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Art And Evangelism

We writers don’t have to incorporate all Truth into our stories because, above all else, we can’t. Instead, we can give our own feeble glimpse of God’s work or nature in order to contribute some small addition to the reader’s knowledge of our great God.

Self-portrait_as_an_artist,_1888From time to time different writers here at Spec Faith have skirted around the topic of evangelism in our stories. We discussed such ideas as theology in fiction and preachiness, but a recent article in the Christian Research Journal honed this “purpose of art for the Christian” overarching theme into one succinct topic—can, should, does an artist evangelize in his art?

At the heart of this article, “What Has Art to Do with Evangelism?” by Sharon Fish Mooney, is a discussion of the works of Vincent van Gogh. Up to this point, all I knew about Van Gogh was that he was . . . what’s the politically correct term . . . unbalanced? mentally unstable? emotionally challenged? I’m not sure. But I was aware he had “an artist’s temperament,” that he’d cut off an ear, and that he painted some unusual self-portraits.

I don’t know that I’d ever heard he’d one day wanted to be an evangelist and pastor:

Oh, that I may be shown the way to devote my life more fully to the service of God and the Gospel.” (Van Gogh in a letter to his brother Theo, as quoted in “What Has Art to Do with Evangelism?”)

According to Mooney,

To Vincent, art could not only be beautiful but also persuade and speak to the deepest needs of the soul and spirit, his own needs, and the needs of others.

In other words, Van Gogh would be in the camp of evangelization through art. Again Mooney quoted from one of Van Gogh’s letters to his brother:

God is just, so He will use persuasion to bring those who stray back to the straight path. . . . I have my bonds of various kinds, humiliating bonds some of them, and this will only get worse with time; but the words inscribed above Christus Consolator, ‘He is come to preach deliverance to the captives‘ are still true today.

The painting to which he refers depicts Christ surrounded by people such as a woman crying over her child, a slave in chains, and a sixteenth century poet who’d suffered from mental illness.

From Van Gogh, Mooney switches gears and addresses the how: How can art evangelize? She postulates that rather than putting the gospel in front of people the way preaching does—because “by nature, it is allusive and indirect”—art, instead, should “bear witness to truth.” (“Mission, Evangelism, Contextualization, and the Arts,” as quoted by Mooney, emphasis mine).

This “bearing witness” purpose of art seems to mirror God’s self-revelation in nature which John Stott pointed to in his exposition of Romans.

Stott identified four main characteristics of God’s general self-revelation, It is general in the sense it is given to all people rather than to “particular people in particular places, through Christ and the biblical authors”; it is natural, “made through the natural order” rather than the supernatural involving the “incarnation of the Son and the inspiration of the Scriptures”; it is continuous, going on day after day and night after night rather than final and “finished in Christ and in Scripture”; and creational, “revealing God’s glory through creation,” rather than specific, “revealing God’s grace in Christ.” (ibid.)

Mooney applied these four aspects of God’s “bearing witness” of Himself to art and the ability of artists—beings made in God’s image and therefore with the capacity to create—to bear witness, though imperfectly, in the same general way.

Light shining out from the darkness

Light shining out from the darkness

This idea of art bearing witness resonates with me. Perhaps not every Christian writer will find this idea as striking as I do, but for me, this concept expresses what I’ve believed about story but have struggled to articulate. The goal of evangelizing through story falls between the overt and the silent—the idea that the gospel message should be incorporated into the story, versus the belief that God is glorified as long as the story is well-told, regardless of author intent.

Bearing witness returns the responsibility to the writer to throw light on God and His work in the world, but it releases him from the responsibility of a “proper” reader response. All the writer must do is accurately reflect the face of God. 😉

Since our expression is imperfect even at our best, and given that God is infinite and invisible and wrapped in unapproachable light, our “accurate” reflection of Him will be imperfect and incomplete. But that’s rather freeing. We writers don’t have to incorporate all Truth into our stories because, above all else, we can’t.

Instead, we can give our own feeble glimpse of God’s work or nature in order to contribute some small addition to the reader’s knowledge of our great God.

Thinking back to the four characteristics of God’s self-revelation which Stott identified, I find help in sorting out the difference between witness bearing and preaching. The first characteristic, natural, seems most helpful.

“Art that reflects a biblical worldview does not necessarily have to focus explicitly on the person and life of Christ or specific Scripture passages. Everyday occurrences of life and work . . . may also be . . . a natural metaphor for spiritual truth” (ibid).

Metaphors, of course, don’t just happen, meaning that, should an author wish to bear witness through her story using this avenue, it will require work and planning and intention.

But in the end, readers who pay attention should have the opportunity of glimpsing God or at least some aspect of His nature. That, I believe, is the intersection of art and evangelism.

