The Arts As Witness in Multifaith Contexts
- ISBN: 9780830851065
- Published By: IVP Academic
- Published: November 2019
Edited by Roberta King and William Dyrness, The Arts as Witness in Multifaith Contexts builds on papers presented at Fuller Theological Seminary’s renowned Annual Missiology Lectures in 2018. There, King and Dyrness argued that neglect of art, which can be traced back to the 16th century Protestant Reformations, is one of the major challenges that hinders holistic Christian witness today. So, in their edited volume, they explore the role and power of art—including music, poetry, dance, theater, storytelling, and visual arts, and that, in the recent past, developed outside the church without any significant religious input (8)—to enhance the life and mission of the churches in multifaith and cultural contexts. The amazing collection of essays, written by ten contributors and analyzing studies focusing on Liberia, Kenya, Southern Africa, Southeast Asia, China, Germany, Mexico, and the United States, invites Christians to develop and adapt locally created artforms to build transformative bridges of understanding between cultures and communities to foster peacebuilding and resist injustice and communal tensions.
The overall theme of the book—the integration of arts and mission, amid growing religious and cultural pluralism, as an essential component in worship and witness—is timely and relevant for the discourse on the contextualization of the Gospel. In order to engage in this discourse, which has a long history at Fuller Theological Seminary, the book challenges colonial missions’ general disregard and dismissal of the rich artistic heritage of local communities in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The churches that emerged in the Global South during the colonial period cultivated a rather negative attitude towards local musical traditions and artistic expressions and considered them as antithetical to the ‘pure Gospel’ preached by European missionaries. Such an approach obliterated cultural diversity, which “reflects the image of the creator God” (4), and prevented the Gospel from taking deep root in local cultures and traditions. Thus, Christianity came to be known as the “White man’s religion” in the Global South. A series of responses prompted by this realization dominated the missiological thinking of the last few decades, including the emergence of the discipline of World Christianity. This concisely presented work is a valuable and welcome addition to the growing body of writing on the arts, mission, and contextualization.
The book also advances missiological thinking by challenging the Eurocentric cognitive approach to religions, which privilege the verbal over the affective and music over other art forms (1). Such a paradigm also dominated Western Christian approaches to interfaith dialogue and peacemaking. Many chapters of this book, whose authors include not only missiologists and theologians but also art critics and ethnodoxologists, highlight the significance of art and symbols to the study of world religions and engage with the complex worldview of our globalized world. Such an approach is especially significant as globalization and changes in immigration laws have brought cultural traditions and practices from around the world to the West. It radically altered the religious and cultural landscape of cities and towns with the mushrooming of mosques and temples as well as restaurants and clubs, which celebrate the universal language of art and the flavors of global cuisine.
Thus, Christians as well as non-Christians, not only in the Global South but also in Europe and the Americas, are living amid cultural, ethnic, and religious diversity. The book is a breath of fresh air for all those seeking to love and relate to their neighbors by embracing their religious and cultural heritage and experiencing it together. Such a nonsectarian human encounter, which takes place outside formal religious settings, will transform individuals and bond them together to mutually uphold our common humanity, rooted in God’s love, and promote human flourishing.
In order to make the book readable and easily accessible, King and Dyrness wrote an introductory essay and divided the remainder of the book into three sections. Part one of the book, which contains two articles by James Krabill and Roberta King, sets the stage for readers to understand the theme of the book both historically and in terms of contemporary praxis. Part two features four essays, by Ruth Stone, Sooi Ling Tan, Ruth Illman, and Jean Ngoya Kidula, based on case studies demonstrating how Christians have creatively used art to engage with their non-Christian neighbors. In part three, which includes essays written by Megan Meyers, Michelle Voss Roberts and Demi Day McCoy, Joyce Yu-Jean Lee, and William Dyrness, the book analyzes how Christian artists have created new interfaith expressions through hip-hop, visual arts, and collaborative storytelling. Even though the book features essays from a variety of authors—both men and women from different racial backgrounds who research a wide variety of geographical areas—it is notable that there are no essays dealing with arts and mission in the Middle East and South Asia, two regions where Christianity is a living tradition for the last 2,000 years, and Christians coexist as a minority among people of other faiths.
Nevertheless, the book is an essential resource for all those who focus on integrating art into the mission, including pastors, theologians, missionaries, missiologists, ethnomusicologists, ethnodoxologists, art educators, and performers. The book is also a pertinent resource for everyone interested in non-cognitive, culturally appropriate communication of the Christian Gospel and creative interfaith dialogue in a globalized world.
Jose Abraham is an associate professor of Islamic studies at Fuller Theological Seminary, California, USA.Jose AbrahamDate Of Review:February 22, 2022