by R. York Moore
Growing up in our upper-flat art gallery in Detroit, the smells of sulfur-based clay and smelting pots were normal. Being raised by two artists, living amidst sculptures and oil paintings instilled in me at an early age a great love for art.
When I came to faith as a college student, however, I began to realize that art and artists are not normally a part of church culture. I have worked hard to help the Church embrace the arts and artists for their intrinsic value, not merely for their contribution to evangelism and outreach.
Too often, the arts are ‘used’ as a tool for evangelism and outreach. Artists know this. From musicians, poets, dancers, painters, and graphic designers, artists sense they have value to others for what they can do or create. When we as Christians, however, learn to love the arts and artists, new pathways open up for gospel witness.
During my 20-year career as a full-time evangelist, I have led hundreds of events—some large and some small. In most events, I have tried to involve artists and to empower and celebrate the arts. When we were leading a campus-wide anti-trafficking campaign at my alma mater, the University of Michigan, one of the 30+ events we did that week happened at the art school.
We invited all the students to contribute pieces for an art show and competition that told the story of suffering and injustice. I’ll never forget coming the night of the main event to speak and talking to Mary. Mary was a Christian but had never been able to tie her art to faith or connect her artist community to Jesus.
Hundreds packed our make-shift gallery and heard stories of the pieces, and listened to original poetry and music. In the end, many made decisions to follow Christ after I shared my journey from Atheism to Jesus as the son of artists. One comment has stayed with me from one of those coming to faith that night: “I just can’t believe you would do something like this! I’ve never thought about my art from the perspective of justice in the world and certainly not how it fits into a relationship with God. Thank you!”
At another anti-trafficking event, we held a group dance competition for justice. Most of the entries were non-Christian cultural groups. The winning group was a South Asian dance group, mostly Hindu. The men who danced in this group were committed to the artistry of dance and had spent a lifetime crafting their moves. Their contribution was electric.
As participants in our event to raise money and awareness to fight human trafficking, their main concern was to engage the issue from their cultural vantage point with excellence. After several performances during the week of our campaign, one of the team leaders said, “I just can’t understand why Christians would want to include us in this amazing event! Thank you so much for including us. This was, by far, the best thing we’ve ever been a part of.”
Including artists for the sake of their art, for the value they have as people made in the image of God, accomplishes so much more than merely ‘using’ them and their contributions. Partnering with artists opens up pathways for the Kingdom of God to flourish both in them and through them—even before they come to faith!
I was asked to be a weekend speaker at an event where a thousand university students were expected to attend. I was drawn to the Book of Revelation as the source for my messages; however, as I studied and studied, I thought to myself, “There is just no way I can do justice to these passages using simply my words.”
I asked the event organizers if we could fly in an artist I knew for the conference so he could ‘co-present’ with me. At first, the event organizers were confused, but I explained, “I want the students to see, smell, and taste these passages—not just hear them. If we can have an artist ‘co-exposit’ the texts with me through art while I speak, Revelation will come alive in a whole new way for them.”
The event organizers agreed and I gave messages while a world-class artist, Shin Maeng, simultaneously drew the passages. We had IMAG on him and his art so the entire audience could see. When I gave the call to faith, a flood of students gave their lives to Jesus. Afterwards, one of them said, “I could hear and see God’s word to me! I have never experienced anything like this before. It was like I was in the Bible!”
When we learn to value the arts and artists and treat them like partners in the gospel, we unlock a mysterious power that is unlike anything else in our world. I believe artists carry within them a unique part of our Creator—they create because they are made in the image of our creative God! Their gifts, talents, and contributions exemplify the fact that we are made in the image of a God of color, sight, sound, rhythm, movement, and beauty. Moving from ‘using’ to ‘partnering’ with the arts connects the gospel to people’s lives in a way that is balanced, believable, and beautiful.
R. York Moore (@yorkmoore) is national evangelist for InterVarsity USA. He is the author of Growing Your Faith by Giving it Awayand Making All Things New: God’s Dream for Global Justice and the founder of the anti-trafficking movement Price of Life. Learn more: tellthestory.net