Worship, Theology and the Arts: A Syllabus

The following is a portion of the syllabus for the course that I teach at Fuller Seminary on worship, theology and the arts. It's the introductory course for students who wish to dive a little more deeply into this interdisciplinary field; many of the students, in point of face, will be connected to the interests of the Brehm Center in some fashion. As with all courses of this nature, so many possible resources are left on the cutting room floor. It's a shame, really. The hope of course is that the next time around you'll be able to mix and match a different set of readings. So that's a grace, at least. For now, I'm excited to take students through this material and to see what we discover together.


This course is the introductory course for all students entering Worship, Theology, and the Arts (WTA) concentrations at the master’s level. This course introduces the students to a methodology that will undergird their theological study of both Christian worship and the arts. That methodology involves the exegesis of “works of art” both within the context of the church and the context of the public square. Beginning with the question of terms and starting points for such a complex topic, this course explores each subject in turn: 1) worship and the arts; 2) theology and the arts; 3) the arts and aesthetics; 4) the arts and the vocation of artists; 5) the exegesis of works of art; and 6) the mission of the church in light of the study of worship, theology and the arts.

A student successfully completing this course will (1) be able to articulate a clear understanding of worship, theology and the arts; (2) obtain the beginning of a biblical, historical and contemporary perspective on worship, theology and the arts; (3) discern the ways in which context orients our understanding of worship, theology and the arts; (4) demonstrate an understanding of the course’s hermeneutical model; and (5) complete an in-depth application of this hermeneutic model to one particular artistic expression or element of Christian worship in a specific cultural context.


·       Walter Brueggemann, From Whom No Secrets Are Hid, ch. 2, “The Counter-World of the Psalms”
·       Eugene Peterson, Answering God (chs. 4 + 6)
·       David Taylor, Honest to God, “Psalms of Lament” (ch. 7)
·       John Witvliet The Biblical Psalms in Christian Worship: A Brief Introduction & Guide to Resources, pp. 3-44.
·       Selections to be read in class: from Ann Weems, Psalms of Lament; Laurance Wieder, Words to God’s Music; Jim Cotter, Psalms for a Pilgrim; Nicholas Samaras, American Psalm, World Psalm.

·       Constance Cherry, The Worship Architect, chs. 1-2  
·       Ruth Duck, Worship for the Whole People of God, ch. 1
·       James Torrance, Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace, Intro + chs. 1-2  

·       Andy Crouch, Culture Making, chs. 1 + 4  
·       Robert K. Johnston, God’s Wider Presence, ch. 4, “Broadening Our Biblical Focus: Part 1”
·       Taylor, The Theater of God’s Glory, chs. 2, 4-5  
·       Kathryn Tanner, Theories of Culture: A New Agenda for Theology, pp. 25-29  

·       Begbie, Jeremy, ed. Beholding the Glory: Incarnation Through the Arts. [150 pp]

·       “8 Characteristics of a Work of Art” (Taylor handout)
·       Jeremy S. Begbie, Voicing Creation’s Praise: Towards a Theology of the Arts (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1991), 233-255, “Art & Metaphor”
·       Kutter Callaway with Dean Batali, Watching TV Religiously: Television and Theology in Dialogue, ch. 1, “The Pilot Episode: What is TV?”  
·       Todd E. Johnson, “Liturgy: Too Deep for Words”  
·       George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, chs. 1-5
·       Jeannette Winterson, “What is Art For?” In The World Split Open: Great Authors on How and Why We Write (Portland, OR: Tin House Books, 2014), 173-188

·       Steven Guthrie, “Temples of the Spirit: Worship as Embodied Performance,” in Faithful Performances
·       James K. A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works, ch. 1  
·       Taylor, The Theater of God’s Glory, chs. 6-7  

·       James K. A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works, ch. 3, pp. 103-124, “We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live”  
·       Trevor Hart, Making Good: Creation, Creativity, and Artistry, ch. 2, “Creation, Imagination, and Artistry”  
·       Makoto Fujimura, Culture Care, ch. 19, “What If?”  
·       Mary Shelley, “The Genesis of Frankenstein,” in Creators on Creation: Awakening and Cultivating the Imaginative Mind, ch. 13  
·       Taylor, “12 Features of a Scriptural Imagination,” in Comment magazine  
·       J. K. Rowling, Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination

·       Eleonora Belfiore and Oliver Bennett, The Social Impact of the Arts: An Intellectual History, ch. 3, “Catharsis”
·       Jenefer Robinson, “The Emotions in Art,” in The Blackwell Guide to Aesthetics  
·       James K. A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works, ch. 3, pp. 124-150, “We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live”   
·       From Image Journal, issue #93, “The Film the World Needs Now: A Roundtable Discussion”  
·       Watch TED talk, “RSA ANIMATE: The Divided Brain” via psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist’s book, The Master and his Emissary  

·       Taylor, For the Beauty of the Church, ch. 5, “The Artist” (Nicolosi)
·       Taylor, For the Beauty of the Church, ch. 6,  “The Practitioner” (Banner)
·       Excerpts from Manjula Martin, Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017):

-       “Selling Out: Austin Kleon in conversation with Manjula Martin”
-       “A Sort of Fairy Tale: Malindo Lo”
-       “Growing Up: Nick Hornby in conversation with Manjula Martin”

·       Artists of faith reflecting on their faith and their craft via Mystery and Manners [14 pp] and Shouts and Whispers:

-       Flannery O’Connor, “Novelist and Believer”  
-       Frederick Buechner, “The Eyes of the Heart”
-       Elizabeth Dewberry, “Writing as an Act of Worship”
-       “Paul Schrader: An Interview with Gary Wills”
-       Jan Karon, “The Miracle and the Myth”
-       “Joy Kogawa: An Interview by Henry Baron”
-       Betty Smartt Carter, “Tired of Victory, Bored by Defeat: Restoring Proper Sadness to Christian Art”

·       William A. Dyrness, Poetic Theology: God and the Poetics of Everyday Life, ch. 9, “Aesthetics and Social Transformation”  
·       I-to Loh, “Ways of Contextualizing Church Music: Some Asian Examples,” in Worship and Mission For the Global Church: An Ethnodoxology Handbook  
·       Ruth Meyers, Missional Worship, Worshipful Mission: Gathering as God’s People, Going Out in God’s Name, pp. 29-45, “Imagining Missional Worship”  
·       Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture, ch. 6, “What Must We Be? The Call to the Church”  
·       Taylor, For the Beauty of the Church (ch. 8): “Looking to the Future: A Hopeful Subversion” (Begbie)  
·       “The Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture,” in Worship and Culture: Foreign Country or Homeland?, ed. By Gláucia Vasconcelos Wilkey

Carmen de Lavallade and Alvin Ailey at the Jacob’s Pillow (Credit John Lindquist/Harvard Theater)


Unknown said…
Hi!! I love this Syllabus. Would it be possible to audit this course?
Unfortunately, no, but thanks for your enthusiasm for the course!

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