We have a problem—whether we recognize it or not. It has to do with the relationship between Christianity and creativity.
Many Christians have grown suspicious of creatives. Creativity impedes true spiritual progress, doesn’t it? So many have given up on their creative impulse because someone somewhere has somehow convinced them that creativity is pointless, excessive, immoral, or childish compared to the things of God.
A lot of Christian creatives are skeptical of other Christians, too. Many creative believers we’ve talked to feel undervalued in the church, so much so that the church no longer feels like home for them. It seems the only time the church needs them is when they want someone “artsy” to decorate the sanctuary for the Christmas Spectacular, or when they need a “creative” to be onstage to show the congregation that they can “relate” to the culture and appeal to those “other” generations. Instead of sticking it out, many creatives wander into the secular wilderness to find like-hearted community, often to the demise of their Christian faith.
The problem of the creativity-Christian divide stems from this unfounded and specious commitment: God has nothing to do with creativity, and creativity has nothing to do with God.
Nothing could be further from God’s truth. All creativity begins and ends in God.
God is your creativity’s origin story. This is the testimony of creation. Many know creation to be the theater of God’s glory. But don’t miss the fact that His theater is a product of His creativity as well. In fact, the entire world, from beginning to end, reflects God’s creative agency. God builds the stage, fashions the cast, pens the story, and directs His characters to His good and glorious ends. To know creation, then, is to know God, not in full, but in truth. He signs all He makes with His character and purpose. His creative work bears the seal of His eternal power and divine nature (Rom. 1:20). Simply put, everything He makes sings His creativity.
We know this because we see it in our world and read it in His Word. His world demonstrates His creativity while His Word interprets it for us. Both books of God’s revelation—creation and Scripture—testify to His creative character and skill.
This truth is on full display in Isaiah 64:8, when the prophet declares, “But now, O Lord . . . we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” Here, God uses the poetic metaphor of the relationship between potter and clay to rebuild the hopes of His covenant people. This verse comes on the heels of Isaiah’s lament over Judah’s stockpile of sin and God’s requisite departure from the nation. The prophetic picture of the potter and clay, then, is an encouraging vision. God is the one who fashions a people for Himself. God is the potter. He is the creative artist. We are the clay, the work of His hands, a people He creates for Himself whom He will not forsake.
In the passage, God creatively interprets His own creativity. He uses the artistic imagery of potter and clay to demonstrate His creative power and commitment to His covenant people. Remember, too, that God created every aspect of this imagery. God creates Israel, the covenant, the covenant promises, the prophet, the words spoken, and even the clay, the potter, and the impetus to make pottery are His. The imagery would remain inaccessible or inapplicable unless God made the reality supporting the employed images. The creative metaphor rings true because God created all aspects of the metaphor to help us understand Him and our relationship with Him. God creates clay and potters for the production of pottery, but He also creates them to embody the permanence of His covenant promises. What emerges then is a cycle of divine creativity that we often miss, confuse, or distort. It goes something like this:
God not only demonstrates His creativity in creation but also uses His creation to form the images by which we understand Him as Creator. This is why our creativity sometimes drifts. It lacks its divine anchor point. It doesn’t recognize the debt it owes God. Sure, we can be creative outside of Christianity, without recognizing the origin of our creativity, but our work can’t help but fall short of its full (and eternal) potential and purpose when we do. God made everything—including His creation and, dare we say, the work of our own hands—to point back to Himself. Creativity makes sense only when it does what it was meant to do.
Adapted from Images and Idols: Creativity for the Christian Life by Thomas J. Terry and J. Ryan Lister (©2018). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.
Thomas J. Terry is the founder and executive director of Humble Beast, a record label and ministry in Portland, Oregon. As a spoken word artist and a member of Beautiful Eulogy, he seeks to bring creativity and theology together to glorify the Lord who created them both. Thomas lives with his wife, Heather, and two boys, Tobin and Kuyper, and serves as the Executive Pastor at Trinity Church of Portland.
Ryan Lister is a professor of theology at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. He is also the author of The Presence of God: Its Place in the Story of Scripture and the Story of Our Lives and serves as Director of Doctrine & Discipleship for Humble Beast, where he helped start the Canvas Conference. He lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife, Chase, and their four children.