A Need for Creative Theology

May 19th, 2011 / 25 Comments

The latest of edition of the magazine Fast Company features today’s 100 most creative business people. The magazine’s stories of these innovators has me thinking about creativity in Christian theology.

What counts as creative is at least partly subjective, of course. But I noticed common themes among those featured in Fast Company. Most creative people listed are problem solvers, obstacle overcomers, or innovators.

The magazine’s list has fascinating people. Ranked first is the general director of Al Jazeera. Number two is a designer at Apple. Interestingly, Conan O’Brien made the top ten.

There’s Nothing New Under the Sun?

All of this has me wondering what it would be like to construct a list of the 100 most creative theological thinkers today. I know of no magazine who publishes such a list. But I’m sure it would be interesting!

Of course, some Christians think theology done well is not creative at all. Good theology, from this perspective, simply retells stories and truths handed down from yesteryear. For Christians with this perspective, either the Bible or the Christian tradition offers everything of theological importance.  There is nothing new under the sun.

Others think creative endeavors in theology imply that God has changed in some way. Because they think God is in all ways unchanging, creative theology is at worst heretical and at best misguided. An unchanging God requires unchanging theology.

I personally think good theology takes into account insights from yesteryear and Scripture. But I don’t think appreciating the past eliminates the possibility of new and creative theological insights. Traditional wisdom is crucial; but contemporary imagination plays an important role in Christian theology.

Something New Under the Sun

We need creative theology today as much or more than ever. In fact, I think the most important creative advances today may actually be occurring in theology not business!

The common Christian conviction that we can never fully understand God plays a role in explaining why creative theology is important today. Unless we think a person or group in the past comprehended God entirely, there is always room to “grow in the knowledge of the love of Christ.”

In addition, Christians face a host of unanswered or poorly answered questions. Take the problem of evil, for instance. Most Christians have either no answer or a poor answer to why an almighty and all-loving God fails to prevent genuine evil. There’s plenty of need for creative theological thinking on that issue.

Theology is necessarily tied to our views of the world, including science. Our views of the human person, initial and ongoing creation, and social structures are always influenced by research and theories in the sciences. While theology need not be a slave to changing scientific ideas, creative theology can help Christians reconcile time-honored truths with contemporary scientific research. There’s work to be done here too.

Or take the questions of religious pluralism. While people of differing faiths have always interacted to some degree, many Christians today interact with nonChristians more often and more deeply. We need creative theological answers questions this new situation raise.

New Research Programs in Theology

Fast Company inspires me to consider the kind of creative theology we need most today. In some of my recent work, I’ve attempted to offer satisfying answers to some questions. But I’m thinking now about what I should do next.

In a changing world with changing people and changing ideas, some things do stay the same. But as long as we know in part, there will be plenty of room for creative theological endeavor.

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Comments

Curtis

Interesting thoughts and comments. I have wondered about similar things. I go back and forth wondering if innovative is good or if it takes us away from the “faith once delivered.” It seems to me that if there are advances in science, medicine, architecture, business, and more that we should allow for theology to advance. The task for theology, however, will be to break new ground and explore new ideas without neglecting older ideas. Perhaps that’s where creativity lies, in advancing a thought in a way that includes the old.


The Sensible Seamstress

And surely one of the most creative ways we can begin would be to stop depicting and talking about God as only and fully masculine.  This would really open up the creative playing field, so to speak, to 50% more of the earth’s population!


mike lady

The question that comes to my mind is, “what is the basis for understanding whether or not the new idea is valid?”.  Another question is, “is the scripture ruling the day over reason, tradition and experience, or has one or more of these taken the scriptures place of how we see what is true and what is not?”.
It would be interesting to hear your view on the problem of evil.  It would not seem like much of a problem if God is not coersive, does not know the future and man is completely autonomous.


Jordan

I love this conversation. Living in the generation that I do, I feel as though I have witnessed both ends of the spectrum as it relates theological tradition versus creative theology; therefore, I have had the privilege to observe the pros and cons of each. Take theological tradition for example: on the one hand tradition provides us with a background, a foundation—it keeps us grounded in a way. On the flip side, what if there has been an error in our traditional theological views? Or maybe even several? If there is no challenging, no progressive thinking, no creative thinking theologically, then we run the risk of being very off course for who knows how long. Not to mention the fact that God gave us our minds and we are told in scripture to love Him with our minds. To hold to tradition alone and not allow creative theological thinking, in my mind, is almost dishonoring to the Lord! I like Dr. Oord’s statement about always having room to grow in the knowledge and love of Christ. In a sense, to deny creative theology could almost be a claim that current theological tradition is flawless, thus there is no more knowledge to be gained of God.

