Article: RESTORING THE ARTS TO THE CHURCH: THE ROLE OF CREATIVITY IN THE EXPRESSION OF TRUTH
By Colin Harbinson
At particular times in history, the arts have played a strategic role in the mission of the Church; at other times—when perceived to be morally and spiritual bankrupt—they were largely abandoned. However, in all probability there has never been a time in which a biblical understanding of the arts by the Church has been more needed than in our current postmodern culture with its visual and experiential orientation.
A Biblical Perspective
The specific call of God for Bezalel to make “artistic designs” (Exodus 31:1-6) opens up the possibility of artistic expression as a spiritual calling. Creativity is a gift from God. The best way to thank him is to develop and use our gifts. Unfortunately, many never give themselves permission to begin to develop their creativity because it has not been encouraged or validated by the Church. Others either abandon their gifts or abandon the Church when told their artistic motivation and their faith are incompatible.
God told Moses to make a sculpture of a snake because he wanted to use this visual representation as a means to bring forgiveness, healing and restoration to his people (Numbers 21: 4-9). Other Old Testament examples abound that show how God commissioned the use of the arts in worship, to remind the people of their story or to reveal his purposes. The prophets often used stunning visual means to demonstrate God’s heart. In the New Testament, Jesus, the master storyteller, ignited the imagination of his listeners through narratives, parables and metaphors that pointed to spiritual reality.
The Role and Nature of the Arts
1. The arts give an experience that impacts the whole person. When moved by a story
2. They offer windows through which to observe some aspect of life or human
3. In the rush of daily life, we look at many things, but see very little. The arts can
Good art is not passive in nature. It asks something of those who engage it. Artistic expression creates a place where artist and audience meet. Thoughtful reflection is stimulated. Easy answers are avoided.
Excellence of Character and Skill
The Arts as Witness
Restoring the Arts
Examples of the Arts as Witness
1. Create Modern Day Parables. The play “Toymaker & Son” is an allegory of the gospel set within a world of toys. Using a non-verbal fusion of drama, dance, mime and music, this theatrical production has been able to cross national and cultural barriers. Truths creatively expressed in contemporary and meaningful parables will be key in opening the hearts and minds of our communities.
2. Let the Church Celebrate! The Church should be a celebrative community that reflects the original artist that we worship and serve. All of the arts should be integrated into the whole life of the Church. They should not be just an “add-on” to the worship service.
3. Act Out Our Stories. The arts are a powerful way to move the Church to action. “Dayuma” is a theatrical reenactment of the modern mission classic told in the book Through Gates of Splendor. A powerful show in its own right, when performed in partnership with a Bible translation organization, it resulted in the completion of twenty translation projects.
4. Exchange Creative Gifts. The concept of cultural exchange in the arts can facilitate significant relationships and transformation to all involved. International Festival of the Arts has used the international language of the arts to hold large-scale, cross-cultural festivals. Over seven hundred Christians involved in the arts have participated in high profile cultural exchanges with Russian, Bulgarian and Chinese artists that enabled relationship building, respect, trust, dialogue and the expression of a biblical worldview
5. Promote Creativity in the Christian Academy. Belhaven College, located in Jackson, Mississippi, USA, sent its dance students to China to live and exchange dance forms with the Chinese minority nationalities. This cultural exchange was reciprocated when the Chinese sent their best scholars to Belhaven, where they were exposed to a biblical worldview in their discipline.
6. Be Culture Formers, not Culture Escapers. Believers involved in the arts should seek to establish and lead credible cultural institutions, organizations and performing entities that can contribute to and influence the cultural landscape with artistic expressions that reflect a biblical worldview. A location containing an artist’s café, art studios and an art gallery, established by believer-artists in China, is now considered the place where Chinese artists in the city assemble to paint and dialogue about art, life and spiritual reality.
7. Be Salt and Light. Secular artists are “discipling the nations” because the Church has to a significant extent abandoned the marketplace. Christians should be encouraged to pursue their artistic calling within the secular culture—to be salt and light on the stage, in the art gallery or in the film industry.
Art at its best is a shared experience. There is no room for preaching or moralizing; rather, this is a place where potential revelation as truth can be uncovered and shown. The Church must celebrate its own story and creatively show it to a word-weary and biblically illiterate world.