I'm at a conference this week with a bunch of artists, and as I listen, participate, contemplate, and try to absorb everything, this post from a month ago keeps resonating in my mind. I pray you who are artists find hope in this ...
"We do this every year so people will come to know Jesus."
I was in my first full-time pastorate, and had just been told that the church put on a musical every Easter. A community musical, that I would be supervising, down to costumes, animals, sets, and of course, volunteer actors and actresses.
It's not that what she said made me especially upset, more that something in the sentiment ... bothered me. While I knew her enough to know that her motivation was for the Glory of God, part of me wondered if putting on this huge production really made a difference in the community the way the church thought it did, if amateur theater was being presented in the name of Jesus so that they could add a few names to the rolls for the next few weeks before the newcomers went back to ... whatever they did before.
Sometimes, I don't think we understand how art fits into the world of the Church very well.
There are two mistakes often made regarding the theology of the Mission of the Church, and they both directly impact how churches understand art. The first is to begin our story from a place where humanity sinned and fell short of God's glory, i.e. starting in Genesis 3. The task then comes to fix the problem, to get the world to come back to Jesus. And it's an honest mistake, because it's easier to see the problems of the world all around us than anything else, and it would make sense from this perspective - with ample evidence - that we are fundamentally flawed, broken from the start. It's a story that's about how we need to stop doing certain things and the world will mysteriously be better. And to a degree, this is true; Jesus came into the world to save the world from sin. But sin management isn't the ultimate goal of the Mission; redemption, reconciliation, restoration to relationship with God is. We're not supposed to be living against something, we're supposed to be living FOR something bigger.
Which is why the second theological mishap is a reaction to the first; we start the story with the Mission itself. We go to Matthew 28 or even Genesis 12 and see how we've been called a sent people, and so we focus on the mission of reconciliation. And again, it's an honest mistake, because like I said, we are supposed to be living FOR something, not against something. But this version of the story still begins with a solution, which means it really begins by alluding to a problem. This is still a gospel that is about managing sin, despite the grander vision of working for a better world.
It's not where the scriptures start. The scriptures are a story, and they start in the beginning, and they say that in the beginning, God created.
Art is everywhere.
Because of God.
The first thing God ever did was crack His knuckles (or at least, I imagine He did) and whip up existence. He made galaxies and platypus and grass and selenium and slime mold and giant squid and ice and all sorts of crazy other things. Like people. People are crazy things. But we're part of God's latest art project! In the beginning, the Creator took chaos and brought to it order.
And before anything bad happened, He called Creation GOOD.
That should change how we see ourselves.
It should change how we see others.
It should change how we perceive our relationship with God.
It should even change how we see salvation.
The Mission of God is what God is up to in the world He created, not what we're up to. We don't have to get the world to come to Jesus, He is already wooing the world to himself ... sometimes through us. Yes, we are being reconciled to God, and yes, we are to participate (God acts, we join in), but ultimately re-creation happens because God is re-creating.
And that is why art belongs in the Church: it is not there so we might increase the roster, or to convince people of their sinfuless, or to get people to hear the gospel message, or so we get some fuzzy nostalgia or weepy emotional highs. Art is not a tool to be used for some other ends, though things like transformation, worship, and learning often happen because of and through the art. No, art IS an end, and it belongs in the Church because God is an artist, because the very heart of God beats for a new creation, a new work of art that's going to be even more amazing than the original.
To be artists is to imitate our Creator.
"We are the product of His hand, heaven’s poetry etched on lives, created in the Anointed, Jesus, to accomplish the good works God arranged long ago." [Ephesians 2:10]