"I think I'm the only person to leave NPR, go to seminary, then go back to NPR. . . . It was interesting, really, to be the only Christian on staff and be in charge of their arts and humanities department." ~ Ken Myers, executive producer of Mars Hill Audio, speaking at the CIVA conference the evening of June 14th
I spoke with Eric Gorski this afternoon. Eric is the religion correspondent for the Associated Press. He's apparently doing an article about evangelicals and the arts. He said he found a flyer for our "Transforming Culture" symposium; he found it at a coffee shop outside the perimeter of the Southern Baptist Convention in San Antonio a couple of weeks ago. He was curious.
We talked for, I don't know, forty minutes? It was good. It's funny, though, I start hearing echoes in my head during these kinds of conversations. "Have I said these things before? Do I believe them or am I just blah-blah-blahing them? Do I still feel the tension of my early years?" It's strange. I do. I'm planning a wedding, so I'm tired.
I told him we should think of all this evangelical activity as a reformation, not a renaissance. I don't think we're re-newing or re-awakening anything--as evangelicals. We're having to break new ground, re-understand and re-walk our theological and ecclesial identity. I don't know how to get around that. We can't blithely grub through history and pull whatever willy nilly thing we please to justify our actions. That's sloppy and dangerous. It won't help us create anything long-lasting.
I talked with Bill Dyrness at the CIVA conference. He's a Fuller seminary prof., doing theology, culture, art and such, a really great guy; great conversationalist. I just bought his tome, Reformed Theology and Visual Culture (Cambridge Press), can't wait to start reading it.
I asked him, "What do we do with Jean Calvin?" A lot of us, whether we like it or not, conscious of it or not, are cueing off of him. If we're Protestants it's either him or the other big three. We can't pick our genetic influences, they're just there. We deal with them as best we can.
Luther wasn't much help, Zwingli and Menno Simons even worse in re the arts.
"Do we say he got most things right, some things right?" I asked Dyrness, an MK friend of my father's back in the yesteryear of mid-20th century missions. "Do we say he got the art thing wrong? Straight up--what's your opinion?" He said, "Yes, that's what we have to do. He got a few things about the arts right, but he got other things wrong." (That's my paraphrase of his answer.)
It was refreshing. I love Calvin, but I just needed a little permission to say no to the big man. He's a little bit intimidating. You're not infallible, Monsieur. I respect and honor much of what you said and did, but I don't have to accept that you got everything right about Christian doctrine and life. Surely you were reacting just a wee bit to Le Arts?
Back to Gorski, I told him what we, evangelicals (broadly speaking), were doing with the arts was not ex nihilo. We're a part of an historical continuity--threading back through the emergent uprisings of the last ten years, the writings of the Trinitarians in Britain in early '90s, the CCMers in the '80s, the Jesus Movement and hippie movement of the '70s, the charismatic movement of the '60s, the writings of grandpapa Schaeffer, the intellectual restlessness of Carl F. H. Henry and Billy Graham, the arrival of the neo-fundamentalist movement of the '40s (aka evangelicalism), the ruminations of the Dutch Calvinists Dooyewaard and Kuyper . . . and then trailing into a thick fog and landing only God knows where.
This is going to be my latest project: to draw a nice little family tree of evangelicals and the arts, with crayons and arrows and question marks for the disappearing lines of connection.
I told him the symposium was seeking to help us mature. Four domains are critical to this work of artistic maturation: the individual artist, the professional society or para-church org, the church, and the educational institutions (seminaries, Julliards, high school art teachers). We, with the symposium, were coming alongside the church and its workers, the pastors.
What are you liberating people from? For starters, I said, religious pragmatism, theological rationalism and garden variety gnosticism. For starters.
I told him what was happening around Austin. I told him it was complicated and frustrating and slow but worthwhile. I told him a lot of things I've forgotten already. My head is tired.
Meanwhile, we have an arts festival to enjoy.
A church planter in Austin
I had a fine conversation this afternoon with a fine gent, Jonathan Dodson. He's planting a new church in Austin. He asked to meet at Austin Java to talk about the arts in Austin. I get rather self-conscious after a while. I don't know. I see what I see, but I'm not always sure what we're supposed to be doing. I just look at landscapes, I see the patterns, I see different ways that things can be done, I see some successes over here and some failures over there. Our conversation inspired me to think about something that I'd not thought before: "What would you do if you were starting a new church in Austin? How would you go about reaching artists?"
Shoot. Great question.
I got stuck with all the kinds of ways to answer that question. I stumbled for a while, then decided I should just hack my way to an answer. Now, a few hours later, I'm gnawing, impatiently, for a better answer. What would I do?
All I have to say is that after our conversation my admiration for church-planters is eighty storeys high. That's a serious deal, with a lot of courage and endurance and good humor needed. God bless him.
(Photo: Interviewing Charlie Peacock, Arts Festival 2003)