Darrow Miller and Friends

Anatomy of a Balladeer

When speaking to young people, I often mention the role of the artist in shaping culture. People are curious about what I mean, thus begins a discussion of the concept of the balladeer. I am careful to distinguish between artists who use their art for worship or evangelism and those who speak prophetically in the public square. The work of artists in the first group is largely acceptable in Christian circles. The second kind of artist is virtually unknown to the church.

Typically, the question comes up, “What do you mean by balladeers?”

A ballad is a story, a narrative poem, or “morality tale,” set to music. The English word ballad was derived from the medieval French balladée or ballade meaning “danced song.” Our term “ballet” has the same derivation.

Ballads became popular in the British Isles at the end of the medieval period and remained so until the 19th century. They were used throughout Europe and into North Africa and North and South America. The singing minstrels who sang the ballads and the actors who performed morality plays were known as balladeers.

This word has passed out of common usage, but I employ it to call contemporary Christian artists to use their gifts to speak prophetically to the culture, to disciple their nation. (For more details on this please read my paper Worldview and Art: A Call for Balladeers.)

When I speak of a balladeer, I have several elements in mind.

First, I’m speaking of a Christian. Obviously, many balladeers are non-Christians. But here I am referring specifically to Christ followers.

Second, I mean a Christian artist. Whether a novice or a professional, it is someone who is taking their art seriously. They may be a poet, singer/songwriter, painter, dancer, filmmaker, etc.

A balladeer critiques popular culture rather than mimicking it

anatomy of a balladeer

Third, it is Christian who is conscientiously thinking from a biblical worldview. This is distinct from a person whose mind is marked by the sacred/secular divide. Christians who don’t intentionally think from a Bible worldview will function subconsciously from a modern or postmodern perspective.

Fourth, it is a Christian artist who is speaks “prophetically” to culture. That is, not predicting the future, but speaking truth and virtue to the public square, a story teller conveying a morality tale. This is not a consumer or mimicker of contemporary culture, nor a Christian using their art for religious purposes like worship or evangelism. We need the arts in worship and evangelism, but that’s not what we are describing.

A balladeer is a Christian artist who is critiquing culture, speaking prophetically in the public square. It is someone who leads a movement of reformation, creating culture that reflects the kingdom of God. J.R.R. Tolkein is a model. He considered himself a secondary creator consciously seeking to represent the Primary Creator and reflect the primary creation (reality) in his secondary creations, (such as his novels).

Fifth, it someone who thinks deeply and thus theologically from the scriptures. One’s mind and heart are saturated by truth, beauty and goodness, not merely by emotions.

Sixth, a Christian artist who is on a path to excellence in their art form. People are attracted to excellence in art. But many artists who excel as artists are creating destructive messages. A Christ-follower can create messages that lead to life, rather than death. But achieving excellence in their art should be the goal of every Christian artist.

If we view each of these elements as overlapping circles, the balladeer is the person who occupies the intersection.

Movements need balladeers! The reformation of culture needs those who have the courage and talent to speak truth to power through their art.

  • Darrow Miller


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Darrow is co-founder of the Disciple Nations Alliance and a featured author and teacher. For over 30 years, Darrow has been a popular conference speaker on topics that include Christianity and culture, apologetics, worldview, poverty, and the dignity of women. From 1981 to 2007 Darrow served with Food for the Hungry International (now FH association), and from 1994 as Vice President. Before joining FH, Darrow spent three years on staff at L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland where he was discipled by Francis Schaeffer. He also served as a student pastor at Northern Arizona University and two years as a pastor of Sherman Street Fellowship in urban Denver, CO. In addition to earning his Master’s degree in Adult Education from Arizona State University, Darrow pursued graduate studies in philosophy, theology, Christian apologetics, biblical studies, and missions in the United States, Israel, and Switzerland. Darrow has authored numerous studies, articles, Bible studies and books, including Discipling Nations: The Power of Truth to Transform Culture (YWAM Publishing, 1998), Nurturing the Nations: Reclaiming the Dignity of Women for Building Healthy Cultures (InterVarsity Press, 2008), LifeWork: A Biblical Theology for What You Do Every Day (YWAM, 2009), Rethinking Social Justice: Restoring Biblical Compassion (YWAM, 2015), and more. These resources along with links to free e-books, podcasts, online training programs and more can be found at Disciple Nations Alliance (https://disciplenations.org).

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