can be nurtured in many ways. Quiet time in meditation, reading Scripture, going to church. Whenever we take time to reconnect with our God, we are saying to Him, “I love You and want to worship You.” He will answer by showing you how best to worship Him in your life.

Which is vital to remember: everyone’s worship is going to look different. Mother Teresa worshipped by serving the poorest of the poor. A corporate executive can worship by ensuring his or her company is run ethically. The artist can worship by being loyal to the calling that envelopes his or her life. We can help each other find and refine our worship, but we shouldn’t jump to judgement just because someone else is doing something different from your worship.

There is much more to say about worship, but I will save it for future posts. I hope you all have time this week to think about your worship, and how all-consuming it should be.

So, how do you worship?


Building a Rock Solid Identity in Five Steps

I hope you all had an excellent weekend! For my Canadian friends and family, you should either just be recovering from the feasts of the weekend, or succumbing to the final food coma before the long weekend is over. Either way, I’m glad you’re here.

I’ve talked before about the importance of identity and the role it plays in our journey toward God. Today,I want to talk about building an identity marker for yourself. This is especially important for artists, who often can get lost in their craft, sacrificing everything for the betterment of their work. Even those who are not in the arts can feel the opposing pull that can come from our duties as parents, workers, and members of faith. If we are able to build a hierarchy of identity, perhaps we can keep our bearings through this crazy, hectic, and stressful world.

To accomplish this, we need to follow 5 steps. They won’t always be easy or simple, and may take a lot of time for reflection, but I think it will be worth it in the end. For this article, I will use myself as an example, in case anyone gets lost.


Step 1: Find What You Worship

This is your centre. The central driving force behind your entire being. It isn’t what you like, or are passionate about, or even love. This is your all. Without this, you would cease to be who you are. You might be a comparable copy, but not the real you. You think about this when you get up, and before you go to sleep.

For me, I worship Jesus Christ. My entire life is based around my relationship with the Son of God. He affects how and where I work, how I treat my wife, what movies I watch, what games I play, and what books I read. He is the reason I write this blog and go to school and make art. I could lose everything else in my life, but as long as I had my faith in God, I would still be me. I will never lose that.

Step 2. Find Your Greatest Relationship

We were created for community. Even introverts that I know (myself included) admit that being around people is good. We need friends, family, and coworkers to lift us up when we are hurting and to kick us in the pants when we’re getting a little too big for our britches. Even deeper, we need someone who knows us in light of what we worship, and hopefully worships the same thing. This person is your companion through life, no matter where you will be. You trust this person with everything you have, from your life to the five bucks he or she has borrowed. In this life, they are your partner.

It may not come as a  surprise, but in my life, this is my wife. She is my best friend, my confident, my partner and companion. We do everything together, and she knows everything about me. My joys and my fears. My greatest accomplishments and most shameful regrets. She is loyal and loving and with me until the end. I am called to be her husband and love her until our dying days.

Step 3. Find Your Legacy

What will you leave behind when you are gone? What will remain of your time on earth after you have stopped living on it? For some, this may be dictated by your beliefs, chosen by your passions, or shaped by your career. We all are aware that our lives will some day come to an end, and figuring out how you will leave this planet is an important question that we must all wrestle with.

With the imminent birth of my son, I know that he (and any other children God blesses us with) will be my legacy. I must take my calling as father very seriously if I want my life to be of lasting impact. They will be free to make their own decisions in life, I have no desire to create clones of myself, but I want to leave a legacy of God-loving, passionate, and kind people. I will pour my efforts into raising a responsible, fun-loving, and caring generation.

Step 4. Find Your Calling

We are all gifted in some way. Some are gifted in far more ways than others, but we all have something that we are naturally good at. What we do with these gifts is of vital importance and will probably reflect your answer to step 1. If you are gifted at making money and worship security, you may end up running a large corporation and hoarding your wealth. If you are excellent at photography and worship yourself, I bet you take some stunning self portraits. The important thing at this step is to find what you are good at and figuring out how you will use those gifts in light of what you worship.

I am an artist. I act, dance, sing, write, and direct. I take photographs and choreograph dances. I paint and colour. I knew all of these even before I decided what I would worship. Yet, as I have grown in my faith, I have understood that these talents and skills are from God and should be used for God. Now, I aim to be one of God’s artists in the world, showing His beauty, His Grace, and His story to a society that desperately needs it. It is my calling.

Step 5. Find Your Passion

Steps 4 and 5 may seem similar, but there are differences. In addition to talents, we all have causes that we uphold. Social justice for the poor. Ethical treatment of animals. Liberation for enslaved peoples. Our hearts break for certain causes more than others. We are not blind to the suffering of other groups, or the need for change, but our passion lies in helping this particular cause. This is not a bad thing, for no single mortal person can take on every injustice in the world. That is why we each have our own passions. Finding ours can help give specific direction to our callings.

My heart lies in helping guide the spiritually hungry in my community. This is why I want to be a pastor, especially a pastor for artists. I want to show them hope and help and freedom from the troubles that plague us here in the West. I know that there are starving children around the world, and my wife and I help where we can, but my focus is on the spiritually poor here in my city.

