So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
It is the idea of some Christians that the Church’s role is simply worry about salvation-related issues. Any effort put into non-salvation issues then is effort that would have been better spent on more “spiritual” things. This neoplatonic dichotomy between the physical and spiritual is the result of pietism, a movement within Lutheranism in the 17th century that emphasized the importance of private personal piety, so much so that it resulted in neglect of the physical world, similar to the Gnostics or Monastics. Influenced by this thinking, much of western Christianity has deemed creativity useful only for means of tract-making, hymn-writing, or other more seemingly spiritual matters. In order for creativity to have any worth whatsoever, one must include some sort of evangelical twist. But I believe that mankind was given creativity for a purpose that stretches far beyond a simple means toward other spiritual ends. I wish to show how human creativity points to the glory of our God, who is the ultimate Creator and Author of all things.
Lord of The Arts
We often forget that the Bible opens with a display of divine creativity. We love to focus on what the creation account tells us about His eternality and sovereignty, both of which are extremely important, but all the while we ignore God’s creativity. And I completely get it. His pre-existence to all of creation, to even time itself, is an amazing concept that one could think about for.. well, all of eternity! And His sovereignty is a crucial concept to understanding salvation, the grace of God, and the whole Christian life, so obviously it is something we should concern ourselves with. But in creation, we also learn something extremely beautiful about God: He loves to create. And when He creates, He is not simply concerned with practicality. I have heard atheists object to the possibility of the existence of God because they do not see certain parts of creation as having a practical purpose, in regards to what they consider practical, such as contributing to the survival of the human race or environmental maintenance. But this is not a worthwhile objection when we consider that much like humans, God does not only create things for a practical purpose, but also for the mere sake of creating something beautiful or hilarious or delicious or thrilling. We, as Christians, must not be like the atheist who sees the world simply in terms of survival. Instead, we must meditate on that fact that we worship a God who created the blobfish, sunsets, the fainting goat, Jupiter, mountain lions, giant sequoia trees, and cute toddlers who can’t quite say their R’s, and the reason why may plainly be, “Because it is good.”
Not only do we see creativity in the things that God has created, but also in the story He has written, called “history”. It is commonly believed that man sets the course of history, and it is certainly true that decisions we make have an effect on its course. Nonetheless, it is hubris to assume that we are its authors. Rather, God’s spoken word acts as the eternal feather pen which alone has the power to jot down cosmic ink on the page of history. No event happens which was not included in the story God spoke into existence at the foundation of the world. From the fall of Adam, to the disintegration of the Roman empire, to the sinking of the Titanic, to the heartburn you got last Friday after the wild night at Buffalo Wild Wings, every event in human history is part of one great divine novel. And the very center, the climax, the towering pinnacle of this literary masterpiece is when the author Himself entered the story in order to redeem all His characters from the terrible antagonists: sin and death. He is the true author, after whom all authors model themselves, whose words do not construct sentences, paragraphs, and chapters, but real creatures and worlds and galaxies. And in order that we can understand the story being told, He gave us Scripture. Those of us who have a great concern for pinpointing correct doctrine may sometimes wish that He had revealed Himself with a divinely inspired systematic theology, but this desire would miss the point. God instead revealed Himself in history, and through beautiful accounts of His redemption and grace and power and holiness, through various human co-authors and styles, in the Holy Scriptures. This is all to show us that He cares about creating something beautiful, not just practical. He doesn’t want to simply tell us facts about Himself. He wants to tell us a story, and that is a glorious revelation in itself.
