Critical Book Review A Creative Church by Todd Smith

The combination of art and religion has long been one that has struggled to strike a harmonious balance. From Iconoclasm to the Enlightenment, art has gone from being revered in the church to being condemned, and then back again. This is especially seen in the reformation as the Protestant Church attempts to forge its own path and abolish the gaudy, frivolous, Catholic decorations and architecture. In A Creative Church, Todd Smith illustrates this long and bumpy integration of art into the modern church, and the surrounding events that influenced it. I enjoyed the way Smith showed in a combination of vivid detail and broad overview how arts and the church have drawn influence from one another throughout history, and thought this book was a very interesting and easy to follow read.

In the beginning of the 19th Century, almost all art forms were banned from use in the church. Certain instruments were even banned. In Ancient Worship Wars: An Investigation of Conflict in Church Music History, Michael J Wood states, “At the worst, instruments were seen as disrespectful to the Creator who gave all people voices”. Wood also notes though, how many wrestled with the references to instruments in the Old Testament, and those arguments are what lead to the incorporation of more instruments into modern church music. This history of incorporation of more instruments and musical styles is followed in even greater detail by Todd Smith. One of the first major revolutions described by Smith begins with John Heyl Vincent coming onto the scene. He found this notion of arts and the church having to be separate to be preposterous. He set out to change the way the arts were perceived by teaching Sunday school teachers to use art forms. Vincent’s work began the integration of all types of art forms that are used in the church today. Todd Smith does an excellent job of outlining all of these, from the obvious use of worship music to less traditional mediums such as comic books, ballet, and Veggie Tales.

A Creative Church is split up into chapters that follow the individual struggles of the pioneers, Like Vincent, that try to implement each art form in the church in the coming 20th century. This separation of each art form into sections was really beneficial for me while I was reading because they were all so detail heavy and rich with history. It was much easier to keep straight who was involved in what art form because they were split into sections, rather than entirely chronological. This extremely improved the book’s readability for me and allowed Smith to pack as much into each section without having to sacrifice space explaining to which discipline they belonged.

Even today the church still struggles to find its footing in the artistic scene. Jon Bowles, in Art and Faith: Reclaiming the Artistic Essence of the Church, describes his experience in planting a church in an art district. Bowles states, “I realized that reality was perceived by many as split. One cloth, torn in two. Or perhaps differing cloths altogether. If art and faith was the immediate scenery, everyone seemed to be wearing bifocals”. This debate between art and the church and whether they can harmoniously coexist is still relevant today, which makes A Creative Church an extremely relevant book. One relevant topic Smith addresses is contemporary Christian music. In the 60s and 70s, a huge shift in music, especially among the youth, took place. Today we see churches such as Hillsong and Bethel, gaining worldwide popularity because of their more contemporary, different sounding music. It is very important to be well educated on a topic before choosing a side and this book does just that. Todd Smith does a great job of providing an overview of how and why artistic movements throughout church history have taken place. It is a great book to learn something new from.

Smith though, does let a bit of bias slip into the book. He sees the arts as a vital part of worship and seems to encourage their integration. This most likely comes from his background as the chair of studio arts and director of the art gallery at Liberty University. While this bias does not effect any of the history presented throughout the book and does not make the facts any less true, it does diminish his credibility slightly. There is a very real other side of this argument, and that needs to be respected.

Overall, Smith does a great job overviewing the tumultuous relationship between the arts and the church. The organization makes it an extremely easy to understand and enjoyable read. The book also is written on a topic that has recently continued to be at the forefront of Christianity with rise of Christian contemporary music, making it extremely relevant. This is a go to book for anyone looking to learn more about where these changes stem from. I am sure that everyone can learn something new from Smith’s work. Hopefully one day the arts and the church will be able to strike a beautiful harmony, and hopefully Smith will be there to document it.

Works Cited

Bowles, Jon. Art and Faith: Reclaiming the Artistic Essence of the Church. Kansas City, US: Beacon Hill Press, 2014. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 1 May 2017.

Smith, Anthony Todd. Creative Church: The Arts and a Century of Renewal. Dubuque, IA:Kendall Hunt, 2015. Print.

Wood, Michael J. "Ancient Worship Wars: An Investigation of Conflict in Church Music History." Musical Offerings 5.2 (2014): 3.

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