This is a preview of an article I’m hard at work on for the next C&A eJournal edition. I didn’t want to take time away from it to write a fresh blog, so I thought I’d just drop the first few paragraphs of the current draft here as a preview. You may well see changes before the final version. Please be praying for me as I seek to wrap it up, along with a couple of book summaries that need to publish along with it, so that I can get it all out to the eJournal mailing list by the end of the week!
I get to talk to a lot of people – from all over the world, working in all kinds of leadership, ministry, and art-making activities – about what they see going on in the faith-and-arts movement. Over the last couple of years, I’ve heard several people say the same thing: we’re at a turning point. They – and I – believe that turning point is about moving from a journey of analysis and understanding into a more practical arena of making things happen. What I’ve heard, and said, sounds something like this: “We’ve pretty much got this whole faith-and-art thing figured out, theologically and historically. Now let’s do something with it, and about it. “
We stand on the shoulders of amazing theologians, scholars, and artist-practitioners.
I place the starting point of the movement nearly sixty-five years back in time, when art historian Hans Rookmaaker and theologian Francis Schaeffer met. Their relationship and writings ignited a new way of thinking about the arts within the church, particularly the evangelical Protestant church. They, and many others around and after them, began hacking their way through a theological jungle of suspicion, judgment, and misinformation within the church about the whole messy operation of the arts and the people who do them. These thinkers have left us a clearing in which we can – and must – now build a village.
Artistic village-building, step 1
I have two obsessions when it comes to faith and the arts:
- Understanding how the arts work;
- Building God’s kingdom by capitalizing on that knowledge.
These desires are based on several assumptions:
- The arts are worth thinking about.
- The arts work in particular, knowable ways.
- The arts are important to God.
- The arts can be useful in building God’s kingdom.
- Knowing how the arts work makes us more effective in building God’s kingdom.
The first assumption in that chain is the one I am focusing on most these days, and one we must get right if we are to make it to the last step in the chain: The arts are worth thinking about. This assumes that the arts have value, that they make an impact, and that they are (or can be) beneficial to humanity.
If we don’t believe that, and can’t convince others of it, we won’t get much further.
The value of the arts for the church
Because I am a Christian, I am looking at these issues of value and impact through a specifically Christian lens. All true value comes from God, and his purposes will be reflected in any beneficial impact.
Many people outside of the church are also talking about these issues of value and benefit, for many reasons, mostly having to do with public policy and funding. On a certain level, we’re also thinking about policy within the faith-and-arts movement, in that we’re trying to determine the best ways to support and advocate for the arts in and for the church.
One of the most cogent and comprehensive overviews of the value and benefits of the arts can be found in The Social Impact of the Arts: An Intellectual History by Eleonora Belfiore and Oliver Bennett. The book, written from a secular viewpoint, provides an excellent overview of the main theories about the impact of the arts – both positive and negative – over 2,500 years of Western history.
Belfiore and Bennett create seven categories of “positive” impacts of the arts and one “negative” category; and they sort dozens of specific arguments about the benefits and dangers of the arts into those eight helpful categories.
My purpose is to align Belfiore and Bennett’s categories with the types and purposes of “arts ministry” that I’ve seen Christians create during my eighteen years of listening to and working in the faith-and-arts movement. I hope this grid and analysis will provide a useful model for thinking about and discussing how we can move forward in our artistic village-building, and Kingdom-building.
Keep watching for more! Once the article is complete, I’ll add a link to this page. Or check our Articles section within Resources.