“The only way to change culture is to make culture.”
As Crouch demonstrates in Culture Making, over the last century the church has at different turns condemned, critiqued, and copied the culture around it. Moving forward, we believe the appropriate path is for the church to cultivate what’s good around it—things that get at something true about the world and the human condition—and to create what’s missing—pieces that wrestle with the existence of pain and evil while lauding and creatively presenting the good, the true, and the beautiful.
But what does that look like?
In his Cultural Liturgies series, James K.A. Smith makes the case that we all carry “visions of the good life” in our hearts, what we see as the ultimate picture of human flourishing, and this vision is what guides our actions.
For the surrounding culture this vision may be some version of the American dream, which leads them to strive to make as much money as they can, to always be productive, to build bigger houses, and to serve themselves and their tribe first. In their mind—and in the news and culture they consume—this is is humanity's primary purpose and highest aim (or telos). And so this is the vision that has their heart.
The Christian faith calls us to something quite different.
Die to self.
Take care of the least of these.
Lose your life so you can find it.
Submit to Christ’s lordship and go where he leads.
Rest in the work of Jesus.
Do not give your life to serve mammon.
This glorious message of the so-called “upside down kingdom” is, paradoxically, all we could hope for. As Augustine famously put it, our hearts are restless until they rest in God. And so we rightly teach and proclaim the kingdom in our conversations, classes, preaching, and teaching.
Now we want to paint pictures about it.
And sing about it, and sculpt, and write, and rhyme, and play our instruments about it.
Because hearing of this kingdom, knowing it exists, even understanding it will not include you in it. We don’t believe facts can save. A person may change his mind; he may even think that life following Jesus is probably better than what he’s built his life around. But still his heart can still be far from the Lord. Why is this?
Because our minds are only half the story. Such a man’s heart is set on another narrative. He has taken stories he’s seen, heard, and experienced in secular culture and made them his. And frankly, the secular world has been making better art.
We draw inspiration from our holy scriptures. These ancient texts are not primarily a list of propositional statements and didactic lessons, but make up a variety of art forms—proverbs, poetry, prophecy, narratives, love songs and hymns. Jesus himself taught with stories. Our Lord used metaphor, simile, hyperbole, foreshadowing and imagery to paint pictures for his listeners. He didn’t only say “Be humble and give to the poor;" he told the story of the good Samaritan.
And as God transformed our hearts with these stories, using his Spirit to show us the goodness of his grace, we—through the Spirit—work to create art that fosters redemption in the world around us.
We hope to use the arts to capture imaginations and fuel reflection and meditation on life in light of God’s work and coming kingdom. It’s in the stories the church shows and tells that a Christian view of the good life is painted, drawn, and aimed at the heart of the world.
THREE WAYS we hope our work brings good into the world:
1| Create community touchstones that bridge the gap between churches and those who live and work in the surrounding area.
2| Envision our churches as outposts of the kingdom of heaven who cast a vision of that coming kingdom. This is what it means to advance the kingdom through creativity.
3| Create works of art that transcend the secular/religious divide and communicate a vision of the good life in a beautiful, universal, winsome way that engages not only the minds but also the hearts of unbelievers.
Curtis is a writer, media strategist, and editor at A|C. He can't stand Tolkien, loves Lewis, and wants to be Chesterton. Curtis and his wife Emily have four boys, Damon, Luke, Cameron, and Henry.