Thursday, June 6, 2013

Book Review: "Outreach and the Artist"

God is the ultimate Artist, is the first sentence of Con Campbell's "Conclusion" of his book, Outreach and the Artist: Sharing the Gospel With the Arts. That sentence could easily be the thesis of the whole book. It summarizes well why Christian artists occupy a natural position from which to share the Gospel, why the arts should be seen as a legitimate avenue for sharing the Gospel, and why artists need the Gospel. Campbell does an excellent job as an apologist for all three positions.

The author is unapologetically Christian, so the book may not appeal to everyone. However, I come very close to saying that every pastor, every gospel strategist, and every Christian artist ought to read this book. I suspect that every church either has, among its congregation, gifted artists who sincerely desire to use their gifting in ministry or that the community around the church includes artists who need the Gospel. While Campbell doesn't give many how-tos in the book, he presents a solid understanding of why and how art can be used in ministry.

There are 4 key points that the book highlighted for me. Other readers will almost certainly find different points that speak to them:
  • The need for the church to understand, accept, nurture, and mentor artists instead of automatically writing them off because of their unique lifestyles and perspectives.
  • The difference between the message and the medium (art as an avenue for sharing the Gospel) and the medium and the message (the art contains the message). Both are valid, according to Campbell, but the latter is usually too subtle to be the only way art is used to share the Gospel.
  • The value in approaching the artistic community as an unreached people group with its own culture — common values, language, and focus. Christian artists are best placed to reach other artists because artists tend to assign influence based on "meritocracy".
  • The understanding that art becomes god for many artists. This idolatry needs to be addressed. The medium (art) is not the issue and does not need to be abandoned; one's perspective on art is the issue.
Each chapter is followed by an "Artist Profile" of a Christian artist in which Campbell asks the artist to describe his or her artistic interests, the struggles of being a Christian in the arts, the ministry the artist has through the arts, and what that artist sees as the single biggest barrier that hinders other artists from coming to Christ. He includes musicians, visual artists, thespians, and others to give a broad perspective of the arts. This personalizes the focus of the book.

There were some formatting issues in the Kindle version that I got from the publisher. There were several divided words like "ser vice" and a few odd words like "115Christian". The font size used for the "Artist Profiles" was larger than that used for the rest of the book and I found that a little distracting. I don't know if these items are just in the review copy or if these errors also exist in the commercial edition available from resellers. Those issues were minor distractions and did not take away from the messages of the book.

DISCLAIMER: I received a free copy of this book through the publisher's blogger review program in exchange for a review of the book. I was free to write the review that I thought the book deserved.
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