Thursday, December 22, 2005

Book Review: imagine

Authored by Steve Turner, Intervarsity Press, 2001, 132 pages, $10.99
Recently published in Japanese, by Word of Life Press, under the title: 『イマジン』芸術と信仰を考える

Reviewed by Paul Nethercott

Imagine numerous Japanese churches where creativity is embraced and enjoyed as part of what it means to be made in the image of God. People are energized as they explore their gifts and abilities, sharing them with each other.

Imagine expressive, creative worship services that include a wide variety of art forms, believers are deeply impacted and many not-yet-Christians attend to see and hear what is happening. An authentic Japanese “voice” (style) of worship is produced.

Imagine several accomplished Japanese movie directors, who are Christians, making major films for mainstream audiences. Their churches bless and affirm them. While the movies are primarily good entertainment, millions of Asians who see them notice a different viewpoint. Many begin to ponder the meaning of life and wonder if there really is a creator God after all.

Imagine visual artists, designers, writers, musicians, dancers, TV producers, radio announcers, actors and actresses, who are Christians, producing some of the best work in the artistic world in Japan. They are “salt and light” in their circles of influence.

Can these things happen? Yes, they can and to some extent are already happening (the late author Ayako Miura and painter Makoto Fujimura are two excellent role models). Turner’s book imagine (recently published in Japanese) provides a solid Biblical rationale for Christians to embrace their creativity and actively engage in mainstream culture. In his view, far too many Christians isolate themselves from society due to a destructive, “dualistic” (sacred/secular) view of the world that is not Biblical. This results in a “Christian ghetto” syndrome where the church becomes distant and isolated from society, unable to relate to others as human beings.

Imagine provides not only a sound rationale for connecting with mainstream culture, but examples of Christians who have successfully done so. Tuner’s book is an exciting “roadmap” showing how we can effectively engage with mainstream culture without losing our integrity.

In easy to understand language, Turner successfully presents a vision for embracing our creativity as humans while living under the Lordship of Christ in a fallen world. While he strongly endorses the validity and value of art, he does not ignore the issues that have driven some followers of Christ to fear and reject it. He believes that Christians should be involved in every level of the art world and in every media, for the glory of God.

The one regrettable part of this book is the sub-title “a vision for Christians in the arts.” It is misleading, as this book is a “must read” for all Christians, not just for those few who are professional artists. Imagine deals with the core issue of how humans, created in God’s image, can live God-honoring lives in a fallen world. For those of us involved in ministry in Japan, Imagine is an important and timely book that deals with critically important issues to each one of us.


Quotes from the book imagine:

“Evangelical Christians traditionally had taken redemption as their starting point to anything. Had the artist been reborn and was the artist singing, writing or painting about being reborn? For (Francis) Schaeffer, creation was the starting point. Everyone was made in God’s image and those blessed with artistic gifts couldn’t help but display that original image in some way.”

“The problem that has affected the church down through the ages with regard to art can be put very simply: How much of life is Christ to be Lord over? Is he only interested in that part of life we think of as religious or spiritual? Or is he interested in every facet of our lives – body, soul, mind and spirit? The sort of art we make as Christians will illustrate our answer.”

“It would be impossible to think of loving humans and yet hating human culture, of loving individuals and yet hating their music, songs, stories, paintings, games, rituals, decorations, clothes, languages and hairstyles. God made us cultural beings.”

“Love not the world” means neither “Don’t care for the planet” nor “Drop out of society,” but “Don’t embrace anti-God thinking.”

“We do not need to overtly refer to God in everything we create. Not even every book in the Bible refers to God. Jesus surely didn’t mark all his carpentry with a relevant saying, and Paul didn’t embroider memory verses on his tents.”

God Finds Japanese Artist

Fumie Ando, an acomplished painter, came to know Christ after experiencing catastrophic loss (Photo of Fumie)


“God is light, color is born by light.” Fumie Ando

For What and Why Do I Paint?
At home in Sapporo for the first time in years, I was intently pondering the sound of my sister playing the piano. It was an etude by Bach; it soothed and stilled my soul.

“For him, a sound is not something that disappeared into an empty sky but rises up as a dedication to God in an inexpressible praise.”

Around the end of summer l990, I came across the above written by Schweitzer in reference to Bach. This idea was something very new and interesting to me. Until then, painting had only been to me a means to affirm my existence, something that I did for my own sake. What could it mean to “not create for oneself!?” I found the idea of painting for something other than myself attractive. However, I could not imagine whom else I could paint for. After much contemplation, I dedicated my graduation work to my family, who had raised me with much love and caring.

On November I7, I990 I went to my studio as usual, but not a fragment of the studio I knew so well remained. The day my studio burned to the ground became permanently etched in my mind. I stood there, not comprehending what had happened. All the favorite tools I had used since my high school days, the pictures I had painted, the drawings, everything, had disintegrated into ashes – including my almost complete pieces for college graduation.

I wanted to go to graduate school so those pieces were very important to me. With the deadline just ahead, I lost everything. The shock despair, sorrow, and anger that I felt in my heart were something that is still beyond description today. I had no idea what I would do. The lights had gone out and I could not see a glimmer of hope. For the first time in my life, I understood the bitter reality that even things created with great effort can disappear in an instant. Everything seemed useless.

In the midst of an inexpressible feeling of emptiness and agony over which I had no control, I prayed for the first time in my life, ''God, if you are really out there, please help me.''

Eventually, with help, I managed to complete the artwork I needed to graduate and was accepted into graduate school. Yet, I felt there was something missing. One day, a Christian friend told me of a book ''The Wind Is Howling'' by Ayako Miura. I didn’t feel like reading it, but as my friend was persistent, I halfheartedly started it and quickly became engrossed. It seemed that there existed somewhere a love that was faithful and true, the very thing that l longed for. I looked all around me, yet all l saw was others who had a self-centered, superficial love. In other words, people like me.

As I finished the book, I made up my mind not to demand others' faithfulness but to become a faithful person myself. The next day, however, I made a friend of mine cry. He had been griping about his situation and wanted sympathy, which I did not give him. It was when he said, ''can't you understand?” that I realized how I had been trying to change him with my words when all he wanted was understanding. How arrogant I was. I was standing where God should be seated, and was looking down on my friend. It was then that I realized the existence of sin in my heart. I made a decision to be a faithful person one day, and judged someone the next. That was the person I really was. When I saw this reality, I felt as though I had fallen off a cliff into a bottomless hell.

A Decision
The following evening, it was brought upon me to make a decision, by someone whom I could not see. A voice spoke to me in my heart, ''if you recognize your sin, and if you wish to be forgiven of your sin, stand up now, and confess your sin, and receive forgiveness through Jesus Christ.'' I had no idea what to say. The only thing that I could see was that l had tremendous sin that I couldn't bear anymore. Tears flowed. That day I accepted Jesus Christ into my heart as my savior, and gave my life up to him. From that day on, my life changed dramatically.


"Vestiges" by Fumie Ando:


"My Cross" by Fumie Ando: Tempera paint on drift wood, with soil from the artist's garden. "This art piece symbolizes my cross from God. My life is like a piece of drift wood, it is useless. But, when the blood of Jesus covers me, I receive new life and become useful. Jesus saves and calls us to carry our cross as Jesus did."

Fumie Ando has held exhibitions at numerous galleries across Japan and continues to paint, teach, and quietly witness to her not-yet-Christian artist friends in Sapporo, Japan. She is involved with a dynamic group of artistic Christians called IAM (International Arts Movement). The IAM web site URL: