I’m not an artist. I don’t play a musical instrument, my paintings haven’t progressed from primary school, I’m not much into acting, and no one would pay to hear me sing. But the author Con Campbell is an artist. More importantly he loves artists, and that’s what this book is about. Outreach and the artist expresses two of Con’s passions: (1) a desire for Christians to use the arts to reach out to others; and (2) a desire for Christians to engage with artist subcultures largely isolated from Christian faith. Con writes as a practitioner on both fronts. He is a highly acclaimed jazz saxophonist who has uses his craft to help communicate with others about Jesus and he keeps well connected with other artists, seeking to persuade them to take Jesus seriously.
This book is well written and easy to read. I read most of it yesterday while walking into town and back (while trying to avoid the pedestrian casualty list). There are many strengths to this book that I appreciate. Firstly, Con explains very clearly the content of the good news and how people actually become followers of Jesus. There is no watering down of the Christian message to make it more palatable for an edgy post-modern audience. He is clear that one only becomes a Christian by putting their trust in Jesus and that this is a non-negotiable. He doesn’t claim more for his or others’ art forms than they are able to deliver. No one is going to understand the good news of Jesus simply by being amazed by a painting or swept up in a beautiful piece of music. This may be an experience that God uses to stimulate their interest in the creative God. It might lead them to enquire about the faith of the artist. It may provide a hearing for the artist to explain what they believe. But art, in and of itself, is not going to save people.
Secondly, Con is able to straddle the divide between the church and the arts. He is a highly gifted Bible scholar, teacher, theologian, writer and ministry practitioner. He is also respected as an artistic performer in the field of jazz. He knows how churches think and fail to think, and he understands the world in which the performing artist lives. Con has sought to bridge the divide in a number of ways.
He has performed over 250 jazz gigs with churches and Christian groups, with the aim of creating a relaxed and comfortable context for speaking about Jesus. I’ve witnessed a number of these gigs and love the way Con moves from introducing us to the forms of jazz to sharing his enthusiasm about Jesus. The freedom of the jazz musician to express himself within the groove, leads to Con explaining how Jesus is the groove that gives us real freedom to live.
He also helps churches to consider how their often rigid and judgmental attitudes serve to alienate many alternative types from their midst. The lifestyle of the artist is very different to the 9 to 5 office worker. Days or weeks can be spent just seeking inspiration, or reworking an idea. Productivity may seem non-existent. Thousands of hours can be ‘wasted’ or spent ‘indulging’ in practise, with little to show for it. Con challenges us to see things afresh. If we appreciate the craft of an elite artist, musician, or athlete, then we must also appreciate how many years of effort go into getting there. Most musicians work late nights and weekends. They recover by sleeping in. This doesn’t mean they are lazy. Churches are urged to think more empathetically about connecting with people who have very different lifestyles.
Thirdly, having been one who lived for the god of music, Con understands first hand many of the barriers to artists coming to trust in Jesus. He saw the idolatry in his own heart. He’d taken God’s good gift of creativity and ignored the Creator who gave it to him. Con understands the difficulties for artists whose life and being has been tied up with their craft. There is much for them to lose, but far more to be gained. Con shares how he recognised that he must give up his jazz to worship God instead, but then how God opened more doors than he could ever imagine to enjoy jazz and use it to serve God.
This book also contains a number of interviews with Christian artists. There are musicians, painters, actors. They speak of their appreciation of the arts, what they love, how they’ve struggled as Christians in this subculture, the various ministries they’ve been able to be involved in as artists, and what each believes to be the biggest barriers for artists coming to trust in Jesus.
I really loved this little book. For mine it’s an excellent example of living out the attitude we see in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.
19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
I would highly recommend this book to all Christian artists. I think it will help them to reflect on how they can appreciate the gifts and blessings that God has given them, and encourage them to use their opportunities to honour God.
I would also encourage pastors and leaders in church to read this book. It helps us to think about what’s needed to connect with people we’re just not reaching. It also contains some excellent advice on utilising the arts to make Christ known.