Dr. Heinrich Emil Brunner (1889-1966), a Swiss Reformed theologian, published his Gifford Lectures in Christianity and Civilisation (Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, NY, 1948 & 1949). Chapter X in Brunner’s first lecture series (The Foundations) is titled: The Problem of Creativity. Our modern world values creativity. All humans possess the ability to create, whether in the sciences, humanities, arts, music or a host of other fields. Many individuals believe that creativity and religion are separate. Brunner does not support this maxim. He is more concerned with how creativity is used and its ordering.
“All culture lives by the creative powers of the human mind. For culture is that which man does beyond biological necessity. It is the sum of the new things which nature does not and cannot furnish. This creative power – talent or, at its maximum, genius – is in itself something bestowed. Man cannot produce talent or genius. … You cannot decide to be or to become a genius; either you are one by birth, or you will never be.” (page 142) Brunner bluntly states a fact: creative geniuses are born, not made over time. Statistically, geniuses are rare. I have moderate creative gifts, but I am not a genius. Like the vast majority of people, I do not have Mozart’s musical genius nor Michelangelo’s artistic talents, but greatly admire their God-given creative gifts.
Brunner states that there are two things regarding creativity “where religious faith or unbelief becomes relevant”. “First, the direction which is given to the use of these creative powers; and second, the place and rank which is given to them within our whole system of values and our conception of the meaning of human existence at large.” (page 142) Regarding the direction, human creativity can lead the human creator “to exalt himself [or herself] into the divine heights.” For example, Scriptures tells of the fall of humanity (Adam and Eve) and the story of the building of the Tower of Babel. “These creative powers are gifts of God and therefore good. Only their misuse is bad.” Understanding the laws of physics produced both beneficial nuclear power and destructive nuclear bombs. Humanity “is bound to use them in such a way that the Lord can acknowledge the service of the servant as faithful.” (page 144)
This leads Brunner to state his thesis: “All cultural activity, art and science, music and poetry, applied arts, as well as social institutions, the state, the law, the organization of economic life, customs of civic life, in short everything capable of carrying the imprint of the human mind, has been brought, at least theoretically and symbolically, under this highest category: deo gloria, deo servitium. [glory of God, service of God] (page 145) This is where human creative powers and Christianity intersect and blend. When the two separate, then creativity has no meaning. “For science never declares what ought to be, but only what is. Science only describes and explains facts, it has no access to meaning.” (page 155)
Creativity has a “place and rank” that is second to the Creator. “In all that man does he is fundamentally and in many ways dependent on the work of the Divine Creator. It is from nature that he gets his material and often also, without knowing it, the guiding ideas of his production. He can never free himself from the laws of statics and dynamics, but has to adapt himself to them.” (page 151) Things start to go wrong when creativity is not subordinate to a higher power but creative individuals decide to detach and live self-centered lives. For example, “aestheticism [art] as a philosophy of life inevitably leads to moral and social anarchy and chaos.” (page 155) When economics are detached from religion, “the devastations of the soul and the deformity of human life produced by capitalist and Marxist pan-economism are indescribable.” (page 156)
Brunner ends his creativity lecture with a summary statement:
“God, the Creator, having created man in His image, has given him creative powers; where man acknowledges his Creator, he knows that he cannot create from nothing as God does, that therefore his human creativity is a mere imitation of God’s, taking place within the limits and according to the laws and dependent upon the materials which God gives. Where God is acknowledged as the Creator, man knows that the ultimate meaning of His creatures is the same as the meaning of all life: the glory of God and the service of men. If he remains within this boundary every domain of human activity keeps its own rights and its own kind. Moreover, each one then keeps within its limits.” (page 157)
He ends his last 1947 Gifford Lectures with a stark warning:
“Humanity therefore is facing in our time, as at no time before, this alternative: either to continue along this road of the modern age, the road of emancipation from the Christian truth which leads to the total effacement of anything truly human and perhaps even to its complete physical annihilation; or to go back to the source of justice, truth and love, which is the God of justice, truth and love in whom only lies the power of salvation.” (page 158)