As an evangelical preacher, the Rev. Bruce Marcey belongs to a sermon-centered spiritual tradition that took root nearly 500 years ago with the Bible, the pulpit, and the elimination of all distractions—including art.

Imagine how shocked his forebears might be to see what Marcey does with visual images each week at Warehouse 242, the loft-style church in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he serves as lead pastor. In his view, no worship service is complete until the congregation has pondered not just the Word proclaimed but also the Word illustrated through a homegrown photograph, painting, or film clip.

"We believe the Reformers missed something big," says Marcey, a doctoral candidate in visual rhetoric at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va. "When we limit the gospel message to the written and spoken text, we short-circuit it. We truncate it … The soul is moved by more things than the word."

Marcey's church is not alone. Across the nation, visual images are fast becoming a part of religious life for millions of Reformed Protestant Christians whose tradition has for centuries regarded pictures with great suspicion. Wariness of the image's power to become an idol, or otherwise deceive a lost soul, has largely given way to confidence in the power of images to reach souls for the good.

Claiming lineage in the Reformed tradition means tracing a spiritual ancestry through John Calvin, the 16th century Geneva theologian whose Institutes of the Christian Religion has endured for centuries as a guiding vision for a church purified Protestant-style. Through the centuries, splinter groups have made Reformed Protestantism into a vast tent with such American incarnations as Presbyterians, Baptists, Congregationalists and many ...

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