24 August 2007

Creativity, and how nobody really has it

by Dan Phillips

Like you, I've often said that this or that artist, writer, guitarist, is really "creative." But when we say that, we're always wrong.

No human being has ever, strictly, created anything. That is, we've never brought anything brand-new into being ex nihilo. At our very best, we're re-creative. We may rearrange some molecules or tonalities in an inventive or fresh way. But even there, "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

And when we are re-creating, I wonder whether all of us face the same frustration.

For instance, I've actually very recently gone back to drumming. (Cue our Bill Gothard alum readers.) Listening to Chicago's Danny Seraphine in my teens got me interested in drumming, and my longsuffering parents let me purchase a drum set. As in so many things, I was too undisciplined to stick with lessons, but I wailed away on my own in my room, until I was probably somewhere around "barely adequate." Then, after my conversion, the ministry I was under told me rock was bad, so I got rid of the drums.

But I've always had a love of rhythm, and a deep feel for it, even in playing guitar. (The Gothard fanboy readers cock an eyebrow and nod significantly.) Our church has a very skilled drummer (cue our "Satan put drums in church" readers). I sat down and messed with the drums a couple of times when no one was looking. Then I started finding extra time to practice a little, and scrape off the rust. Then the pastor heard me. Then he invited me to sit in one Sunday evening when they had no drummer.

And the rest, as they say, is history. Now I'm in the rotation, and scheduled to play again for the two services this Sunday. (Cue the "amateurs performing in church" critics.) (Cue the "I-can't-believe-you-used-the-word-'perform'" gang.) (Cue the "too-many-parenthetical-remarks" colloquium — oh wait, that's my crowd!)

All that to say this: every time I play, I'm frustrated. I have some really great ideas in my mind and (you'll pardon me) soul, but I just can't get them out my hands and feet! It was the same playing guitar.

In fact, it's the same in everything I do, even the things I arguably do better than other things. I love preaching more than just about anything — but in maybe three decades of preaching, I've never yet sat down and felt a sermon was exactly what it should have been. Ditto my writing, my parenting, my husbandry. More or less adequate for the task; never just what I was aiming at, to say nothing of what it should be.

So?, you ask.

So this makes me think how great God is. Listen:
The LORD by wisdom founded the earth;
by understanding he established the heavens;
20 by his knowledge the deeps broke open,
and the clouds drop down the dew (Proverbs 3:19-20)
Listen again:
By the word of the LORD the heavens were made,
and by the breath of his mouth all their host.
7 He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap;
he puts the deeps in storehouses.
8 Let all the earth fear the LORD;
let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!
9 For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm (Psalm 33:6-9)
Or consider the Creation narrative of Genesis 1—2. These chapters stand in such stark contrast to contemporary creation myths of Moses' day and earlier. In those fairy tales, there is no account of ultimate origins; all is born of strife and battle among the gods.

By stark contrast, Genesis depicts one God creating everything out of nothing, by the mere exercise and expression of His will. There is no struggle, no challenge. He says, "Let there be," and there is. Just like that.

I picture the array of the Krell power dials in the wonderful classic Forbidden Planet. Were they measuring the exertion of God's power in creation, not a needle would have flickered. God's power is that vast; quite literally unimaginable.

And what's more, He never experienced the frustration that you and I feel, the disconnect between heart and hand, between idea and reality. "Good," He says, again and again throughout creation. And then finally, when He has crowned the whole with the creation of man, "Very good." Creation reflected the idea of God. The Father's decree was carried out by the Son (John 1:3), and overseen by the Spirit (Genesis 1:2), and the whole embodied exactly what He had meant to create. Perfect conception, perfect execution.

That's creativity.

Creative? You, me? Nahh, not really.

But God?

Oh, yes. The Creator, you might say.

Dan Phillips's signature


Unknown said...

Well done and I agree. So with God as creator, what word would you assign to those that experience his creation through some artistic form?

I'm agreeing that we do not truly create, but clearly some enjoy making use of the materials God provides more than others. What do we call those?

FX Turk said...



FX Turk said...


maybe this post wasn't exactly what you wanted to say, but it's something to be proud of. Seeing God as creative in this way and not in the haphazard way "the arts" are frequently invoked is truly worshipful.

James Scott Bell said...

"By start contrast..."

I like that. It fits.

DJP said...

Aigh! Punk. I hate those words-that-are-words-but-aren't-the-right-words.

