Critical Book Review: A Creative Church By: Gabrielle Johnson

The history of art in the church has been a long and tumultuous one; a conflict primarily residing within Protestant churches, as they continue to wager the battle between creativity and idolatry. Beginning the late 1800s, accepted art within the churches began to increase, starting with music, and growing to include even the most secular forms of art such as dance and theater. A Creative Church, authored by Todd Smith, follows the journey of art in the modern church, noting its decline and rise, including meticulous details surrounding these events, and organizing chapters to support the author’s purpose.

The book begins with the earliest and most timeless forms of art in the church: music. Christians never stopped enjoying or endorsing music as a form of worship, but Christians were very particular about environment created by it. Even in some churches today, certain instruments and genres are prohibited. According to Martha Candler, the author of Drama in Religious Service, “Not long ago, the linking of the words ‘Christianity’ and ‘the stage’ would have offended Christian ears” (Smith 47). Since the environment created by music affects emotion, dance was rejected until the traditional Penecostal movement redefined dance as an expression of the Holy Spirit (Smith 109). It is important to note that this acceptance of this type of dance did not usher in dance as commonly accepted by churches. This form of dance was the only accepted form for many years to follow; any dance that was secular-oriented was strictly forbidden. These examples serve as bookends to the history of art in the church, as the book follows the chronological journey of its inclusion. This structural design helps the reader to envision the conviction church leaders felt over these issues for centuries because of the duration of time between each breakthrough. The author clearly supports art as an accepted form of worship in the church, as his opinion is demonstrated throughout the work, claiming that the integration of arts “is a sovereign move of the Lord” (Smith 136).

Leader in Pentecostal movement: Rev. Oral Roberts

As a collection of the progression of art over the past two centuries, Smith’s inclusion of detail is very selective. The book follows from chapter to chapter as a series of facts, largely excluding the reasons behind these dramatic transitions. The only insight to the altered philosophy of the church is mention of important events and the personal testimonies of select artists or influencers. While this exclusion of important detail is disappointing, the stories of these men and women promote the book from a history text to a relevant and modern reality. The value of the good of art is recognized in these passages, as the reader is able to recognize and identify with the struggle and passion of these characters. It is within these details that the value of art in the church is revealed. Harold Best, former dean of the Conservatory of Music at Wheaton College, wrote that “[a]rt for art’s sake is a pagan idea,” a concept that began to resonate gradually with Christians, both liberal and traditional (Best 112). If art does not glorify God, then it glorifies Satan. As a whole, the book is clear about communicating this fact as it positions Christian art as a useful vehicle for promoting the gospel. While it is true that religious art does in fact preach the gospel, the book gives no indicator of how effective its involvement in the church has been since its inclusion. Since the text is biased towards art in the church, this detail negatively impacts the author’s argument, as some conservative Christians continue to doubt art’s necessity.

As previously mentioned, the author is clearly biased toward including art in the church. Because this book is intended to simply be a factual collection of art history, the author’s mention of his personal philosophy is problematic. For Christians who still feel that art in the church is secular and idolatrous, the celebration of the progression of art’s inclusion is viewed as rejection of biblical truth. While this does not diminish the truth value of the facts included in the text, it changes the genre of the work, verging on fictitious. The assumption that art in the church is progressing in the right direction is an unfair representation of the reality of many conservative Christians today. An expert on Christian theology and art, Dr. Robin Jensen believes that current Christian art should be diluted, “decency and good order have slipped down some notches on the value scale” (Jensen 360). Additionally, the structure of the book follows a monotonous series of events, maximizing unnecessary detail. Fortunately, the book is broken up by a handful of narratives, but they are spaced out too far and fail to equate the seemingly endless list of facts. It is important to note that Smith’s writing is well-organized and allows the reader to comprehend the information effectively. However, Smith would have been wise to include more personalized stories and history.

In conclusion, A Creative Church covers the history of art in the modern church. While the book is thorough, its content and structure generally bores the reader, with the exception of the influencers’ commentaries. Smith traces art’s lineage through time, noting both the church’s fear towards art and his own opinion to create a factual, inclusive summary.

WORKS CITED

Best, Harold M. “Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts.” Downers Grove, US: IVP Books, 2009. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 22 October 2016.

Jensen, Robin M. "The Arts in Protestant Worship." Theology Today 58.3 (2001): 359-68. ProQuest. Web. 22 Oct. 2016.

Smith, Anthony Todd. A Creative Church. Kendall Hunt Publishing Company, 2015.

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