To begin the book, the author outlines how the United States was in a position where it was prepared for change at the end of the 19th century. Several events that had long histories helped to prepare the country for the change in artistic inclusion that accompanied the 1900s. One such event was the creation of a summer camp in Chautauqua, New York by John Heyl Vincent and Lewis Miller. This camp was designed to teach Sunday school teachers, and it opened the door for artistry to move into the church. In addition, singing schools had begun to appear in the United States; tent revivals also provided a place for an expression of singing. One way in which music was used in this time was to use secular songs and change the lyrics to ones outlining the principles of God; this helped people to learn and remember the music that was taught to the congregation (Cusic 57).
The author then proceeds to explain the different avenues through which the arts began to be used by the Church in America. One such development that occurred in the twentieth century took place in the area of theater. Until this time, members of the Methodist church were not allowed to attend theater performances; however, it is apparent that the church began to understand the use of drama to portray the principles of God. Suddenly many denominations and councils embraced drama and, eventually, theaters based on this purpose arose, one being Sight & Sound in Pennsylvania.
Another area in which there was an expansion was that of music. One man who helped with this progression was James Vaughan. Vaughan worked to begin his own music company, which released music books filled with his own, as well as other composers’, songs. In addition, Vaughan’s company began to send quartets across the country to different meetings. Other music companies and writers also began to become well-known and popularized what became known as southern gospel music.
A third area in which the author has outlined how the arts became prevalent within American churches was that of the visual arts. In particular, architectural bureaucracies were created for several Christian denominations in addition to the Young Men’s Christian Association. There was suddenly a focus on improving the construction of churches and their layouts. Additionally, the visual arts were used to aid in the teaching of Biblical lessons in churches. Several other developments came about at this time, including the use of comic books and film to teach Biblical principles.
One final area in which the church in America made use of the arts was through dance. Before this time of change, dancing was an activity that was not allowed by many groups of Christians. However, that began to change through the twentieth century; this was led largely by two movements, the Charismatic movement and the Jesus movement. In time, several dance organizations and schools began to arise with the goal of magnifying God through dance. And following, many colleges and universities now teach the conglomeration of theology and the arts; showing them to be intertwined. The author then goes on to outline how the arts have been utilized in the spreading of God’s principles across the globe. The Church has dealt with the issue of what was truly taught by God and what is not for some time (Ehrman 163-164). The discussions on what is appropriate in the church with regards to the arts is no exception.
I believe the thesis of the author to be that after a time of stagnation in regards to the arts in the church, there was a vast expansion of the use of the arts in the church that began near the beginning of the twentieth century. The author uses illustrations to describe the prior opinions towards forms of art before this time of change, such as with dancing, and then proceeds to describe how leaders in the fields guided the way to an explosion of groups and denominations that utilized that form of expression. The author also describes several occurrences that helped in the transition of the Church in this country to a higher opinion of the arts.
I would say that I generally agree with the author’s thesis. He appears to present a substantial amount of facts and examples to support his descriptions of change throughout world history. It would be difficult to argue with such descriptions given the amount of evidence that is presented in the book, provided that it is correct. I would also say that I enjoyed taking an overview of the book. While I was aware of some of the parts of history that were described, my mind was opened to a much wider range of the arts that are utilized by the Church today. It was interesting to learn more of the recent history of the Church and to gain an understanding of how some changes occurred.
Cusic, Don. The Sound of Light: A History of Gospel Music. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State U Popular, 1990. Print.
Ehrman, Bart D. Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew. New York: Oxford UP, 2003. Print.
Smith, Anthony Todd. Creative Church: The Arts and a Century of Renewal. Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt, 2015. Print.
All thoughts not otherwise cited are in reference to A Creative Church by Todd Smith.