Oh well, it's Typo Week at TeamPyro. And now I've made (and corrected) my contribution.

Anonymous said...

Danny Seraphine?

What, no Neil Peart?

Anonymous said...

Is the article at Pulpit coincidence?

DJP said...

Really don't know his work, but he does sound interesting.

Seraphine appeared on a scene in which drumming that was very unimaginative and almost robotic. His style is what I call "loose-tight," jazz-flavored. Just loved it; still do. Wish I could do it! I share his fondness for punctuating with the crown; our church's regular drummer is vastly, vastly superior to me — but doesn't much use the crown!

DJP said...

Is the article at Pulpit coincidence?

Oh, dear. I hadn't noticed it. Are we going to have to cue another crowd? I'd better go read it, see how much trouble I'm in.

(That is pretty funny, though -- the lead graphic. I'll read the rest.)

DJP said...

PS -- troublemaker.

SJ Camp said...


Billy Rhythm said...

Glad to hear you're back on the skins. I've been playing professionally for 20 years or so, but only in church for the last 3-4. It's quite a hoot! We haven't got the killer band that a lot of churches have. We've got guitar (sometimes), organ, piano, accordion, and drums. I'd really like to sit in with G.E. Patterson's band someday!

Anyway, if you ever want to check out another Christian drummer's blog, come see me.

Oh, and I also get in a little funk sometimes when I say "I'm average at everything I do." Thanks for the pick-me-up.

Kay said...

What do you call someone who hangs around with musicians?

A drummer


Unknown said...

Cent - the first reply to me was funny and perhaps even partly accurate. The second comment to Dan, well, you'll have to do better ... but I've recommended that before to no avail. Sigh ...

Matt Brown said...

I laughed at the mention of Bill Gothard. I went to a Christian high school; during our senior year we were required to attend the seminar that came to town every May, or we couldn't graduate.

DJP said...

Oh, I think Gothard definitely had some good things to say.

But then, some of the other things....

Chris H said...

Some of the other things? I put most of what I've heard Gothard say as not helpful, not good exegesis, and silly.

But then, I like drums in church. And bass guitars, even if the Devil is worshipped through bass notes. /sarcasm

Chris H said...

Oh, and I like what you have to say about creativity (so would Nietzche, except the bit about God actually existing). Perhaps we need to start using the word "imaginative" more often.

DJP said...

I'm worried about this turning into a Gothard thread, but I have in mind his stress on Bible memorization, and on Biblical teaching on authority, etc. But even in those areas, he hit at the usefulness of what he was saying by making it a virtual magical formula.

DJP said...

Those were the positive areas.

But his extreme applications of tripartism, etc. Eek.

DJP said...

Wow, I've been compared with Nietzsche, easily the most overblown gasbag I've ever read.

< forehead hits desk >

Drummer Chris said...

Amen, Lord let me feel the rythmn's created by you to glorify you.

I want to be re-creative!

FX Turk said...


Better than what? Better than noting that many, many failed attempts at "worship" are allegedly sacramentalized by calling them "art"?

Would you disagree with that? Why would you disagree with that? Maybe you should do better criticizing rather than just puffing your nostrils when you think you can take an easy shot.

FX Turk said...

Wow -- and "imaginative" again rears its ugly head. Talk about needing to "do better" ...

Anonymous said...

Isn't "Imagine" the theme song for some new churches?

Unknown said...

If what we do is really "recreation," then does that mean that at our best we're still just playing around?

LeeC said...

I think on this a lot. We in our hubris are so fnd of being able to "create" things and "destroy" them.

We cannot do either.

Oh sure we can rearrange stuff around to make new constructs or break an existing one, but really make or destroy?


Anonymous said...

Tolkien described himself as a sub-creator. Would teampyro then be sub-maniacs?

Okay, God created me a female, so I can't join TP, but I would enjoy poking fun at myself if I was on TP.

Here are my 2 attempts at creating satirical posters, poking fun at TP. Observation: Your sight uses lots of pictures with red and yellow- good energy colors. Maybe that is why you get heated/deleted comments from some readers? Anyway, just imagine a group of peacocks with their plumage fanned out. Lovely colors of blue, green,teal,black..(no red or yellow) and the title: 'Pyro-peacocks strut their stuff'.

Ok, so some may not like the new makeover. Stick to the matchsticks.

How about a group of TP guys in their sunglasses around the table, lifting their mugs, saying, here's to the EC movement,'light,yet less filling'. and in the next frame,
they are all spitting it out.

