Category Archives: creativity

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In response to Bob Kauflin’s recent post about synthesizers in worship, I agree with much of what he says (nearly everything), including the call for silence, variety, and Spirit dependence. Those are crucially important points, and I couldn’t agree more.

In my perspective, some further nuancing might be helpful in the article. Of course, the Spirit can work through physical means — just as He can work through other means. After all, we are embodied beings and certain sound waves affect us in different ways.

Too much cowbell would make us laugh. There’s nothing inherently spiritual or anti-spiritual about a cowbell, but culturally, we’ve associated cowbell with humor (e.g., SNL). Likewise, loud kick drum tends to be associated with dancing (or for others, headaches). These associations in themselves are not wrong.

As far as ambient pads go, in much of Western culture, that particular sound has been associated with contemplation, peace, and spirit. Like the sounds mentioned above, there is nothing moral or amoral about that in itself. In fact, synth sounds are used in contexts outside of worship (such as commercials) to communicate these same ideas.

For that reason, rather than comparing ambient pads to manipulation, I would compare it to the use of language. If culture uses certain metaphors (whether linguistic or not), then those metaphors can serve as vehicles of communication.

Again, I think Bob is awesome (a role model and a favorite!), and I agree with so much in his post. In my view, however, a bit more nuancing would be helpful, particularly some of the positive uses and/or more emphasis upon the fact that the Spirit not only uses spiritual means, but natural means. The Spirit’s activity is above and beyond our physical processes, of course, but neither is He absent from those processes.

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John Piper offers a wonderful theology of art, in which he defines art as that which is done not merely for utilitarian purposes, but to move or affect.

Strengths of this definition:

  • “good” art affects us in an emotional and/or spiritual way
  • purely pragmatic communication does not seem artful
  • everyone can be artistic in some fashion
  • art and definitions of art should be rooted in God’s character
  • Christians should be more motivated than anyone else to care about art
  • What we could add to this brief definition:

  • some art also has practical purposes (e.g., a beautiful advertisement)
  • art demonstrates the common grace of God, even amongst non-believers
  • art requires intent that sets it apart from everyday actions
  • urbanization_art

    The world spins madly on, and as it spins, our population continues to increase.

    Over and over again, artists have questioned our tendency to clump together in urban centers and destroy the natural world around us.  At the same time, philosophers and theologians contemplate how historical truths apply in an ever-changing landscape.


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    We often take our surroundings for granted, but that can be dangerous.  Rather than accepting the status quo, we should follow the lead of artists like Yang Yongliang and consider where our trajectory will take us.  For those of us who believe in God, we have a responsibility to be good stewards of our time, our energy, our people, and our world.

    For more on Yongliang’s work, read this article by Gizmodo, and check out more of his work here.

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    Good design has dramatic effects upon the human brain. We have all sensed that in one way or another — maybe through an abstraction painted by Pollock, a computer designed by Apple, or a sunset displayed by God.  But have you ever wondered why?

    “Why We Love Beautiful Things” (you can read it here) is a well-written article that explores the connection between good design and science. It is worth reading for anyone who enjoys art and its relation to our brains. Here is how the article ends:

    “We think of great design as art, not science, a mysterious gift from the gods, not something that results just from diligent and informed study. But if every designer understood more about the mathematics of attraction, the mechanics of affection, all design — from houses to cellphones to offices and cars — could both look good and be good for you.”

    I would add that science, too, is a gift from God. Science does not diminish from art, but adds to the incredible wonder of our complex, yet utterly coherent, world that God has made. From a theistic viewpoint, art and science compliment each other because they have a common Creator, so these findings should not surprise us, but rather encourage us as we pursue the arts and sciences.

     

    Photo:  NY Times (click image for link)

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    As Christians, we should have a modest view of technology within the context of ministry – not too lofty and not too lowly. In itself, technology does not have the power to change lives, but God can use technology (such as the printing press) to further His kingdom. We live in a unique age that requires a theology of technology, and we need to think before we embrace whatever is before us.

    Rather than overdosing on technology, the Church should use it strategically. Some tools can save time, which in effect can produce more time to interact in person. Some tools can help us reach more people, which can start new relationships for the sake of glorifying God. But of course, these tools need to be used in moderation and within reason.