The Creator’s Self-Portraits
God created us in His image. We are His most beloved creatures with a personal touch, little self portraits. As His self-portraits, we have the ability to create, or as Tolkien put it, to engage in “sub-creation”. As I already mentioned, it is often believed, especially among Christians in our culture, that art has no value simply as a work of art. Rather, we base the value of art on its ability to convey a certain message or accomplish some further end beyond creativity itself. For example, we only listen to K-Love because the only good and godly music mentions Jesus by name several times. Or we only watch movies like Veggie Tales, Left Behind, and God’s Not Dead because the only holy art is that which contains directly theological subject matter. But according to the biblical worldview, it is simply on the basis that we are expressing our Godlikeness that the art that we create has value. Francis Schaeffer made this same argument, writing, “An art work has value as a creation because man is made in the image of God, and therefore man not only can love and think and feel emotion but also has the capacity to create. Being in the image of the Creator, we are called upon to have creativity. In fact, it is part of the image of God to be creative, or to have creativity.” Therefore, even love songs, action movies, and Drake and Josh Wedding Feud memes bring glory to God, regardless of their inclusion of explicitly theological content. This is because, through the imago dei, human creativity inescapably points to the glory of God in the creation of the world.
Additionally, more specifically than simply being called to be creative, we are called to be storytellers. As ND Wilson said, “When the first missionaries went out, when the disciples were sent, they were going out combatting the old gods. And they did this with miracles, with the good news, with a story.” The gospel of the kingdom is a story. It is the redemptive story that God told from the beginning of time, which came to its climax in Christ. Therefore, the Great Commission is a command to be storytellers to all the nations. God has told His story, and we are called to retell it again and again until we see all of Christ’s enemies crushed under His feet. It is a story we must tell our friends, our families, our coworkers, our politicians, our enemies, and even ourselves, over and over. It is a story which never grows old, but which itself contains the power to make all things new, and give new life to men who are dead in their sins. And if God has made a story the means of His greatest act of restoration, should we who bear His image not also be storytellers like our Father?
Art and Worldview
In addition to the primary purpose of art, which is embracing our identity as images of God, art is also an important means of expressing a worldview. In fact, there is no art that does not express a worldview. Even a local teenage band’s Nirvana-esque dirge that exclaims, “Everything is meaningless!!!” expresses a view of the world, no matter how contradictory that claim may be. Something tragic that has happened in western culture is that Christians, who were once at the forefront of the humanities, have lost sight of the value of art for art’s sake. As a result, they have retreated to their cultural monasteries, ignoring all art which does not express the same worldview as themselves, and so becoming utterly irrelevant to the world of art. As Francis Schaeffer pointed out, this comes from the inability to distinguish the quality of a work of art and the quality of its worldview, but rather lumping the two together in one’s analysis. Therefore, art has basically been pushed into two primary categories: quality art and art with a correct worldview. This has forced Christians to choose between art that is enjoyable and art that is theologically accurate.
But this is not a problem only of Christians finding enjoyment in art, but even more importantly, of the Christian worldview having an influence in culture. You see, if all art expresses a worldview, this means that every time we watch a movie or listen to a song, we are being fed a perspective. If we are honest, most people are sheep (not in the biblical sense, but in the easily-fooled and unquestioning sense). Therefore, most people who enjoy a good work of art are also thinking within its creator’s worldview for the duration of their enjoyment. We should not then underestimate the great influence that art and media have on our worldviews. It has the power to shape an entire culture’s view of reality and morality.
Since this is the case, we can much more easily see how the Church’s retreat from creativity has contributed to the moral decline of our society. Most people are not going to church, or if they are, it’s a megachurch that simply itches ears. They are not listening to sermons or studying their bibles or watching Ask Pastor John videos. But they are binge-watching Netflix. They are listening to Spotify. They are viewing video after video as they scroll endlessly on Facebook. These are our mission-fields. This is therefore where we should be expressing our worldview. This does not mean that we need to produce songs which have five steps toward salvation or mention Jesus every line, nor do we particularly need more movies depicting the crucifixion of Christ. While these things are certainly good, and at times important, what we primarily need is to simply express our worldview. And this happens, not only through a direct gospel proclamation (which, do not get me wrong, is absolutely crucial) but also through an abundance of quality art created from the perspective of Christians. Through this, we can fight back against our society’s constant stream of art made from a perspective where women are sex-objects, children are burdens, God is non-existent, and life has no meaning. Through the totality of our discographies and filmographies, we can show the world that the gospel has something to say about everything from love to comedy to war to friendship.
So Christian, be creative. Glorify your Creator by imitating His perfect creativity!
P.S. If you want to hear some of my attempts at creativity, click here… 😉