I tried. Guess there is nothing new under the sun,with those two ideas and a few borrowed phrases. So am I now a plagio-creator?

Gee, that sounds like a silly old dinosaur.

Unknown said...

Cent - you seem like an angry man. I was thinking what a fine job Dan did (happy emotion).

I did not find your negative contrast to be helpful to his point. It did not add value for me, perhaps because of its vagueness. As you wrote it, I'm not able to know if I agree or disagree. That's why I thought you might do a better job - but clearly my critique was also too vague. Here's the breakdown.

Based your comment, I don't know what you categorize as haphazard. I have not been exposed to examples that I would place in that category.

Second, I suspect we do not share the same sense of what is or is not art. So perhaps you could expand on what the quotation around the arts was meant for. Some use quotes to denote sarcasm so I wasn't sure if you were questioning the quality of someone's art or what?

I've seen some things I think are poor art but it was not haphazard and it was trying to replace worship.

Then you say frequently, I would not have thought of the problem I'm guessing you are referring to as frequent - at least relative to the vast amount of pure worship. What frequency are you thinking?

Finally you say, "invoked as truly worshipful" which I see as another point of confusion. I read it to mean that the perpetrators intended to replace true worship with their art as opposed to the reverse, i.e., art flowed from their true worship.

To that extent, I am not able to judge very many cases of this and I am wondering how you are.

Net - it would be more helpful if you could clarify what you meant. Or perhaps this was simply a quick jab at some folks and you are angry that I questioned it.

Tell me, which is it? Either way, it seems it could have been better.

Now to the question you asked me. "Better than noting that many, many failed attempts at "worship" are allegedly sacramentalized by calling them "art"?"

I would agree in general. I'm not sure how many the "many, many" is but any amount is too many isn't it?

Cent - you accuse me of taking "an easy shot". It wasn't about doing better in the sense of being more clear. While I would love for you to be more clear, the real shot was at your inability to hear criticism and you proved the point.

Unknown said...

pro357 - which churches would that be?

Carla Rolfe said...


I liked this post, it resonates with the artsy side of me. (cue the crowd that will die laughing because I used a word I can't stand to see misused the way it is).

For as long as I can remember I have been a creative person, and also for as long as I can remember, even in the areas where I can do one thing better than another, even my very best effort seems sorely lacking to me.

So yep, I know what you mean by this.

Anonymous said...

Great post Dan! I heartily agree.

I'd like to see some discussion over the following question:

Are the words "perform" and "worship" mutually exclussive?

I have met many people who believe that "performing" a song means there is no worshp in it. As a musician, I have a hard time with this. How could I be called to glorify God whether I eat, drink or whatever I do and categorize my performing as a non-glorifying activity?

For example, is a cellist able to honor the Lord by playing excellently whether she plays a hymn, a cello suite or a rock song?

I know what I think...what do you think?

David A. Carlson said...

"Satan put drums in church"

That would be a great tagline for a Poster. Of course since it wouldnt be slamming emergents, it is not as funny as the others, but...

DJP said...

Lisa, how about this?

It's the difference between performing and putting on a performance?

The former focusing on using your God-given talent to the utmost of your ability, for the glory of God, the latter on putting on a display, a show, to be admired?

Ben N said...

Beautiful post.
As a fellow amateur guitarist I feel your pain ...

Anonymous said...



I could go on, but I'm new here and I don't want to be found guilty of breaking rule #3.

FX Turk said...

Rick --

Only angry when people say things they don't mean and can't support. Most people who know me think I'm pretty good natured.

I love it when you're coy, dude. I'll expound on that, and the rest of your post, when I get back.

Ephemeral Mortal said...

I know that this is off the point of this post, but i'd like to see you give a biblical justification for the use of drums, guitars etc. in public worship.

I just don't see how this can be biblically justified.

FX Turk said...

Classic examples of tomfoolery posing as art in liturgy:

Exhibit #1

Exhibit #2

Wow. Exhibits #3 with a bullet

Echibit #4 -- load the flash and wait for any song with vocals in the preview of "Prayed in Full"

And I'll go on record as saying, "and 85-90% of all songs played during 'community church' worship which originate in CCM."

FX Turk said...

Oh boy, Dan: the Regulative Principle folks have found your post and you're in for it now.

For the record: Dan attends and is a member of a Presbyterian church, in spite of his right-minded baptist theology.

