Redeeming the Arts

Editor’s Note: This article is the introduction to the 2004 Lausanne Forum for World Evangelization Redeeming the Arts Lausanne Occasional Paper. The full text can be found at

The Church and the Arts
Apart from a small number of important voices, the Church as a whole has been virtually silent on the arts for generations. There is a clear need to find ways to speak of:

  1. the intrinsic value of the arts
  2. what they are able to contribute to our faith communities and the cultures in which we live
  3. the unique ways in which they are able to move our spirit and shape our thinking

Evangelical communities have been inclined to neglect the arts. There are of course many reasons for this tendency, including common theological understandings and ways of thinking about spiritual life. However, in recent years a growing number of these same communities have begun to manifest a new interest in the arts and have made significant moves in engaging the arts in the life of the Church.

The task of global evangelism is a task of communication. It is evident that art, too, is about communication. The way in which art communicates is unique to the medium, but the power of the arts to move us, engage us and help us to see with fresh eyes is indisputable. Art is not simply a tool or a piece of technology to be used for a predetermined purpose. The integrity of both art and the artist require something more.

The task undertaken in Act I of the Redeeming the Arts Lausanne Occasional Paper is to provide perspective on the biblical and theological foundations for understanding the creative gift as manifested in human artistry. Imagination has been neglected as a resource for helping us to think more clearly about the world. As a result, we have impoverished Christian thinking and understanding. The time has come for Christians to recover the imagination and to discern its value for faith and life. The arts are one of the key areas where the imagination does this. As we explore the arts, looking particularly at the need for education, we consider biblical foundations and strategies for developing our understanding of these gifts.

There is a need for a paradigm shift in how we view the artsÌ¢‰â‰۝a fresh vision to help us understand how the recovery of the imagination and the affirmation of the gift of artistic creativity can be both celebrative and significant for the Church. The biblical narrative serves as the context for the shaping of our theological understanding, and the resulting theology will have implications for all aspects of human life, including the arts.

In setting out biblical and theological foundations, we were concerned to do so in a way that provides not only fresh thinking, but also new practice. What we seek is not simply a set of ideas, but a living word with the power to change and transform. We explore how our understanding of scripture and of theology profoundly influences how we engage in the practice of our faith. Our concern is about our practice as it relates to the arts.

In Act II we look at the artist in spiritual community. Our focus is the discipleship of the artist shaped by a kingdom view. It encompasses the calling, mentoring, training, empowering and supporting of artists as uniquely gifted and vital parts of the body of Christ.

To understand discipleship for artists as participants in the Church’s mission in the world, we need to understand with more empathy and perspective some of the key issues that affect their involvement. Among the issues considered are:

Ì¢‰âÂå¢ Attitudes of the Church toward the arts and of artists toward the Church

Ì¢‰âÂå¢ The struggles of the artist with authority, freedom and accountability

Ì¢‰âÂå¢ The nature of artistic language (the way art Ì¢‰âÒspeaksÌ¢‰âÂå)

Ì¢‰âÂå¢ The inspiration or empowerment of artists by the Holy Spirit

Ì¢‰âÂå¢ How we understand the nature of the creative process itself

Ì¢‰âÂå¢ The impact of Ì¢‰âÒnon-contextualÌ¢‰âÂå attempts at mission on indigenous art. 

The Church today faces a different kind of worldÌ¢‰â‰۝one that has undergone profound changes in the past fifty years and continues to change at a rapid pace. Few people can avoid the realities of the information and artistic media that shape our everyday environment. At a time when communication has abandoned the age of the orator, we now find ourselves, culturally speaking, in the age of the artist.

With spiritual and cultural transformation as desired outcomes, Act III examines

  1. the place of the arts within culture

  2. the importance of indigenous and contextualized artistic expression, the role of the arts in evangelism and missions

  3. the need for Christians to practice their art in the marketplace

  4. significant contribution the arts can make to the process of personal healing and social change.

Art, in and of itself, cannot transform; only Christ can transform the human condition.

With that clarification as context, we show that the arts allow for diversity as they Ì¢‰âÒwitnessÌ¢‰âÂå in verbal and nonverbal ways to the truth about the human condition and incarnationally Ì¢‰âÒshowÌ¢‰âÂå God’s redemptive purposes. They can also draw people to Christ when linked to acts of compassion and service. The arts enable cross-cultural and cross-generational communication and contextualization. Social and economic barriers can be overcome through collaborative art making, and arts used in therapies can invigorate health and healing.

Jesus consistently invited people to use their imaginations, to allow the images he presented to come alive and to find meaning within those imaginings. He recognized that words or commands were insufficient. In order for people to make changes, they must first be able to imagine what is possible. Human transformative activity depends upon a transformed imagination. We illustrate that this is especially true in at-risk and impoverished communities or groups of displaced and broken people, where the arts can reinvigorate a sense of personal and social responsibility.

Colin Harbinson has been involved in the arts and missions in over sixty nations. He is international director of StoneWorks, a global arts partnership for cultural reformation and the recovery of the imagination in the life and mission of the Church. Harbinson is founder and president of the International Festival of the Arts and the Lausanne Senior Associate for the Arts.