Edward Knippers and Fred Sanders: Two Happy Discoveries

I have made two happy discoveries this year in the worlds of authors and artists. The artist is Edward Knippers, to whose work I was introduced several months ago via Gene Edward Veith's stimulating, well-written The State of the Arts. (For a briefer introduction, see the article by Marvin Olasky on Knippers entitled "Body of Work" in a recent issue of World magazine.)

Descent from the Cross
by Edward Knippers

As Veith and Olasky point out, Knippers is a Christian artist whose work, though controversial in some circles for its use of nudity, is thoroughly grounded in Christian orthodoxy. In a press release for Flesh and Flight, an upcoming exhibit of Knipper's work in Annapolis, the artist explains: "The human body is at the center of my artistic imagination because I am a Christian, and because the body is an essential element of the Christian doctrines of Creation, Incarnation and Resurrection."

Moses and the Burning Bush
by Edward Knippers

Knippers' paintings beautifully capture scenes from the biblical narrative, conveying both their physicality and earthiness on one hand, and their transcendence and glory on the other.

The second discovery is theologian and writer, Fred Sanders, an associate professor of theology at Biola University, whose recent book The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, I am now reading and can heartily recommend. One of Sanders' aims in this book is to show just how thoroughly Trinitarian the gospel actually is and how deeply immersed evangelicals already are in the reality of the Trinity -- whether we realize it or not. As Sanders says, "Nothing we do as evangelicals makes sense if it is divorced from a strong experiential and doctrinal grasp of the coordinated work of Jesus and the Spirit, worked out against the horizon of the Father's love" (p. 9).

One of the great strengths of this book is its clarity and simplicity in explaining complex theological issues. For example, here is Sanders clearly and briefly explaining and debunking modalism (an unbiblical alternative to the doctrine of the Trinity) without ever using the word "modalism":

Another alternative would be to say that a merely unipersonal God was first the Father, then the Son, and then the Spirit. But that kind of serial monotheism cannot do justice to the biblical episodes in which the Father and the Son address each other in interpersonal communication. A one-personed God who puts on different masks for different tasks, or goes into different modes when he is in different moods, or plays different roles with different rules, is not the Trinity of the Christian faith (p. 90).

As you can see, Sanders is a winsome and creative writer. He also regularly blogs at The Scriptorium Daily and has recently written interesting little bits on C. S. Lewis and N. T. Wright. Interestingly enough Sanders has also written about Ed Knippers, in this piece: Art & Incarnation (2): Engaging the Art & Theology of Edward Knippers.

I am more and more convinced that many Christian leaders and churches spend far too much time on peripheral aspects of Christian teaching, discussing and debating issues that we disagree with one another about, while neglecting the more central doctrines of the faith that are most integral to the gospel - doctrines such as the Trinity, creation, incarnation, and resurrection. Perhaps one reason I have come to appreciate both Knippers and Sanders is because each one, in his respective way, is drawing our attention back to the center.


Andrew M. Bailey said...

Glad to hear you enjoy Fred Sanders' work; he was one of my college professors!

Brian G. Hedges said...

Cool. I wondered if some of you Biola grads knew Sanders...

John said...

Great post--especially your last paragraph. I heartily agree!

The second painting combines Michelangelo with Picasso.

Brian G. Hedges said...

Thanks, John. Yeah, I think one of the unique and interesting things about Knippers work is how he combines the Baroque and Cubist styles of painting, using the former to convey earthiness and the latter to convey transcendence.

David L. Hatton said...

Found your article after ordering Sanders' book (my 3 favorite doctrines: Incarnation, Resurrection and Trinity!). I'm also studying Knippers for an article I'm writing about the human form in Christian art. What interests me personally about Knippers is that his theology and view of the body is identical to the radical way some other pastors and I are fighting porn addiction (mychainsaregone.org). Traditional church efforts against porn fail miserably when they essentially agree to a porno-prudish view of the body, because God never uses lies to set people free. Knippers work uses the body in a godly, creational, incarnational way to tell the truth, and his paintings call a halt to the Gnostic flight from the body that has led modern Christians into body objectification, which is the foundation of porn.