Smith begins his book, “A Creative Church” by highlighting several key events that provided a significant platform for the expansion of artistic expression, beginning in the United States. These key events took place throughout the transition from the 19th to 20th century, a time preceded by the cultural influence being dominated by the American Protestant Church. The church prohibited its congregation from artistic expression, a prohibition that was on the brink of reform. A major event leading to this shift in culture and religious tradition was the initiation of a summer camp for Sunday School teachers in Chautauqau, New York in 1874. The camp, founded by John Heyl Vincent and Lewis Miller, began to integrate artistic expression as a tool for teaching biblical principles. This “tool” would soon exponentially expand throughout the nation, leading to the Chautauqau Society of Fine Arts, and providing a platform for cultural acceptance of artistic expression. Chautauqau, popular singing schools, and various “leaders of intellect” ushered in an era of artistic expression in a time synonymous to a transcendent societal need for reform. These factors, noted by Smith in his first chapter, would lead to a worldwide movement of artistic expression.
Following his introduction to the factors involved in the expansion of the arts, Smith addresses the major advocates for the Creatives, and the progression of integrating the arts into the church and education system. Smith, in detail, explains the roles of certain organizations that advocated for the integration. Two major organization were the Religious Education Association and the Federal Council of Churches for Christ in America. He then goes into great detail of the implementation of the arts in Universities throughout the nation. It appears that Smith is attempting to appropriately convey the influence of the arts of the progression of the American culture and society in a way that had often been underestimated. Smith highlights changes over the 20th century to legislation, religious associations, and the education system that were products of an expanding culture of artistic expression.
Smith goes on to break down the influence of several key art forms that played significant roles in society, giving an entire chapter to each in order to sufficiently address the various paths each form took in their development. These major forms of expression included theatre, music, visual arts, and dance. Each of these art forms were addressed in detail while highlighting their societal roles along with their roles in leading to a creative church. Each of these forms underwent progression in society as well as religion and became common forms of biblical teachings and worship. The church began to utilize the power of these influences which in turn allowed a more readily available form of expression and worshiping God. The use of art in its various forms is capable of strengthening a worldview, casting a new perspective on details and aspects once overlooked. (Ryken) Smith essentially used his book about the development of art in the church as art itself, bringing to light aspects of religious progression once ignored.
Example of combining imagery and scripture to create an impact.
Smith revealed through his breakdown of the influence of art forms on Christianity, how each form has developed into its own ministry tool that has expanded the paths to evangelizing. Each form of art is unique in its expression of Christianity and creates a pure and specific portrayal of God. Smith goes on to address the “intersection” of theology, education and art. Smith uses this chapter to name various and growing institutions that implement the power of the arts in teaching. Detailed lists of these institution, universities and associations provide a clear example of the increased integration of the arts from local to international levels. While this section may seem monotonous to a reader in an overview, Smith had specific intentions with lengthiness of such a list. He revealed that gravity of artistic expression as an influence and related the influence to common “big name” institutions to make the correlation inevitable. Smith further address the specific and varying forms of expression within each denomination of the Christian church. This section of the book can be interpreted as providing examples of the unanimous nature of artistic influence while highlighting the variance within the possible ways such expression can be applied to the Christian church. The following chapter covers the possibilities, on an international outreach level, of the arts when it comes to expanding the Kingdom of God. Art in its varying forms has allowed for an influence that transcends societal, cultural, and even language barriers. As Christians, the church has a responsibility to seize this opportunity for international evangelism. Smith gives specific examples of the church using the arts in outreach programs.
“Art is one way, but more than just one way, in which human beings negotiate the fragile interface between matter and meaning, the interface along which significance is variously traced, grasped, and fashioned.” (Hart) The last chapter of the book adds a personal touch to the ties between art, Christianity, and personal development. While the preceding information seemed statistical in nature, the last chapter ties together the gravity of the influence of artistic expression in regards to the Christian faith. Smith gives his personal account of the influence art had on him as a person and his faith. I believe the thesis of the book is found here. While the majority of the book gave in depth information regarding the development, influence, and progression of the arts; the overall purpose of such detailed information is in the impact art has on all aspects of life. I believe Smith’s thesis was that people, societies, and cultures, although heavily variant, all have one thing in common and that is a God given desire for expression. Art is the greatest tool given to man to express ourselves and our love for God and his creation. There has been a desire within the hearts of man to express the interworking aspects of the nature of life since the beginning or recorded history. While often undermined and overlooked, the expression of art has played possibly the most influential role in the progression of the world. As Christians, learning to accept and utilize this tool is necessary to reach the potential of evangelical influence to those who need it the most. “A Creative Church,” while providing clear evidence of weight of cultural influence, encompasses and deeper and beautiful portrayal of the possibilities and this God given form of expression.