However, I think there are some issues with creative theology that can become problematic. Those issues arise when tradition is completely thrown out, thus giving a tendency for some ideas to become quite off-base. To think creatively and be engaging in possibilities and new ideas is excellent and honoring to the Lord and our humanity (in my opinion), but there needs to be some sense of accountability, which is where tradition can become a valuable tool rather than a useless heritage.


Robby

From my perspective, I truly appreciate the idea of thinking about theology in more creative and applicable ways for the world today. It seems, though, that as I have grown up I have been constantly bombarded with ideas that are “new and applicable and relevant.” I find such joy in hearing about and reading about issues that have been discussed for centuries and are still applicable today. There is often such diverse depth to those conversations than there are in some current “relevant” discussion.


Robbie Schwenck

I can certainly see the importance of the idea of creative theology. Of course, the first concern that comes to mind is the necessity of creative theology. When is traditional theology not enough? I think the fact that there are so many unanswered questions and debated topics shows the need for some new ideas in theology. We still have to be careful with what we do in theology, but using our imaginations and thinking in new ways can definitely move us forward in our understandings.


Megan Krebs

I think there are issues raised by the technological and scientific advances of our age that do cry out for a creative theological response. For instance, as medical sciences develop treatments and cures for diseases, in what way do we then pray for healing? What does it mean to be in relationship with another person in the wake of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media? In the face of modern marketing and entertainment, how do we maintain lives of sexual health and purity? However, at the root of these questions are questions that have been asked by Christians for two millennia. The problem of evil is not a new question, and creative thinking may never answer it.  The past has much still to teach us. The key to having a creative (and orthodox) theological response to these questions is to exegete the relevant and draw from the saints and Scriptures to discern and develop answers for the the details.


Joshua Godfey

The word “change” as it is used in this blog prompts a slight twinge of hesitation in me. Change implies, whether adequately or not, the abandoning of certain beliefs or theological propositions, particularly historical ones, in favor of others. While this does need to be done when humanity’s understanding of a certain theological issue is faltering, when creative theology is done out of the context of exploring God more and seeking to understand God more, perhaps it ought to be phrased as “building” on theology.

That being said, coming at this blog from the context of our reading in class, theology deals not only with God, but with humanity’s and individuals’ relationships with God. So, as you mentioned, as the character and culture of contemporary humanity changes, so too ought our attempts at theology aim to address the changes in the humanity-God relationship. Likewise, perhaps creative theology could or should leave some room for individualization to account for the uniqueness that necessarily exists in each individual human’s relationship with God.


Aaron Moschitto

I think creativity is either a great or terrible word depending on a person’s perspective. In terms of the formation of theology creativity is essential for the very reason that we don’t live or do theology in a vacuum. Language and understanding shift and change and so we need to meet the needs that arise, creatively. I think creativity is one of the most useful tools we have as Christians, because it doesn’t settle for the status quo but pursues new avenues and ventures that haven’t been explored. However, this obviously comes with some dangerous possibilities, but the danger of not being creative to meet current needs comes with actual problems not just the potential of these problems. One way I think we can be more creative in our theology is talking about salvation. Saying I’m saved, or I’ve prayed the sinner’s prayer isn’t invalid, but for me personally needs to be creatively analyzed and rejuvenated. That language no longer conveys to me what it used to in generations past, and so I think we need to creatively begin to evaluate our theology and the messages we are conveying. I think there is more real danger present in not doing theology creatively. Because the goal isn’t to just come up with something new, its to repackage what’s been there all along so that it can be seen with more clarity, and if something new arises then the fun has just begun.


James Shepherd

In the world we live in today, I believe creative theology can be beneficial. This world is forever changing, which means the tactics we use to take on the world are always changing. That said, how creative are we willing to go? Tradition has played a deep role in much of what we do, but tradition does not always take on the current problems of the world. It could be said that even though the world is changing, the people in the world are not. While this is true, the methods that have previous been used to reach people have shown to be slightly less affective in our world today. People want the newest thing out there (new technology, and things to make their lives easier), and should we not try and reach people using the newest things out there?
While all of this is just thought on paper, we should never forget where we have come from. Meaning, we should always look to the traditions that have gone before us. Along with this, we should never allow creativity to come before the teaching of the Bible.
Creative theology should add to the teachings and practices we already have in place. It should, like any good theology out there, aid in the process of equipping people to better understand what we are apart of.


