Art + Faith

Makoto Fujimura’s new book Art + Faith, A Theology of Making gives us a hermeneutic for all of life that is grounded in the reality of Christ’s resurrection and our identity as a new creature. “Behold, the new has come!” is the impetus for the theology of making that Fujimura outlines in this book—a wholistic vision for Christians to live generatively and abundantly in a culture marked by a mindset of utilitarian scarcity. Truly, this book creatively satisfies the question, “If Christ is risen, how then should we live?” While not only for artists but also for Christians and creatives of all kinds, this book speaks to the necessary presence of creativity in the Christian life and argues that the road to impactful cultural engagement is paved by “making into the new.”

      For Makoto Fujimura, painting is a meditative, spiritual practice through which he communes with God and understands his existence in the world. Insisting his work in the studio is "as aesthetic as it is theological,” Fujimura recognizes his artistry is only a reflection of the Artistry of God—the only true Artist of which he states, “We are Imago Dei, created to be creative, and we are by nature creative makers.” In the act of making then, we affirm the existence of our Maker, and witness to the watching world that God is real. More than this, it is argued throughout the book that making is necessary in our journey to know God. This claim is lucidly demonstrated through the examples of the tabernacle and the eucharist in which God commissions elements such as the mercy seat and the bread and wine to be fashioned by human hands before He can be known as the one who receives sacrifice, forgives sins, and gives Himself to His people. “The idea here is to posit that God waits for us,” Fujimura notes. The mystery of being invited by God into a creative process whereby we come to know God more fully affirms a central theme in this book, namely, that God is not concerned with efficiency, but delights to invite us into His generative work, not for the sake of having a mercy seat or bread and wine, but for abundance and relationship that spills out to bless others.

“In the act of making then, we affirm the existence of our Maker, and witness to the watching world that God is real.”

       In each chapter, Fujimura critiques and corrects an impulse toward utilitarian pragmatism—in which the value of something is estimated solely by its efficiency and usefulness. As the arts live in an uncomfortable space between necessary and extravagant, they cannot be understood as commodities, but gifts. The point is made that the church has often cheapened the impact of the arts on culture by treating them as utilitarian programs through which they might sell the gospel to a world that doesn’t want it instead of understanding the gospel as art—a rich story through which God sings a song of redemption and paints a picture of new creation and gifts the identity of Christ to a world desperately searching for meaning.

       The danger in treating the gospel as a product to be used goes beyond the place of art in the church and reaches to our very understanding of the gospel. If we reduce the gospel to a commodity that fixes the problem of sin and miss that it is a gift of adoption and relationship with God we have fallen short of what Christ has accomplished. Perhaps, Fujimura argues, our propensity to measure value according to utilitarian standards has lead us to a theology of “fixing” —an obsession with theological and cultural correction and maintenance that distracts from understanding the gospel as extravagant and liberating. In this vein, he suggests an alteration to the familiar redemptive historical pattern: creation, fall, redemption, restoration. Seeing “restoration” as a part of “fixing theology” and falling short of the promises of Scripture, Fujimura writes, “God does not just mend, repair, restore; God renews and generates, transcending our expectations of even what we desire, beyond what we dare to ask or imagine.” In its place, he suggests the pattern: creation, fall, redemption, new creation.

       This new creation is a reality we experience in part now. Fujimura writes, “Christ’s resurrection is not the happy ending of Christianity, but the new beginning with the entry point being suffering and persecution.” This statement leads to a discourse on kintsugi, an ancient Japanese art where broken pottery is mended with gold and is left more beautiful and valuable than its original construction, where in the act of making it has been made new. Kintsugi becomes a powerful metaphor in Fujimura’s theology of making. Just as kintsugi does more than mend broken pottery by making it new and adding value, Christ does more than restore us—He makes us new and fills the brokenness of our lives with His Spirit—a reality that shines forth in the world around us. Fujimura states that artists in particular can fill the cracks of polarized society with their unique vantage point into culture and the church. Artists can speak into the brokenness of culture and express the beauty of Christ’s generative work in a way that witnesses to new creation realities. Fujimura writes, “making toward beauty in the context of brokenness, through sanctified imagination, we are proclaiming God’s Good News…evangelism is the proclamation of the New.”

“...the gospel as art—a rich story through which God sings a song of redemption and paints a picture of new creation and gifts the identity of Christ to a world desperately searching for meaning.”

       The last chapter of the book concerns the story of Lazarus’ earthly resurrection and takes form in what Fujimura refers to as “Lazarus culture.” Diving into the exchange between Christ, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, Fujimura weaves together a wholistic vision for a Christian community participating in the arts. Mediating on the impact of an earthly resurrection, we are called to recognize our own spiritual resurrection from death to life and how that experiential knowledge of newness of life reimagines our daily living. Christians can move through the darkness of the world because we have experienced the light of resurrection. All of God’s people, made in His image, are creators and are called to live a life that reflects the abundance of resurrection reality, demonstrating the power of Christ to a watching world.

       Art + Faith is a book that requires careful reading and meditation. Much like the work Fujimura produces in his studio, the book is layered with themes of beauty, knowledge, suffering, creativity, work, and imagination. These themes unfold slowly, and the more you read the more you see the vision he is casting for the church. While I would warn against a transformationalist eschatology, which weaves its way into his theology of making, Fujimura’s foundation for engaging culture through living as a new creation and creating out of that reality is paradigm shifting. Certainly, we live in light of what Christ has done, but our gaze is not backward, it is forward—we live as new creatures awaiting a new creation.

Makoto Fujimura, Art + Faith, A Theology of Making (Yale University Press: 2021), pp.184.

Jessica Hiatt is a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary where she is currently a graphic designer for the Communications Department.

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