Art and the Church: Creating Ex-Creatio

August 9, 2018
Perhaps you may have wondered what it is about the human being that is ‘the image of God’.  Leaving aside the possibility that our physical features are a reflection of God (a Spirit), characteristics like self-consciousness, immortal soul, rationality, and the will have often won the day as distinctives that ‘earn’ us the privilege of the term “God’s image.”  Many, however, such as British author Dorothy Sayers, suggest that creativity is the aspect that most clearly reflects the image of God in the human being:

It is observable that in the passage leading up to the statement about man, he has given no detailed information about God. Looking at man, he sees in him something essentially divine, but when we turn back to see what he says about the original upon which the “image” of God was modeled, we find only the single assertion, “God created.” (italics mine)

Francis Schaeffer focused on ‘creativity’ as the prime distinctive between man and animal, saying that “being in the image of the Creator, we are called upon to have creativity,” and “creativity is part of the distinction between man and non-man” and “is intrinsic to our mannishness.”  It is creation itself that suggests the clue that humanity, although fallen from the ideal, continues to be able to create (or cultivate) – not ex-nihilo as God, but ex-creatio – and to mold culture.  Man was placed in the garden to cultivate or mold that which God had already declared ‘good’.  God’s pleasure in His creation indicates that it had aesthetic value. God’s delight in variety can also be detected in the multiple kinds of instruments found, for instance, in Psalm 150.  They indicate God’s approval of a wide range of sounds to proclaim His glory on earth. It is worth noting also, that the instruments listed are also ‘creations’ of man. They are a result of human planning, testing, and demand advanced craftsmanship and taste.  

In spite of these biblical indications, however, artists and artisans have been subject to much prejudice against the value of their craft through the ages.  Many have been able to overcome rejection, but with great difficulty. Recently published books by artists often give provide testimonies of the strong institutional pressure upon them to fit into a traditional category of service.  Steve Turner, author of Imagine: A Vision for Christians and the Arts, says that “no one ever told [him] that it would be wrong for a Christian to become an actor or a songwriter, a novelist or a dancer. It was implied.” (emphasis mine) He explains further:

Christians seemed to acknowledge a work hierarchy. Evangelists and those in “full-time ministry” were at the top. Doctors, nurses, and people in the caring professions came next. Then there were teachers, police officers, and the great mass of workers. Artists, media representatives, and people in show business would have been in the lowest possible group if they had been mentioned at all.

Christian artist Matt Tommey describes a classic example of rejection of a special artistic call in his book Unlocking the Heart of the Artist: “I can’t tell you the number of artists I’ve talked to who said that when they were growing up or when they became a Christian they felt pressured to be something they were not.”

But the church appears to be coming to terms with the idea that ‘creating’ things – artistic outputs – are a testimony to the reality and the power of God.  In certain circles the term creatives is becoming commonplace to refer to artists, or else, to those whose God-given talent and spiritual gift drive them to create through some art modality.  Although human beings are constantly imagining and producing multiple things, clearly some are especially gifted to excel in some artistic area. And, as Christians should know, God’s gifts should be exercised for His glory, and not be buried out of shame or fear.  

In recent decades certain Christian missions agencies have taken a more focused approach to the arts as a powerful communicative tool for the message of the gospel.  OM Arts International, for instance, was created as the artistic arm of Operation Mobilization in 2009.  Similarly, Arts in Christian Testimony (ACT International) was organized as a missionary agency out of a desire to “creatively evangelize non-Christian peoples,” edify the church, and mobilize missionaries and other Christians to utilize “creative methods of communicating salvation through Jesus Christ.”  Likewise networks such as the International Council of Ethnodoxologists (ICE), and several other support groups have been developed for continual advocacy of arts in worship and ministry.

More and more, gatherings around the practice of music and the arts are being organized to highlight the relevance of artistic creativity for the Kingdom of God.  To mention a few taking place in 2018, the Global Consultation on Music and Missions will be meeting in the month of August in Kenya; the Gathering of Artisans in Black Mountain, TN, will feature a great many Christian artist workshops in October in Black Mountain, TN; and also The Gathering 2018, organized by ACT International, is planned for November in Nashville, TN.  

So . . . maybe it is happening: a new spiritual movement towards redeeming the arts for the Kingdom of God, as some creatives are suggesting!  The answer remains to be seen.  Nevertheless, one thing seems clear: God gives gifts to men and women and they must be used for the praise of His glory. Perhaps now, more than ever before, they will indeed become essential tools to communicate the everlasting gospel to this generation, and until Christ returns.

  1. Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker: The Expression of Faith through Creativity and Art, (New York: Open Road Integrated Media, 2015), KL 460-470. Kindle Edition. (Original Publication: 1941).
  2. Francis Schaeffer, Art and the Bible, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), KL 301-306. Kindle Edition.
  3. Steve Turner, Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016), KL 196. Kindle Edition.
  4. Steve Turner, Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016), KL 201-202. Kindle Edition.
  5. Matt Tommey, Unlocking the Heart of the Artist, (The Worship Studio, 2010), pp. 69-70. Kindle Edition.
  6. The Worship Studio, http://www.theworshipstudio.org/about/. (accessed May 17, 2018).
  7. OM Arts International, http://arts.om.org/. (accessed July 23, 2018).
  8. Artists in Christian Testimony, “Mission and Vision,” https://actinternational.org/our-mission-vision/. (accessed July 23, 2018).
  9. International Council of Ethnodoxologists, http://www.worldofworship.org/. (accessed July 23, 2018).
  10. Global Consultation on Music and Missions, “GComm 2018,” https://gcommhome.org/. (accessed July 23, 2018).
  11. The Worship Studio, “Gathering of Artisans,” http://www.gatheringofartisans.com/. (accessed July 23, 2018).
  12. Artists in Christian Testimony, “The Gathering 2018,” https://actinternational.org/the-gathering-2018/. (accessed July 23, 2018).

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