Review: Word Pictures

Godawa, Brian. Word Pictures: Knowing God Through Story & Imagination.  Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009.

There seems to be a recent movement within the Protestant community to finally start talking about the arts and their role in the Christian life.  Numerous publishers in the evangelical and mainline streams have released direct or indirect approaches to the matter as of late, from groundbreaking (William Dyrness’ much needed primer Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue) to the pitiful (the factually errant God in the Gallery by Daniel Seidell).  With so many books now in the mix (and my personal bookshelf space gradually being depleted as a result), it is refreshing to find a book that I can recommend to everyone as a starting point for study on the broad subject of a Christian approach to art, literature, film, and (most importantly and comprehensively) the imagination.  Apologist and screenwriter Brian Godawa’s 2009 book Word Pictures is such a work.

Acting more as a selection of related but independent essays, Godawa takes the reader on a journey through various topics of interest.  Rather than spend time writing chapters like “How do we approach art/books/movies/etc.,” Godawa tackles the larger themes at stake that influence how we approach all of the creative arts.  From a master apologist, it is an apologetic for the use of image and story in the Christian life.  This is no small feat for someone in a tradition that has largely been iconoclastic since its inception (from the non-Lutheran aspects of the Reformation to the current day) and which has taken an almost exclusively literal and propositional approach to the entire text of the scriptures for well over a century in overcompensating reaction to liberal textural criticism.

Godawa steps into the battle zone and in the pages gives an appeal to the scriptures for the use of story and images, citing direct references in the pages.  He also importantly addresses issues of literal readings versus the broad range of literary genres and forms in the scriptures, pointing to how hyperbole, satire, poetry, and such enrich the scripture experience by stirring the human imagination.  The role of the Christian in the artistic fields is also discussed, as is the long battle for and against iconoclasm in the church.  Most highly important is the resounding theme echoed throughout of battling a Christianity of “dehumanized abstraction and an intellectual faith that lack[s] imagination.”

There are selective moments where I have disagreements with Godawa, but his work overall stands as an important benchmark in the promotion of the imagination and the creative arts from an Evangelical Protestant perspective and as a primer for a Christian approach to various fields associated with it.  Even on my sparse disagreements, I believe Godawa has struck up a conversation worth having and raises important thoughts and questions beneficial to each reader.  Therefore, I wholeheartedly recommend the book and, further, I intend to use this book as an instruction tool in future arts-related ministry endeavors.


  1. Confessions of a Modern
  2. Literal Versus Literary
  3. Word Versus Image
  4. Iconoclasm
  5. Incarnation
  6. Subversion
  7. Cultural Captivity
  8. What Art Would Jesus Do?

Also included is an afterword, followed by an appendix where anticipated objections are answered (as a good apologist does).

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