A new book from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship (CICW) on Philippians is meant to create conversations: between the reader and the book, and between the visual, written and quoted scripture pieces presented in the book’s 288 pages.
The seeds for the project were planted five summers ago and came to fruition this fall when the book, Dwelling with Philippians: A Conversation with Scripture through Image and Word, was delivered to campus in time to be one of two main texts for a campus-wide Bible study on the 11th book of the New Testament.
For the CICW’s Elizabeth Steele Halstead, one of four editors who worked on the effort from start to finish—joining CICW director John Witvliet, Paul Detterman and Joyce Borger—having the book become a centerpiece of the Philippians Bible study was a perfect way to introduce the project to the Calvin campus, and beyond.
“All along, we envisioned this as something that we hoped could really assist people who wanted to dig deeply into a study of Philippians,” she said. “The idea began as sort of an illustrated hymnal at a CICW staff meeting, and eventually we settled into something different.”
That something different blossomed into Dwelling with Philippians, which is filled not only with the words of the four chapters and 104 verses that comprise Philippians, but also a plethora of poems and quotes from modern and ancient theologians as well as hundreds of drawings, paintings, and photos of sculptures and assorted other art forms meant to breathe new life into a study of Paul’s prison letter to the people of Philippi.
The book’s intent, said Steele Halstead, is clear from the image on the opening cover: Gustav Klimt’s “Pear Tree,” a colorful piece that illustrates for Steele Halstead the joy, unity and interconnectedness found in Philippians. Indeed the front cover sets the scene for a book where art of all sorts—some vivid and colorful, some more moody and contemplative—graces page after page, creating what the editors hope is a publication that can be enjoyed and pondered time and time again.
Among the book’s 200-plus contributors are an assortment of Calvin alumni and former Calvin professors, including visual artist and professor emeritus Chris Stoffel Overvoorde, author and former Calvin philosophy professor Nicholas Wolterstorff and many others. Overvoorde’s 1962 painting “The Struggle” illustrates Philippians 3:2-3 where Paul writes “beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers.” From Wolterstorff comes a quote from his“Until Justice and Peace Embrace” on dwelling in shalom. It accompanies art and words around Philippians 4:7 where Paul writes about all that is true and honorable and just and pure and calls the church at Philippi to “think about these things.”
Witvliet said that from the project’s genesis, the team that worked to create the book was interested in melding art and messages from scripture, and he thinks they succeeded.
“In our work at CICW,” he said, “we have been thrilled to discover and promote the work of Christian artists. Our unique mission means that we are eager to highlight how art can help us both proclaim scriptural messages and shape our response: the two fundamental aspects of public worship. This book now becomes a part of that.”
All told the book includes some 125 images plus another 250 book excerpts, quotes and more, providing a cornucopia of content intended to help present Philippians in new ways.
“I hope that people will take some time (with the book), to sit and dwell with it for a while and with the scripture itself,” Steele Halstead said.“I hope they will take part in the conversations that we hope the book encourages. If that happens it would be wonderful to see.”