A Creative Church: The Arts and A Century of Renewal is a work by Todd Smith which compiles the endeavors of many individuals and groups to shape Christianity through art. Some basic themes found throughout the book include using art to worship, to connect with other Christians and to connect with non-believers for evangelistic purposes. The scope of the book begins in late 19th century to present day and is mostly constrained to the artistic movement inside the United States. The last chapter highlights global art initiatives because of the influence of initiatives in the U.S.
Some recurring motifs through the work are the artists' desire to connect with God using art as a form of worship. This was the essence of Henry Turner Bailey’s quote when he noted that “Protestants [were] beginning to wonder if their God [was] not the same now that he was when he Bezaleel the son of Uri and ‘filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship…’” (T. Smith). Since the artful construction of the Tabernacle was a most holy and sacred anointing during the time Bezaleel, then it can still be viewed as holy worship in the present day. Thus, art may be considered as worship if it is outflowing of the Holy Spirit, in same way that Bezaleel was inspired.
Another basic theme was art’s ability to bring unity to the church; many believed it was a form of worship to the Lord. Many forms of art require team work to reach a level of highest excellence. So, when creatives began working together on their projects and initiatives, this led unity in the church. Many different groups (dance groups, theater troupes, etc.) were born from these unions.
The third basic theme that can be noted throughout the book was the potential for art to be evangelistic. People began to realize the huge impact that art had on culture. By the mid-1900s, music festivals were becoming increasingly popular throughout the nation. They brought people together, and held people’s attention. The inclusion of artistic endeavors into the church life also drew many new types of people to the church. Leaders in the church began to realize art’s ability to communicate a message to people. Thus, they began to advocate the use of art for outreach and evangelism, by sharing the message of the gospel through art.
The author excellently outlined the various initiatives taken on by different artists, and the impact of their undertakings. It is a good source for an overview of events that took place in the different types of art including theater, music, visual arts, and dance. However, the book lacked an in-depth analysis of the underlying causes that led the movement. Smith briefly points out that the separation of church and art had its roots in the Protestant Reformation.
I related well with the “pioneer creatives” stories. These are excerpt auto-biographies of artists who played major roles in the development of the art initiative. These blurbs recount the life of the artist and their personal struggle with reuniting art with church life. These may have resonated with me because of how closely they resembled some tensions I have experienced growing up as an artist in a predominantly traditional church.
A very compelling aspect of the book was its emphasis on worship in various other forms besides the use of words. By exploring and propagating other ways to make the Lord famous, the church can engage different people in the community. As Linda Rayner, the Fresh Expressions Coordinator for the United Reformed Church, quotes to Reformed Magazine, when the church keeps “offering variations of the same old thing, we’re going to keep getting the same old response—from the same people” (Tomkins). In that sense, this book is helpful for gathering ideas of past projects to stimulate ideas about engaging the community.