Critical Book Review - A Creative Church, by Todd Smith Michael Pursel - Arts 105-001

Todd Smith, author of A Creative Church, serves as the Chair of the Studio and Digital Arts Department at Liberty University. The book, A Creative Church, is an overview of the arts as they characterize the modern Christian world through the nineteenth through twentieth centuries. In the introduction, Smith notes that the Church and its coinciding Christian arts has been a part of his life from a young age. In college, Smith became fascinated by the arts as they collide with theology and culture. His studies combined with a lengthy track record of experience in the arts paved the way for his work, A Creative Church, to be written. The purpose of the work, as described by Smith, is, “to cover the most important background developments beginning in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century to the present that gave rise to what I believe has been a century of arts renewal in the church”. This statement is essentially the thesis of A Creative Church, and this book review will serve to assess the validity of Smith’s statement – that there has indeed been a renewal of the arts in the church throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Smith, Anthony Todd. A Creative Church; the Arts and A Century of Renewal. Dubuque: Kendall Hunt Publishing Co., 2014. Print.

One presupposition that needs to be made before one reviews any particular work or category of artistic nature, is what qualifies art to be art. As for Smith, it is unclear exactly what his definition of art is, but based on the content of his overview and his unapologetic reference to said content as art, his qualifications could be either broad or narrow. He makes very clear points that might suggest his method to qualifying art in the Church as true art. At the end of the section, Global Arts Networks and Renewal, Smith makes a noteworthy statement:

“From its inception, the church has used art and artists to tell the story of the gospel, and thereby shape culture. Throughout the twentieth century the church has witnessed the impact of Creatives who have heard the call to art as a vocation. Across a wide range of cultures this message has been expressed in multiple art forms” (Smith, 146).

This quotation opens the door for number of comments to be made about Smith’s position on art through the ages. One might note a number of implications – firstly, Smith points out that art in the Church has shaped culture. He also refers to Christian artists throughout the book as “Creatives” who have spiritual gifts.

These are rich talking points. It is debatable whether culture shapes art, or art shapes culture. In the context of this particular quotation, who is to say that either art or culture had the first impact on the Church? This is a valid question, assuming that Creatives are in fact, recipients of divine gifts – which Smith takes no significant stance on in his overview. A theologian might ask, does man hold any creative power within himself, apart from God? What Smith does note, is the prevalence of culture over the work of Christian artists. At the beginning of the Visual Arts chapter, Smith does not hesitate to note the still-prevalent external influence over modern Christian visual arts when he states, “Changing economic, social, political, and religious conditions on the national and international stage helped Creatives determine what to design and build” (Smith, 86). It is clear that Smith assumes some inspiration comes from around the artist, as opposed to within the artist at work – even in Christian circles.

Smith follows the block quote above with some other great talking points. He states that, “in many ways these individuals have attempted, through prayer, calling and love for God, to embody an aesthetic that appealed to both the natural and spiritual. Collectively, their art has formed a global movement that is shaping villages, cities, states and nations” (Smith, 147). Only the last part of this quotation is limited to the modern age. It is clear that the Church, for many centuries, have heralded the same themes throughout all major artistic endeavors. Arguably the most notable “movement” in the modern Church, is that of Christian music. Smith definitely takes a friendly, objective stance on this topic – which many traditionalists can get fiery about. Smith seems to appraise all forms of the musical arts, stating that they, “are indicative of movements within the field of music intended to express the message of the gospel. Using a variety of styles, media, and venues, these Creatives have been heard by millions of people around the world” (Smith, 76). From what it seems, Smith has no problem with any Christian art form, considering it as art that is also effective in shaking up change in an age old Church.

Overall the book, A Creative Church, has been an intriguing and educational read. As Smith explores the history of art through the modern Church, he makes concise notes on the development of theatre, music, visual arts, and dance throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century church. To the reader’s benefit, he includes notes from critical figures of insight per topic. To conclude, Smith makes a comprehensive analysis of the theological and cultural collide between art and the Church.

Bibliography

Kleiner, Fred S. Art through the Ages; A Concise Global History. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2013. Print.

Patricios, Nicholas N. The sacred architecture of Byzantium : art, liturgy and symbolism in early Christian churches. London: I.B.Tauris & Co. Ltd, 2013. Print.

Smith, Anthony Todd. A Creative Church; the Arts and A Century of Renewal. Dubuque: Kendall Hunt Publishing Co., 2014. Print.

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