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Rodolfo Amorim - Rookmaaker and Brazil

Rookmaaker and His Influence Amongst Brazilian Christians

Rodolfo Amorim D. de Souza

It was a rainy evening in Sabará, Brazil, in the year of 2010. At a historical theatre created in 1819 by the second Brazilian emperor, Dom Pedro II, hundreds of young Brazilians cry out to the band Palavrantiga, performing at the venue, for its most popular song, Rookmaaker. As the band answers the audience’s cry, a choir of animated Brazilian Christians jump threateningly at the fragile historical venue and sing out loud the song’s main verse: “Eu leio Rookmaaker, você Jean-Paul Sartre” (I read Rookmaaker, you Jean-Paul Sartre). The context of the presentation was an art festival (Art in Focus), gathering Christians of a wide denominational range, from many parts of the country, which included in its schedule serious reflections on the arts and their relationship with the Christian faith and an expected book launch of the Portuguese version of Art Needs no Justification, by Hans Rookmaaker.

Palavrantiga performing Rookmaaker (2010)

 

Rookmaaker lyrics (see here in Potuguese and English)

This short story may give us an idea of this curious phenomenon happening in Brazil since the time around 2010, when the life and thought of the Dutch academic Hans R. Rookmaaker started to acquire a growing influence amongst Brazilian Christians, becoming one of the main sources of reflection, nationwide, on the relationship between Christian faith and the arts. Since its first appearance in an article written in 2009,[1] the life and thought of Rookmaaker have featured increasingly in books, academic theses and articles, conferences and even the naming of a Brazilian art institution.

 

An Art for Life in Creation: Rookmaaker’s Welcome by Evangelicals in Brazil

The thought of Hans Rookmaaker has helped many Christians in Brazil, mainly evangelicals, to relate more openly and creatively to the gift of the arts without compromising an orthodox theological view. This latter fact is one of the main reasons for its influence amongst Brazilian evangelical Christians. That is so considering the Brazilian evangelicals’ connected challenges of fundamentalism, with its tendency to subdue the arts to local church agendas and devotional concerns, and liberal theology, with its tendency to affirm the arts without an intentional concern for relating it to a centre of orthodox belief.  Concerning the challenge of the fundamentalist tendencies of Brazilian evangelicalism –  the fastest growing social group in Brazil[2] – with its clear limits on recognizing the public scope of Christian life, faith and theology: many Christians in Brazil find in Rookmaaker the first serious Christian orthodox reflection about the arts as a creational gift, to be cultivated and enjoyed responsibly by Christians and expressed in the wider culture.

This broader horizon for the arts goes counter to the typical cultural anorexia of much of Brazilian evangelicalism, and is a point of increasing concern of the Brazilian cultural elites, who are mostly secularized.[3] The theme from Rookmaaker’s reflections that probably penetrated most deeply in many Christians in Brazil is that art needs no justification as an aspect of life given and affirmed by the Creator and Redeemer of all things. Visual artists, musical bands, academic and church study groups, theatre and movie actors and many with other artistic backgrounds all over the country testify, now and again, that the main theological resource that first motivated them to move forward in culture was that which came from Rookmaaker’s works. For a Brazilian evangelical, the recognition that art can be thought about and related to without compromising orthodox belief is a significant discovery, mainly for receiving the support from Christian pastors, leaders and church councils that tend, nationwide, to embrace and promote a rigid and tight Christian orthodoxy.

Paulo Ritzel’s choir at Art in Focus (2010)

As concerns the liberal challenge, the aesthetic thought of Rookmaaker is strategically fit to gain influence amongst evangelicals in a context of traditional theologically liberal dominance. Before the writings of Rookmaaker first appeared in Portuguese, the default reflection on Christian faith and arts in Brazil was “Tillichian” in its leanings, with a popular book on theology and Brazilian popular music having been written in 1998 with Paul Tillich as the theoretical framework.[4] Paul Tillich and his theory of culture and the arts enjoyed for decades a true hegemony in Protestant and evangelical academic circles in Brazil. Nevertheless, the broad recognition in the evangelical circles of his theological unorthodoxy contributed to widening the gap between theological reflection and the arts in the evangelical community in general. The aesthetic thought of Hans Rookmaaker has opened significant ways for Christians with a deep concern for orthodoxy to reflect and cultivate the arts in a coherent and integrated way.

 

The Future of Rookmaaker in Brazil

It’s difficult to anticipate in any serious way the prospects for Rookmaaker’s thought in Brazil. What can be said already is that any reflections on Christian faith and the arts in the Brazilian context already have Rookmaaker as one of its starting points. As said above, the main theme of Rookmaaker that has been helpful to many Brazilian evangelicals, artists and those who cultivate the arts in their lives, is his emphasis on the arts as a creational gift given by the Creator for the flourishing of his creatures. Rookmaaker’s critique of modern art remains widely underdeveloped and unknown. Nevertheless, this maybe only reflects the superficial level of understanding and even interest of Brazilian Christians for the art produced by the avant-garde institutions and artists of Brazil, a phenomenon common to Christians and non-Christians in the country.

