Art ministry today: cool and hip...
(Tim) Whether in the U.S. or Western Europe, Reformed hipsters have fallen in love with art. For communicating the Gospel, preaching is out and art is in--it's the great white hope. Draw the Gospel. Sculpt the Gospel. Paint the Gospel. Use words only if you must.
David Baker is a student here at ClearNote Pastors College who, with his wife Marta and their children, were raising support under the Presbyterian Church in America's Mission to the World when God led them to move to Bloomington and begin training for pastoral ministry. David's a painter and he'd been headed to Dublin, Ireland, where he planned to be a part of an MTW team there, and to focus on the arts community. Recently, David corresponded with another MTW missionary in a Western European country about the arts movement within MTW and the PCA.
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Dear (John Doe),
I should give you a brief background and update on what we are doing. As you may know we were on the path to work in arts ministry in Dublin, Ireland with MTW. We took a 5-year leave-of-absence from MTW for education and because of some other issues that made it clear that the yoking with the Irish church was not a good one. I'm now a pastor in training at ClearNote Pastor's College in Bloomington, Indiana. I continue to make art and I participate in a local gallery. I love using God's gift of artistic talent to His glory. He gives us these gifts.
When we were working on support raising we spent time with various churches around the country and we got to hear and see a lot of what was going on in the the arts ministry movement.
Art ministry as I've seen it practiced means being cool and hip. It means making art, bringing in pagan artists and their work, having art shows, and "engaging the culture." (We should engage the culture, but with the Gospel, the shameful, bloody, gnarly Gospel.) There is a wall that goes up the second sin is mentioned and when the command to worship and bend the knee to Jesus Christ is made.
Artists will talk about art all day long. They will drink your wine and eat your cheese. But the clear presentation of the Gospel will end the show. What I've seen is a very timid dance around the Gospel because we know inside our hearts that the Gospel is offensive. We fail to trust God's Word, His Spirit and the end He has promised when we bear the shame of the cross and behave contrary to human reason. That end is often being despised and it's definitely neither hip nor cool. But wonderfully, it is the way God builds His Kingdom.
People hate God, they hate His Son Jesus, they hate the Holy Spirit, and they hate Christians. Art ministry will never succeed until it takes a back seat to Word ministry--that is the preaching of the Word. God does not speak in a revelatory way through art. He speaks through His Word and through faithful preaching of it. I have heard Christian artists claim that their art speaks God's Word. This is a dangerous path to tread.
Ironically, because art ministry has wrongly attempted to tread on the ground meant only for the Word, there is now no arts ministry at all. When Christian artists mimic pagan artists by creating works that are incomprehensible and do not point to God, what are we doing? We give credence to art that is vulgar, God-hating, and blasphemous, then we fail to call blasphemous art what it is. Instead we try to "understand" what the man means by using the medium of excrement or blood (for instance). But Scripture tells us what's wrong with him: he needs peace with God. We mustn't encourage the artist to continue his selfish, navel-gazing introspection--we must preach to Him the words of life. We must also reclaim art for the Kingdom.
When we come into contact with pagan artists, we often waste opportunities to trust God and to honor His Name. We want them to like us. We can't create these relationships and engage the culture and naively expect them to love us and share understanding with us without that love coming from Jesus Christ. What we often do is draw people in to have an excuse to speak to them and develop relationships with them--but then idolize the relationship and fear rejection. The rejection will happen if we tell them the truth, but there's always the magnificent possibility that God will give them life!
(Dear brother), here's some encouragement for you as you engage in this ministry:
- No real ministry happens if the Gospel is not preached. The Kingdom is not advanced without the preaching of the Word. Art ministry must not replace Word ministry. Use it to get people to hear God's Word.
- The radical thing is to return to the historical Christianity of our fathers. Hardly anyone is doing it! What did Calvin say? Edwards? Owen?
- Avoid postmodern, Emergent Church, mystical mumbo-jumbo. It may feel right, but it is wrong. Avoid fads.
- Trust God's Word. Be faithful to Him. It may seem that the (people you work among) are dead and lost to the Gospel but this means God has a great opportunity to be glorified and to astound. God's glory shines in these seemingly impossible situations. We are all equally dead without Jesus Christ.
Brother, I pray this helps you. I tell you this because of our bond of Jesus Christ and because of our common fight for the advancement of His kingdom. I tell you this with warmth in my heart toward you. I would really like to speak with you more about this.