“The issue is not what style is used but rather thatstyle is used, consciously and conscientiously, even in areas where function used to stand alone. Aesthetics is more pervasive than it used to be – not restricted to a social, economic, or artistic elite, limited to only a few settings or industries, or designed to communicate only power, influence, or wealth. Sensory appeals are everywhere, they are increasingly personalized, and they are intensifying.” Virginia Postreal, The Substance of Style 

I was reading the first few sections in Postreal’s book this evening on the substance of style and this brief quote stood out to me. So much of what you and I see in the consumerist market around us is dedicated to the ‘what’ of style that we forget just how much of what’s around is style. That we live lives saturated with aesthetics, whether they’re poorly conveyed or not.

She left me wondering what it would look like to bring the gospel to bear in an aesthetically saturated world. Would the gospel become a timeless truth merely to be clothed in the latest fashions of the cultural runway? Would the gospel set the tone and even contribute to the creative imaginations of those who shared it with their aesthetic neighbors? What new and challenging contextualization feats await the missionary of this bold new world?

One things for sure the lines between substance and style blur now. The next leaders of the church may be those who are able to take image and word together and apply them to the cultural issues of their day. Multiple discipline models like poly-sci may be combined in theological training into things like Divinity-design as churches face hiring media directors and IT specialists, along side their traditional needs of preachers and worship leaders. It was not uncommon for me to see such combinations on job postings on pastor finder and other sights as I searched for a calling.

Idols of the heart in this aesthetical world will be displayed in the open, but interpreting and being able to see the deeper idols from which they’ve been improvisationalized will be the real challenge of the next leaders of the church. In a Mc-World where everyone has an I-deawhat they like and want, and how they want to present themselves my prayer is that we continue to faithfully, yet creatively present the gospel to our neighbors. That we do not forsake the foolishness of preaching, nor idolize the medium approaches of the past. That we wrestle with the saturation, learn to see the layers of style as a collage of human hearts desperate for community, desperate for truth, and desperate for reconciliation. Such things that can only come in an eternally satisfying way in Christ.

How do you think we can move toward communicating the gospel in an aesthetically saturated world?

(Photographic art by Fusaka, piece entitled “Rothko“)