Best known for her aspirations as an epic fantasy author, Becky is the sole remaining founding member of Speculative Faith. Besides contributing weekly articles here, she blogs Monday through Friday at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. She works as a freelance writer and editor and posts writing tips as well as information about her editing services at Rewrite, Reword, Rework.

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Kessie Carroll
Member

Yeah, among my reader friends, we call this “stealth Christian”. A Christian will sniff out the worldview and catch on, but a non-believer won’t. It has nothing to do with the amount of swearing or bedscenes or anything–it has everything to do with the story’s theme and the trials the characters go through.

Does that do anything for nonbelievers? I don’t know. But it sure makes it easier as a storyteller.

Greg - AKA Tiribulus
Guest

You may or may not be surprised to learn Rebecca that I see no intersection between art and evangelism at all if the scriptures are our standard. (Where do we find artistic evangelism anywhere in the scriptures?) There IS art in the bible. It is good and holy and God honoring. Yes, the image of God as creator is reflected through us in our varying God given gifts of creativity.  How it is used in His word is how we should we use it. OR we are presuming upon God’s mind revealed therein. I really and honestly don’t wish to seem a constant naysayer, but God’s biblical example of the production and use of art is almost universally ignored in today’s church.

Greg - AKA Tiribulus
Guest

Oh goodness me 🙁

How do I even start? I must say there are some areas where we agree here guys. It can be very difficult to have these kinds of discussions online. I do very much appreciate your responses. I mean that. I’m gonna have to sort through this.

D. M. Dutcher
Member

This is a really well written post. I’m not sure I agree with it, but it’s one of Rebecca’s best.

Tiribulus
Guest

“DM says: Guess what doesn’t appear in the Bible.
NOVELS.
The modern novel can be dated to roughly the tenth century AD. Therefore, since novels do not appear in the Bible, the Christian writer cannot use them.”
Ya know that’s a great point and one of I’ve struggled with and still do. I have conflict over this and reserve the right to possibly revise my present view at a later date.

DM says: “There aren’t even principles for artists specifically.”
There ARE crystal clear principles for it’s audience and use. Words, written or spoken, are in a class by themselves. The doctrine of the logos of God is primary and rich. WORDS, and the ability to speak and use them, are precious in the bible. Jesus is THE WORD of God made flesh. Our ability of verbal and written communication is a large part of the image of God in us. (our creativity is part of that image too.) The written and spoken WORD has it’s own thorough treatment in the bible. This is why Jesus says the following in Matthew 7:

“33-“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34-You brood of vipers! How can you SPEAK good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth SPEAKS. 35-The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36-I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless WORD they speak, 37-for by your WORDS you will be justified, and by your WORDS you will be condemned.”

WORDS are their own category.

DM says: “One of the things you notice when reading through the New Testament is that there isn’t a single artist in it. If you look through the whole Bible, the only time any form of art is touched on is in the Psalms, and the instructions of how to build the temple.”
That is EXACTLY right sir and a humongous part of my point. Thank you.  “ART” plays relatively little role throughout even the old testament and even less still in the new. Yet in our day we have Francis Schaeffer declaring  in his disastrously unbiblical book “Art and the bible”:

“The arts, cultural endeavors, enjoyment of the beauty of both God’s creation and of man’s creativity – these creative gifts have in our day been relegated to the bottom drawer of Christian consciousness, despised outright as unspiritual or unchristian. This deficiency has been the cause of many unnecessary guilt feelings and much bitter fruit, taking us out of touch with the world God has made, with the culture in which we live, and making us ineffectual in that culture.” Francis Schaeffer  – “Art and the Bible”

That is a lie from the pit of hell. NOwhere in scripture is it taught that the church’s witness or effectiveness in a culture is tied in any way whatsoever to “ART” for God’s sake! I defy anyone to show me where. (I can see this comin. Go ahead) That is the devil’s trick to lure the church into self sufficient idolatry and worldliness and boy has it ever been successful.  The truth is just the opposite if the bible is actually the standard. God INTENTIONALLY uses people and things that are UNpopular and despised and of no account whatsoever in the world in order to show the wisdom of the world for the foolishness that it is.

The cross of Christ and Him crucified is SUPPOSED to be stupid and repulsive to them. To dress Jesus up in cultural packaging that this sick dying society will more readily receive is SOOOOO Arminian. The very notion is an affront to the blood of Christ.

DM asks: “Who are you to tell what Christian artists can do?”
I would never EVER presume to tell anybody what to do about anything sir. I’m with Peter in his 1st epistle: “whoever speaks, [do so] as one who speaks oracles of God”. That whole passage in Ch. 4 is quite instructive. Gods’ truth has God’s authority because it’s God’s. That’s the point of 1st Cor. 1.

