Creativity and the Church: Or, How to Develop Creativity?


Creative people are needed because God demands a richer vocabulary than words can give. New eloquence is needed to move the borders of intelligibility. Yet, God didn’t make everyone to be a creative person. Some are hands and some are feet. Others are the intuition.[1] The intuition sees how things tend, which means they see how things complete themselves. Because of the constrained variables in the complexity of reality, the hands and feet have diminished vision. They need the intuition, which disciplines the body toward teleology.[2]

So then, remembering that God doesn’t give the gift of creativity to everyone, what should someone do if they have this unique giftedness? First, they must understand creativity, Second, they must understand the purpose of the gift of creativity. Third, they must cultivate the gift of creativity.

Understanding creativity

What exactly is creativity? The ancients taught that God alone possesses creative power—ex nihilo. No creature, whether angel or image bearer, could produce something from nothing. Rather, each human person, including their material body and immaterial soul, existed because of a creative act of God. Divine creativity has a proper goal, one that God conserves and cares for until all of creation produces the eternal fruit. This is the doctrine of divine providence.

To speak of human creativity is to make a categorical distinction between God and man. There is divine boldness required for man to create. The 17th-century poet and cleric John Donne said, “Poetry is a counterfeit Creation, and makes things that are not, as though they were.” Human creativity, therefore, mirrors a God-like task while using the materials God made.

So the truly creative person never begins, as Rousseau taught, with their personal emotions. Creativeness is measured by reflection rather than originality. Avery Cardinal Dulles argued that creativity and tradition “are not only compatible but mutually supportive.” Dulles stands in contrast to the tradition of antitraditionalism represented no more publicly than by Ralph Waldo Emerson. In 1836, in the introduction to his essay on “Nature,” Emerson argued that reliance on tradition inhibits insight because it forces people to behold God through a middleman rather than face to face.[3] A year later in his famous Phi Beta Kappa address, Emerson complained that preoccupation with history dulls the spontaneous power of insight.[4]

It’s now common to define the essence of creativity as an uninhibited combination of transgression, originality, and spontaneity. This is a submission to Emerson, who contrasted tradition with insight. Emerson thought that the past was authoritarian and tyrannical and that insight was possible when the inner wisdom in the human spirit was unfettered from chains of tradition. It transgressed the past by turning inward rather than outward, which also happens to be the new definition of originality. Something is original only when it is based on impulse, i.e., spontaneity.

In opposition to Emerson, Christians profess that insight is thin and cheap without tradition. The person fervent for originality is always a bore. Why? Because fake creativity is a forgery. Only God creates out of nothing, which means for humans, the only originality is unoriginality. The human task is to bring together several pieces to determine their relation. This requires perceiving a likeness between things that were ostensibly unrelated and building them into a new unity that possesses independent existence. It is precisely because modern people despise memory that modern art and music are so dull. Creativity is impossible without recitation.[5] 

Understanding the purpose of the gift of creativity

It is the special characteristic of modern life—screens especially—that deadens people’s creativity. Yet, a creative person is not made through the rigor of self-discipline, but by a high degree of fascination. A person will never be creative unless they have a profound interest and sober delight in the natural world. To have an interest in the natural world is to have an interest in God’s world—what it has been, what it is, and what it will be. It’s a theistic notion to have a category for things good in themselves and it’s a creative person who can point this out. The sanctification of culture requires a continuously new and incrementally expansive view of God’s world.

Shakespeare said there are more things in heaven and earth than you could ever dream of. That is, there are more things in heaven and earth than man’s limited, material, human frame can hold.  The church needs, as John Keats said, “some watcher of the skies … with eagle eyes” to present to the church “a wild surmise.”[6] To be ravished by God’s world is to be filled with a suggestion of the God who made it. At least that’s what Paul said in Romans 1:20, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” The potency of creativity is to help God’s people clearly perceive. This is part of how the church recovers the animating spirit of Christian culture, centered on the God who is there. A high level of cultural commonality must exist in the church first, then in the world.

Cultivating the gift of creativity

A creative person is someone full of wit and imagination who has the skills of poetry and eloquence applied through the depth of thought and fires of sanctified imagination. The purpose of creative Saints in the body of Christ is to persuade God’s people against the “truth” of unreality. People are on dangerous ground if they praise as beautiful that which is flatly implausible in light of God’s revelation. Creativity-in-training begins by fixing loyalty to the truth of the Living God.

This is how Jonathan Edwards could make sanctifying observations about moonlight. The nature of moonlight is that the glow of the moon is not intrinsic to it. Moonlight, rather, is the continuously new reflection of sunlight. This is how God made the world and it teaches us about God. Just like the sun is pervasively present even at night, so too does God constantly renew creation as an act of his Divine Being.[7]

In her book Mind over Memes, Diana Senechal takes issue with the methods schools use to instill creativity. By attempting to train creativity, they end up deterring it. In her research, she discovered that no one can be creative without first learning about what came before. Mastering the basics of the past requires a lot of work, study, thought, and practice. Invention is the result of a long process of mastering the tradition, which is about mastering the originals. For example, consider music making. Aspiring musicians want to push the boundaries of plainsong and make the next avant-garde song. But this is impossible without first learning foundations—scales, notes, and chords. Then they must learn existing songs and study how they are composed. Creative people don’t begin with innovation, they begin with fons et origo.


Until a person grasps the profound meaning of the Original, they won’t understand the things of God. That is, they won’t understand the tools for creation. The Christian tradition, rooted in the incarnate God-man, originates from the living memory of the Creator God. This is an ancient heritage that can’t be improved upon. There is no new framework, only re-actualizing the creative mystery that is the cause of Being. The Christian tradition, therefore, doesn’t need resurrecting or preservation. It needs Christians with the gift of creativity to serve (1 Pt. 4:10) the deadened and godless lives that need resurrecting and preservation.

[1] Jacques Maritain, Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953).

[2] Marilynne Robinson, What Are We Doing Here? (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2018), 110-114.



[5] Jaroslav Pelikan, The Vindication of Tradition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984), 73-82; Dorothy Sayers, Letters to a Diminished Church (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 33.

[6] John Keats, “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer.”

[7] Edwards, Jonathan. The Complete Works of Jonathan Edwards. The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended (p. 4990). Kindle Edition.

Published by Jason Cherry

Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call and The Making of Evangelical Spirituality (Wipf and Stock).