Neil said...

Well, Psalm 149 & 150 ought to satisfy any RP concerns for strummed or plucked strings (harp, lyre) or for percussion (tambourine, cymbal).

RP concerns about piano and organ use are also covered, since these psalms exhort the use of the instruments that were their ancient prototypes (harp, lyre, flute)

Unknown said...

pro357 - sorry, Currie didn't recommend this as a theme song. He was talking about supporting Amnesty international. One of the tracks, number 11 on disk 1 is Imagine by Avril Lavigne.

I'm not clear how you got from that to promoting this as a theme song.

I think we may be able to have a good conversation about the wisdom of churches partnering with organizations/people such as Amnesty but it seems you made quite a leap there. Do you know this church and their faith/practices? Does it support your implication?

Chris H said...

Ephemeral: You're going to need to come up with all manners of proof, then. Ought we sit during worship? Where's the proof? Use microphones? Pianos? Organs? Powerpoint? Overhead projectors?

DJP said...

Pants? Shirts? Dresses? Undergarments? Leatherbound Bibles? Concrete floors? Pulpits? Artifical lighting? Air conditioning?


Unknown said...

Cent - cool, so you are not angry. Sorry I misread you.

Given my attempt to be polite was seen as coy and previous other tacts on this blog have failed (and more importantly because this was a good post that has nothing to do with what we are now talking about), I will bow out at this point.

I hope you will drop by my blog and comment on the specific issues I have with you and Phil. God forgive you man.

Anonymous said...

"Keeping me company is John Lennon. Check out this important message from Amnesty International and then go download the album. I did. It is for a good cause and the music is, well, just what you would expect: terrific."

You are correct, he did not say it was the churches theme song. The things we promote are the things that have made a positive influence in our lives. If you are going to tell me that people's influences do not influence what they say well, I disagree.

You asked:

"Does it support your implication?"

It is clear that church leaders (all Christians for that matter)should not recommend anything that does not glorify God. As Christians, what we say, what we do and how we live are examples of what glorifies God. I should not have to get deep inside the mind of a Christian leader to find out why he decided to promote John Lennon. Simply put, he shouldn't have done it...period. So, to answer your question: his support (and recommendation) of it on a church site allows me to implicate it.

As far as Amnesty, no one is going to deny they do good work; however, what work have they done for the Lord? It would be more beneficial for churches to not join organizations like Amnesty and instead get Amnesty to join the church.

As far as my comment:

I realize that it was exaggerated (I personally don't know of any church that has a "theme song"). However, I offer no apologizes for implicating it.

northWord said...

ha, wow, Great post Dan man..

I smiled all through it, all the while thinking (knowing) to myself "my..my..my, but look how good and awesome God is to us in spite of ourselves!!!. (a general observation)

And then smiled, (and oft chuckled!) reading all (most) of the comments in this thread, all of this with (as it happens) the sounds of Dr. Mattie Moss Clark Presents Corey Skinner's Collegiate Voices of Faith
in the backround.

Whew - Halleluiah it Friday!


Unknown said...

pro357 - thank you so very much. I will not tell you I disagree. What I will tell is that many of us, at least I do anyway, wrestle routinely with the appropriateness of the TV I watch, the books/blogs/etc. I read, the music I listen to, etc.. It is not an uncommon struggle. I also wrestle with being hypocritical on these same points. That is, there are TV programs that I watch that I would never do in front of "church folk". This is not ok and I need to deal with this.

I completely agree that the things we promote and take-in influence us and we need to guard ourselves.

To your point, I think if I was speaking to him I would recommend that he not promote this. This is always difficult ground when dealing with organizations and the like. But still, he has some responsibility here and I'm not sure what thought process, if any, he used to make this endorsement.

But the key here is exactly what you said, what we promote and take into our lives influences us.

That was the problem I had with your statement and the culture here at TeamPyro. It is fostering an environment for people to think and say things accusing groups of people based on little or no fact, to laugh at and enjoy the accusations and then pass them off as truth. And to strike out against those that try to press this as not the work of the Kingdom.

So, I was going for an apology but I am quite happy for just an acknowledgment. Thank you again.

Ephemeral Mortal said...


It would be interesting to hear what your definition of worship is?

Anonymous said...


I guess there's really not much discussion to be had after all. : ) Way to sum it up so precisely!

Matt said...

What do you think of this creative idea?:


Strong Tower said...

