Michael J. Bauer Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company 2013-08-22

Bauer is professor of organ and church music at the University of Kansas. He has served on the music staff of several churches and has established arts programs in those churches. As both a theoretician and a performing artist in leadership positions, he integrates philosophy and practice well. Each chapter includes illustrations through case studies that demonstrate how churches and other ministries have put into practice the ideas the author presents.

In the introduction Bauer explains that arts ministry is not something new. Rather, “as long as there has been a community of faith, there have been creative people eager to share their gifts, to enliven ritual, and to enhance the day-to-day lives of the people of God. What is new is the sheer number of arts ministries imbedded within the institutional fabric of churches, and the exponential growth in sacred arts ministries that has occurred in recent years” (p. xvii). As churches recognize the value of arts ministries and try to begin or improve them, they need encouragement and direction. He explains, “This book is an attempt to lay a foundation for that vital work by grounding it in the insights derived from the rich history of writing in the field of Christianity and the arts” (ibid.). His summary of and engagement with centuries of Christian artistic expression and the burgeoning literature on the subject is impressive.

Bauer uses roses as a metaphor for arts ministry: “They point to what we can become if we open ourselves to the possibilities of life and submit to the direction of the Holy Spirit with imagination, discipline, and love. They command us to stop and cast a contemplative gaze on our surroundings, to attend to the details of life, to search for the presence of the invisible in the midst of the visible. Roses serve as markers along the way, helping us experience exhilaration and lament. They appear in many different places under many different guises. We cultivate them and they, in turn, shape us” (p. 4). Throughout the book he returns to this metaphor at times, al-though it might have been helpful for him to have used this as a theme consistently throughout the book.

“Arts ministry,” Bauer argues, “is an attempt to help human beings incorporate beauty into their individual and corporate lives in an appropriate fashion. It fosters the creative and artistic dimension of the life of God’s people, who are empowered by the Holy Spirit to manifest the full meaning of their creation in the image of God (the imago Dei)” (p. 25). The purpose of this book is to explore the intersections of the arts, human creativity, and ministry: “Arts ministry happens when we integrate the arts, human creativity, and ministry in the context of our own individual and corporate lives, both within our own churches and in the various institutions and organizations that are dedicated to fostering the sacred arts . . . . This book is meant to be a practical study of arts ministry” (p. 16).

Succeeding chapters give an apologetic for arts ministry, including responses to a series of objections that have been voiced throughout the centuries; discuss the relationship between arts and theology, particularly the doctrine of God; address the role of art in human and spiritual formation; treat the role of arts in relationship to the world, including service and evangelism; explain the nature of beauty, particularly in contrast to prettiness; and articulate a theology of the arts, principally their role in worship. In the latter chapter, Bauer compares liturgical and contemporary worship forms: “Historic liturgy, as expressed in so-called traditional worship, is rich in poetic meaning. It values ambiguity and the suggestive quality of metaphor, viewing this as a strength, not a weakness. By contrast, contemporary worship often features prosaic language. It is more literal, admits of less ambiguity and, therefore, of less mystery. It has the potential to reduce God to human understanding, rather than letting God be God” (p. 100).  Later, he makes this assertion: “The arts can be a form of meaningful communication. This statement is not obvious to everyone, nor is it lacking in controversy” (p. 227). He elaborates: “Laypeople typically consider nonverbal art forms meaningful only through their association with words. This is why people talk while the prelude and postlude are played at church each Sunday. They do not understand that meaningful communication might be occurring. They would never consider talking when the pastor is speaking, but when the organist is playing, it is somehow acceptable” (ibid.). Insights like that are sprinkled throughout. Whether or not the reader agrees with his conclusions, the author’s thoughts stimulate thinking and discussion.

Each chapter includes two case studies, adding to the imaginative stimulation of the author’s words. In the final chapter he tells the story of how he developed the arts ministry in a small (around one hundred worshippers) congregation in Overland Park, Kansas, where he served as organist and minister of arts from 1995–2003 (pp. 263–65). An appendix provides a list of selected sacred arts organizations and societies, including contact information, descriptions of purpose, and publications and services provided. This appendix is an excellent resource. An arts questionnaire and an extensive bibliography also are helpful.

The author provides much food for thought. Few readers will agree with everything he says, but all will be helped to think better about arts ministry by engaging critically with this work. But readers should not stop there. This is a “how-to” manual, in that it provides many examples to be adopted or to stimulate creative thinking about opportunities for arts ministry. This excellent book deserves repeated reading as an invaluable resource on the reading list of all ministers in both church and parachurch ministries.

About the Contributors

Glenn Kreider

Glenn R. Kreider

Prior to teaching at DTS, Dr. Kreider served as Director of Christian Education and then as Senior Pastor in Cedar Hill, TX. His research and writing interests include Jonathan Edwards, theological method, theology and popular culture, and our eschatological hope. Dr. Kreider believes that grace really is amazing; it is a thought that will change the world. He is married to his best friend, Janice, and they have two grown children and one granddaughter, Marlo Grace. He and Janice enjoy live music, good stories, bold coffee, and spending time together and with their rescue dogs—a terrier/greyhound mix named Chloe and a black lab named Carlile.