About This Blog

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

"Outreach and the Artist" (Con Campbell)

TITLE: Outreach and the Artist: Sharing the Gospel with the Arts
AUTHOR: Con Campbell
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, (128 pages).

This is a unique contribution to the art of evangelism. We have many books pertaining to the how and the why of evangelism. Not many touch on the beauty and the creativity in terms of letting art speak the wonder of God. This book, written by an artist as well as a scholar tries to speak into the beauty of God using the natural artistic creativity of humans. The three thrusts of the book are about evangelism:

  • With the arts; (chapters 2-3)
  • Through the arts; (chapter 4)
  • To the arts. (chapters 5-7)

In evangelism with the arts, Campbell begins with his personal testimony of his journey through visual arts toward jazz. Paintings and drawings fail to interest him. The piano only motivates him up to a certain point. With the saxophone, something artistic within him finally clicks. It leads him to dedicate more time playing it. Playing it leads him to a love of jazz. Jazz leads him to the Church, but not after a period of grappling between God and jazz. Slowly but surely, he recognizes how jazz can replace God, and makes a conscious decision that instead of allowing jazz to become a god in itself, he will let jazz be a channel to lead people to God. Thus the book of outreach and the artist where Campbell describes not only his own journey from jazz to God, but to help readers find their own stories in terms of evangelism with, through, and to the arts.

The biggest “ministry” for the author is actually the art of listening. He realizes that people are often fed up with the culture that is high in telling people what to do, but low in listening to one another. Even Christians themselves are not immune. Pointing out that the biggest barrier to people is not atheism or Christianity per se, but Christian people, Campbell shares how through jazz, he is able to introduce the person of Jesus. Even if people are resistant to the gospel directly, they will still be open to a good session of jazz. Those who love jazz will find it appealing. Creativity has a purpose, and more importantly, music is a way in which we can infuse our search for personhood with creativity, meaning with spiritual awareness, and evoking thoughts without being rude. For example, a few different jazz players who play together as one united band is a marvelous expression of the Trinity, unique three persons and yet one God. Campbell makes a distinction between professionalism and opportunity. The former is about working out the best quality, while the latter is trying to use music as a means to reach out. Sometimes, being too conscious of using music as a tool for evangelism can unwittingly result in a deterioration of integrity of the music in itself. It is a fine balance.

Some tips include clear communications, where the artists explain exactly what they are doing and why; to acknowledge critics for their honesty; and to avoid 'bait and switch' techniques that bait people with music, and then rudely switch them to a Christian message. Better to be upfront in the first place. For Christians, having appropriate expectations are helpful. Other tips include how to involve the Church in any arts outreach event. One tip in particular is to build rapport. Whether the audience is churched or unchurched, the moment the musician or the artist is able to connect with the audience, a lot can be accomplished. People connect with what is common in all of our hearts: need for security, acceptance, love, care, and the awesome human touch.

In evangelism through the arts, Campbell looks at two ways in which arts-based outreach can be done. The first is the "message" where the message takes priority, and the means to do it is of secondary importance. Theologically, this is based on the foundation of the gospel that needs to be proclaimed and to be heard. We are Christians not because of the name. We are Christians because of the gospel. The second approach is the medium where attention is paid to the way the message is transmitted. Here, the message is infused or incorporated into the medium in such a way that outreach can be done creatively. Whether the message or the medium is used first, it is good to be aware of the pros and cons of each. Campbell then makes a case for the artist to do some self-evaluation to determine which is most appropriate, according to the evangelistic contexts and the gifts in possession.

In evangelism to the arts, Campbell directs his attention to the arts community. This is perhaps the most challenging of all, and the author dedicates three whole chapters to do that. Chapter five invites readers to learn to appreciate the contexts and the subcultures of the artists. What language do they speak? How do they communicate? What vocabulary do they use? How do they live? Who do they hang out with? One way that Christians can learn more about these subcultures is to maintain some connection with them. Credibility is key when it comes to connecting with artists. On the one hand, they dislike pretense, especially when Christians try to say they know music when they are actually non-musicians. On the other hand, they dislike bad quality artists. Chapter six then looks at how many artists who grow up in churches, eventually leave, prompting the author to say: "The church gave them music, and music took them away." He looks at the two reasons why these people leave the Church. The first reason is the incompatible lifestyles. Many musicians hang out to the wee hours of the night, and making it hard for them to be earnest and regular church attendees. The second reason is the way the rest of the Church stereotypes the musicians, and even ostracize them and alienates them. Campbell then homes in on the main problem. It is not the music or the art, the musicians or the artists, the Church or the wrong stereotypes. It is idolatry. For artists, any infatuation with glorifying the acts is tantamount to idolizing the arts. In an industry where total devotion is expected, artists are trapped between creating good quality work, and letting the pursuit become an end in itself. Learning to recognize and then to work toward dethroning such an idol is the key to survival. A great way forward is to look for those who have successfully modeled a lifestyle that is honouring the arts without making them an idol. Learn from various individuals. Campbell includes in the book some short profiles of several artists like Keeley Manca Lambert (Acting); Richard Maegraith (Jazz); Dan McGowan (Comedian); Kristin Berardi (Music and Photography); Ian McGilvray (Painting); Keith Birchley (Classical Music); Hayley Neal (Performing Arts).

So What?

This is a special work of art, written by a musician as well as a scholar. As a jazz musician, Campbell understands music and the temptations that go with idolizing it. As a scholar, he thinks through the implications of theology and the arts. Campbell is also an Associate Professor of New Testament at TEDS. One of his recent books is a theological one, called "Paul and Union with Christ." You can read my review of that book here. Written in a very easy to read, but yet powerfully anchored on the premises of the gospel and theological integrity, Campbell urges readers to be creative in any evangelistic endeavours; to be active in engaging the arts community through genuine interest; to be welcoming in terms of openly appreciating the works of musicians through sincere engagement; to encourage musicians and artists from within the Christian community to see the bigger picture of God who can work with, through, and use Christians to speak to the arts community.

I like the attention given to arts in this book. While it seems like a book that attempts to evangelize the community of artists and musicians, readers will be pleasantly surprised that the book offers much more. In fact, it even invites readers to take the plunge and do the arts, if not, to be more appreciative of the arts. Learn to communicate our intent for sharing the gospel in love. Instead of trying to "bait and switch" any unsuspecting artist, be frank with them and state our intention upfront. Ask for permission. Be genuinely interested in what they are doing. Let the love of God spur all of us to good music and great art, and in the midst of enjoying the arts, we get a glimpse of the beauty of God. In the midst of marveling at the wonders of God, we get a glimpse of the human person created in the image of God.

You do not need to be an artist in order to appreciate this book. What you need is to have an eye for appreciating the arts, and an open heart to learn, to be humble, and to ask the experienced professional to teach us. Who knows. Our humility and willingness to learn from them can teach us a thing or two about faith and spirituality. Our learning disposition can also encourage non-Christians to adopt the same attitude when it comes to faith and the gospel.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


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. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

No comments:

Post a Comment