Towards a theology of the arts

In this little exploration, i want to talk about some common blocks to creativity in the church, and then briefly address, first the theological foundations that will topple these blocks, and then some practical ways to get these stones rolled away, so that the resurective Life of Christ can enter and make communion with us in our imaginations. I think understanding how your creativity fits into your relationship with God is important for artists as well as non-artists; in that we need to know and commune with this part of God, in order to know His innovative, fresh ways of looking at our problems in life, for creative solutions, and many other aspect for practical living which come from knowing God as Creator or the Author and Artist of our lives. We are commanded to know and love the Lord our God. And creativity is part of who He is, and is part of who we are, in His Image. Thus, the imagination is a place meant for communion with Our Maker.

Here are four blocks to creativity in the Church: lack of being filled with The Holy Spirit, poor theology, fear of loss of control, and a lack of models or mentors in this area of the integrated imagination. There are others, but these seem persistent Body-wide. The Holy Spirit frees us up to enter all parts of God, including His symbolic or creative aspects. Theology that does not include a place for the symbolic and creative can become lifeless, and our art can become “gospel propaganda” rather than a living testimony of the Living God. Then, our fear of losing control if we open to God in our imaginative processes, is really a lack of faith that the One who saved us is also interested in the whole self, and that every part of who we are is to be involved in His Sanctification process.Fortunately, there are some men and women who have known God in the area of their imaginations, and have allowed the love and life of God to enter the area of their creativity. King David is an overt example, but also others in our times have known and expressed the Creator in and through their own creativity! In short, God loves and is sanctifying the whole person, not just certain parts. We need to be entirely baptized into His Name and Life! And in the life of His People, there are those who have allowed this creative communion with God to blossom and mature in them. So we know it is possible to become unblocked in all these areas! For in Him all things are truly possible–the Author and Liberator of our Lives is able to grow us up into His Own Being!

Why does it matter that we know The Holy Spirit in the area of creativity? Well, because, when God creates, His Spirit is always present!

The Holy Spirit is always present when the father is creating. You see this as early as the third verse of the Bible (Genesis 1:3). The Spirit is there hovering over mysterious waters, at the very start of God’s creative process. Then throughout, each time God is going to create another order, as at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is there, breathing, firing, hovering, waving. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. Freedom to create new ways of being, among other things. I think one reason many Christians are not free creatively, is the fact that they are not really filled with the Holy Spirit, or do not have that ongoing relationship with The Spirit. For it is hard to hang out with The Holy Spirit without having new innovative, newly-horizoned, newly contoured thoughts and vision about life. So this is one stone in the church to be rolled away.

But the second block of a low-ceilinged or shallow (uncreative) theology is harder to deconstruct. There is of course, false theology blocking Christians from even being involved in the arts. Fortunately, most of this has been judged and found wanting. For many years, the don’t make graven images passages, led Christians to believe they should not be involved in the representational arts. Fortunately, Francis Shaeffer and others blew this thinking out of the water, by teaching Christ absolute Lordship over every area of life, including culture and arts. But still, many are wary of the belief that Jesus actually wants to meet us personally, in the area of our creativity. A second false belief, says that to create art is somehow worldly. My thought on that, is that it is only worldly, because we have not allowed God into this area, so it has been occupied by the enemy of Life. Our art would not be pornographic, if Jesus were present in it, and expressing Himself through our unique gifts and talents and mediums.

I would like to suggest three very simple foundations for any theology of the arts. They are: God’s Oneness, His Lordship, and His Absolute love for the whole person. I will expound these later, but just to say there are some adequate foundations for us to plunge into the wild waters of the creative with God.

God’s oneness implies His desire to integrate our creative and spiritual aspects of who we are. And His Absolute Lordship means that there is not part of Reality including our entire selves, that He cannot enter, unless we refuse Him entry! His Love of the whole person, means there is not an area that His Love does not want to enter. So we have a motivation for, what I would call, “total” sanctification.

I think also there is a need to understand that this area of the arts, is under the command to know and love The Lord your God with all your heart, mind soul etc. God is creative, and this is huge part of knowing Him. If God were not creative, we would not be on earth. And if we are made in His Image, we too must also be creative. His desire is to commune with us in this area of our creativity, and to reveal symbolically the life of His Spirit in us and through us. So, that we are then able to dialogue with the creative dimension of our society as well, or to speak into its collective creativity or culture.

