An Excerpt of Lausanne Occasional Paper 46: Redeeming the Arts: The Restoration of the Arts to God’s Creational Intention
For the Lausanne Movement to recognize the arts as strategic to the life and mission of the church, and to commission a paper about the arts in the context of faith and redemption, is both visionary and long overdue. Apart from a small number of important voices, the church as a whole has been virtually silent on the topic for generations. There is an evident need to find ways to speak of the intrinsic value of the arts, what they are able to contribute to our faith communities and the cultures in which we live, and the unique ways in which they are able to move our spirit and shape our thinking.
Evangelical communities have been inclined to neglect the arts. There are of course many reasons for this tendency; it will be suggested that those reasons include common theological understandings and ways of thinking about spiritual life. However, in recent years a growing number of these same communities have begun to manifest a new interest in the arts and have made significant moves forward in engaging the arts in the life of the church. To be sure, it has not been a total transformation, but the signs are clear that a renaissance in the arts is taking place among churches in the west. Though non-western cultures integrate the arts more effectively, many of their faith communities have been westernized, and so follow similar patterns regarding the arts.
The task of global evangelism is a task of communication. It is evident that art, too, is about communication. The way in which art communicates is of course unique to the medium, but the power of the arts to move us, engage us, and help us to see with fresh eyes is indisputable. But we will want to suggest that art is not simply a tool or a piece of technology to be used for a predetermined purpose. The integrity of both art and the artist require something more.
The task undertaken in Act I is to provide perspective on the biblical and theological foundations for understanding the creative gift as manifest in human artistry. Imagination has been neglected as a resource for helping us to think more clearly about the world. As a result, we have impoverished Christian thinking and understanding. The time has come for Christians to recover the imagination and to discern its value for faith and life. The arts are one of the key areas where the imagination does its work, and as we will point out later, faith is another area where imagination plays a significant role.
As we explore the arts, looking particularly at the need for education, we will consider biblical foundations and strategies for developing our understanding of these gifts.
There is a need for a paradigm shift in how we view the arts—a fresh vision to help us understand how the recovery of the imagination and the affirmation of the gift of artistic creativity can be both celebrative and significant for the church. The biblical narrative serves as the context for the shaping of our theological understanding, and the resulting theology will have implications for all aspects of human life, including the arts.
In setting out biblical and theological foundations, we are concerned to do so in a way that provides not only fresh thinking, but also new practice. What we seek here is not simply a set of ideas, but a living word with the power to change and transform. We will explore how our understanding of scripture and of theology profoundly influences how we engage in the practice of our faith. Our concern will be about our practice as it relates to the arts.
In Act II we look at the artist in spiritual community. Our focus will be the discipleship of the artist shaped by a kingdom view. It will encompass the calling, mentoring, training, empowerment, and support of artists as uniquely gifted and vital parts of the Body of Christ—who like us all are called to work under the lordship of Christ, the creative Head of the Body which is the church.
To understand discipleship for artists as participants in the church’s mission in the world, we need to understand with more empathy and perspective some of the key issues that affect their involvement. Among the issues to be considered are:
- Attitudes of the church toward the arts and of artists toward the church
- The struggles of the artist with authority, freedom, and accountability
- The nature of artistic language (the way art “speaks”)
- The inspiration or empowerment of artists by the Holy Spirit
- How we understand the nature of the creative process itself
- The impact of “non-contextual” attempts at mission on indigenous art.
The church today faces a different kind of world—one that has undergone profound changes in the past fifty years and continues to change at a rapid pace. Few people anywhere can avoid the realities of the information and artistic media that shape our everyday environment. At a time when communication has abandoned the age of the orator, we now find ourselves, culturally speaking, in the age of the artist.
With spiritual and cultural transformation as desired outcomes, Act III will examine the place of the arts within culture, the importance of indigenous and contextualized artistic expression, the role of the arts in evangelism and missions, the need for Christians to practice their art in the marketplace, and the significant contribution the arts can make to the process of personal healing and social change. We must state here that art, in and of itself, cannot transform; only Christ can transform the human condition. With that clarification as context, we can show that the arts allow for diversity as they “witness” in verbal and nonverbal ways to the truth about the human condition and incarnationally “show” God’s redemptive purposes. They can also draw people to Christ when linked to acts of compassion and service. The arts enable cross-cultural and cross-generational communication and contextualization. Social and economic barriers can be overcome through collaborative art making, and arts used in therapies can invigorate health and healing.
