Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Artistic Missional Practice and Theory

The above title of the post reminds me of a line of thinking that has been going around for some time. It's one of contrast.

It has been said that the Church in the past few centuries has been (over?)fixated on orthodoxy or 'right belief' - getting your theology or 'study/understanding of God' right (sometimes to the exclusion of doing right by people who are created in the image of God Himself). Then, and only then, can you be about orthopraxis or 'right doing/living'. As the book of James seems to stress, more attention in recent years has been shifting to orthopraxy with its specific application as we live in relationship with others. This re-calibrating focus then is moving toward orthodoxy VIA orthopraxy - or 'right belief through right action/living'. While I see the need for this shift in the Church in the West, it must only shift so far as to rebalance our faithful obedience to Christ's example and call.

In Scott McKnight's 'Missional Mondays' post this week he shares some insights that are particularly helpful from pastor and author Dr. Tim Keller from Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. He shares Keller's "key characteristics of missional churches who've made the ecclesiological shift" from his article 'The Missional Church':

1. Discourse in the vernacular: Missional churches avoid tribal language, we-them language, talking as though non-believers weren't present in our churches. We must learn to discourse in the local vernacular's our churches are situated within

Enter and re-tell the culture's stories with the gospel: Missional churches enter into their culture by showing sympathy toward and deep acquaintance with the artifacts of the culture (music, art, literature, food, etc.) acknowledging the goodness of culture because of common grace and the image of God in all humanity; missional churches are able to re-tell their cultures stories in light of the biblical story which shows us how in Christ we can have freedom without slavery, embracing the 'other' without injustice.

Theologically train lay people for public life and vocation: Missional churches train everyone to 'think Christianly' about everything and work with distinctive's shaped by the biblical story; people are encouraged to renew and transform culture through a theology of work; and to become culture-makers; missional churches encourage people to demonstrate love and 'tolerance' in the public square, under cutting intolerance as a common defeater of the gospel in the Post-Christian West.

Create Christian community which is counter-cultural and counter-intuitive: Missional churches seek to empower and equip the body to show the surrounding culture how radically different a Christian society is with regard to sex, money, and power; and missional churches practice holistic mission because the world is a holistic mess because of sin and God has provided a holistic answer in Christ; they do this through word and deed, through the proclamation and presence of the Kingdom of God.

How does this all dovetail with the Arts? Well, as per Tim's first point, the Arts ARE the vernacular of any culture. It seems to me that it's a matter of art imitating life and life then, in turn, life imitating art. It's a strange cycle, but true for the masses. So, if we are to be masters of our craft - whatever the field or medium may be - we have an opportunity to become more conversant in the vernacular or the 'everyday language' of the places, spaces and networks in which we live, move and have our being by listening. No one who has yet to develop the art of listening will have anything really valuable to contribute to a conversation, much less someone's life. Learn to listen, then, by God's empowering Spirit, offer what He has already given you ("What is in your hand?" He said to Moses) in a 'language' that those around you speak.

The second point Dr. Tim Keller makes about entering and retelling the culture's stories is one that should come somewhat naturally to someone with a gifting and vocation in the Arts. It doesn't really matter what your discipline is, every area of specialty in the Arts is essentially about narrative. Through your medium you're telling a story. Even if you deny your work communicates a story, the work itself carries it's own story within it - how it came to be and what brought it 'to life'. If we are to really move people, learning and re-telling stories that they either face daily, or that are embedded deep within their psyche, is a core practice. We, as artists, can employ our general vocation as 'prophets' in society to share Truth - especially when we reinterpret and present anew stories that people thought they already knew and understood. We can enable someone to see life from a different perspective or angle. Speaking Christianly, this conversion to Truth, is akin to the role C.S. Lewis believed the Arts fulfilled . . being pre-evangelistic in nature.

What other thoughts do you have on Tim Keller's points three and four regarding the role of the Arts and the 'Creative' in culture?

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