Can we add anything to the universe? Can we give anything back to God that he has not already given to us?
When we try to answer these questions, we sometimes feel torn between two extremes. On the one hand, we buy into the popular narrative that artists can usher in a new reality. This is what Sara Schumacher called, in her post earlier this week, ‘The Cult of the New.’ On the other hand, we buy into another popular narrative that says artists are not creative at all, but only recreative. This is what Schumacher called ‘The Myth of the New.’
However, there is an alternative way of thinking theologically about artistic creativity and originality that avoids these two extremes. If we begin with Trinitarian theology, then we can offer another way of relating originality to the world and to the self.
There is a long Christian tradition of understanding God’s world as something that develops. The garden of Eden, on this view, is only the beginning because it is immature. The Spirit frees the world to mature in its own way, and the goal of this process is revealed in Christ.
Humanity has a part to play in this development, and the invitation to respond creatively to God’s world can only be understood properly in light of Trinitarian theology. As Trevor Hart writes:
If the Word of God is fulfilled through a free and Spirit-filled participation or activity of Jesus as a human being, we are compelled to think rather differently about how God views human activity in relation to his own creative Lordship, not least because Paul reminds us that this enhumanising takes place precisely that we might now be drawn in to share in its essential dynamics for ourselves.
Both ‘The Cult of the New’ and ‘The Myth of the New’ refigure human identity in problematic ways. The first implies that the self is the ultimate origin of originality. On this view, the self is free only outside of the created realities that constrain it. The second implies that the self is, as one writer puts it, more like a ‘switch for the relay of information flows.’ On this view, the self seems to lack free will altogether.
A Trinitarian theology, however, frees the artist to be genuinely creative in relation to God’s Triune creativity. As Jeremy Begbie writes:
We can begin by recognising that in the humanity of Christ, our humanity has been incorporated into the divine life by the Son of God, set free by the Spirit from its debilitating self-obsession, from its self-will and its evasions of the truth, liberated to respond to the Father’s love and his will, and freed to respond appropriately to the created world. Therein lies the very foundation and source of authentic freedom and authentic creativity.
In light of a Trinitarian theology, we might say that humanity participates in the creative work that God is doing in the world. Creativity, as Hart puts it, is not a potential ‘threat to the divine copyright on the logical structure of things’ nor is it merely the discovery of things already made. It is a response to God’s gracious gift of the world, and we are most genuinely creative and original when we align our efforts with their telos, their goal, in Christ.
 For example, see Ireneaus, Adversus Haereses, IV.38.1.
 ‘Hearing, Seeing, Touching the Truth,’ in Beholding the Glory: Incarnation through the Arts, ed. Jeremy Begbie (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2000), 18.
 Voicing Creation’s Praise (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1991), 178-9.
 ‘Hearing, Seeing, Touching the Truth,’ 16.