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Note: The symposium proposes 6 questions, each of which is to be addressed in a plenary talk. The questions begin with a fundamental concern (taking us back to Genesis) and end with a view to the future (forecasting 50 years forward).

In what way is art a gift, a calling, and an obedience?

In what way, that is, does art tell us about the nature of God (that everything is gift), the nature of human beings (that we are made in the image of a Gift-giver), and the nature of earth-tilling and Gospel-living (that we are responsible servants who have been commissioned to make artistic culture in the context of a fallen world)?

Our desire here is to help pastors understand the relation of art to God, to ourselves as humans, and to our calling as culture-makers, filling the earth with artistic goodness one square inch at a time. This talk is foundational in nature and will be presupposed by the later talks.

Plenary #1: Andy Crouch (editorial director,The Christian Vision Project,” columnist, author, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling)

How is the pastor an artist and the artist, a pastor?

How can a pastor see himself as an artist? How can he learn to think artistically, or live artfully, or grow in the art of the shepherding of words and people which is also the art of love? On the other hand, how can the artist see him or herself as a shepherd? How can artists see themselves as uniquely anointed shepherds of the imagination, of emotions, of ideas, of physical matter, of beauty?

Pastors and artists are both in the business of shepherding. Both are called to live their lives artfully. The work of pastoring is both a science and an art. The work of art-making is both a provocation and a care-taking. Our desire here is to help the pastor and the artist grow in their understanding and appreciation of their kindred work: of shepherding, of art-making.

Plenary #2: Eugene Peterson (pastor, author, poet)

How can our actions and spaces be artfully shaped?

How can our corporate actions (the liturgy) and physical spaces (the architecture) be informed by an artistic perspective? How, in fact, can the arts reinforce and enliven our theological convictions about worship?

Our desire here is to help pastors and church leaders understand the peculiar nature of the arts as epistemological aids to our knowledge and experience of God as well as media to support our theological commitments as a community; but also to challenge and expand them when necessary. The arts are not neutral. They can aid or hinder our corporate experience. They can conserve, confront, grow and revive our traditions. And each artistic media will do so in unique ways.

For us as pastors to become wise stewards of the arts we need to have a basic understanding of the “liturgical” function of the arts and a basic sense of how the different arts perform this function in unique ways. The purpose of this talk, in short, is to offer a basic landscape of understanding about artfully shaped actions and spaces.

Plenary #3: John Witvliet (associate professor of music and worship, Calvin College; director, Calvin Institute for Christian Worship)

THE ARTIST: What is an artist and how do we shepherd these strange creatures?

What is the anatomy of an artist? What is their peculiar nature? What do artists need to be healthy, mature persons? What do artists need but don’t immediately realize they need? How can we provide spiritual formation as well as community and opportunities for expression for the artists in our care?

Our desire here is to help pastors understand the way God has created artists. Artists don’t need to be idolized or marginalized—often the two primary ways our culture treats them—they need to be loved with understanding, appreciated for the often non-useful, non-marketable but glory-bearing work they create, and invited into the gracious lordship of Christ and the protective, generous care of His Body, the Church.

Our desire, more fully then, is to help pastors understand artists so they can shepherd them well, with skill and wisdom, with love and joy, whether the artists are serving the liturgy or the community or the culture at large or perhaps just needing to sit in the pew and be loved for who they are, not for what they can do.

Plenary #4: Barbara Nicolosi (screenwriter, columnist, executive director, Act One, Inc., Hollywood)

THE DANGERS: What are the dangers of artistic activity?

How can the arts undermine the calling and mission of the Church? What are the possible excesses and misuses of the arts in a church setting: in the worship, in the discipleship, in evangelism and service?

Our desire here is to help pastors anticipate potential dangers in their use of the arts. What works at the playhouse may not be suitable for the sanctuary. The experience of art can become a substitute for an experience of God. The stirring of emotions may simply be that: emotions, not a stirring towards transformation. There can be too much wow factor, or technological whiz-bang, or spectatorship instead of participation in the worship of God.

More art is not necessarily better. What is old can be deadening. What is new can be inappropriate and disruptive. What brings life to one congregation may bring death to another. All of this compels us to seek wisdom from above so that we may be as shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves in our shepherding of the artists among us.

Plenary #5: David Taylor (pastor, playwright, teacher)

What is a vision of the evangelical Church in the year 2058?

Where was the evangelical Church with the arts back in 1958? What movements, trends, forces ought we to be aware of? What concerns face us? What are the hopes and possibilities that lie before us?

The sons of Issachar of 1 Chronicles 12:32 were men who understood the times, knew what to do, and then did it. Our desire here is to help pastors and artists become far-sighted Christians. We want to understand the spirit of the age, not become married to it. We want to be immersed in the culture but not trapped inside it. We want to be present to our contemporary times, careful students of history, and keen observers of the cultural currents—social, political, technological, commercial, religious and so on—that carry us, sometimes forcefully, into our common future.

Our desire is not only to learn from our past mistakes but to anticipate the brokennesses that lie ahead so that we can be clear-headed and nimble-footed in our gospel work. How can we as the church release our artists to make shalom-bearing art with the weighty wisdom of past generations and the welfare of future generations in mind?

Plenary #6: Jeremy Begbie (associate principle, Ridley Hall, Cambridge University; associate director, Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts)

(to be explored in the panels, seminars and workshops)

THE CULTURE: How can art serve the culture-transforming mission of the Church?

How can we as the Church provide both “bread” and “yeast”: “bread” in the form of Church-sponsored art events that explicitly reach out to the non-believing community and “yeast” by way of an incarnational presence through the lives of believer artists who are working within and alongside the artistic community in our cities?

Our desire here is to help pastors understand the different means and unique ways in which art can reshape our culture. We want to help them envision ways to release the artists in their community to create work that awakens desire in our neighbors for the good, the true and the beautiful. We want to expose them to works of art that subtly and allusively or provocatively and daringly challenge the deceptions which disfigure us and pull us away from our Maker. We want to help pastors know how to honor and bless the artists who might already be working professionally in the art community at large.

In short, the double question is this: 1) How can a church create transformative art works and 2) how can it serve its artists who are already doing the gospel work of salt and light in their professional settings?