A Gospel-Shaped Theology of Creativity | OUR RESPONSE

Creativity | Theology

Published on May 27, 2021

We’ve covered a lot over the course of this series of articles, and yet we’ve only just scratched the surface. There are innumerable more depths of riches of wisdom and insight to be gleaned from the pages of scripture to ignite our heart’s passions to the glory of God. There’s gold there to be found, if only we would take the time and effort to dig.

Our previous articles looked at the need for theology as creatives, God as the original Creator and source of understanding Beauty, Man and how the Fall marred our creativity and our creative idolatry. Then we looked at Christ as the embodied exegesis of God’s glory and source of our creative redemption. In this article, we’ll take a look at what our response should be as creatives to all of this.

How Does Theology Help Creatives?

Connecting your faith to your creativity requires theology. We must gaze deeply at the beauty revealed to us in God’s Word which reveals His glory in order for us to be able to respond rightly to Who He is. This is the primary purpose why THEOTIVITY exists and I hope that this series of articles has encouraged Christian creatives to desire to dig deeply into the depths of solid theology to find their souls delighted in God.

Heat and Light

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), in regards to proper religious affections, once said:

“As on the one hand, there must be light in the understanding, as well as an affected fervent heart; where there is heat without light, there can be nothing divine or heavenly in that heart; so on the other hand, where there is a kind of light without heat, a head stored with notions and speculations, with a cold and unaffected heart, there can be nothing divine in that light, that knowledge is no true spiritual knowledge of divine things. If the great things of religion are rightly understood, they will affect the heart.” (Jonathan Edwards, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, emphasis added)

In order to provide fuel for the passions of our creativity to burn brightly, we must feast on the knowledge of His Word. Many churches have attracted Christian creatives by fancy light shows and big productions, producing lots of “fire” (heat) and passion, but neglecting to feed their souls with the meat of God’s Word (light). In order to not be all heat without light, we must study – not to increase the size of our heads, but rather the size of our hearts!

This is why Christian worship in the corporate gathering has always had the impetus to put words to melody. Our truths are so beautiful, mere propositional statements would not do justice – they must be sung! The best and most enduring hymns have all been birthed out of deep and rich theological truth.

What we’ve gone through in these articles is only a small piece of how the Gospel and theology help creatives connect faith to their creativity. Hopefully it gets you started or continuing on what will be a life-long pursuit. You can find many great recommendations for resources to fuel that pursuit in the Resources section.

Art for God’s Sake (1 Peter 4:10)

Ok, so simplify all of this for me. How would we summarize what we’ve learnt? How does all this theology connect? And what do I do now that I understand how the Gospel shapes my theology of creativity?

Thomas Terry and Ryan Lister, in their brilliant book, say (and yes, I really do love this book!):

“Another way to put it is to say that some projects will be like a tree. We love a tree’s shade, its limbs that our kids climb, and its autumn-painted leaves. Yet how many of us ever give its root system a second thought? But regardless of our consideration, the tree’s roots actually make all the things we love about the tree possible. At times, our creativity will be like this. We will make things marked by beauty, ingenuity, and promise, which will not directly evidence God’s purposes but are only available because of Him.” (Terry & Lister, Images & Idols, 62)

Christian art and creativity should be the opposite of the autonomous slogan ‘Art for Art’s sake’… it is rather, “Art for God’s sake.”

So consider:

Who is the primary audience of our creativity? For whom do you create?

This is why we exist – to glorify God. Thus remember the primary Audience for Whom you create.

Paul says that “…we are his workmanship (Greek: poiema), created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

“Remember that we are Christ’s workmanship, His poiema (Eph. 2:10)-the Greek term from which we get our modern English word poetry. In a very real way, then, we are Christ’s physical poems. We are the living words of the living Word written into the drama of the divine author.” (Terry & Lister, Images & Idols, 36)

1 Peter 4:10 says,

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace

Note that your creativity ultimately is not your creativity. It is God’s. You received the gift and are to steward it. So, you are to use it to serve others, not yourself. Christian creativity will be radically others-focused. This is God’s grace to you – varied grace. This means that He gives unique gifts to be stewarded for the good of others and the glory of God. Peter finishes his thought with “in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” (v.11) That’s the end game.

It will take Christian filmmakers who are fluent in the Gospel’s narrative and rich in the depths of the Bible’s theology to create art that is honest with the reality of sin and brokenness, yet not hopelessly nihilistic and despairing. We need more musicians who will plumb the depths of Biblical and Systematic Theology to come up with fresh insights and lyrics to ignite the souls of their listeners. We need painters, craftsmen, choreographers, sculptors, and many other creatives who understand the depravity of their fallenness and tendency towards idolatry, but who put their hope in the One Redeemer – Christ Jesus – so that they are freed by the Gospel of grace to no longer look to their portfolios to justify their being.

