Theory / Fri 17 Nov, 2017

Keir Shreeves on the Arts as a Journey of Faith

We caught up with Keir Shreeves to discuss how and why it is important for the church to engage with the arts.

#church, #process

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Last week, we posted about Keir Shreeves’ excellent booklet ‘Art for Missions Sake’, a helpful introduction to some of the points of intersection between the arts and the church. Behind the booklet is not just the author though, but a husband and wife team, who are well experienced in these matters and we thought it would be great to catch up with both of them to pick their brains further. Today, we’re starting with Keir, and next week, we’ll let Jessamy have her say.

So, Keir, introduce yourself…

I’m on the clergy team at St Peter’s Brighton and pursuing doctoral studies in theology. I previously studied theology at St Mellitus College and King’s College London. I’m also Chair of Shift (www.shift-uk.com). Before ordination, I qualified as an Industrial Designer and had a career in manufacturing management. I’m married to Jessamy, a painter, and together we have two young children.

The ‘Art For Missions Sake’ booklet is concise but packed with a great depth of understanding about the arts and their place within the church. What has your experience been of art and the church and the mysterious place where the two things meet (or perhaps don’t!)?

My background is Design and Dieter Rams is my favourite designer. I studied Industrial design being part of the last cohort to train at a little campus of Brunel University in Runnymede, Surrey, which closed in 2004 and which we all considered to be our own Bauhaus. After graduating I project managed the acquisition and relocation of a company that makes the London Underground signs, re-designing the manufacturing process. Whilst I was on the Senior Management Team of the company, God called me into full-time Christian ministry. After studying theology, being ordained and on the back of conversations with my wife Jessamy (who is a great thinker and practitioner of art in mission) I became fascinated about theological aesthetics. The booklet is one of the results. It’s a recapitulation of my Master’s dissertation. I’m grateful that I’ve always been in churches that haven’t been suspicious of the arts but I’ve also been aware of a general lack of theological confidence; it’s that, which I hope the booklet might spark in some small way.

What I really like about the booklet is that it contains both why and how the church should engage with the arts. If you could deal with the ‘why’ first: in short, why do you think this is such a big deal? 

The wonder of the arts is that they can take us beyond conventional or established patterns of reason, drawing with a subversive quality. When words might bounce off, image, music or drama can impact in a different way with evangelism coming as something of a surprise. However, the arts have been a neglected theme in the life and mission of the evangelical church because of its Protestant roots and its residual mistrust of art, especially the visual. William Dyrness, Professor of Theology and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary, warns: ‘It is possible that we might actually win the battle of words but lose the battle of images. And losing that battle could well cost us this generation.’  Thankfully, the evangelical church has increased its engagement with the arts over the last fifteen to twenty years and this booklet seeks to help support this by offering theological foundations, a consideration of the role of the artist in the church and the world, and examples of how the creative arts are faithfully contributing to Christian mission.

“whilst the arts are non-utilitarian, they are also a wonderful starting point for many in a journey of faith”

As regards the ‘how’ then. If you could outlaw one common practice in churches and enforce one new practice, both in a bid to improve the church’s engagement with the arts, what would they be and why?

I would outlaw treating the arts as purely decorative because whilst the arts are non-utilitarian, they are also a wonderful starting point for many in a journey of faith, something Hans Urs von Balthasar and Tom Wright affirm. One thing I would encourage is artists and church leadership teams working together to evoke wonder because in doing so we bear witness to the deep reality of something more.

How can we get our hands on ‘Art for Mission’s Sake’ and who is it specifically for?

You can purchase a print copy or digital copy for only £3.95 here.

It’s aimed at artists in the church and those in leadership positions in the church. Whilst, the booklet seeks to encourage artists by affirming their value, it also urges church leaders to support a fresh generation of artists in expressing passion, pain, hope and glory in both the church and the world.

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