Knocking away crutches: Towards a theology of the arts

Jonathan Govias 2

I recently came across a very helpful site called Music Ministry which “exists to serve the local church in helping churches, leadership teams and individuals to serve God with the gifts he has given them in music.” Check out their site for information about music ministry apprenticeships (we like the apprenticeship model!), very helpful talks on music ministry from their conferences, a sheet music hymnal and great new gospel-centred songs. There’s also a blog there with loads of thought provoking stuff. In particular, Dave Bignell (musician at St Helen’s Church London) has just done a series of posts giving a ‘theology of the arts’ – or perhaps more accurately, deconstructing a common theology of the arts and moving towards a better one.

You can read the posts here. But as they’re on the long side (getting on for 8000 words altogether) I’ve taken the liberty of formatting them in PDF and Mobi (Kindle) formats for easy reading:

Do read the whole thing – it’s written very well – but to summarise, what Bignell is doing is challenging the way that Christian artists (he includes himself) tend to justify their artistic focus by arguments such as “God has called me to glorify God through my clarinet playing” or “Art is special because we are made in God’s image”. Bignell calls these sort of arguments ‘crutches’ – rather shaky supports that will not support our weight when we really need them to – and wants to lovingly kick them away that we would lean on something more substantial that reads the Bible more faithfully.

Bignell shows, very effectively I think, that the argument about the image of God applies to far more than art and should actually drive us to God’s Word to be transformed into Christ’s image as we find Him there (c.f. the Bible-open music ministry advocated and practised by Richard Simpkin at St Helen’s) and that similarly glorifying God is far wider than art (1 Cor. 10:31) and happens supremely through the gospel of the Cross. He then moves on the question of “So should I be a full-time artist?” suggesting four very helpful practical questions to ask ourselves.

I haven’t really got many crits, just to say that if Bignell was to expand this into a full-length book (which I hope he does) it would be great if he could engage with a few other arguments that are commonly made for the special-ness of art ministry (e.g. the Spirit-endowment of Bezaleel & co. in Exodus 31) and particularly the whole (dubious) idea of ‘calling’ to a specific job.

Have a look and see what you think…

3 thoughts on “Knocking away crutches: Towards a theology of the arts

  1. Thanks Andy! Really glad you found the blogs helpful. I’m never sure whether anyone actually reads them, so it’s hugely encouraging to see your post! Thanks for taking the trouble to make the PDFs etc. At one point I was indeed hoping to turn this into a book, tackling all the issues you mentioned, but so far I’ve not found anyone willing to publish it (it’s a bit too niche for most publishers), and I couldn’t really afford to take the time off to write it. But I’ve not given up entirely – we’ll see what happens.

    • Thanks very much for your graciousness Dave. Maybe worth talking to 10ofthose if you haven’t already. This kind of reflection on the arts and music is so helpful and needed. God bless you in all your good works.

  2. Hope you don’t me chipping in after far too many years! At St Helen’s we work a lot amongst performing artists, and I’m often sending people to this page in order to pass them on to Dave’s blog. What he teaches is very very rarely heard (or appreciated, sadly), but I’m personally very grateful for your recommendation of his work. That’s the reason I pass them through your site, to show that at least someone else has taken his thinking seriously! Dave is in the process of writing a book on this (very long, but it’s brilliant). Anything you can do to encourage him to publish it would be great. Dave, if you’re reading this, get it out there boss! So many need to hear (especially during this pandemic lockdown) that it isn’t their audience that gives them their assurance or fulfilment, but God as he redeems them so kindly in his grace through the blood of Jesus.

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