For, to the degree God is in communion and dialogue with our own creativity, we will be able to enter His dialogue with the culture of our cities and nations! We will also begin to know the true or redeemed version of the culture of our city or nation. What it was meant to express about God, and how He is healing it into this expression. We want to be in the creative symbolic conversation He is having with our own cities and nations. In this way, we become co-healers of the symbolic, and are partners in projecting His Images onto our cities and nations. This is why we must not abandon our posts as artists. We want to help re-integrate and re-attach our cultures to the core identities of our cities and nations, by being firsty reintegrated and having our imaginations re-attached ourselves. This is a large aspect of His restoration of our cities and nations. He desires to create each city into His Image or His expression of Himself which He intended it to reflect. God is actively healing global cultures in our time, and we get to be His co-artists in this creative process!

Now as to how to remove these blocks. In the area of theology, repent for agreeing with lesser thoughts in this area, and ask Him to put His thinking there about your own creativity, and how it works in your overall relationship with God. Apologize for blocking Him from this area, confess it, and ask Him to now enter, cleanse, and make whole this area, as a place of meeting in your friendship with God. In the area of Oneness, ask Him forgiveness for allowing your own experiences to dictate what is possible in terms of your own integration. God is able to integrate parts of self which are either undeveloped or split off entirely. Ask Him to bring your artist part “home” in Him, to baptize it into His Life, and thank Him for all the extra energy of His Life that will be entering through knowing God as Creator and Life bringer, and the God of innovation and possibility. For God’s creativity is about fresh ways of seeing, which bring new possibilities. There is hope in the art parts of God, for He is making a new “creation”; a new piece of art-which is actually what we are becoming! Lastly, in terms of love, which may be the hardest to receive. Ask Him to shower this area in His radical, embarrassingly brazen Love for us. That He would adore your creative life as much as every other area of yourself. For His Love conquers all obstacles in its way. God’s love is indomitable!

Allow the Holy Spirit to bring up your personal blocks in these areas, then repent, break false agreements, and plant His New Life into that area of your life. Often, there is fear there at the gate of your creativity; or self judgement; or false self definitions (I am not the creative one in my family etc). Let Him bring those to the surface, and take them directly to the Cross of Christ, and believe that the power of what Jesus did on the cross can disintegrate these obstacles through His Own Life more fully entering into us! Another false belief especially for Christians, is that creativity is not “spiritual” enough or not like feeding the poor etc; as if to create makes us feel selfish or like we are not “carrying the gospel”. But it is this type of thinking that has kept christians from developing their artistic self and skills and really making large scale impact on their culture. I think in this way, the Protestant reformation had a blind spot, and one that has kept one of its eyes poked out for some time. But Jesus is good at healing eyes and sight, as seen many times while He was on earth! Many talk of making cultural impact, but are not willing to allow Christ to form Himself in their own inner creativity or personal cultural aspect. The great Christian artists, met God and accepted Him in this area, so were free to develop their artistic voices into excellence, and thereby dialogue and even lead culture. CS Lewis would be one example.

Lastly, this other block- lack of models or examples of the integrated imagination is unfortunate. I would mention a few here, who did. Oswald Chambers, CS Lewis, George Macdonald, Thomas Merton, Henri Neuwenn etc. There are many others, but just to say others have gone before us, and there are examples, which I wish were not the exception, but the rule of normal christianity! Sometimes, in just being near, through their art or writings, these men and women (Teresa of Avila, also comes so to mind), we are freed and given permission to meet God in this dynamic area of life. I also think the prophetic movement in the 20th C church has done lots towards healing and sanctifying the imagination as a place of knowing and loving God.But it is not yet fully integrated with other parts of His Body. But, the church has begun to dream new dreams, sing new songs, and strengthen her creative vision; out of which has come improved art making as well. (Praise the Lord!) One solution here, is to seek them out: find those who know Christ in their creative area, and learn what that is like through osmosis and anointing!

Anyways, more on this topic soon; working on developing a theology of the arts, as a useful tool to provide a context for our creative and cultural lives.

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