Here is the official definition, created in May 2019 by the board of the GEN Network:
Ethnodoxology is the interdisciplinary study of how Christians in every culture engage with God and the world through their own artistic expressions.
Other definitions developed and used during the first 20 years of the term being used:
- Ethnodoxology is the theological and anthropological study, and practical application, of how every cultural group might use its unique and diverse artistic expressions appropriately to worship the God of the Bible. (Paul Neeley)
- Ethnodoxology is "the theological and practical study of how and why people of diverse cultures praise and glorify the true and living God as revealed in the Bible." (Dave Hall; read more here)
- Ethnodoxology is a theological and anthropological framework guiding all cultures to worship God using their unique artistic expressions. (Brian Schrag)
- Ethnodoxology is the worldwide practice and study of arts facilitation that encourages the grass-roots, local composition and production of artistry that is culturally relevant, biblically sound, and emotionally resonant, for use in the body of Christ for worship, discipleship, evangelism, and other extensions of God’s love in the world. (Katherine Morehouse)
The term ethnodoxology was coined by Dave Hall, founder of Worship from the Nations, a ministry of Pioneers. Although the term is used by various people with slightly different meanings, you can read Hall’s understanding of the concept here. The earliest appearance of the term in print was a 1997 issue of the journal EM News (Vol. 6, No. 3), by the editor, Brian Schrag.
Perhaps you’re familiar with music, dance, drama, poetry, and visual art as a few examples of artistic expressions. The vast diversity of artistic forms as they are found around the world, however, is far more complex than these categories might lead you to think. Furthermore, recognizing arts within our own culture can be challenging, much less in another culture, where we may not discern forms or boundaries of unfamiliar artistic expressions.
At their core, arts are a special kind of communication. Like all communication systems, the arts are connected to particular times, places, and social contexts. They have their own symbols, grammars, and internal structure. Artistic forms of communication, however, differ from other kinds of communication in several important ways:
- Arts may have distinctive performance contexts—set off from everyday interaction by time of day, place, special language, clothing, interactions between participants, and sometimes special allocation of resources.
- Arts may expand or contract the density of information—expanding in such genres as opera, epics, or genres with repetition of text; condensing in such genres as poetry and proverbs.
- Arts may assume more or special knowledge—familiarity with the form of the work, cultural references, or its special language, for example.
- Arts exhibit special formal structure—limited by constraints of form which do not pertain to everyday communication.
- Arts may elicit unusual responses—emotional, physical, or cognitive.
- Arts may require unusual expertise—specialized training or practicing.
The description above is based on Brian Schrag’s Creating Local Arts Together: A Manual to Help Communities Reach Their Kingdom Goals, pp. xviii and 7-9. If you want to hone your skills in identifying forms of artistic communication, you can purchase Schrag’s book or check out a workshop/training program (see #8 below).
Test the theory for yourself. If the arts are a universal language, then the meaning of any work of art should be obvious to you.
Try the three questions in this PowerPoint and see how many you get right! (We have made the presentation downloadable so you can easily share the game with others.) Click to open the game online or download and play the Universal Arts Game PowerPoint.
The bottom line is that the arts are universally present, found in every culture in some form, but their meanings do not communicate universally from culture to culture.
Here are some links to additional articles about this question:
1. Harris, Robin P. 2013. “The Great Misconception: Why Music is Not a Universal Language.” In Worship and Mission for the Global Church: An Ethnodoxology Handbook. Krabill, James R., managing ed.; Frank Fortunato, Robin P. Harris, and Brian Schrag, eds. Pasadena: William Carey Library. Used by permission.
We recommend the following resources to start:
- Ethnodoxology: What it Means and Why it's Essential for Church Planting (Eliza Thomas)
- Ethnodoxology: Calling all peoples to worship in their heart language (by Joan Huyser-Honig)
- Lausanne Global Analysis: "Ethnodoxology's Time Is Here" (by Brian Schrag with Robin Harris)
- Ethnodoxology issue of Mission Frontiers (guest edited by Robin Harris)
- Orality Journal, Arts & Orality Part 1: Foundations and Applications (guest edited by Katie Hoogerheide & James Krabill)
Books (also available on Kindle):
- Krabill, James R., Frank Fortunato, Robin P. Harris, and Brian Schrag, eds. 2013. Worship and Mission for the Global Church: An Ethnodoxology Handbook (with DVD). Pasadena: William Carey Library.
- Schrag, Brian. 2013. Creating Local Arts Together: A Manual to Help Communities Reach Their Kingdom Goals. James R. Krabill, gen. ed. Pasadena: William Carey Library.
Join GEN—as a member, you’ll be able to post questions on the GEN forum and use the member directory to network with people who live/work in your area or share your interests in particular topics related to ethnodoxology.
The following map shows where GEN members serve. If you’re an GEN member and don’t see your country marked, please contact us at email@example.com.
- Explore the GEN Library, where you will find resources beyond those listed in Question #4 above. If you join the GEN network, you will gain access to the full online GEN Library, a collection of both current and historic ethnodoxology resources.
- Join the GEN network, which gives you access to member forums where you can post questions and receive answers from experienced ethnodoxologists working around the world.
- Read the GEN journal, Global Forum on Arts and Christian Faith.
- If these options don’t answer your questions, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"For as the earth brings forth its bud, As the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth, So the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations." Isaiah 61:11 (NKJV)