"A Creative Church" Book Review

Todd Smith’s book, A Creative Church: The Arts and a Century of Renewal is a unique work of literature. This book does not appear to be meant for entertainment; and if it is meant to instruct, then it does so in an unorthodox manner. What this book appears to do is give an organized list of Christian artists and art organizations that have appeared over the last hundred years. While the list-like structure of this book does make things repetitive, Smith does a great job at conveying the extent of acceptance the arts gained during this time, as well as showing how the arts fit were viewed by Christian artists.

While Smith’s A Creative Church is not a bad book, its list-like structure can make things seem repetitive. Most of the book consists of Smith introducing a sample of Christian artists and organizations that were important to the church’s renewed interest in the arts. The main chapters have few narrative elements and the facts given are not very diverse, consisting mostly of an introduction to who they are, what they did, and occasionally what awards they won. This formula is simple and informative, but it makes it difficult to keep the readers’ attention as it feels like they are reading the same information with different details. Occasionally, Smith has sub-chapters called “Pioneer Creative Catalyst’s Stories” which basically give condensed biographies of important artists. These chapters are easier to read as they do not have as much repetitive information and go more in depth with their stories and motivations. For the most part, though, the repetitive nature of how this book is organized can make it difficult to follow.

One of the positive aspects of Smith’s A Creative Church is how well he conveys the extent of acceptance the arts have gained in the Church over the last hundred years. In the introduction, Smith claims, “This book is not intended to be an exhaustive treatment of the movement, but rather a popular approach to the topic. In many ways, this effort is like an impressionist painting, we have to step back a bit to see the big picture” (X). Smith does manage to capture the big picture by the sheer number of artists he brings up in his book. In the chapters of this book, cultural context is brought up only briefly, allowing the vast majority of the book to be dedicated to the artists themselves. Colin Harbinson in his article, “For Such a Time as This,” hints to the reason for this growth: “The time has come to envision, teach and mentor the next generation of gifted artists, who will journey to places these visionaries only dreamed about” (3). This renewal in the arts in the Church is mainly due to certain individuals who taught others their views of how faith and art interact, allowing those individuals they taught to in turn teach others. Smith alludes to the importance of teaching by also including organizations, camps, and schools among individual artists. Smith’s decision in showing all of these artists and organizations expertly shows the increase in interest of the arts in the church.

Finally, Smith’s A Creative Church does a good job of showing how the artists mentioned viewed art from a Christian worldview. Very early in the book, Smith points out, “A common thread among these groups … is to glorify God and engage culture through a renewal of artistic expression” (X). The artists presented in this book used art as a tool to do what God told them to do. There are certain qualities of art that make it valuable and God-glorifying, and the artists shown in this book saw that. In an article studying C.S. Lewis’ views on art, Charlie W. Starr explains why art is so valuable: “Call it aesthetic transportation, call it imaginative transformation; it is an experience of wonder evoked in the imagination by film (or other art forms). It is an experience which delights us, transports us, entertains us, and fills us with an understanding of something larger than ourselves” (356). Art engages individuals and allows them to experience things they might not otherwise experience; and the artists in Smith’s book wanted to use that unique aspect of art for God’s purposes. The impact they made as a result is clearly evident or else Smith would not have included them in the book.

Todd Smith's book, A Creative Church: The Arts and a Century of Renewal, may be difficult to read due to its list-like nature, but its clear communication of the extent of acceptance the arts have gained in the church and how Christian artists view their trade redeem it. Its portrayal of how the Church has increasingly used art for God's purpose over the last century is a good reminder of how Christians should engage the world instead of running from it. Smith's book calls attention to those artists that used art to glorify God, and has the capacity to encourage future Christian artists to do the same.

Bibliography

Harbinson, Colin. “For Such a Time as This.” Creative Spirit: A Journal of the Arts & Faith, vol. 4, no. 3, Sep. 2006, p. 3. Humanities International Complete, ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=hlh&AN=22558173&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

Smith, Todd. A Creative Church: The Arts and a Century of Renewal. Kendall Hunt publishing company, 2014.

Starr, Charlie W. “Faith Without Film is Dull: C. S. Lewis Corrects Evangelicals on Art, Movies, and Worldview Analysis.” Christian Scholar’s Review, vol. 40, no. 4, Summer 2011, pp. 355-74. Academic Search Complete, ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=64138862&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

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