Releasing Artists To Renew Culture: A new course to help you engage with the arts image

Releasing Artists To Renew Culture: A new course to help you engage with the arts

This is a guest post from Jonny Mellor

A few years ago, the American pastor and theologian Tim Keller wrote,

The Church needs artists because without art we cannot reach the world.

That’s quite a bold statement and a bit of a curveball for most of us. Art is a strange thing. Most people have an intuition that it is somehow important but almost nobody can articulate why! In fact, it’s quite hard to even define what art is. So, for most of us, art is regarded as rather peripheral and extravagant. The cherry, or at the most the icing, but certainly not the cake!

So, why would a sensible fellow like Tim Keller make such an outrageous claim? Why would the church need art to reach the world?

I run a network of artists called Sputnik Faith & Arts and we split our time between two pursuits. Some of our efforts are directed towards encouraging Christians who make art to keep going, to get better at it, to engage with audiences outside the church, and to keep following Jesus while they do it. The rest of the time, we find ways to explain to Christians who aren’t artists why we think Tim Keller hit the nail on the head.

The problem is that art is so integral to human experience that we miss it. Imagine trying to explain the importance of water to a fish. It’s a bit like that. Secular anthropologists would mark the emergence of homo sapiens by the appearance of cave paintings. The Genesis creation story presents the first reported speech of a human being as a song, or at least a poem (Genesis 2:23). From the very beginning, we have created art. It’s fundamental to who we are.

And we are surrounded by art. The pictures on your wall. The chair you sit on. The wallpaper on your walls. The architecture of your house. The design of your shoes. All produced by artists of one sort or another. And this is to say nothing of the digital worlds we inhabit.

To imagine a world without art is to imagine a world without people. In the world. In the church. Anywhere.

But how does art help us, as Christians, to reach the world with the gospel? We could ‘use’ art to package our message more attractively? To pull on the heartstrings? To get in under the radar? Well, we could. And sometimes we do. But this is, at best, the tip of the iceberg.

Art keeps us human. It keeps us asking questions. It stops us drifting into tribalism and robotic pragmatism. It recognises the complexities of life and of God and of church and refuses to flatten the vibrant world that God has created. It reminds us of the abundant life that Jesus promised us, a life of love and generosity not of cold tradition and dogma. It keeps us human and allows us to connect with other humans as image bearers of our artistic God, resonating with other image bearers so as to lead them to find their rest in Him.

I think that’s what Tim Keller meant. And, yes, it’s all a bit vague and mind boggling. It certainly also needs some unpacking.

To that end, I’d like to introduce you to a resource that will hopefully help you to wrestle with this difficult but crucial topic. We’ve put together a course to explore how, as Christians, we might engage with the arts more constructively and support the artists in our communities and beyond. It’s called ‘Releasing Artists to Renew Culture’ and it’s been released through the Broadcast church planting network. It consists of 8 short videos that are accompanied by discussion questions and relevant artworks and Scriptures to help you think it all through.

If you’re an artist, it’s for you.

If you ‘don’t have an artistic bone in your body’, it’s for you too.

If you’re a church leader who is lacking creative contributions to your exoskeleton, it’s especially for you.

Engaging with the arts may not be at the top of your to do list. ‘Reaching the world’ may well be. Tim Keller thought the two things were more connected than we often think so why not watch the first video and see what you think?

Jonny Mellor is an elder at Churchcentral, Birmingham and also helps run Sputnik, a network of Christian artists. Sputnik works with artists and churches, and aims to rebuild the often damaged bridges that exist between them. To find out more, try:

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