The idea of Christian artists has raised a multitude of questions amongst believers as well as unbelievers. But the truth is that artists may just have the greatest influence on society out of anyone.
In all honesty, whether one appreciates any of the various forms of art (i.e. paintings, sculptures, photography, music, dance, performance art, creative writing, media, etc.) or not, they are bound to witness it at one point or another. Music, for instance, is something that one uses to express oneself, but it also is a form of communication and for the most part, hearing it is something that one would have troubling avoiding. So, there you have it, art may just be the biggest influence on us all.
“A Creative Church” by Todd Smith is a book that can easily be considered an excellent read for artistic and creative Christians. Overall, the book covers many forms of art as well as the development within the church throughout the centuries. The types of art that are covered throughout the book include music, singing, theatre, visual arts, and other global art forms. Todd Smith also writes about the philosophy and theology of these various art forms and how they relate to and influence the church throughout the centuries. In the past centuries, education of these arts through exclusive revival meetings and summer camps was a large part of the Christian society. Smith researches and represents multiple congregations and church denominations as well as the personal accounts of a plethora of Christian artists, performers, and musicians. When reading this book, at least three major themes stood out to me: the role the arts play in the church, how creative and artistic people of the church have used their artistic gifts and abilities to create works of art to glorify God, and lastly, how Christians used these various art forms to spread the goodness of God to others.
The first major theme of “A Creative Church” by Todd Smith is the determination of the role that the arts should or shouldn’t play in the church, as well as what role they already do play. To put it simply, various forms of art and different denominations of the church have most definitely influenced each other in the turn of the centuries. Forms of visual arts, musical arts, and theatrical arts, for instance, have developed and changed throughout the centuries. As William A. Dyrness writes in his book, “Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue”, he speaks of when Christianity was beginning to be recognized and what the overall impact of it was, “Once Christianity was recognized (by the Edict of Milan in 313), buildings were built specifically as churches, and they were adorned with mosaics” (27). I believe that overall, ultimately the artists hold a significant amount of influence. In other words, it will be the artists and the creatives who as Christians, reach out to others, unbelievers, in society in new and interesting ways that intrigue and educate them of the truth of Jesus Christ that He is our Lord and Savior. Dyrness continues to write about the role that creative Christian artists played in the church, “Again, artists made use of Greek and Roman imagery that was common in secular art, but what they did with this vocabulary is striking” (28). I think that this is the role that the arts should play in the church; that artists and creatives should use their gifts to communicate to the world the goodness and truth of God.
Another very obvious theme of Todd Smith’s book is based on how creative people of the church have used their gifts to create work that glorifies God throughout the centuries. The people of the church seem to embrace and engage in these art forms more and more as time goes on and as a result, culture and society evolves, and even more importantly, the church thrives. In Madeleine L'Engle’s book called “Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art”, she talks about using our artistic abilities not only for the glory of God, but to almost feel connected to God, “In art, either as creators or participators, we are helped to remember some of the glorious things we have forgotten, and some of the terrible things we are asked to endure, we who are children of God by adoption and grace” (10). This quote from L’Engle’s book is a perfect example of how artistic and creative Christians feel connected with God when they participate in art, especially if creativity in any of the multiple art forms is a gift that God has given them. Art, then, would be one way to glorify and even worship our Lord. In “Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue”, Dyrness talks about how early Christians used their artwork to communicate the truth of Jesus Christ, “Taking over the imagery of Imperial Rome, these artists portrayed Christ as the new Emperor, communicating that he reigns over all, just as the earthly emperor reigns over the earthly political system” (28). Personally, I think that all forms of art are a wonderful way to serve back to God. As Creatives and artists we should not just tell others of the truth of Jesus Christ, but we should show them using our gifts that God has given us.
Lastly, one other represented theme of “A Creative Church” is more specifically based on not just the fact that Christians use their creative gifts to glorify God, but rather how exactly they did so and how they used these various art forms to spread the gospel. In the beginning of the book by Todd Smith, he speaks of the late nineteenth century developments and how they would set the stage for the growth of the arts in the twentieth century. For instance, John Heyl Vincent created a summer camp located in Chautaqua, New York with a mission of catering to a wide variety of arts. While educating those interested in these numerous art forms was one of the obvious goals of the summer camp, another imperative goal of Vincent’s was having an evangelistic approach in doing so. In chapter one of Smith’s book, he references what the multiple camp meetings were like, “While the main purpose of these gatherings was evangelistic, they provided an environment for talented Creatives to present a variety of musical genres and styles such as solos, quartets, and choirs, accompanied by both standard and experimental instruments” (15).
In conclusion, “A Creative Church” by Todd Smith is one of many great Christian reads that shows how artists and creatives in the church have communicated the truth of Jesus Christ through their work and artistic abilities. The other works by Madeleine L’Engle and William A. Dyrness also are excellent examples of how early and modern Christians used their work for the glory of God as well. Overall, I believe that artists in the church most likely have the most influence amongst the world and that art is a powerful form of creative and deep communication of the truth of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.