Nick McCall

I do agree with you about creative theology. There are many aspects of God and theology that need to stay the same i.e. Jesus the living God, resurrection, and tradition. However, I do think that there needs to be some room for different ways of thinking. I know I am speaking from a post modern way of thinking because 50 years ago, me being open to different ideas would be next to heresy. As I have taken classes here I have learned many new things and have accepted many different theological ideas. I think it can be dangerous when people/church are completely closed off to different ways of thinking. But, at the same time, we should still hold on to many theological ideas. Ultimately, it is important to have an open mind and realize there are more things under the sun.


Brad Pitt

I believe that creativity is a gift that God has given to everyone. Creative theology is needed in todays changing world. Take the television for example, once color was introduced to the world, they dared never to go back to black and white television shows. The culture today is changing, and theology needs to remain rooted in the Bible, reason and experience, i think we do need to find creative ways to talk to people about theology. The problem of evil is a difficult question to answer, as you’ve said, some christians have a weak answer or not-so-good one, in remaining loyal to scripture, in portraying the God of the Bible, creativity may be the answer in which christians have been looking for.


Kaitlyn Haley

We know that it is in God’s nature to create. So why in our words about God would be not also be creative. Being made in the image of God gives us an innate desire to pursue new thoughts, to imagine and create. Because God placed this in our nature creativity ought to ooze into every discipline and corner of our lives. I agree that theology today requires even more creativity. If theology is the discipline that helps us contextualize our faith in a contemporary society, it requires creativity because contextualization of any kind does not come instantaneously. Contextualization requires thinking deeply and imaginatively about what possibilities God wants to show us. Theology ought to be creative because God is creative and created us to imagine great things. Because we live in a changing world, I don’t think there is a limit to what we can create through God’s power at work within us.


Valerie Wigg

“…contemporary imagination plays an important role in Christian theology.” If one sentence sums up the gist of this blog entry it is this one. Something I have noticed growing up not only in a Christian home but also a Mormon one is that imagination is often frowned upon when put in the same sentence as faith or religion. Living in an age of rapid technological advances, it is obvious that change is always occurring. New things are happening and new ideas are being formed. Because of new discoveries, our perspectives and outlooks on certain issues are naturally bound to adapt whether that is to reject an idea or accept it. Being imaginative with theology does not degrade former theological ideas and truths but adds to them and helps us to understand God more fully and contextually. I believe God delights in our efforts to make sense of Him and His creation and that will happen every second of everyday as fresh ideas are emerging. To have an unchanging theology would result in irrelevant or outdated ideas of who God is and His Word. Postmodernity is making way for more creative thinking and I believe without creativity in the Church and in faith, we will soon be lost! God gave us minds so let’s use them!


Kristina Wineman

Have you ever taken the Strengthsfinders test? Have you ever taken it twice and seen different results? I have. My top five, at the beginning of my freshman year of college, completely changed save one. I was astonished. BUT. I came to understand why my strengths changed. I was just coming into college and starting a new journey of self-understanding. Through that journey I have changed in many ways. By the time I took the test my senior year of college, my characteristics were different than before due to experiences and perspective. Just like my test score changed, doesn’t our view of God, our theology, change? I believe that the way we look at God may change, but i do not believe that God changes. I love the thought of creativity in theology. I’m careful to agree whole heartedly because I know it can really hurt someone if used wrongly. Creativity in theology can really open up minds, but it can also destroy what God indented for us to understand. We don’t want to misinterpret God’s word by making it relative to us that it changes what God is saying. My test scores may have changed, but I am still Kristina, I just have a new perspective and more experience to guide my thinking. I think while using creative theology we need to keep in mind the Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Scripture on the bottom, reason on the top, and experience and tradition on the sides. That will help us see the truth through our changing eyes.


Thomas Tilford

I greatly Appreciate this. I would guess that for many people “creative theology” would seem “dangerous.” As if changing our minds or notions about God was or is wrong. I think the notion that we should be creative and explorative in our theology might reflect a humble and hungry mind that might also reflect desire to seek God. The assumption that we no longer need to think or learn something new about God infers that we all ready know everything there is to know about God. I do not consider this to be true. Although we have a good understanding of the nature of God by the life of Christ this is not a permit to merely stop there. Exploring the character of God is a lifetime endeavour that requires a hunger for love and truth.


Rachel B

I love this idea of creative theology. I believe that there will always be new or different ways to see a situation or an idea. Theology is no exception. Were we not all created by God? Were we not all created the same, yet still completely different? My solution to a more creative theology is to focus on our differences. I am so incredibly different from my neighbor, let alone a Christian across the globe. The way in which we all know God is therefore also vastly different. The key to creative is to get personal. We must delve into each other’s lives and stories in order to “do theology” or to know God in the way our neighbors do.


