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The Conflict Beautiful: The Medium is the Message

There’s a renaissance afoot in the church unbeknownst to many. As Gil Scott-Heron once said, “The revolution will not be televised” - but it will be available on the internet. This is a revolution of skillful art that effectively communicates God’s character through mediums such as paintings (Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” Michelangelo’s “Sistine Chapel”), music, (Handel’s “Messiah,” Jennifer Jill’s, “The Lamb Wins”), video (The Bible Project YouTube channel, Patsy Arrabito’s Hell and Mr. Fudge) and recently, The Conflict Beautiful, a redesign of The Conflict the of Ages book series by Ellen White.

The Conflict of the Ages series is unparalleled in its communication of the origins, history and climax of the conflict between Christ and Satan. We’re talking about sublime commentary on the Biblical narrative with layers upon layers of depth. This five book series, which begins and ends with the words, “God is love,” has a literary structure that is just recently being recognized for its aesthetic beauty by scholars like Ron Du Preez and Mike Oxententko. Such scholars must be howling like wolves as they uncover endless chiasms and other forms of parallelism on the micro and macro levels, which help readers to more deeply “understand her intended meaning in her writings.”

The artists behind the elegant reworking of this literary classic are the team at The Types & Symbols design studio. They have redesigned the Conflict of the Ages series and appropriately titled it, “The Conflict Beautiful.” I had the chance to have a conversation with Mark Cook, the leader of this new project who had some powerful things to share about the importance of good design in the church.

Mark: Good design creates an authentic alignment between the value of the content and how that content is presented. As Marshall McLuhan famously said, “the medium is the message.” So as a church, we need to be asking ourselves—how valuable is our content, and is that value being communicated through design, materials, and craftsmanship?

To illustrate this relationship, think back to one of the best sermons you’ve ever heard. Now imagine that same sermon delivered in a flat, monotone affect. The content is exactly the same in both scenarios, but how the message is presented significantly impacts how it’s received, the value it has to the recipient, and the likelihood that they will share it with someone else.

The Seventh-day Adventist church has a built-in audience for many of the materials created (e.g. a well-designed Sabbath School lesson will have the same distribution as a poorly designed one), so it’s sometimes difficult to justify the investment of time and resources into making something remarkable. But that’s only because we’re using the wrong metric to determine the return on investment. It’s not about the bottom line, it’s about the responsibility we have to create an alignment between the value of our message, and the value someone perceives when they receive it. We’ve been entrusted with sharing the Good News, let’s make sure that’s reflected in good design.

This tradition of creating beautiful God-centered art with intentional craftsmanship began with God Himself. The first text of the Bible reveals to us that God is creative. “In the beginning, God created…” We see that regardless of the cost and sacrifice, the end result and beauty of creation and resulting relationships are worth it. The cost and resources involved in this project are hundreds of hours of unpaid work and a fundraising campaign that, if successful, will merely result in breaking even on the cost of publishing the books.

I reserved my copy of The Conflict Beautiful on Kickstarter because I believe that art, beauty and God go together. I believe that the books I read about God should reflect His beauty and thoughtfulness through superb design. Regardless of what I believe, if the goal for The Conflict Beautiful Kickstarter isn’t reached by November 15, it will not happen. Because of the nature of how Kickstarter works, it’s all or nothing and there are only a few days left. Come and see The Conflict Beautiful here.


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