Creativity: theology meets anthropology

  • This post is based on a talk requested by a Christian creative group.

    There are two key words I want to begin with – theology: the study of God, and anthropology: the study of humans (from the Greek word anthropos, meaning ‘Man’ as in humans).

    I believe everybody is a theologian. We all have an idea of what God is like and would all explain God in different ways. We might use analogies or complicated technical terms or whatever. I think this applies to everyone, whether you are a Christian or not. Richard Dawkins described ‘God’ as a ‘Delusion’ – that’s a theological statement.

    And likewise I think we are all anthropologists. We all have opinions about human beings. We might think people are basically good. Or we might think people are generally selfish. We might see humans as social animals, or individuals preoccupied with their own survival.

    But we are all theologians and we are all anthropologists.

    Christian theology and anthropology are inexplicably linked because in the Bible humans are described as being made in the ‘image of God’, therefore reflecting God’s attributes and abilities. God is described as the creator, and that means creating is something that humans who are made in God’s image would be able to do, and perhaps would automatically do.

    Creating is an action that would therefore bring joy and satisfaction to a human, as it is an outworking of the divine image that the human carries.

    We also have to be aware that Christian anthropology includes the idea of a ‘fall’ away from a state of perfection into a sinful condition.

    This has three effects. Firstly, creativity can be misused for evil purposes. Secondly, the fallen state of mind causes humans to deny the image of God within them, and this can mean people repress their creativity, to say they are ‘not creative’. Thirdly, sinful humans seek to dominate each other and one way they exert dominance is through preventing each other from exercising their creativity.

    As Christians we need to counter these three problem areas. As redeemed and restored humans, the image of God must be visible in our lives and that means being creative.

    Firstly, we must always make sure our creativity is used for God’s purposes, is used for good. That doesn’t mean it has to be explicitly Christian, but it must in some way reflect the reality of how a restored and redeemed universe will be. I believe that when creativity is truly expressed it beings joy, pleasure, hope and peace to people.

    Sometimes creative work arrests and challenges us. It might make us think differently about the world. It might make us feel uncomfortable. Earlier this year I saw the film, Selma, about the work of Dr Martin Luther King in the 1960s and it was a very upsetting film, but it was a good film, because ultimately it is about the triumph of peace over hatred and love over violence. It’s inspiring and it brings me hope.

    Secondly, we need to be willing to exercise our creativity. This isn’t about ‘art’. It isn’t about ‘music’. It isn’t even about making a cake good enough for the Great British Bake Off. But it is about being willing to try things that we ‘make’, to try and create something and not be afraid of that. Sometimes the fear of failure or of looking stupid holds us back. But that’s an indicator that we are looking for approval in the wrong place, or maybe that we are insecure in God’s love and acceptance – “Perfect love casts out all fear” as it says in John’s gospel, and that means not being afraid to create.

    And thirdly we need to be careful as Christians that we don’t quash the creativity of others. Christians can be harsh critics. I have heard discussions about Christian music or other art, and people have dismissed it all as rubbish. It might be, but a critical attitude is hard to square with the commandment to love each other.

    We might want to offer some advice – my advice it to wait until you are asked. You may feel you have to speak up and tell someone their creativity is terrible. Be careful if you do. You are criticising their outworking of the image of God they are giving form to. Be careful you aren’t actually criticising God in that too.

    We should all aspire to greatness and excellence in what we do and sometimes criticism or advice will help us to grow better at what we are doing. We must always be humble – it’s rare for anyone to become a master at something without putting in hours of practice. They reckon it’s 10,000 hours. There are no short cuts to becoming a genius. So, when we are ready and secure enough in ourselves and our self-image, we should always ask for honest assessments.

    If we are asked to give an assessment we need to always be looking at ways to make something even better. It’s not enough to point at the flaws and all the things that don’t work, without offering some ideas about how to improve them. The golden rule comes into play here – how would we want other people to feed back to us?

    We must also be careful who we assign credit to. Yes, our creativity is an outworking of the image of God that we are made in. That doesn’t mean the object we have created was actually created by God. You painted that picture; you composed that song; you wrote that poem. You are allowed to take credit for it. God did not ‘give’ it to you – he gave you much more than that, he gave you the chance to be a fully functioning image-bearer, a reflector of his glory.

    So, those are some aspects of creativity.

    • Christians are creative because, like all humans, they carry the image of the creative God.
    • We need to use our creativity for good, not deny it and not squash other people’s creativity.
    • And we need to be humble and always be seeking to improve.

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