New translations and publications on the themes of art and faith are appearing and appealing to Christians in Brazil, including authors such as Calvin Seerveld and Jeremy Begbie from a Protestant background, Gregory Wolfe and Roger Scruton from a broad conservative background, amongst others. These publications are starting to have a readership amongst evangelical Christians looking for broader categories for understanding and cultivating the arts. Maybe the new insights brought by these new publications and their broader community of readers will relegate Rookmaaker to a more discreet presence amongst Brazilian Christians in the future, something even expected to happen. But surely the opening of the Brazilian Christian’s mind to broader horizons for the arts in church and culture still has Hans Rookmaaker as its main inspiration and cause. And this is a position to be honoured and praised whatever the future of the Brazilian evangelical church.   

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The Art in Focus festival happened in certain Brazilian cities from 2008 to 2011, exposing Christian artists and the Christian public in general to various art expressions produced by Christians and various reflections on the relationship between Christian faith and the arts.  

The band Palavrantiga was the main popularizer of Rookmaaker in Brazil amongst Christians, but nowadays the number of Christian initiatives in the arts around the country that have Rookmaaker as a definitive influence are countless, from music artists such as Lorena Chaves and Marcos Almeida to visual artists as Elaine Nunes Covolan and Ana Staut, as well as art courses such as Arte & Espiritualidade and art events such as Arte e Prosa.

The institution L’Abrarte: Associação Rookmaaker para Estudos em Arte e Cosmovisão was developed by the art academic Paulo Ritzel in the city of Natal. Though paralyzed in its current activities, L’Abrarte was instrumental in introducing the first translations of Rookmaaker into Portuguese and promoting Rookmaaker’s thought in Brazil.     

 

  

Books by Hans Rookmaaker in Portuguese

Filosofia & Estética. Brasília: Editora Monergismo, 2020.

O Dom Criativo. Brasília: Editora Monergismo, 2017.

A Arte Moderna e a Morte de uma Cultura. Viçosa: Editora Ultimato, 2014.

A Arte Não Precisa de Justificativas. Viçosa, Editora Ultimato, 2010.

 

The biography of Hans Rookmaaker

Gasque, Laurel. Rookmaaker: Arte e Mente CristãViçosa: Editora Ultimato, 2012.

 

Rookmaaker-themed books

Santana, Bruno. A Arte e a Redenção da Cultura. Recife: Bruno Santana, 2020.

Souza, R. Fé Cristã e Cultura Contemporânea. Viçosa: Ultimato, 2009.

 

Books by and on Paul Tillich’s theory of arts and culture in Portuguese

Tillich, Paul. Textos Selecionados: Paul Tillich. São Paulo: Fonte Editorial, 2012.

Tillich, Paul. Teologia da Cultura. São Paulo: Fonte Editorial, 2008.

Calvani, Carlos Eduardo B. Teologia da Arte. São Paulo: Paulinas, 2005. 

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Rodolfo Amorim Carlos de Souza has a Master of Arts in Sociology from UFMG and is co-founder of L’Abri Brazil and AKET (Kuyper Association for Transdisciplinary Studies). 

You can listen to a version of Rookmaaker here.

This article was first published in The Big Picture 3, 2022


[1] This article written by me was part of the collaborative book project: “Hans Rookmaaker e Missão Integral no Brasil” in  Fé Cristã e Cultura Contemporânea. Cosmovisão Cristã, Igreja Local e Transformação Integral (Viçosa: Editora Ultimato, 2009). [Christian Faith and Contemporary Culture: Christian  Worldview, Local Church and Wholistic Transformation].

[2] Research conducted in the year of 2020 by José Eustáquio (IBGE) concluded that the evangelicals will be the major religious group of Brazil by 2032, bypassing the Roman Catholic population. For the presentation and analysis of the data concerning this social phenomena, see “Evangélicos devem ultrapassar católicos no Brasil a partir de 2032,” acessado em 05 de dezembro de 2021: https://veja.abril.com.br/brasil/evangelicos-devem-ultrapassar-catolicos-no-brasil-a-partir-de-2032/.

[3] For diverse interpretations of this cultural phenomena, see Andrea Dip, Em nome de quem?: A bancada evangélica e seu projeto de poder (Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 2018); Davi Lago, Brasil polifônico: Os evangélicos e as estruturas de poder (São Paulo: Mundo Cristão, 2018); Juliano Spyer, Povo de Deus: Quem são os evangélicos e por que eles importam (São Paulo: Geração Editorial, 2020).

[4] Carlos Eduardo B. Calvani, Teologia e MPB (São Paulo: Loyola, 1998).