Images and Idols: Creativity for the Christian Life is the first book in the new Reclaiming Creativity Series by Thomas J. Terry and J. Ryan Lister. They write in the foreword that the series began as a conversation between friends— one an academic and the other a performing artist. The artist creates the art. The academic analyzes and discusses the art, which as a teacher I would argue is somewhat an art form in itself. They both obviously have an interest in what creativity should mean and be in the life of a Christian. It’s an interesting question, and Images and Idols does a great job beginning the discussion.
I’m trying to remember a time when I’ve heard creativity discussed in the local church, but I can’t recall an instance. Let’s be honest. When you think of famous artists, musicians, and writers; do God-honoring people come to mind? But Terry and Lister might argue that’s part of the problem, and that’s why we need Reclaiming Creativity.
Terry and Lister write, “We want to hit the reset button on the faith-creativity problem and help creativity be what God intended it to be: a composite of beauty, worship, and service.” Images and Idols is the first in a three volume series. It discusses the questions, “First, what does God have to do with your creativity? And second, what does your creativity have to do with God?”
I’ve heard it said many times that Christian art, music, and writing should be the best out there. Christians often talk about creatives and say, “If they would only use that talent for God.” Yet, churches and Christians in general don’t foster and support creativity. It only seems welcome for decorating the fellowship hall for VBS, designing ProPresenter slides, or singing on the praise team. All of which are noble acts of service, but isn’t there more? Terry and Lister write:
So many have given up on their creative impulse because someone somewhere has somehow convinced them that creativity is pointless, excessive, immoral, or childish compared to the things of God.
Terry and Lister point out that many creatives no longer feel valued or at home in the church. There is a underlying suspicion that seems to divide the Christian and creativity. They write:
…The problem of the creativity-Christian divide stems from the unfounded and specious commitment: God has nothing to do with creativity, and creativity has nothing to do with God.
Of course that’s nonsense, and Images and Idols spends the rest of the book using sound, biblical arguments explaining why. Terry and Lister write:
A world without God will always struggle to give you a reason for your creative impulse. Perhaps its survival or money or power or the self-defeating promise of immortal fame. But a world designed and upheld by God reveals something much more beautiful and profound:
Every act of creativity, in its essence, is an act of worship, a doxological expression of your true humanity and purpose.
What Should We Do?
So, how do those of use with a creative impulse live that out? How do we make sure that our creativity stays true to that doxological expression? Does everything we create have to be an explicit sermon or worship song? Terry and Lister dig deep into those questions. Honestly, there are so many good quotes I could share from this book. I’ll share one more that sets up the rest of the book:
No matter how it may seem, God and creativity have never been in opposition; they are, and always have been, connected. Consequently, if we are ever going to understand creativity properly, we need to know God. The reverse is also true. To know God means we have to see Him as the Creator and Lord of everything, including creativity.
Images and Idols succeeds in keeping a friendly, conversational tone. Terry and Lister discuss Marvel’s success with origin stories and Pixar’s commitment to revealing our humanity. They talk about how creativity can lead to self worship, and how to avoid that. They even throw in some great C.S. Lewis and Tolkien quotes. Most importantly, they stay true to their purpose. They answer what does God have to do with your creativity and what does your creativity have to do with God?
Images and Idols
As previously mentioned, Images and Idols is the first volume in a series. You can get a copy of the book HERE. The second volume, Redesigned Cathedrals, will “seek to bridge the divide between the church and the creative.” The third volume, The King’s Commission, discusses how Christian creativity can address “a culture starving for something better.” I’m looking forward to reading them all.
If you didn’t know, Thomas J. Terry is a member of the rap group Beautiful Eulogy and founder of Humble Beast Records. I believe Terry and Lister also work together on the Canvas Conference, which focuses on creativity and theology.