Artists are normally considered as transgressors, non-conformists, misfits, and even separated as rebels among some spiritual circles. The “Church” is considered to be conservative and spiritual, so they do not have any role in matters of faith and holiness unless they make biblical-themed art or design posters for church events or sing and play popular gospel music at church. Today, many in the church believe that art has its legitimate purpose only when for evangelism. But is that the only purpose God has for arts and artists?
For many Christians, the Bible begins with the fall of man (Rom. 3:23) and ends with God’s redemption on the cross (John 3:16). The verbal preaching of the gospel is everything. Yes, redemption is the central aspect of our faith, but is it everything of our faith? The story arc of the Bible spans across creation, fall, redemption and finally, restoration and the new creation. His glorious new heavens and new earth is for a sinless eternity. But do we not often truncate God’s story by only focusing on the redeeming work of Christ outside the context of His grand purpose for His creation and its ultimate renewal? (Gen. 1:26–28, Rev. 21 & 21, Col. 1: 15–20, Gen. 2:15). Have we understood God’s redemption from every aspect of our life? What is our salvation for?
On one side of the spectrum, there are Christians who focus only on the redemption aspect of the story, their main purpose is to save souls and go to heaven. They believe that God has abandoned His creation and eternity is outside the earth. They tend to separate themselves from the world. Their contact with the world is only to win souls. For them art is only a tool for evangelism, or church and home embellishments. They even believe that certain genres of art or art forms are demonic. Let us call them Separatists.
On the other side of the spectrum are Christians who focus only on the created world. They are those who blend with the world. They are involved in many wonderful philanthropic projects but have a very little understanding on the fallen nature of the world and the redemptive work of God through Jesus. Let us call them Blenders.
Finally, there are followers of Jesus who live their lives with the understanding of the larger story as God the Creator, Redeemer and the God who is reconciling all of creation unto him. “…and through [Jesus] to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col. 1: 20). These people believe that telling about Jesus is extremely important, but conversion of souls is not their only motive. Their mission is to advance God’s kingdom by infusing the world with His truth, goodness, beauty, grace, justice and love. They pray “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). They understand our present fallen world and God’s original intent for man and all of creation which is the world that ought to be.
The Japanese have a long tradition of repairing pots with gold; it’s called kintsugi. The term kintsugi means “golden joinery” in Japanese and refers to the art of fixing broken ceramics with a lacquer resin made to look like solid gold. A vessel fixed by kintsugi will look more gorgeous, and more precious, than before it was fractured. Our God who has created everything has not abandoned His fallen creation. In fact he is restoring all of creation. (Col. 1:20, Rom. 8: 19–21). If God has gifted this creativity to His children, are we not supposed to join God in this restoration?
Artists as Restorers with God
Restorers make Art that shows the world God’s Truth, Justice, Goodness, Beauty, Love, Mercy, Healing, Hope. They also share the love of Christ through their lives and make disciples because people should restore their relationship with God. We desire to see church congregations nurture artists as Restorers. Separatists often think that art produced outside the church is worldly or secular, and art made within the church is sacred. This sacred–secular divide dishonors God. Artists can make art that blesses the family of God and also blesses the world.
The Bible says that we are to live all of our life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, and to the honour and glory of God (Col. 3: 23–24, 1 Pet 2:9, Matt 5:16). My art, health, family, business, neighborhood, city etc., matters to God just as much as my soul matters to Him. Dutch politician and theologian Abraham Kuyper once said “…there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” Lordship of Christ over the whole of man and the whole of His creation is what the Bible talks about.
Many people who are not artists say, I am not an “artsy type”, I don’t understand art. But that is actually not true. Art isn’t inert; it actually does something to you as a person and affects your outlook on life and how you approach everything. Typically, ideas spread through culture from philosophers and intellectuals, through artists, to the common man. Arts shape cultures, in other words artists disciple nations. So as an artist you have a unique role in advancing God’s kingdom. But because of the dominant view about art in the church, many artistically gifted people neglect their God-given vocation. If you have identified your role in God’s kingdom and have heard His call, respond to the burden God has placed within and in front of you by making great art works that incarnate Christ and communicate the restoration that’s possible in reality. The world will take notice.
Mark Raja is an Experience Designer and a Co-founder of Integrated Arts Movement. He with his wife Susan and children Nathan and Angela live in Bangalore.