“Art lifts us out of the mundane and reminds us of the deeper longings of our hearts and souls that are left unfulfilled in the existential political order. Art stimulates our longing for the world we dream of but have not yet realized.”

So states Tony Campolo in the foreword to J. Nathan Corbitt and Vivian Nix-Early’s Taking it to the Streets: Using the Arts to Transform Your Community.

Campolo sets the tone for an outline developed by the authors that will enable the local church to take its ministry outside of its own walls.

Artists have generally had little inclusion in the ministry of the institutional church. The authors present a form in which the congregation can become prophets of conversion, servanthood and transformation.

“Art is the vehicle for opening the window of hope to young people and their families,” they write. “We hope this book will provide congregations and artists of faith both encouragement and concrete models for community mission and engagement.”

Corbitt and Nix-Early are professors at Eastern University. Much of what they propose comes from their own pilgrimages and from researching street preachers and the prophetic artists plying their trades in the urban settings of our nation. Their findings include several interesting points:

–Christian artists are often isolated from other Christian ministries trying to do similar work. Artists are less appreciated than their counterparts in other ministries.

–Christian artists perceive their work as “giving back” to God. They are not angry, finger-pointing maniacs. They are giving, generous people who feel called not only to minister to but also to live with the populations they serve.

–Christian artists are a group of people who know how to love others. Most work outside the confines of the traditional church.

–Christian artists work mostly through emerging faith communities. They believe strongly in their calling to be ministers of transformation.

“What these findings say to us is that the church needs a new paradigm and theology of the arts outside the sanctuary,” the authors conclude.

Corbitt and Nix-Early outline a “new” theology that is complimentary to that which the local congregations share.

The first dimension of this is categorized as a “vertical” theology. This is traditionally represented by the artists “lifting holy hands in praise of God” and is taken scripturally from the Psalms.

The second dimension, the “horizontal” theology, takes Jesus and the arts to neighbors in the public square and workplace.

What makes this new, according to the authors, is that this theological tradition for the arts is rarely taught in seminaries, divinity schools or Christian colleges.

These Christian artists are categorized into three groups:

–Urban Prophets. These are the artistic servants who are street preachers and street performers. These use their arts to speak for social justice and a call to repentance.

–Agape Artists. These are the artistic servants who use their arts to reach out to their neighbors, building transformational relationships of compassion and love.

–Celebrative Artists. These are the artistic servants who use their arts to help people in emerging churches celebrate through worship and renewal.

The goal of all these artists is to help bring in and celebrate the “NU JERUZ” or the New Jerusalem through rich and loving relationships.

This is fascinating read! The authors are passionate about bringing the arts into a mainstream “missional” approach to ministry. They share ways to get into the streets with the transforming messages of “NU JERUZ,” of God who wants to play with his children, of using the arts to transform not only the people in the community but also the infrastructures of the community. This is a call to celebrate the blessings of God’s love through the use of arts and the power the arts bring.

The more traditional reader will be somewhat reluctant to embrace these teachings (like bringing “rap” into children’s church.) However, the more “missional” leaders will be thrilled with the creativity and potential for freedom that comes from using the arts for preaching, teaching and ministry.

For the artists as well, the authors have brought a wonderful framework for setting loose artistic expression with a Christian message to their communities.

To find out more, access www.buildabridge.org to lead to opportunities for direct involvement.

Bo Prosser is coordinator for congregational life for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Atlanta.

Order Taking it to the Streets now from Amazon.com.

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