Jesus consistently invited people to use their imaginations, to allow the images He presented to come alive, and to find meaning within those imaginings. He recognized that words or commands were insufficient. In order for people to make changes, they must first be able to imagine what is possible. Human transformative activity depends upon a transformed imagination. We will illustrate that this is especially true in at-risk and impoverished communities or groups of displaced and broken people, where the arts can reinvigorate a sense of personal and social responsibility. Healing can come through safe, accepted, and celebrated personal and communal expression.
Before Act I begins, a few clarifications are necessary:
Creativity—Not only the Arts
We will refer to creativity and imagination throughout this document. We want to make clear at the outset that human creativity and the power to imagine are gifts that show up in various ways in all walks of life. We readily affirm that the creative gift is manifest in areas of life that are far removed from what we call the “arts.” In fact, it is difficult to think of any aspect of life where creativity and imagination are absent. It is an essential capacity for ordinary living and in one way or another touches all that we do. Having said that, we clearly acknowledge that there are those who are endowed by the Creator in a special and sometimes extraordinary way and are called to serve Him in the obedient exercise of their artistic abilities. It is this group of gifted believers that will be our primary focus.
How We Define “Art”
We want to set out in simple terms what we mean by art. At the very least we want to say that the making of art is a creative activity that calls for skill and imagination. Art at its best always invites us to see things in fresh ways and is able to move us to the truth about things. It can also have great value in bringing order to the chaos of life and helping us understand our own humanity and the world around us. We want to affirm that art making is a gift which reflects in humanity something of the image of God, and, when done well, has a humanizing influence in the places in which it is practiced. The terms “art” or “the arts” as we use them encompass the literary arts, visual arts, drama, dance, and music. The creative engagement of the media arts (including film and video) can also be included here, although they will not be directly referenced in this paper.
“Christian Art”? “Christian Artists”?
The commonly used phrase “Christian art” is plagued with a host of meanings that can either help or hinder our understanding. To avoid confusion, we will prefer to talk about art that contains a Christian worldview, and we suggest that such art will in some way resonate with the narrative of scripture. It will speak the truth about the world and the human condition—with or without content that is recognizably or overtly Christian in nature—and it will be done with integrity and imagination.
While some artistically gifted believers like to be called “Christian artists” (mostly in the contemporary Christian music arena), other Christians, particularly artists who work in the marketplace, consider it an unhelpful and inaccurate designation that implies that their creative work will contain only Christian symbolism and subject matter. Such phrases can unintentionally reinforce the notion that a work of art is only valuable in relation to its usefulness, particularly in the cause of gospel proclamation—an idea we do not want to endorse.
A Trinitarian Foundation
It should be noted that in shaping this paper, the doctrine of the Trinity provided a guiding framework. In our modern setting, we have tended to think of God as a powerful individual who creates, rather than as a loving community of three creating in relationship. We see parallels between the arts-related matters we address and the activities of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each person of the Trinity engages the world in a significant and unique way.
Father: Son: Holy Spirit
Revelation: Incarnation: Reconciliation
Rational: Sensual: Relational
Education: Discipleship: Transformation
God the Father has spoken to us through theological reflection on the biblical narrative, and it is that reflective understanding of His revelation that calls us to the challenge of education—so that we might deepen our understanding of God, the world, and ourselves.
In the coming of Jesus the Son we have the embodied presence of God in the world, which in turn affirms the sensual nature of our humanity. At the same time, we as followers of Jesus are called to be His embodied presence in the world through our faithful, obedient discipleship.
Guided by divine revelation, motivated and shaped by the incarnate life of Jesus, we are to collaborate with the Holy Spirit to bear the fruit of personal and cultural transformation, so that in the end all things will be reconciled to God.
The rational, sensual, and relational aspect of God’s self-revelation in the work of the Trinity sets a pattern for our understanding of the world and needs to impact how we view the kingdom of God. Creativity that is shaped by Christian faith and imagination will, with maturity, integrate layers of these three elements into its human art making, as we will explain further in Act II.
Finally, like the filmmaker who must discard powerful and expensively produced scenes in order to create a cohesive and meaningful movie, we too have had to limit our scope and edit the length of this paper. We view our contribution as exploratory, not definitive. Our hope is that the work done here will assist the global church in the hard but vital task of “renewing the mind” on matters related to the arts and imagination, and provide a call to action that will be a transforming influence.
We are now ready to take our seats and allow our imagination to do its work. The house lights have slowly dimmed and the curtain is opening for the beginning of Act I.
Read the full version of Lausanne Occasional Paper 46: Redeeming the Arts: The Restoration of the Arts to God’s Creational Intention