Rembrandt is in the Wind: Learning to Love Art Through the Eyes of Faith

Reviewed by:

Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.


Rembrandt is in the Wind: Learning to Love Art Through the Eyes of Faith


Russ Ramsey


Zondervan Reflective

Publication Date:

March 22, 2022




272 pages


What makes us human? Russ Ramsey observes in his first chapter that for philosophers and theologians, the answer boils down to three transcendental things humans desire: goodness, truth, and beauty. The Bible infers these truths, starting with Genesis 1, where God saw creation was good. In Western Christian settings, truth and goodness are often discussed, but beauty gets left out. Ramsey makes a compelling case that they are interconnected and can’t function without each other. From there, he considers nine visual artists and their particular quests for beauty, truth, and goodness.

– Michelangelo, hungering to show divine design in the human body
– Caravaggio, living scandalously while capturing the scandal of the gospel in his paintings
– Rembrandt, depicting prodigal guilt, which ties to lament and the coming kingdom’s consolation
– Vermeer, combining artistic talent with groundbreaking technology
– Frédéric Bazille, thriving in an artistic community
– Van Gogh, craving to make great work and have recognition in an apathetic world
– Henry O. Tanner, pondering how race affects his paintings
– Edward Hopper, cataloging loneliness while living a lonely life
– Lillian Trotter, considering whether to follow a call to missions or art.

In each case, Ramsey connects the stories to spiritual questions about calling, vocation, and longing.

Structurally, this book is similar to Jeffrey Overstreet’s book on faith and film, Through A Screen Darkly. Like Overstreet, Ramsey gives perspectives on different themes in different works of art, but he takes a different angle. Overstreet discusses several films exploring aspects of a broad theme (three films that explore divine wonder, etc.). Ramsey zeroes in on one artist to explore one of their themes indetail. Interestingly, Ramsey and Overstreet even cover some similar themes. Overstreet uses the films Taxi Driver and Punch-Drunk Love as depictions of loneliness. Ramsey discusses Edward Hopper as a lonely artist who explored loneliness in his work. Both writers affirm that loneliness has something to teach Christians—about life’s value and lament’s value. Throughout, they each show a deep understanding of the mediums they love.

Ramsey also makes some clever moves to avoid retreading others’ territory. Readers seeing this book’s title may think of Henri Nouwen’s Return of the Prodigal Son. While Ramsey references Nouwen, h avoids following Nouwen’s approach and covering the painter’s religious journey. Instead, Ramsey talks about the 1990 heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, where thieves stole Rembrandt’s The Storm on the Sea of Galilee. Ramsey uses the story of how this painting is “in the wind”—still missing likely never to be recovered—to meditate on how temporal things can be destroyed, but one day, peace
will reign. Thus, Ramsey creates a new Rembrandt discussion about how New Testament eschatology gives us hope that soon all will be well.

Above everything else, what’s most surprising about this book isn’t just that it’s so well-done. Certainly, many books by pastors about art lack nuance; it’s to Ramsey’s credit that he writes well enough thatMakoto Fujimura commends his research in the foreword. What’s most surprising is this book fills a gap that Ramsey probably doesn’t notice. In the last 50 years, a particular group has written most of the great books on Christianity and art for evangelicals. The authors tend to be what Fujimura in Culture Care called “border stalkers.” Border stalkers traverse between established cultural worlds to bring
insights to each. Fujimura discusses his border stalker status in his foreword to Ramsey’s book—born in America to Japanese parents, then raised in Japan for a time. Art and the Bible author Francis Schaeffer, who left American fundamentalism to run a European Christian center for spiritual searchers, was also a border stalker. The fact Schaeffer’s wife was a Third Culture Kid (raised by missionary parents in China) increased his border stalker status, adding multicultural influences to his life in various ways.

Other contributors to the art and faith discussion (Dutchman Hans Rookmaaker, Englishman Steve Turner) have been less obviously multicultural but still carrying an “outside looking in” view of American Christianity. To some extent, the same applies to filmmaker Scott Derrickson—as discussed in Through A Screen Darkly, he’s a good friend and sometimes collaborator with renowned German filmmaker Wim Wenders. As American evangelicals have struggled to understand art, Christians from other countries have provided the teaching, collaboration, or mentoring to fill that gap.

Ramsey writes as well as any of these authors, yet doesn’t fit the border stalker/outsider profile. He speaks about his early exposure to art but no stories about worrying he had to choose between loving creativity and loving the church. In a Rabbit Room interview, he stated, “art and ministry have always been linked in my mind—since the very beginning.” Ramsey has gained a compelling theology of creativity without apparently having a deconstruction or outsider experience. That makes his book surprising and refreshing. It suggests that American evangelicalism has reached what Schaefer and others began striving for 50 years ago.

An insightful, refreshing godsend to discussions about art and faith.


Rating (1 to 5 stars):

Five stars.

Recommended Readers:

Christians wanting to learn more about visual art and why visual art matters to Christians.

Christian Impact:

Russ Ramsey shows how each of these artists was reaching in some way for God, even the ones who (as far as we know) didn’t find God. In doing so, Ramsey reminds readers that all truth is God’s truth, recognized or not. He also provides great insights on what Christian creatives can learn from these artists about craft, living the artist’s life, and pitfalls to avoid.

Note: ECLA readers who enjoy this book may also enjoy the following:

Scribbling in the Sand: Christ and Creativity

A Redemptive Theology of Art

Rembrandt Is in the Wind: Learning to Love Art through the Eyes of Faith

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