My life’s work and my passion are to motivate the Church toward thinking more deeply and seriously about the importance of creatives and artists who serve as “imaginative expression specialists.” And, toward these ends, my goal is for pastors and others in church leadership to treat singers, musicians, fine artists, dancers, and others as not just performers but as key strategists on their evangelism and outreach teams. Why? Because God has gifted artists with the ability to uniquely communicate his infinite, unfathomable transcendence.
But what does this mean in practice?
Importance of Evangelism
- Content – As evangelists, the objective realities we attempt to share are the existence of the Triune God (Deuteronomy 6:4, Exodus 3:4-6); God’s accessibility through the work of Christ as empowered by the Spirit (Ephesians 2:1-10); Christ’s death and resurrection (Romans 3:21-25, 1 Corinthians 15:1-3); and our response through repentance, faith, and surrender (Romans 10:9, 10).
- Relationships – This is the currency of the Kingdom of God. God’s reality and His connection with people happens frequently through a nonbeliever’s relationship with believers.
- Community – This is the crucible of God’s Kingdom. We must engage with other believers if we are to mature in our faith. Likewise, as ambassadors for Christ, we are to bring nonbelievers into this spiritually nurturing community.
- Encounter – This is the engagement of God through the believer with the nonbeliever.
Evangelism, then, is the mysterious transaction between God and people engaging with each other. So, then we need to ask the question, “Why are artists so crucial to the process of evangelism?” To this question, I suggest six realities:
- Artists are imagination specialists.
- Artists are powerful storytellers.
- Artists are gifted relational curators.
- Artists are specialized community creators.
- Artists are environment designers.
- Artists are transcendence touchers.
There are at least three Old Testament truths that affirm these realities:
- First, we see that human beings possess God’s image (Genesis 1:26, 27), his imaginal intelligence (Isaiah 26:3), and his imaginative expression (Exodus 35:30-36). The Hebrew term used in these verses and others (79 times total in the Old Testament) is yatsar, which is “to imagine” or “to fashion” something in one’s mind before forming it in time and place.
- Second, in Scripture we see many different capacities of imaginal intelligence. An example would be the ability to see, hear, or know what can be before it is – like when a songwriter “hears” a song in their mind before composing it on paper. Imaginal intelligence is also revealed through the ability to see beyond the observable into deeper, transcendent realities. This is the essence of faith. We have faith in the completed work of Christ through his life, death, and resurrection. And we have faith that his shed blood has covered our sins, so we now have access to the true and living God.
- Third, God not only gave people imaginal intelligence, but He also gave to some “unusual wisdom” in the realm of imaginative expression. The best word for this is “craftsmen,” as found in the Hebrew Scriptures, and it means “someone who is unusually wise at imaginative design or expression.” This definition is then typically modified by one, two, or three of five other Hebrew words: wisdom, knowledge, ability, skill, and understanding.
Therefore, the best word for artists in the Bible is the term craftsmen because it demonstrates the reality that there are some whom God has equipped with a special and unusual capacity for imaginative expression and design. Then, if we look to see how these craftsmen are used in Scripture, we find that they design environments where people come together and interact with the transcendent reality of God, along with other transcendent realities of life.
Remember, though, that while all people have imagination, God created artistic people to creatively make relationships, create community, and design environments wherein our encounter with God can happen. Frankly I believe we can’t do any of these things well without the help and input of the artistically gifted.
The problem is we live in a secular age that wrongly believes people can find meaning and significance without God or the transcendent aspects of the world around us. So, given the context in which we live, evangelism must “reenchant people.” Evangelism must “connect” people with the true and transcendent God so we can help those who don’t know Him to “imagine” that He is the source of love and healing and forgiveness. That He restores and energizes us into the life we truly want and for which He created us to live.
The artist’s role in the Bible is to lead people into touching the transcendent realities of life and of God Himself. The artistically gifted “imaginative expression specialists” must be in the mix for evangelism to be effective. This is because evangelism requires relationships, community, and encounter. And the artistically gifted are the “imaginative intelligence specialists” we need to create the context wherein the supernatural transaction of evangelism may happen.
In closing, let me remind you of this axiom: You cannot do anything you can’t imagine. We must help people imagine the objective reality of the true and living God, and we must create environments wherein people, through metaphors, symbols, and expressions, fully encounter Him.
My challenge, then, to the leadership of churches engaged in evangelism is to include imaginative expression specialists in your work because God gave them the unique ability to lead people into touching His transcendence amid our mundane, everyday lives.
Dr. Byron L. Spradlin, Founder and President, Artists In Christian Testimony – actinternational.org