A Gospel-Shaped Theology of Creativity | MAN (Part 1) – Marred Creativity

Creativity | Theology

Published on April 29, 2021

Our first category of building a Gospel-shaped theology of creativity in our last article considered how our understanding of God as the original Creator, primary viewer and objective standard of beauty informs our understanding of creativity and aesthetics. In this next section of our series of articles, we’ll take a look at fallen humanity.

How does what we’ve learnt so far about creativity relate to us today in a post-Fall world? We’ve seen how beauty worked in God’s perfect creation… but we no longer live in that pre-Fall world where sin had not yet stained all of His good creation. If we are to understand our purpose in creativity – we must understand ourselves: both as created in God’s image, and also how sin has corrupted that image.

MAN | The Imago Dei

To understand how sin has corrupted the image of God, we must first get some understanding of what it means to image God. The image of God on humanity encompasses way more than just creativity, and way more than could be explored here – but for this article, we’ll look specifically at its implications on us as creatives.

Firstly, when the Genesis 1 narrative talks about the creation of Man – it takes a distinctive shift from the rest of the narrative pattern. In every other instance, we saw that God spoke and it happened. With the creation of Man, it is the first time we see God first take counsel with Himself – “Let us make man…” before continuing. This is as if to say, “this one is really special, let’s take a huddle before proceeding.” Then, God doesn’t just speak the man into existence – He forms and fashions the man out of the ground – out of the clay like a master Potter.

God delights in the beauty of creation, and we, as His image-bearers, should as well. Abraham Kuyper said that we, like God, have the possibility, both to create something and to delight in it. Christianity is a whole-person kind of holistic reality. It involves the head and the heart. It involves accuracy and beauty. We were meant to behold and delight in beauty as image-bearers of God – it is a part of how we image or reflect God.

John Calvin rightly observed in his Institutes that “Man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself.”

“God holds the key to your self-understanding because He created you in His own image.” (Terry & Lister, Images & Idols, pg. 46)

We are all reflections of God’s glory. We cannot escape the reality of God because every face in every crowd staring back at you confronts you with His likeness.

The Creation Mandate: Imaging God in Creativity and Culture

Being God’s image-bearers also means that image God in our creativity. As we saw in Genesis 1, God creates by bringing form to chaos, structure to disorder, and purpose and fruitfulness to what was useless and purposeless. We too do the same instinctively.

Why do people later in life who worked jobs they hated end up doing some form of art/creativity in their retirement years? How many retirees pick up painting, or pottery, or knitting, or craft projects? Or how many times have you come to a table that is messy and of your own accord, without anyone telling you – put it in order, straightening your table settings? Why do we desire and put effort into making things orderly, giving structure and purpose to the things and spaces in our lives? It is because we are created in the imago Dei – the image of God. We cannot help but image Him and our creativity is intricately and inseparably connected to God.

This imaging of God – to fill the earth and subdue it, to cultivate the Garden, to exercise dominion and make the earth fruitful – is the basis for the creation of culture itself. This is why creatives tend to be the ones leading the culture. Hence why it is incredibly important for Christian creatives to have a robust theological understanding of creativity.

We often talk about how we reflect/image the character of God… but we don’t often talk about how we reflect some of the talents of God we see in creation. Your creative talents are meant to reflect the glory of God because they ultimately derive from and reflect His talents.

“every act of creativity, in its essence, is an act of worship, a doxological expression of your true humanity and purpose.” (Thomas Terry & Ryan Lister, Images & Idols, 15)

Your creativity – rightly aimed – is worship to God.

SIN | The Corruption of Our Creativity

Sin’s effects on us as creatives is a topic that is not talked about much. Yet it is one of vital importance for creatives to understand living in a post-Fall world after Genesis 3.

Genesis 3 | Our Corrupted Vision

We can sometimes assume that we see things well and forget sin’s effects on our own vision. The image of God on us was to behold the goodness of His creation in agreement with God’s beholding. However, sin has corrupted our vision.

In Genesis 3, at the Fall – sin’s entrance into the world through Adam and Eve’s disobedience, a big shift happened. Adam and Eve no longer joined with God in His beholding, instead, they became autonomous viewers – without reference to God’s vision of things.

After the Serpent tempts Eve with the lie that God was holding out on her, verse 6 says:

“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” (Genesis 3:6, emphasis added)

This reveals a trifold corruption of the triad we have seen previously in our last article:

  • Truth, telling and content are corrupted: God’s word is distrusted.
  • Showing, aesthetics and form are corrupted: God’s declaration of good/beautiful is supplanted by Eve’s own opinion.
  • Doing, Power and Purpose are corrupted: Eve now wants to determine her own purpose and to have power by gaining the ‘wisdom to determine good and evil.’

In the first garden, we find Adam in defiance to God under a tree, throws humanity into the curse of sin and death.

Ever since then, we have distrusted God’s word, supplanted His definitions of beauty with our own, and tried to determine our own purposes. Why do we do this though? It is because, at our core – our desires – we have been corrupted by sin’s stain.

James K.A. Smith has argued in his book ‘Desiring the Kingdom’ that we are primarily desiring beings. That is, we are driven, not first by our intellect, but rather instinctually by our desires at a pre-cognitive level. Our desires are our heart’s eyes – our beholding – our need for something to captivate our gaze. Our hearts lead. The problem is, since the fall, our hearts – the center of our desires – have been corrupted. The image is broken. We no longer see as God sees. We no longer desire to create with God’s trifold standard of beauty. We no longer look to God first.

This is the essence of idolatry – looking to something other than God to give us truth, beauty and purpose.

Sin’s corruption has marred our minds (truth), our affections (aesthetics) and our actions (doing).

So, we’ve seen how the imago Dei enriches our understanding of ourselves as creatives imaging the original Creator as an act of worship. However, since the Fall, that image has been marred and our vision and desires have become corrupted. Thus, our creativity also bears the mark of sin. However, it doesn’t end there. In our next article, we’ll take a look at how we exchange the glory of God and opt for autonomy instead of loving submission to our Lord and how this affects our creative endeavours.

I hope that you’ve been enjoying this series of articles called “A Gospel-Shaped Theology of Creativity.”

Please consider liking, leaving a comment and sharing. Don’t forget to subscribe to Theotivity on Facebook and Instagram to keep updated on new posts. Thanks!

Articles in this series:

  1. Introduction
  2. GOD (Part 1) – The Creator
  3. GOD (Part 2) – Understanding Beauty
  4. MAN (Part 1) – Marred Creativity
  5. MAN (Part 2) – Exchange and Autonomy
  6. CHRIST (Part 1) – Embodied Exegesis
  7. CHRIST (Part 2) – Redeemed Creativity

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