Creative Church a critical review

Basic knowledge of how art and culture mingle is crucial to understanding and appreciating fine arts in any form. Art impacts culture and culture impacts art; therefore, it only makes sense that the same is true of religion and art. Religion is a tremendously diverse cultural variant. It is important for Christian students to learn about the history of art in the church and observe how it impacts corporate worship, church settings, and liturgy in the current era. Todd Smith’s book A Creative Church: The Arts and a Century of Renewal allows readers to do just that, and after reading it, I have come to a greater understanding of art’s influence in the church.

A Creative Church, published in 2014, summarizes the activity of fine arts in the church. It specifically recounts the impact of theatre, music, visual arts, and dance (Smith vii). There are also several smaller sections devoted to specific artists and their impact on church culture. These people are referred to as “pioneer creatives,” and include Bill Drake and Sandra Bowden (vii). Most of the real discussion surrounding the development of art in the church occurs at the very beginning and very end of Smith’s book. The first two sections consider nineteenth-century artists and the renewal of art in church settings, and the last two sections consider the ties between theology, art, and education, as well as denominational, congregational, and global differences (viii).

Smith’s book seems to impart a vast wealth of information as well as interpretation of how those artists and art forms mentioned have changed Christian culture over the years.

If the reader is willing to invest time and thought, they will learn a great deal; their understanding of how the artistic church came to be the way it presently is will become clearer.

One aspect of A Creative Church that I enjoyed is how Todd Smith describes the intersection of theology, education, and art in the seventh chapter (119). The author spends over one hundred pages depicting church art history and current events in several variations of the fine arts. After these practical, factual chapters, he takes the opportunity to reunite the history of church art with its present state when he discusses several well-known institutions that offer educational opportunities for students interested in church art.

Smith mentions Duke Divinity School’s Institute for Theology, Imagination, and the Arts, modeled after the University of St. Andrew’s department of the same name and founded by Jeremy Begbie almost ten years ago (Smith 120-21).

Duke Chapel in Durham, NC

A few more notable names from this chapter include Yale’s Institute of Sacred Music and School of Divinity, as well as the doctoral degree in Christianity and the Arts available from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (123).

In his article “Response: The Church and Art,” Notre Dame professor Alfred J. Freddoso asserts that just as the church needs art, so does art need the church (216). He refers to a work of Pope John Paul II entitled Letter to Artists. In this letter, the Pope waxes eloquent about the connection between virtue, which he calls “habitual doing-well,” and art, which he calls “habitual making well (Freddoso 213).”

He later suggests that all art has the potential ability to enhance one’s faith or spiritual experience, because all art, whether the artist intended it, points to the perfect beauty and righteousness of the invisible God.

In the article, Freddoso remembers a time when he attended a mass that was held in a very plain setting, free from music and ornate decorations. He describes how he struggled to believe that, during this mass, he was truly worshipping God alongside the angels in heaven. He then tells about a mass held in a great cathedral, one with grand architecture, surreally beautiful images of saints, a powerful pipe organ, and masterfully made stained-glass windows. At this mass, he feels a powerful sense of worship and awe in the presence of God. He describes the event as one that caused worshippers to “palpably… ‘see’ otherwise unseen realities (215).”

Freddoso concludes by suggesting that, for art to be fulfilling and truly inspiring, it must direct those who observe it to Christ (216). In other words, art needs the church to find meaning beyond aesthetic appreciation.

Rosa Giorgi’s 2008 guide to artistic church elements is called The History of the Church in Art. In it, Giorgi bases the information she presents off her argument that “[A] knowledge of church history and an explanation and clarification of symbols and conventions in terms of … their time and place is critical to a fuller appreciation of the art (The Art Book 77).” This supports Todd Smith’s understanding of church art, which is one that emphasizes context and culture.

Certainly, the church has changed with time and culture, and subsequently so has church art.

Based on their publications, all three authors mentioned—Smith, Freddoso, and Giorgi—appear to agree that to fully appreciate church art, one must understand how, why, where, when, and through whom it came to exist.

Todd Smith offers this information to his readers in A Creative Church, showing them that no matter what denomination or even what nation a Christian comes from, the arts have the capability to influence one’s spirituality, in both individual and corporate settings.


Created with images by coyot - "brush brushes art" • czaro85 - "stained glass window church temple" • MIH83 - "background old fashioned music" • nayukim - "Playing piano" • Pexels - "altar arches architecture" • Suzie T - "Duke University Chapel" • amelungc - "Peabody Museum" • Boston Public Library - "The Chapel, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky." • pompi - "the rosary bible the scriptures" • werner22brigitte - "blue red painted" • tpsdave - "church sculpture faith" • Clownhouse III - "IMG_0625" • kmckaskle - "communion wafers christianity" • Tobyotter - "Baptized" • Berzin - "dance silhouette sun"

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