By Michael Foust
A well-known financial services ministry has launched an effort to teach generosity in a not-so-well-known way: through artwork.
Thrivent Financial this year released a book — Inspiring Generosity: Stories of Faith and Grace in Art — that explores generosity by examining the inspiration and stories behind 40 original prints, drawings and illuminated manuscripts spanning 800 years.
The goal is to help Christians dive deeper into lessons on compassion, giving and sacrifice by contemplating the work of such artists as Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), Édouard Manet (1832-1883) and Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528).
Most of the art involves depictions inspired by Scripture.
The works are from Thrivent’s own Collection of Religious Art, a gallery founded in 1982 that can be viewed at its Minneapolis headquarters. It holds 1,200 original works spanning from the 13th to the 21st century and is open to the public.
Joanna Reiling Lindell, the gallery’s director and curator and the book’s co-author, said she hopes the publication’s art “ignites” thoughts and moments of worship for the reader about generosity.
Even though the Bible is a written document, she said, it naturally spark pictures within the mind.
“Scripture is so incredibly visual,” she said. “When we read it, images come to mind. This is why there is this incredibly rich tradition through centuries of the church of people creating religious art.”
The 40 images, she said, even may help people “engage with the Bible in a way that perhaps you never have before.”
“I love the idea of pulling from thoughts and ideas from centuries of devotion, centuries of beliefs and prayers,” she said. “I think it’s extraordinarily powerful.”
Each chapter includes the image, the corresponding biblical passage, a story about the artist and painting, a theological analysis, and a devotional.
Edward Klodt, an author, theologian and manager in Thrivent’s Mission Support group, wrote each theological analysis, while John Busacker, an author and the founder of LifeWorth, penned the devotionals. Lindell wrote the stories about the artwork.
“It really was an incredibly joyous process,” Lindell said. “Everything in the book somehow connects to that theme of generosity. There are the obvious stories that we would think of — like the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan. But we’re also exploring more complex and unexpected stories, such as the Passion of the Christ, the Nativity, the creation of the world, the concept of prayer.”
Artwork can help Christians experience familiar Scripture passages “in new and profound ways,” she added.
“There might be these little moments that come to light in one’s heart, in one’s head where they say, ‘Oh my goodness, I never have thought of this.’”
Thrivent is a not-for-profit financial services organization that helps Christians practice financial wisdom. It offers a wide range of services.
Michael Foust is an award-winning freelance writer and father of four children. He blogs at www.michaelfoust.com.