In Part I, I suggested that words like ‘create,’ ‘creation’ and ‘creativity’ are dead metaphors because a robust theology of creation is no longer ‘mapped onto’ the human activities commonly referred to as ‘creative’. Then, I asked whether it might be possible to resurrect this dead metaphor.
In one sense, bringing a dead metaphor back to life is impossible. Language is not something that you or I can control and manipulate on a whim. It is, rather, a complex social phenomenon shaped by countless human interactions that actively shapes our experience of the world. As theologian Colin Gunton points out, revitalizing old metaphors can only be accomplished through ‘the Spirit’s blowing upon dead bones and clothing them with new flesh.’ But this ‘appeal to the Spirit is also an invitation to hopeful thought and activity.’ In this case, it is the task of the theologian to show how worn out metaphors ‘may return to life in a concrete community of language and life.’
- Creatio Ex Nihilo. Some compare human creativity to the traditional Christian concept of a Creator who brings all things into existence out of nothing. This type strongly emphasizes the potential for originality in human achievement and the constructive nature of human imagination and perception. A softer variant of this approach views human creativity as bringing order to chaos. A notable historical example of this type can be found in eighteenth-century debates over the concept of ‘creative genius.’
- Revelation. Some compare human creativity to the Creator’s self-revelation in creation, generally, and to the Creator’s self-revelation in Christ, specifically. In light of this comparison, human creativity is seen as an act that is fundamentally communicative. In the act of creation, the human agent takes an inward idea or feeling and gives it outward form. Examples of this approach can be found in Dorothy Sayer’s The Mind of the Maker and Aidan Nichols’ The Art of God Incarnate.
- Redemption. Some compare human creativity to the Creator’s transformation of all things, through the mediating role of Christ, to their proper end. In light of this comparison, human creativity is seen as an act that respectfully transforms the cosmos. In the act of creation, the human agent engages in a kind of dialogue with material reality, human society and, ultimately, God. Examples of this approach can be found in Jeremy Begbie’s Voicing Creation’s Praise and W. H. Vanstone’s Love’s Endeavour, Love’s Expense.
Have you come across these three types in other places? Would you add other types to this list? Do you find thinking about human creativity in light of any of these three theological categories to be helpful? If so, why? If not, why not? The Actuality of Atonement: a Study of Metaphor, Rationality and the Christian Tradition (T&T Clark, 1988), 177.