Issue Group 17: Redeeming the Arts

The arts provide creative opportunities for evangelism and are not being fully recognized and utilised by the church.

Overview: The rapidly increasing numbers of Christians in nonwestern nations is challenging the Euro-centric understanding. With this dramatic change comes new ways of characterizing the faith. The Western emphasis on (abstract) reason is being overtaken by an emphasis on (concrete) embodiment. The neat clean logic of propositions is being replaced by the more fuzzy-edged accounts of narrative and the communal nature of these other cultures challenges the individualism of the West. Moreover there is an upheaval right within Western culture that calls for change. Postmodern discontent with Western modes of thought is offering new openness to “spirituality” and widespread attention to the aesthetic side of life. It appears in both these situations the language of choice is one that leans towards the arts. The power of the arts to communicate is unquestionable and its presence is everywhere. Unlike the West, the other parts of the world have not relegated the arts to galleries, theatres and concerts halls, but have allowed it to permeate ordinary life and nurture the human spirit in a more consistent way. We are in a transitional moment in history and these important changes must be considered as we seek to give shape to global evangelization.

The church in the West has had an uncomfortable relationship to the arts, especially in Protestantism. Clearly there are signs of change. At this time of transition, to neglect the arts is not only to impoverish the Church, but also to diminish its effectiveness in communicating to the world. It’s our view that those within the evangelical tradition have for too long ignored or marginalized the arts. The opportunity provided by the 2004 Forum to take up the subject of the arts and its role in world evangelization is timely indeed. The issues are legion, but we have narrowed them down to three on which to focus our conversation.

The Process: Members of the Redeeming the Arts IG have responded to a questionnaire from the conveners asking them to identify the most significant issues related to the arts and world evangelism/missions. These responses have been distilled into three categories. Leadership has been established over each category and participants have indicated which one they would like to be their primary focus/contribution.

Each of the three groups is now having an email conversation with a view to putting together a focused paper that addresses their issue along with case studies, resources and strategies. Alongside this process, mini consultations are being encouraged. For example, consultations are currently taking place across Canada to address each of the issues. This process will also have the effect of bringing Canadian artists together in a synergistic way to discover how they can work together in the future to see their artistic gifts connected to God’s purposes.

The interaction of the three groups will then be shared internally in early August, giving each group the opportunity to read and contribute to the others. By September, these contributions will be put together in a comprehensive paper that will be evaluated and refined during the Forum. The issues identified are shown below and the outcomes and strategies will follow from them.

The Church (Education): This area received the most response and is echoed by artists everywhere. The lack of understanding, acceptance and validation of the arts within a biblical/kingdom framework, has led to their outright rejection on the one hand or the insistence on a propagandist/didactic approach on the other. This has resulted in many artists feeling alienated from the Church, and/or misunderstood and “used” by the Church resulting in the arts not being connected to the purposes of God. This issue includes the need to see:

  • The arts within a renewed theological vision
  • The development of educational and training resources/models for seminaries, Bible colleges, higher education institutions and the home school movement
  • A genuine dialogue with artists and Church/mission leaders

The Artist (Discipleship): Until the Church comprehends the nature and role of the arts within a biblical/kingdom framework, the need to disciple and support artists in their gifts and calling will not be identified. Issues include:

  • Discipleship, community and godly accountability for the artist
  • Character issues and the artist
  • The need for financial support (patronage) of the arts

Cultural Transformation (Marketplace): We have been created as cultural beings with a God- given mandate to develop culture. Our stories, beliefs and values are affirmed and passed on through diverse artistic expressions. The arts therefore have the ability to profoundly impact and transform the cultural landscape, its worldview and lifestyle. Issues include:

  • Arts and cultural transformation/influence
  • Arts, contextualization and the dangers of syncretism
  • Arts and social issues
  • Arts and missions/evangelism/mega-cities
  • Artist of faith in the marketplace

Conclusion: These issues express what we believe to be vital points for serious reflection and research for the Church at this time. Our hope is that the conversation that took place around the 2004 Forum and the paper that came out of that conversation will be fruitful for the Church, for the arts and for the ongoing task of spreading the good news of the Kingdom.


Colin Harbinson,
Dean of the Arts, Belhaven College

Mary Jones,
International Christian Dance

David Potvin,
Missions Director for Arts Division, Belhaven College  

Read the Lausanne Occasional Paper (LOP) produced by this Issue Group:

LOP 46: Redeeming the Arts: The Restoration of the Arts to God’s Creational Intention
(.pdf format; 390 KB)