I am scorned, chided, laughed at, yelled at, ganged up on and or banned wherever I go most of the time. I expect that. In today’s decomposing, “ART” and entertainment and pagan celebrity worshiping American church I’d be certain I was on the wrong track if I weren’t. When I get a little biblical engagement, like here? It means some folks have a conscience that’s still breathing and hasn’t yet been strangled to death, so I invest a little time.

As I say. Words are a category unto themselves. “ART” such as craftsmanship in woodworking, sculpting, music and by direct extension, drawing, painting, film and photography are good too. They are gifts of God to be used under the principles and examples spelled out in his Word. From Genesis to Revelation those principles are, the explicit worship of the one true and living God, (by proper name 705 times in the book of Psalms) and the edification of and service to the saints.

You named some yourself. The temple, tabernacle, Solomon’s houses, the psalms, ALL made by the people of God, for God and each other. Every single time. Then we have Paul in the 5th of Ephesians V.19:

“addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, “

The apostle simply states what had been the case for 4000 years even in his day. “ART”, in this case music, is assumed to be for each other and the Lord. The American church lost her influence in the culture, not because she’s not artistic enough (Lord help us!), but because she has neutralized the cross of Christ with the wisdom of men. Read 1 Cor. 1 again. Does this mean we don’t want the pagans to see our art? Of course it doesn’t mean that. We hope they do and pray that as many as possible will. We invite them to join us in the proclamation and praise of their God thereby. And yes God might even use it to save some. BUT, we are not allowed to make it FOR them. See, we don’t like this explicitly for Jesus and the saints thing though, because we think it restricts OUR creativity. It’s NOT ours.

Look around. This very website quite rightly decries the porn in Hollywood (while embracing those who promote it, but that’s another story). THE THE THE justification for, not merely the toleration, no sir,  indeed the CELEBRATION of pornography IN THE CHURCH, is “ART”. Properly contextualized “ART”. THAT is what paved the way. People you folks know personally, who I could name will tell you that it’s ok for Christians to perform sexually, nude in a room full of strangers so it can be put on film before a watching world as long as it’s in the name of “ART”. Would you like a link?

“ART” is a gaping hole in the spiritual wall around the city of God. We broke it open ourselves from the inside. WHILE making sure the front gate is locked tight over there. The enemy laughs.

THAT is my problem DM. Not “ART” in itself. But the grotesque exaltation of “ART” to a stature and prominence and abuse in the church that is utterly unheard of in and repugnant to the scriptures. “ART” is the motivation for all this new, also never before heard of butchering of the “liberty” passages in the New Testament so to make room for…. “ART”.

I expect this kinda thing from liberals/emergents and Catholics. To watch the morality of the old reformation faith, the gospel in other words, polluted like it is among those calling themselves “reformed” is truly heartbreaking. Read questions 91 through the 10 commandments in the Westminster Larger Catechism from 360 years ago. A document of immense historical as well as theological significance. How many among all these avid readers have read it even once, ever? THAT is biblical morality. “Thank God we don’t believe THAT legalistic crap anymore”. That’s what today’s even allegedly reformed church says. Even otherwise conservative Presbyterian denominations who REQUIRE the affirmation of the Westminster Standards for membership!! Do you hear me? “ART” has undone centuries of long settled belief and practice and we are living the consequences.

The devil, popcorn in one hand and a coke in the other, views this as the grandest of all divine comedies.

Greg - AKA Tiribulus
Guest

Rebecca says: “You sound as if you believe only certain (non-sinful) professions are acceptable for Christians. Pastoral ministry is OK, but not athletics? Or maybe tent-making is acceptable, but not novelist?
There is nothing sinful in itself in being either a professional athlete or novelist. That is not the point at all

Every creative expression that occurs in the bible is to be used the way it occurs there. Literature and literary storytelling are to be used how they are used is in the bible . Visual art is to be used how it used in the bible. Music is to be used how it is used in the bible. No these are not all the same and there are principles that apply to each.

I’m sorry I’m wiped out tonight. I wish I could say more now.  There is tons of misunderstanding here Rebecca.
======================================
Stephen. I honestly feel like if I just danced my fingers on my keyboard, like this

“dfinjo ighsdlkgn983hp;fkvgnsub”

…that I would be communicating with you no less effectively than I am now. I’m not blaming you. At least not entirely. I must seek the Lord and counsel about how to more reliably get my mind into yours, because it jist ain’t happnin.
======================================
1st Corinthians 1 teaches explicitly that God uses people and hence the means attached to them who are the least popular and least regarded by the world to do His work. He does not say to find out what people love and use that.  The reason is because He wants the glory and not to share it with our ingenuity.

I can’t think any more tonight.

D. M. Dutcher
Member

This is stupid.

Guess what doesn’t appear in the Bible.

NOVELS.