Ryan O’Neill

I agree with the fact that a changing world needs a theology that is changing with it. The topic of creative theology is interesting considering the rise of post-modernity in Christianity is raising a lot of questions regarding theology and whether or not it is still relevant. I really liked the phrase that was brought up saying “an unchanging God requires unchanging theology,” but I am tempted to think that may be merely an excuse put forth by those who have a harder time moving forward into a theologically diverse culture.


Connor White

At times I really like this scripture, “…and there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9) and at times it perplexes me. One of the struggles my generation has with biblical interpretation and theology is how do we deal with the meaning and literacy of Scripture in light of the cultural differences in today’s world, which in itself has thousands of different cultures and contexts, and the world of the audience in which the text was originally addressed to. It seems like there is a lot new and different between those two worlds, there has to be new things under the sun. In order for spiritual transformation to happen there must be creativity, right? I agree, and I think most people would, but I believe we must be very careful in the way we get creative. The age old, time defying, culture defying issue which pierces all of humanity is sin. Sin isn’t anything new under the sun. What’s different throughout time is how we deal with sin. That being said, as theologians, pastors, and any and all who look to the Triune God for life both now and eternally, creativity should lie in how we represent Christ both to the believer and non-believer alike within a specific context. I am all for creativity as long as we don’t lose sight of and pervert God’s pursuit of reconciling and redeeming all of humanity back to himself.


Amina Chinnell-Mateen

I like the thought of creative theology. It seems like a beautiful concept and when thought in detail it seems like it could work. As times change we must change also the way we think and adapt it’s practices. But from this I can’t help wonder just a couple things. One is it necessary? Meaning does creative theology need to hold some high place in the way we think about the essence of God, his love and his demeanor? And secondly how can our traditional measure of thinking about theology if at all mesh with the concept of creative theology? I am weary of this concept because I wonder if it’s possible others may take it out of context or misuse it. Let us out the Bible first as our aim. And secondly our own understandings.


Rebekah Luplow

There is a need for creative theology in our world today. The world is constantly changing and we are faced with difficult questions and issues that we are required to consider more deeply. I like this idea about creative theology, however we have centuries of insight from past theologians which is very beneficial to us today and we want to keep that in mind if we are to think more creatively about theology. While we need to be careful that our theology stays in line with scripture, I believe that creative theology can be considered when attempting to face issues today.


Lisah Malika

We live in a world that is constantly advancing. Innovation and progress is the mindset of our generation, and because of that we often let that dictate our way of life. Creativity I believe is an amazing asset to our daily lives, but my concern is that in our constant obsession with the new best thing we forget to appreciate the past; let alone take a moment to stop and consider our traditions.  I believe that the Church often finds itself in a bind, where we are faced with the decision to adjust our theology based the societies needs or to remain true to our tradition. As I reflect on what I have seen in the modern church today, I would argue that the Church walks a thin line. I consider myself to be a creative person, and I believe that creativity and innovation has its place in this world, but I wonder if there is a limit? I think it is essential that while we are being creative in our theology, we remain true to scripture and tradition. Most importantly I think it is necessary that the church remember not to be so easily influenced or captivated by keeping up with the Joneses (society. While creative ideas can be new and exciting, it does not always mean that is necessary, applicable or beneficial. We must find a balance between the two (the new and the old).


Daniel Parker

Its interesting to me that you think that some of the most creative endeavors are happening in theology instead of business. i say this merely from your statement that there are no magazines publishing the top 100 most creative theologians. Of curse thinking upon that some creative theologies are bad theologies that perhaps are either ill-thought out or down right heretical. I would hope that if a magazine ever did publish a top 100 most creative theologies or theologians that they would weed out the bad theologies and only include the good ones, and if not then that they would give a pro and con to each and every theology explaining why this specific theology or theologian is good (or bad) at what it aims for and why it should or should not be used.


Derek Hunt

The way this blog is written gave me a bit of a different perspective concerning the ever expanding and always intriguing world of theological study and debate. It is so important to know why we believe what we believe, slightly modifying those beliefs based on newfound discoveries or experiences can be exhausting or a bit frightening. Some people, particularly Christians, don’t want the God of old to become something He “wasn’t” yesterday. The message of the Bible gives us an eternal hope found in the dynamic, infectious love found in the Crucifixion of Christ. It is naive to think the implications of this event will always be the same. We should be attentive and relevant to the times around us.


Dan Martinic

A search for creative ways to teach Theology has led me here. This is a great conversation and by discussing it in our class, I hope some of my students chime in or at least discuss among themselves through their blogs. I would agree with both suggestions of an unchanging God and a changing idea of God. After all, the God of the Gospels is quite different from the God of the Old Testament. The challenge is to incorporate all ideas of God into a common discussion. If Jesus can be both human and God, perhaps God may be one and many?


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