Those exibits were torture Cent, especially things like the Christmas Clown and the Three Wise Dudes, and check this out:



And the praise music. Their statement of faith turns the Gospel method from preaching to worship. And, their SF is about as shallow as their songs.

Francis Schafer used art history to show the decline of humanity by examining the shattering of truth exhibited in all manners of creative works. For the Christian art should be directed towards glorifying God. To that end our art(isanship) should, to the highest possible degree, in all vocations, be our expression of God's glory.

lawrence said...

I'm just happy that Avril Lavigne was mentioned on the pyromaniacs site...never thought I'd see the day. Maybe we can get a Kelly Clarkson shoutout next? Or maybe Fergie, anyone?

Anonymous said...

Frank (and everyone else), I would like to submit

Exhibit 5 (oh the humanity!)

Bethan said...

Dan, I know this post isn't about music in church as such but I have to wonder if one of your contributers, Spurgeon, would think of using 'skilled' musicians to enhance corporate worship. My friend has been considering worship in his blog recently - here's the link for any who want to read the posts -

I wonder which groups I am in? Not all I hope!

FX Turk said...


[1] I hate you for being that buff.

[2] There's nothing to say about the video. It is astonishing.

Anonymous said...

People confuse the human skill in problem-solving with God's creativity. Those with a knack for problem-solving we label "creative."

Anonymous said...

"Praise the LORD! Praise God in His sanctuary;Praise Him in His mighty expanse." Psalm 150:1

James Scott Bell said...

The theology is sound, but that song is not. Yech. Those who wrote it truly do bear responsibiity. Charles Wesley in ain't.

Anonymous said...

Third watch thought..
.. man's attempt to become a creative genius in .. matchstick designs, drum beats, clever prose or sermons, etc..
can only be successful in God's eyes when we bow down to Jesus Christ and confess He is the author and perfector of our faith and then He graciously gives to every follower the creative grace teacher, the Holy Spirit. Then we are all about doing our Father's business and
Jesus Christ gets all the praise.

Kent Brandenburg said...

We were recently treated to materials by and links to David Wells. He agrees that "medium is the message" is true; so do I. It isn't as simple as "he plays drums." Anymore than Dali used paints, brushes, and canvass, and that Victoria Secret uses silk and cotton. I think everyone in here knows these things, which is why there is a dump-truck of criticism of the emergents. We can judge something to be worldly. Maybe I'm wrong, but we can't see punk as an acceptable form of worship. I don't believe God accepts it.

You are an original language, guy, Dan. The Messiah came to establish "judgment" (mishpot) on the earth. He came to bring a whole new order in society. He came to transform the culture, so that it would line up with Him. Today we're to see that especially in the church and some day everywhere. Our understanding of terms relates to the media associated with those terms. Godly terms can through their association with a contaminated media change in meaning. It is especially bad when that term is, for instance, Jesus Christ. That His name gets dumbed down by a profane media, brought down to the level of popular culture.

That's all I'll say for now, Dan, but an evaluation of worship goes much further and is more sophisticated than, "Did he use a banjo?" Or "was he wearing a stocking cap?"

Matt Gumm said...

A friend of mine pointed out something along these lines to me from Athanasius' "On the Incarnation":

Others take the view expressed by Plato, that giant among the Greeks. He said that God had made all things out of pre-existent and uncreated matter, just as the carpenter makes things only out of wood that already exists. But those who hold this view do not realize that to deny that God is Himself the Cause of matter is to impute limitation to Him, just as it is undoubtedly a limitation on the part of the carpenter that he can make nothing unless he has the wood. How could God be called Maker and Artificer if His ability to make depended on some other cause, namely on matter itself? If He only worked up existing matter and did not Himself bring matter into being, He would be not the Creator but only a craftsman.

DJP said...

You've got erudite friends!

Nick Peros said...

Playing the drums for musicianship of creative reasons is fine and good, but Mr. Phillips, what does that have to do with worship. You may feel in your own heart a sense of "worship" when you play,but you are present in the church to lead others to do the same. Instruments such as the drums serve to entertain the flesh "beat" in us all and not to redeam the lost for Christ.

I simply don't understand your reasoning.

So too using Mr. Spurgeon's message to somehow validate your own actions seems rather strange and sad too. I wonder if he would approve? The modern church with live bands, light shows, and stage entertainment, it seems to me, represents the very squishy church Mr. Spurgeon was referring to.