The book of Psalms reminds us that our purest theology comes out in worship, in the creative expression of the believer. Humans are creative beings. Being Image bearers means that it is not only humanity that is creative, but God as well. Humanity and civilization, then, is fulfilled by way of creative design when it’s creative energies are freely flowing. We are at our best when poetic, musical, artistic. 

This concept is supported all throughout the Scriptures. The strongest piece of evidence, once again, is the substantial role of the Psalms in worship. Music had a critical role during temple worship. This is true today as well in Christian services as well as in synagogues. In fact, in worshipping Jewish communities today, the Scriptures are not only read, but sung by a cantor. The synagogue leadership is made up not only of the rabbi but also the cantor. In some traditions, cantors are even more important than the Rabbi. The education process to become an ordained cantor is longer than that of a rabbi! This tradition, much of which the Christianity did away with over the course of history, has been passed done through hundreds of generations of Jewish worshippers. 

Going back to the ancient near east, Israel’s neighbors were known to incorporate not only music but also drama and theatre in their worship experience. Today’s conceptions of entertainment being an entirely secular thing was unknown to the ancient world. Stories were told (equivalent to films today) and enacted only within the temple. 

Why is this?  Because stories, entertainment, music and art, change us. They have transforming and inculturating power. They bring a perspective on reality in an impactful way. They instill core values that become the cultural framework for the modus operandi of society. They shape the emotions and thought-patterns of people. They build in culture and worldview. Have you ever noticed how much a movie score can make or break a movie? Melody impacts the way in which we interpret moments. When the music turns dark, we expect something bad to happen. Music is emotionally manipulating. This is why Saul used David as his royal court musician to drive away the tormenting spirits. 

All of this is to make the point that artistic, creative expression is something very human that resonates with all that it is to be human. Humans best experience and engage reality through music, art, poetry, drama, etc. The question I want to ask is why? We can only answer that question when we understand what creativity in the form of art and poetics is.

As a student of poetics, I understand art to be a creative and deviant expression of reality that results in a similar, but different and fresh perspective (this is simplified, but gets the job done for the moment) of a particular reality. This means that as humans, we are anchored in norms, but at the same time always hungry for fresh expression to give us a new perspective on the reality of the norm. In poetics this is the principle of grounding and foregrounding. Think about the way bold or italic font works, for example. The normal fonts sets the norm, it provides grounding. Then  when we we temporarily switch to a bold or italicized font, it jumps out out as because it deviates from the norm-it foregrounds a particular dimension of the message. 

This implies that tradition is the necessary bedrock for fresh expression. Doing away with tradition means loosing the ability to express something familiar in a new way. At the same time, if tradition becomes static, we starve the human hunger for newness. Herein lies the paradox that change is the only thing that stays the same. Much in the same way, God never changes but is always doing new things.

So what’s the point?  There’s more than one. The first is that we must embrace newness, freshness, and fresh perspective. To resist this is to resist humanness and being Image bearers. If we refuse newness and creativity then nature will run its course and there will be a violent reaction against tradition and thereby villainize tradition and call for its destruction. This leads to the second point: to do away with tradition is to do away with the necessary grounds against which creative expression finds its backdrop. Creativity needs grounding or else it ceases to be creative. Poetics means the violation of rules, doing the unexpected. However, in doing away with the rules, we do away, once again, with the necessary background for creativity. 

God wishes us to be free to create and be creative. 

Matt Ayars

President of Wesley Biblical Seminary


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