Is Church Life Stifling Your Creativity? A Response
On 5 January 2011, Donald Miller (of Blue Like Jazz fame) wrote a blog post titled ‘Is Church Life Stifling Your Creativity?‘. In the post, he suggests that Solomon’s Song of Songs, if written in today’s church context (evangelical context to be precise), would be subject to several criticisms and presumably rejected by the church. The reasons given for the rejection include its omission of a reference to God, its eroticism, its lack of simplistic structure, its lack of overt moral teaching, and a general lack of ‘message’ to the art form. Presumably, because it was included in the Biblical canon, it was deemed at the time to be worthy of the status of revelation. Donald Miller’s point: ‘There is a difference between what “the church” wants you to do and what God wants you to do. Do what God wants you to do. Go and create, even as you were made to create.’
A quick read through the 150+ comments reveals the resonance that Miller’s post has with many who are artists and seemingly struggle to find their place within the church. Many speak of being ‘set free’ by Miller’s words, encouraged with a renewed vigor to pursue their creative desires.
What is helpful about Miller’s post is his challenge to consider the art forms of the Biblical narrative and what they reveal to us about who God is rather than toning them down to make them more palatable for the masses. However, there are a couple of areas that I want to highlight as problematic, both for the artist and the church and more specifically for the relationship between the two.
Miller challenges his readers to ‘do what God wants you to do’ and therefore create in the way that God wants one to create. While this is a nice sentiment in theory, the problem lies in the assumption it makes, primarily that this process of discerning is done in isolation, separate from one’s involvement in the church community. In addition to emphasising the individual over the communal, what concerns me is this particular challenge allows the artist’s creativity to trump what might be an appropriate challenge to the artist. William Dyrness in Visual Faith believes the church community is a necessary part of discerning art and creativity because by engaging with those who hold differing opinions, one is challenged to consider and discern whether their own view point needs adjustment.  Miller’s suggestion leads one away from an opportunity for discipleship and towards a justification of whatever the artist deems appropriate.
Additionally, this sentiment further widens the divide between the artist and the church rather than suggesting ways in which the two can work together to create. The church might be stifling the creativity of its artists. In fact, it probably is considering the comments on Miller’s blog. However, what is not reflected in this post are all the churches that are starting to re-engage with the arts and the artist, finding significant ways in which to mend the relationship between the two. And while movement might be slow in this area, it starts with small steps forward, supported by reflective and honest conversation. Artists should create in the way that God desires for them to create. However, in that process of pursuing one’s creativity, artists have the opportunity to influence their churches, an influence that should be marked by humility and love rather than reaction and entitlement.
 William Dyrness, Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 147-9.