Create for the love of God and the love of neighbour.

Creative Honesty and Big Picture

Christian artists and creatives also need to keep the big picture in mind. To tell the truth in your art is to be honest about the major and minor themes. The major themes of redemption and hope can only make sense against the minor themes of the reality of evil and suffering in a broken world. Thus, Christian art should not be boiled down to pithy cliches of quaint idealized fictions. We all know why we cringe at cheezy Christian movies – because they’re not honest with reality as it is but instead force some sort of idealized Gospel message where everyone gets saved and they all lived happily ever after.

“A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God, not just as tracts, mind you, but as things of beauty to the praise of God.” (Francis Schaeffer)

Too often, Evangelicals can make the mistake of thinking that a work of art only has value if it is reduced to some sort of vehicle of evangelism or a tract. But this is to view art as solely a message for the intellect and ignores people as whole beings of mind, affections and will. Good art glorifies God, even if it is not directly religious in content because it seeks to image God in the 3 aspects of His Triadic glory we’ve discussed in the prior articles.

“A more complete perspective on Christian art recognizes that a creation always reveals something about its Creator. What artists make tells us something about how they view the world. Thus the art of a Christian ought to be consistent with a life of faith in Christ.” (Philip G. Ryken, Art for God’s Sake, 51)

So, how does a Christian creative glorify God through their art? Is it by making every piece about a Bible story or painting crosses all over it? No. Instead, it is as Martin Luther (1483-1546) commented in his theology of vocation: How does a Christian cobbler glorify God? By stitching crosses on every pair of shoes? No. By simply making a quality shoe for a fair price. He glorifies God by making the shoe knowing that he ultimately works for the Lord, and he loves his neighbour by offering a quality product that will benefit his customers at a reasonable price.

All of Life is an Offering to God

Johann Sebastian Bach – the famous composer of the 18th century used to sign each of his compositions with the letters “sDg” – standing for the Latin: Soli Deo Gloria – to God alone be the glory. However, the important thing about his work was not the letters that he signed his works with, but rather the score itself – the music itself. He offered his art as an offering to God, and its ordered beauty was a testimony to his faith in God and the way he viewed the world.

The way that we think about glorifying God as creatives must be expanded. We cannot expect to say all that needs to be said or desire to reflect every facet of the truth, beauty and power of God in one piece. Rather, the whole sum of our life’s work should work together to build a composite picture of glorifying God. Furthermore, too often we can become too hyper-fixated on our artistic creations that we fail to also consider ourselves as whole persons – and how our whole life can be God-glorifying. God isn’t just glorified in your creative works.

Scars & Redemption

There is a Japanese art form called kintsugi which takes broken shards of ceramics and recreates them into beautiful works of art. In the process, they use a special lacquer that is derrived from gold, silver or platinum powder to bond the pieces together. This produces glittering evidence of the pottery’s past between every shard that has been newly stitched together to form something new. Similarly, our own scars from our past lostness in sin tell the story of redemption in our own lives.

All creativity from a Christian perspective, then, is like kintsugi in form. This art isn’t really about the pottery, or the piece’s remade utility; it is about restoration. It’s about the fractures. All you see when you look at one of these pieces are the gold and silver threads rejoining the once-shattered pottery back together. Its beauty is in the lacquer’s ability to transform what was broken into something more beautiful than the original… For the creative, this means that you find beauty in the places where God has healed you and transformed your creativity.” (Terry & Lister, Images & Idols, 114)

All of life to the glory of God

Lastly, as we end this article series, I want to expand your vision from just merely the art you produce. Your glorifying of God goes way beyond your paintings, music, poems, videos, photos, knitting, dance, screenplay writing, etc. It is the totality of your life that testifies to the goodness and grace of God in your life.

So, study theology, be involved in your local church, get into biblical community, make disciples, be mentored, memorize Scripture, weep and rejoice with other, fast, pray, feast and live the abundant life God has called us to as His beloved children… and in so doing, by making use of these very regular means of grace, God will continue to transform you to the image of His Son that you might reflect His glory more.

Indeed, we need Christian creatives who understand that all of life is an offering to God.

I hope that you have enjoyed this series of articles on A Gospel-Shaped Theology of Creativity. Please consider liking, commenting and sharing with your friends and look out for more content on theology and creativity coming soon!

Soli Deo gloria!

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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