Dividing artwork and artists into secular and faith-based categories is a rather new construct. Throughout most of human history, painters, architects, musicians, and filmmakers weren’t categorized as non-Christian or Christian. In fact, for centuries, Christians were the trailblazers—and standard-setters—in artistic expression.
For example, the 9th-century Book of Kells and other illuminated manuscripts feature elaborate illustrations of Scripture. During the European Renaissance in the 15th & 16th centuries, the church and its followers led the way artistically, using groundbreaking styles and techniques.
From paintings and cathedrals to frescoes and stained-glass windows, Christ-followers created breathtaking works that people still revere and study today. Even during the past century, mainstream filmmaking highlighted Christian subjects, including the epic movies “The Ten Commandments” and “Ben Hur.” Yet at some point, “Christians kind of gave up the artistic mantle—in every area,” according to John Bolin, a writer, producer, and creative executive.
ChurchLeaders recently discussed the role of Christians and the arts with Bolin, creator of “The Thorn.” The Gospel-centered live show has led to more than 100,000 commitments for Christ during the past 25 years. This spring, a movie version of “The Thorn” debuts in theaters nationwide March 6 and 7. Meanwhile, the stage production is coming soon to 12 mainstream performing arts centers throughout America.
John Bolin: God Calls Christians to ‘Be Better’
Bolin grew up in an artistic family, with parents who were professional actors in Chicago. But when he wanted to study the arts, they discouraged him from pursuing a creative career. So he majored in marketing at Oral Roberts University, then owned an outdoors store in Colorado Springs in the late 1990s.
College kids were welcome to meet at the store, and eventually Bolin became an interim youth pastor at New Life Church. There he put his creative talents to use. “I wasn’t a great speaker,” he admits, “so I did lots of creative dramas, used videos and music, even pyrotechnics, and told lots of stories.”
During his time at New Life, Bolin developed a live-action show centered on Jesus’ Passion. And despite its humble (even “horrible,” according to Bolin) beginnings, “God anointed it.” Eventually “The Thorn” launched a nationwide tour that continues to this day.
As he talks about Christians in the arts, Bolin emphasizes that God is “not just calling us to be as good as mainstream creators, but is calling us to be better.” Pointing to the book of Daniel, Bolin references what he calls the “10x factor.” When Daniel and other young men refused to defile themselves and consumed only vegetables and water for 10 days, King Nebuchadnezzar “found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.” And the superiority of these faithful few applied to “every matter of wisdom and understanding” (Daniel 1:20, NIV).
Why Christians Must Lead the Way in the Arts
By using our God-given talents and engaging with culture, Bolin says, Christians are “actually going to lead the way, and break ground, and break the mold of what can be done” in the arts. “That’s what Dallas Jenkins is doing with the ‘The Chosen,'” he adds, referencing the hit TV show about Jesus’ earthly ministry. Now in its third season, “The Chosen” is considered a “global phenomenon” as well as a model for how to share the Gospel message with the world.
The performing arts field offers unique opportunities for outreach and ministry, Bolin says, noting that Broadway itself is “a pretty dark place.” His philosophy is to not stay in the church but to ask, “Where would Jesus be?” The answer, he says, is that Jesus would be wise while bringing light “into every corner.”