    A unique feature of the digital age is that technology is available on a massive scale – not only who can own it, but where it can be used. Unlike the days of the printing press or even dial-up modems, new technologies are “omnipresent” in the sense that they travel with us in our pockets. Tragically, despite all of the contributions of the digital age, our gadgetry has led to the idolization of technology. Millions of people worship the newest device, while their other god(s) are quickly forgotten.

    To avoid such idolatry, we must use technology for our purposes – and to prevent technology from using us. Like craftsmen, we need to master our tools, so that they can be used effectively for the kingdom. As with any tool, technology should be used in a way that helps rather than complicates. This requires thought and planning.

    Here are a few ways that technology can be used in quick and easily manageable ways:

    Evangelism/Outreach
    • Spark conversation with a thoughtful quotation
    • Respond to current events with a Christian worldview
    • Share web links that are encouraging and gospel-influenced
    • Introduce your church with a video
    • Raise funds for social outreach efforts
    • Praise God for what He is doing in your life
    • Invite locals to a church event
    • Advertise community events (e.g., a food drive)
    • Tell the community about changed lives!

    Discipleship
    • Suggest Scripture passages to read
    • Start an online discussion
    • Invite members to an upcoming event
    • Alert members to important prayer requests
    • Encourage your congregation during the week
    • Post videos about social justice issues
    • Share what God is doing in your life
    • Respond to others’ posts with Christian love and biblical truth

    Clearly, this list is not exhaustive, but such ideas show that technology can be gospel-driven and glorifying to God. As a general rule, we should avoid technology that glorifies ourselves, and instead, strive to honor God. This is not always easy, but according to 1 Corinthians 10:31, this is what we are called to do in every area of life.

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    What makes “Christian” art? This debate has gone on for many years, but at least in my circles, the discussion has not progressed very far. In some ways, this question can be misleading because there is not necessarily a single answer. There are at least 3 ways to define Christian art:

    1. In terms of source: art made by a Christian individual or a group of Christians.
    2. In terms of motive: art intended to minister to others or to glorify God in a general way.
    3. In terms of message: art that communicates a message about the Christian God or is somehow influenced by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Considering the Oxford dictionary as an example, there are various alternatives when defining a word. A single definition is not more “correct” than another, so we would be better off describing what kind of Christian art we are talking about. As a result, the conversation can advance further when we avoid semantics and focus our discussion on a specific kind of Christian art.

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    For those of us who write worship songs, it is easy to fall into the same patterns. By reading lyrics of other songs, especially well written hymns and songs from other cultures, we can be moved to think in new ways and to expand beyond our normal categories. For a sample, check out this hymn shared by Thabiti Anyabwile.

    How Sweet and Awful Is the Place

    How sweet and awful is the place
    With Christ within the doors
    While everlasting love displays
    The choicest of her stores.

    While all our hearts and all our songs
    Join to admire the feast
    Each of us cry with thankful tongues,
    “Lord, why was I a guest?”

    “Why was I made to hear thy voice
    and enter while there’s room,
    When thousands make a wretched choice
    And rather starve than come?”

    ‘Twas the same love that spread the feast
    that sweetly drew us in;
    Else we had still refused to taste
    and perished in our sin

    Pity the nations, O our God,
    Constrain the earth to come;
    Send thy victorious Word abroad
    and bring the strangers home.

    We long to see thy churches full,
    that all the chosen race
    may with one voice and heart and soul
    sing thy redeeming grace.

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    In many churches, there has been a subtle change over the past decade. When we started using PowerPoint for worship, the majority of churches would use a slide for a verse, another slide for the chorus, and so on. Today, however, the trend is to use a slide for 2 to 4 lines — more like a snippet — in order to display larger font, include artwork, or show video of the band.

    While this generally looks better and in a few cases is helpful, we should not accept it without question. One downside of fewer lyrical lines being displayed on a slide is that it makes it more difficult to memorize the lyrics. Rhymes are split between slides, and congregants have a more difficult time determining what is the verse, pre-chorus, chorus, and bridge. Also, it is impossible to “look ahead” to scan what lyrics are coming up.

    This may seem insignificant until you consider the consequences it has upon our worship. In my own case, I have noticed that I close my eyes and raise my arms less because I need to be more concentrated on figuring out what words are coming next. As with all new media, we need to examine how such media affects the way that we worship.