Review: Outreach and the Artist

Outreach and the ArtistOutreach and the Artist
Sharing the Gospel with the Arts

by Con Campbell.
Zondervan, ebook edition.

Arts and the church have had a mixed relationship over the years; the same place which often plants the seed of artistic endeavour has often been the same place which fails to recognise its value and vocation. How do Christian artists use their gifts and talents to reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ? How does the church reach artists – a fairly unreached subculture – with the gospel of Jesus Christ? Con Campbell is both an accomplished musician and theologian, and helpfully  draws on his experiences in bringing those two things together and explore these questions.

Campbell’s audience isn’t specifically artists, but writes in a very approachable, colloquial (dare I say, Aussie?) style for ‘normal’ church-goers. The description of artists and their subcultures might be somewhat stereo-typical, but I found them to be generally on the money. It can be difficult for Christians who aren’t involved in the arts to understand these subcultures and Campbell does a good job of exploring their different kinds of values and goals and how these relate to both outreach to and outreach by artists.

The book has a few different sections. The first section deals with outreach with the arts, what he calls ‘the message and the medium’ in which the message is given priority. He talks through how a church might use an arts event, such as a concert or exhibition, as an opportunity to speak a gospel message (an important warning is made against bait-and-switch events, however – it should always be clear that there will be a message at the event!). He gives examples of how he relates various principles from his own field of Jazz, to the gospel.  To be honest, I’m one of the ‘purists’ he mentions who aren’t entirely convinced that this would something I would do with my own artform (opera) but it is certainly thought provoking, and he does acknowledge that not every artist is called to use their gifts in this way.

The second section deals with outreach through the arts, or ‘the medium and the message’, where the focus is on the medium more than the message. He explores what it means for an artist to do work not as a means to the end of sharing a message, but that the work is a good end in itself, informed and shaped by the message of Jesus. This is almost always a far less explicit approach, and he likens it to ‘pre-evangelism’. In a volume more directed to artists, it might be helpful to explore how the various disciplines – including musicians who are involved in interpretation more than creation – might apply this in their work. In any case, it is an approach which sees artists as salt and light as natives within their artistic subculture, a more relational approach to outreach, whereby the gospel is shared in conversations and relationships rather than using art to preach it.

Campbell has a helpful chapter on artists and the church, and the tensions that can exist, exploring ways in which the church can help encourage artists within their midst.

The final section is about the way art is often an idol in the lives of artists, that this is the central issue regarding outreach amongst artists. This was, for me, the strongest part of the book (I’d love to see something more in depth on this issue as well). The tensions between art and faith which exist for many artists, and which Campbell describes, are things which I’ve had to work through myself. Artists tend to build their identity largely around their work, and so we, as artists, and those who would share the gospel with artists, need to think about how to dethrone this idol while still affirming the goodness of art.

Each chapter is rounded off with a short interview of a Christian who is active in the arts.

I highly recommend this book to any Christians who are involved in the arts, or for church leaders who have (or would like to have) artists in their midst.

God is the ultimate Artist. He is the Creator of all things. He delights in color, sound, shapes of all kinds, and unstraight lines. Every person he has made is entirely unique. What an artist is He! Not only does God create, but He recreates too. In Christ Jesus, we who were bent out of shape, distorted, and rebellious creatures are transformed into the likeness of Christ. God’s life-giving Spirit indwells us, recasting our inclinations and the desires of our hearts that we might love and honor our Creator. We are the very artistry of God! We are the products of his handiwork and the pinnacle of his creation. God delights in his creation, his re-creation, his people.

 


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

What do you think?