Our culture assigns a high value to what it terms creativity, and rightly so. We all like to be considered creative, and it is not merely a matter of status or aesthetic consciousness: the world feels it needs creativity if it is to progress.
Primarily we have thought of creativity in connection with art. But more and more the concept is spilling over into other areas of our lives, primarily because it is thought to open the door to problem-solving. Educators, businessmen, and scientists are demanding creativity. Likewise, religious enterprises are coming under increasing pressure to break out of old molds. James Bertsche, in a recent article on missions in the Mennonite, predicts that creativity could be a key word for carrying out the divine imperative for witness and discipleship in the 1970s. “We are being challenged to innovation,” he says.
Many young churchmen these days lament that creativity is often stifled in the work of God. Why are we afraid to try new approaches? So what if “we have always done it this way”? The frequency with which such questions are being asked suggests that the idea of creativity needs some attention in the Christian community, at both the leadership and the grass-roots level.
Human beings tend to think and act in established patterns. It is as if we were programmed with a limited number of alternatives as answers to problems; no matter how new or complex a situation may be, we are likely to respond with the same old words and ideas. We are often like mocking birds, always echoing someone else’s song, fearful of going out on a limb with a tune of our own.
What do we really mean in calling for creativity? In a sense, we cannot be really creative, for God alone creates; man discovers. On the other hand, as Edith Schaeffer points out in Hidden Art, man does have creative ability, because he is made in the image of the Creator.
God specifically imparts gifts and talents, and these vary widely from one person to the next. In Exodus 31, for example, we see explicitly how artistry and craftsmanship were given to Bezalel, an architect who helped to construct the tabernacle. God said, “I have filled him with divine spirit, making him skillful and ingenious, expert in every craft, and a master of design.”
But man can choose to do either that for which he has been best fitted or something else. And the gift of creativity is marred by sin; it can be neglected or misused. Simply “doing our own thing” is not necessarily the best we can do, because men are basically evil. Man left to himself will breed destruction. The ecological crisis is evidence enough of that.
The Christian should ever keep in mind that the two great works of God are creation and redemption, and should view creativity in the context of seeking to restore fellowship between man and God. There is an infinite world of potential activity here.
One pitfall for the would-be creative person is confusing creativity with novelty, insisting on trying something new simply for newness’ sake. The Edsel, not to mention the Tucker, the Kaiser, and the Frazer, were “creative,” and they have gone down in business history as symbols of how not to do it.
Another point to remember is that one does not necessarily start from scratch in being creative. Some of man’s greatest achievements have been merely slight variations on old themes. Creativity does not require casting aside well-recognized frameworks or scoffing at time-honored principles; rather, it builds upon these.
Perhaps the most important consideration of all is that creativity is not an end in itself. The process of creativity must be guided by purpose and effect. Man should live not for himself but for God, and his mind, heart, and strength should therefore be dedicated to advancing God’s will. The Christian’s goal is not so much Christian creativity as creative Christianity.
The beautiful part of this is that historically the most creative human beings have been those who expressed themselves in the Christian context. Augustine, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, and Bunyan, for example, were servants of God way ahead of their times and not hemmed in by themselves. They had at their disposal, as we do, the infinite resources of the Creator God.
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