When I was in Atlanta last June for my granddaughter’s high school graduation, I met a young man with an intriguing theory. His name is Bryan Coley, and he’s the artistic director of a theater company called Art Within. Coley’s theory is that the next Billy Graham will be a playwright — and he could be right because the arts and media have tremendous influence in our culture today, helping shape the values of millions.
Imagine, Coley says, what could happen if the Church could launch hundreds, if not thousands, of Christians into careers in which they could shape the ideas that pour into our culture.
That’s the goal of the Art Within ministry. All too often, Coley says, Christians have just one response to the garbage we see in the arts and media: We criticize, ban, and boycott. By contrast, Art Within goes beyond criticism by creating plays that present a Christian worldview. They take as their motto a line by Michaelangelo: “Criticize by Creating.”
Take the issues of cloning and embryonic stem cell research. Those who hope to profit from this research minimize the humanity of the embryo; they hope to convince the public that the potential benefits far outweigh any human rights concerns.
To address this debate, Art Within offered a new theatrical adaptation of the H. G. Wells classic The Island of Dr. Moreau. If you missed this novel in high school, it’s the story of an arrogant scientist whose goal is to create human-like creatures out of animals. This leads to a race of deformed beast-people, and the play is a powerful warning against pushing science beyond moral limits — of breaking through biological barricades simply because we can.
If Bryan Coley is right — that the next Billy Graham may be a playwright — it’s because moral propositions are absorbed much more easily through images and the medium of storytelling than through dry, theological treatises. Stories shape our thoughts, move our emotions, and enlarge our imaginations. The images we plant in our minds have an enormous influence over the kind of people we become. They both express and shape our beliefs and values.
Think of the effective use Jesus made of images and stories. He could have simply said, “Take care of people who are hurt and victimized.” Instead, He spun the tale of the Good Samaritan. He could have just said, “God forgives your sins, so forgive others.” Instead, He told the parable of the unmerciful servant. Why? Because a story gets at aspects of truth that are beyond the power of didactic teaching.
For the Christian, the arts are an important way to understand God and His creation. In a post-Christian culture, those who blend artistic gifts with Christian faith can help lead us back to a biblical worldview. That is why the Church should encourage them.
As Coley puts it, “If I do not use my talents to criticize by creating, then my son, now two years old, will live in a society where Christian ideas are a foreign language.” He is right.
Visit the BreakPoint website to learn more about Art Within. Find out how you can play a part in redeeming the culture through the arts — arts that point to the greatest Artist of all: the God Who created the heavens and the earth.
For further reading and information:
The BreakPoint “Christians in the Arts” kit includes two books to equip artists, and those interested in the arts, with ideas and inspiration for influencing the culture: It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God (Square Halo Books, 2000) by Ed Bustard (editor) and others, and Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts (InterVarsity, 2001) by Steve Turner.
Learn more about Art Within. BreakPoint has also put together information on different groups in various branches of the arts.
Wilberforce Forum Fellow T. M. Moore writes a regular column, “Ars Musica et Poetica,” on the arts.
“The Return of Beauty: Art as Revelation” is a 2002 Image conference taking place in New York City, November 1-3, 2002. It will explore the role of art and beauty as mediators of truth — including the truth of biblical faith. (Image: A Journal of the Arts and Religion, a quarterly publication, explores the relationship between Judeo-Christian faith and art.)
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