When you have meditated, wrestled with, and found answers to these questions, you should be able to build a hierarchy of identity. For me, it looks like this:


If I am ever in a situation where my duties to two or more of these identity markers are in conflict, I just look to the list. The one closest to the top wins out. Some may disagree with the placement that I have, and I would love to talk about it. My list is based on my study of biblical principles, so you may have a different order, even with the same five categories. That’s alright. If it works for you, then you’ve accomplished this task.

What did you come up with? What five words would you give to describe your identity to someone who has never met you? I’d be very interested to see what other people came up with!


A Response to Mark Driscoll

As it turns out, I am not the only one writing on art and faith.

Mark Driscoll, a pastor in Seattle, has written on Four Ways Artistry Can Become Idolatry. I deeply respect this man for his faithful preaching of God’s Word throughout his ministry, and I appreciate his in-your-face, take-no-prisoners style of teaching. Not everyone has the respect for him that I do, and people seem divided on whether or not Mark Driscoll is a good pastor or not. Even though I do not agree with everything he says, I am on the side that defends his ministry.

Today, I want to discuss the article I’ve linked to above. If you haven’t read it, please stop, go click the link, and read the post. Then come back to join the conversation. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Now that you’re back, let’s dig through what Pastor Mark has to say about art and idolatry.

Smashing Idols

Driscoll begins with a brief personal and church history as it regards art. The Catholic Church has always approved of and utilized art for the glorification of God. In the Middle Ages and through the Renaissance, the Church was one of, if not the biggest patron of the arts. Works such as Michelangelo’s ceiling of the Sistine Chapel have rarely found their match outside the world of the Church. There have been dark times (such as one pope removing all “indecent” parts of sculptures in the Vatican), but nothing compared to the iconoclasm associated with the Reformation.

When the Protestants saw some church-goers worshipping the icons of the saints, they decided the best plan was to remove and destroy all art in their churches. Many pieces were smashed, burned, or torn to shreds to protect the laity from falling back into pagan-like worship. Mark Driscoll understands this. As an artist, I think it is a great shame. We are left without thousands of masterpieces, the spiritual work of artists trying to worship God through their talents. There had to have been a better way than to destroy everything that COULD have led a brother or sister to old and sinful ways.

God Loves Art

I totally agree. God is a Creator and gave us the commands to create beautiful works of art. We have a tendency, however, to worship that which we have created, including pieces originally intended for the glory of God. The point of icons, however, is not to be an object of worship, but as a means through which we are able to draw nearer to God. We are to look through the piece of art to the Creator who inspired it, and perhaps learn a little of His majesty, power, and beauty in the process. This is a matter of teaching this appreciation of icons to our congregations and helping them to not worship the object but the God it points to.

As for Mark Driscoll’s four ways art can become idolatry:

1. When We Claim That Art is Mediatorial

I really think this is a misunderstanding of what an icon is. Nothing about the icon itself is more holy than anything else in creation. It is a tool, not to bring God closer to you, but to draw closer to Him. Just like a set of worship songs at the beginning of a service can help bring a congregation to an emotional place to hear the Word of God, so too can art allow us to place ourselves in a place to hear from our Creator. We must be careful, I admit, but I think all of our spiritual endeavors must be undertaken with a certain degree of caution. It is so easy to substitute the creation for the Creator, and vigilance is necessary.

2. When Any Attempt is Made to Portray the Father

Adam and God from the Sistine Chapel
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

I don’t think I understand Driscoll’s argument on this one. As long as we do not worship the created portrayal of the Father, I don’t see this as idolatry. I agree that God the Father cannot be accurately portrayed, but part of the work of the artist is to explore the unportrayable. We often depict Death as a person, which is wildly inaccurate. I think it is perfectly acceptable for the artist, whether he or she works on the stage, in film, or on canvas to try to communicate his or her idea of who the Father is.

3. When there is Confusion Between the Creator and the Created

I completely agree. There is only one Creator. Everything else is created. Nothing that I, or any other artist, can create will ever come close to the awesomeness of God. And we need to be very careful that we recognize this fact and keep it in our minds when we appreciate great art.

Labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

I don’t know, however, if Mark Driscoll really knows what Prayer Labyrinths are for. They, like art, are a tool to be used for contemplation. The end goal is not to turn completely inward, but to go on a spiritual journey. They were created as a substitute for pilgrimages for those unable to travel long distances. When properly used, they allow the believer to follow along a path that leads them through the prayers and thoughts of those who have come before. The aim is to draw nearer to God, not deeper into oneself. If it was, I could completely agree with Pastor Mark, but my understanding of this spiritual practice does not allow for that interpretation.

4. When the Gathered Worship of God’s People is No Longer Word Based

While I agree that the creation of art should not replace the preaching of God’s Word in Sunday or Saturday worship services, there are other ways to gather and worship God. Perhaps artists come together on a Thursday night to draw or paint together for God’s glory. I would probably include some Bible reading during this event, but would usually forgo formal preaching.

“I am for artistry when it is subservient and obedient to God’s Word.” As a faithful artist, I couldn’t agree more. My art is not my God, it is one of my paths to glorify Him.

I love Pastor Mark’s preaching and respect what he has to say. I hope this post has allowed another voice to enter the discussion. Now, I would love to know what you think about Driscoll’s four points above. Where is the line between art and idolatry? How do we honour God with our calling while maintaining a safe distance from worshipping the created thing? Please chime in!


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