Wednesday, October 22, 2008

creative misplacing of priorities

Worship expressed both verbally and through a full range of artistic expression is a unique human activity on earth. Witness and mission are the outflow of that worship commitment. Consequently, it is given the highest priority.

Jonny Baker (Grace, London) highlights the central importance of creativity. "It's a core value for me and Grace. I would say that being made in the image of God, among other things, is about creativity. ...""The creativity of God is linked to the realization of the kingdom of God in our midst," says Doug Pagitt of Solomon's Porch (Minneapolis). "The phrase 'the kingdom of God as the creativity of God' I made up as tha way of explaining how God and humanity interact."

Art is our participation in God.
Gibbs and Bolger, Emerging Churches, p. 175-176, 177

One thing I've noticed in things I've read and listened to from various emergents, is how much they stress creativity, even to the point, as Pagitt does in the quotes above, of linking it to God's kingdom, making it almost synonamous with it.

While I do think that creativity is a good thing, I find a lot that keeps me from putting such emphasis on it, and making it such a great virtue or core value. Let me try to explain.

I am a single man, having never been married, but as it perhaps usual with some of my age in such a situation I have a bit of history of being 'in love' several times. Looking back on those instances and the women to whom I had feelings, I can say that in few if any cases were any of them very artistic women, and that I don't recall such creativity or lack thereof as being of much importance to me. Some of them may have been musician to a certain degree, or tried their hands at poetry, but those weren't the things that seemed to define them.

Rather, when I look back on them, it was other things about them and their character that were the things that drew me to them. Some of them I consider to be true saints in regards to the works they did, or things they overcame, or the sacrifices they made. Almost all were good and godly, who wanted to obey God and show Him to others. No doubt they were creative, but in what I would call a practice sense--using their creativity to help solve normal or even not-so-normal problems.

When I look at the New Testament, I see very little if anything said about creativity. None of the instances of the Great Commissions say anything about it; rather, they seem to presuppose that we already have the message, the Gospel, that we are to take to the world. We are told nothing about the Apostle's artisitc abilities, and since most were what would be considered 'common men', we may presume that they had very little. Nor do we have record of them ever encouraging their congregants to explore their artistic creativity.

In the list of spiritual gifts and fruits of the Spirit, artistry and creativity are notably lacking.

Even in what may be thought of as the more expressive spiritual gifts, like prophecy and tongues and interpretation, there is little room, if any, for personal creativity. A prophet was to share what had been given to him, a person speaking in tongues likely did not understand what he was saying and so had to rely on the interpretor to translate.

Finally, I'm not unfamiliar with the lives of some very creative people, and frankly while I may admire thier works, other parts of their lives would give me pause. Berlioz, Wagner, Lord Byron, Whitman, van Gogh, to some degree or another were not people who showed godly character traits. As a chess player, I can think of Alekhine and Fischer as examples of great players who were of very questionable character. And to play the extreme card, I could point out that Nero was a poet and Hitler an artist.

As someone who could maybe be labelled a 'creative', though in a very low-grade sense, I can appreciate creativity and the arts to some degree. But that also means I can appreciate the limits of artistic creativity, and I want to say quite clearly that I see no call to artistic creativity in the New Testament, that a person can be a Christian without ever picking up a paint brush or writing a line of verse.

So be at peace, you who have no desire to paint pictures or write poetry or who have little to no musical abilities, you are not second-class Christians in any sense. There is no biblical command for you to be any such thing; rather, consider well the things the Bible does command of us--to live pure and holy lives, to be Christ's witness to the world, to take the Gospel to the world, among other things--and see that one does not need special artistic abilities or special creativity in order to do those things.

And for those who are artists and musicians and such, beware if you think yourself somehow special and above those who are not. You may have your places, but those places are no higher or holier then anyone elses. And don't think that painting or writing puts you above the need to communicate the truth, or that you are above accountability because you are 'creative'. Be grateful to God for the gifts He's given to you, and use them for His glory.

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