The modern novel can be dated to roughly the tenth century AD. Therefore, since novels do not appear in the Bible, the Christian writer cannot use them. He must do poetry, but he can’t rhyme, because Hebrew poetry doesn’t use rhymes. It used parallelism of thought instead. You can’t use any form of meter, because it’s not in the Bible either.

There aren’t even principles for artists specifically. One of the things you notice when reading through the New Testament is that there isn’t a single artist in it. If you look through the whole Bible, the only time any form of art is touched on is in the Psalms, and the instructions of how to build the temple.

Look, you’re not an artist, and you don’t even like creative stuff. If you did, you’d be telling us about the works of art that you like and that do embody things that are good. Because trust me, there are Christian works in this library that are 100% inoffensive to any orthodox interpretation of the Bible. You don’t like horror? That’s cool, pick up one of the many Christian fantasy novels which keep violence to a minimum, never even speculate on doctrine, and just tell a wholesome story.

You never LIKE anything though, you’re just Calvin Spurgeon Calvin. Who are you to tell what Christian artists can do?

If you are all concerned about worldliness in Christian art, it’s not going to be solved by you saying no and expecting people to become Puritans. You need to find works that you can say yes to and show as examples of good Christian art. Because a lot of Christians have dealt with the Puritan mindset, and to us, it’s like someone berating us because we like food and we can’t live on a diet of bread and water.

It gets old. Really old.

Tiribulus
Guest

Oops wrong spot. Sorry. I don’t like nested comments for this reason 🙂
http://www.speculativefaith.lorehaven.com/art-and-evangelism/#comment-147208

Greg - AKA Tiribulus
Guest

Rebecca says: “I’d simply add, there is nothing in the Bible that says we must use the arts as they were used in Scripture. This appears to be Greg’s opinion which he wishes the rest of us to abide by.”
Like I said.  I’ll stick with the old reformed hermeneutic.  This is not MY opinion. If you ever peek into that larger catechism, you will see that I am in a whole lotta real good company there. The ones who spent 4 years writing it and the millions who have held it since until recently. They did not attempt to stamp God’s approval upon their own ideas.

I simply must reiterate as well. Words are not art. They are in a biblical category by themselves as I demonstrated above and can demonstrate much further if need be. It is interesting that folks will ascribe ALL this power to the arts and then turn around and say that we are under no obligation to use the arts the way they were used in scripture. That attitude was unknown to old time saints like the Westminster Assembly. They did not dare improvise upon God’s precepts OR examples .

Also, you keep dwelling on stories Rebecca. I’m not against stories. I’m even planning on writing a futuristic science fiction short. I might EVEN enter it in your contest. I really don’t think you do it on purpose per se, but you really do not pay attention when I speak. I said I like science fiction in the other thread. Yes, Sci/Fi can be done biblically. That’s WORDS though. You have a PAINTING up there. I have been addressing visual and musical “ART” which are not in the same biblical category as WORDS.

I have addressed this wrong interpretation of acts 17 more times than I can count. Even with Stephen at Duran’s place. I don’t have time now.

Greg - AKA Tiribulus
Guest

There may be such a thing as a conversation that just cannot be had online between certain types of people.  I do NOT mean that YOU people are messed up and just can’t understand me.  I just mean there may be certain mindsets that simply require face time for actual communication on some topics to take place.

E. Stephen Burnett
Admin

This seems to me very wise.

And especially if the debate is not at all about the church compromising with pop culture, but rather about whether words and writing count as “art” — that’s hardly a salvific issue or worth any kind of verbal battle. Thus the next wise step would be to leave this conversation as it is. Let’s instead move on.

Greg - AKA Tiribulus
Guest

No, salvation does not depend on this Stephen, but there ARE huge ramifications for how modern life is lived in Christ. The enemy knows he cannot steal God’s elect, but the biblical and historical evidence is that he can and does cripple their ability to bear effective witness. Which is to him the next best thing. He has mastered this “art”. (pun intended) He’ll take one compromised Christian over 25 Richard Dawkins or Bill Nyes any day.

My point above was that regardless of the reason, useful communication is not taking place here. That means it doesn’t make any difference how substantive the topics, the conversation is rendered impotent if the parties are not hearing each other.

Jannai Pero
Guest

wow – I have reading this for a paper I am writing for my Masters. I am a Christian artist and just completed my Master art show at Fresno State University, with the purpose of sharing my faith and my salvation story through sculpture…we handed out 200 gospels of John and Scripture bookmarks at the show and the comments from the show were amazingly positive from both Christians and non-Christians. We pray for California every week and for Hollywood and for the arts to be redeemed and used for God since the gift of creativity is from Him, our Great Creator!! Here’s a 7 minute video of my graduate exhibition –
https://youtu.be/YAByB4mteRI
Full page article about it in newspaper http://www.sierrastar.com/2016/02/17/77208_art-with-a-message.html?rh=1