Evangelism, Art and Idolatry

Sitting on my shelf is a tome of some magnitude: Paul and Union with Christ by Constantine R. Campbell. I haven’t touched it yet, already working my way through N.T. Wright’s The New Testament and the People of God, and I can only handle so much heavy at one time.

So when the opportunity arose to review Campbell’s Outreach and the Artist, weighing in at a scant 116 pages and even containing pictures, I thought I’d use it as a bit of relief reading. As I anticipated, Campbell does not disappoint.

One of the things about his particular writing style is his ability to write colloquially and academically. Most scholars have a hard time writing mass appeal books, while the converse is true for authors on the more conventional level. But Campbell manages both realms well, and I would wager that the testimony he provides in Outreach is where that ability began. I won’t spoil it for the rest of you, but Outreach is primarily a book a life stories, which is a perfect vehicle for communicating how to share the Gospel to artists and through the arts.

Campbell’s honesty about how evangelism works is refreshing. It’s all too common to read books like this that have examples of mass conversions or so forth, but Campbell takes a different approach: “…I suspect that no one has been converted ‘on the spot’ at any of my 250 evangelistic jazz nights. That’s okay with me, because that’s not really what I’m aiming for,” (p. 52). I appreciate that kind of candor, because it points to what I have always believed about evangelism: it’s not about our performance, but rather about being the vehicle for people who are responding to God’s calling. Campbell goes on the suggest the same kind of thing by comparing his jazz nights to a first date: “Aim for a first great date. Aim to spark someone’s interest to find out more. Aim to provide an overwhelmingly positive experience of Christianity. Aim to move someone one step along the way,” (p. 53). That is a notion I can get behind.

But the goodness is not restricted to just one chapter. In the section, “Dethroning the Idol,” Campbell tackles what I believe to be the greatest barrier for artists, Christianity and everything in between: idolatry. He points out how no one encourages an individual to make music or art their god, but how that very message is communicated all the same. I often think of Ernest Hemingway, who has occasionally been held up as an example to follow much to my chagrin, and his policy of writing every day. As an aspiring writer in college, I asked myself if it was more important to write every day or to read my Bible. When I realized I felt writing should take precedence, the Spirit laid on conviction like I had never felt before. Thus, I began to write less, and read my Bible more. It’s encouraging to discover that this is typical of the process, as Campbell documents through his anecdotes and advice. This chapter was perhaps my favorite, and I would venture to say that even if you don’t read the whole book, make sure you read this chapter.

Con Campbell’s work is to be commended. Outreach and the Arts is a simple and fast read, that has much to offer in the way of humility and genuine advice. If you’re interested how Jesus and the arts relate, this is the place to start.

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