Sunday 24 August 2008

God, Creativity and Creators

The next edition of the Case magazine has as its theme, ‘God, creativity, creators’. Why this theme? Trevor Hart comments in his contribution to the magazine that artistic imagination is among the greatest gifts of God. But like many (if not all) gifts of God, it can be used to pursue mixed motives and purposes.

Readers of this blog know that I have spent more time than usual considering the work of one artist in the past few months (you can read the posts here). The Bill Henson controversy has been challenging. Like the contributors to the next edition of Case magazine, I see the arts as part of the way we express our humanity, creativity and giftedness. The arts can be used to the glory of God as an expression of the creative gifts he has given us, or they can be a diversion from him, rather than a celebration of all that is worthy of our praise.

John Calvin, had no difficulty seeing God’s purposes in the arts. In commenting on Genesis 4 and Jabal as the ‘father of all who play the lyre and pipe’ he noted that

‘… the invention of arts, and of other things which serve to the common use and convenience of life, is a gift of God by no means to be despised, and a faculty worthy of commendation.’

Genesis 4 provides an account of the beginnings of civilisation in a fallen world. Eve gives birth to Cain then Abel. Cain slays his brother Abel and the consequence of sin and man's downward spiral is obvious. God places a curse on Cain and his offspring.
"And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth" (Gen 4:11-12).
And yet, from his people there is still productivity and purpose. Cain's destiny to be "a fugitive and a wanderer" separated from God, does not mean that his life will have no value; God uses all parts of his creation according to his purposes. Even in a land of fugitives and wanderers we see a city built (Gen 4:17), a family fathered (Gen 4:18), rural industry develop (Gen 4:20), musical expression on the lyre and pipe (Gen 4:21), and forging of iron and bronze (Gen 4:21). Civilisation develops outside the Garden, even in the land of rebellion and separation from God there is productivity, culture and art. God does not abandon Cain, but places him under a protective shield rather than allow vengeance to run unrestrained. God's common grace touches all of creation.

Calvin offers further comment of relevance here:
"...Let us know then, that the sons of Cain, though deprived of the Spirit of regeneration, were yet endued with gifts of no despicable kind.....the excellent gifts of the Spirit are diffused through the whole human race."
The arts reflect humanity’s unique position in creation as the ones who are made in the image of the Creator. Creativity and humanity's creations are a gift from God that can give us joy and pleasure. Praise God that the arts speak in some measure of his creative grace.

The themed content of the next issue of Case Magazine will cover a variety of themes within the theology of the arts and creative human endeavour. Subscribers will receive their copies this week.

Brief overview of Case #16

Andrew Lansdown argues for the special role of fantasy in stimulating the imagination. In addressing the criticisms against fantasy he focuses on four common concerns: the place of the occult in fantasy; the disconnection between fantasy and reality; the perception that fantasy distorts reality; and, the criticism that it can be escapist.

Professor Trevor Hart considers the arts more broadly, and argues that artistic imagination and expression are part of the creativity of God himself. He suggests, “…we should embrace creative expression as an act of sharing in and celebrating God’s own creative activity.”

Anna Blanch discusses the intersection of literature and theology as an interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary field of study. She posits that such study provides space for scholars to examine how the human desire to know and understand God is expressed in the arts. She asks, could the exploration of imaginative texts help us understand Christian Scripture better and awaken our minds to its beauty?

Scott Monk brings the perspective of a writer of teenage fiction and offers an interesting insight into the dilemma Christians face when writing for secular audiences. He describes the ‘balancing act’ he faces when negotiating the complexities of the different moralities of his mainly youthful readership.

Tied to the theme of this edition are two excellent book reviews by Greg Clarke and Rob Smith. Rob reviews Professor Jeremy Begbie’s book Resounding Truth: Christian wisdom in the world of music and Greg reviews Peter Conrad’s secular book Creation: Artists, gods and origins. Both books will be of interest to readers wanting to consider the theme of this issue of Case.

How to subscribe?

Case magazine is a 32-page full colour magazine that is published quarterly. You receive case as part of the cost of becoming a CASE associate. You also receive access to other CASE resources online, reduced prices for CASE events and access to specific CASE seminars. Cost to individuals is just $55 per year, $35 for students, and $25 for an overseas electronic version. You can more information here.

The New College Lectures

Our focus on the arts will continue in the 2008 New College Lectures (2-4 September, 2008) on the theme "God and the artist: Human creativity in theological perspective". The lectures are free.

For more information on the lectures and how to RSVP (which is essential) consult the New College website here.

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