10 September 2012

Theme 1: “In the World”

If I gave a 5-talk series on Christians and the Arts, the first theme would be:

In the World” 

The point of this talk would be to emphasize the first part of the saying “Be in the world but not of it.” As far as I can gather, these exact words do not occur in the Bible, but the principle is derived from such verses as John 17:15-16, in which Jesus says, "My prayer is not that you would take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one," and II Cor 10:3, "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does." 

don't know how yours is, but my church is in no danger of being “of” the world. Far from it. On the contrary, my church is quite withdrawn from the world. We do not engage in social justice. We do not seek to meet the needs of people in our city. We are not involved in community outreach. And we certainly are not connected with the local arts scene or local intellectualism. 

So my point would be to encourage Christians to get out in the world. We are commanded to do so! Be in the world! Get out there, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, go to concerts, walk through the art museum, listen to lectures, attend plays...

What's more, these two types of community involvement—in social justice or “goodness” and in the arts or “beauty”—can go beautifully together. For instance, the Allentown Symphony has an El Systema program that gets at-risk kids playing music rather than doing drugs. There are lots of other examples. 

Question for you: Is your church “in the world,” or does it tend to be more isolationist? If it is in the world, how does it engage with the local arts scene?


scruffy said...

Maybe it doesn't have to be the work of the "Church" but the work of the church. The ministers of the Church could be said to be in a position not unlike the apostles in Acts 6. They're job is to teach, inspire and free the congregation to go, pray, work and create. To empower and embolden the sheep to leave the fold and as you say, go out, do. The "Church" could be said to be there to "equip" and "build up" as Eph 4 states and then to "send out." That's not to say that a particularly inspired church couldn't engage the world in very creative ways. Willow Creek in Chicago comes to mind. But i recently heard a saying that i suspect originated in California, "If you want to reach the surfers, don't put a sign saying, "Surfers Welcome" on the church, go, take the church to the beach."

There has been for some time more of a "fortress" mentality in the American church it seems. A desire to separate from the world. As a result we may be in danger of losing our saltiness. It's gonna take a lot of energy to overcome the inertia now. For me, that's been easier to address in a smaller chunk. In a small group setting.

Anonymous said...

I, personally, have some danger of being "of the world" as I sit at the very edge of culture and try to engage the art, culture and philosophy of the day. My church is mostly not there, though some look 'of the world' because they simply are! Some new believers. Example at a Bible study: "Should I stop going to strip clubs?"
Our church, though, isn't withdrawn because of cultural reasons. We are well educated, well employed, diverse, and community oriented. But because of our community orientation, we are very internal: healing, growth, encouragement, etc. We need to bust out.
Would we bust out in art? There are a handful of writers, and one visual artist. That's about it. We'll see where that leads.

Curt Day said...

Though I don't like to categorize things into just two categories, sometimes that reflects reality. The two categories I am thinking of is how people interpret the Bible. Some look at the Bible as a user's guide that will, at least in part, restore paradise. Others, will look to the Bible as a guide through the wilderness.

With the former approach, there is a compulsion to talk about humanity in an unrealistic, ideal state and the Bible is there to help us reach such a place. In addition, there will be an equal compulsion to add principle upon rule to guide us in our quest for perfection.

With the latter approach, there is a realization that one must confront reality in order to know what we are reacting to and the Bible helps us understand reality and how to survive. Here, there is less emphasis on the ideal state and more tolerance for blemishes.

If Art reflects what it is to be human, then we should expect that the Art of those who believe that the Bible is a user's guide to perfection should emphasize idealism art and shun of what is human. We should also expect such people to see the comparison between what is flawed to what is perfection with what is secular with what is in paradise. Thus what is flawed and what is secular will be voided and what is perfect and paradise will receive focus.

So Art, in addition to revealing what is in our minds and souls, may also reveal how we view the Bible.