In the late 1990’s, evangelicalism was producing grand critical treatises on the dangers of postmodernity both inside and outside the church. But even then, it was easy to see that postmodernism was a “free radical” ideology that would rapidly decay into something else. The important question was how soon and into what would it decay? Accordingly, I always tried to challenge my students to pursue and provide a positive vision and set of practices for the moral, intellectual, and sociological vacuum being created by the indiscriminate viciousness of rampant deconstructionism.
I also found myself wishing that I was somehow a stronger visionary and leader in such a quest to forge a compelling and stable set of Christian practices and perspectives for the growing need for social stability and goodness in the world. Alas, I turned out to be just like everybody else—a genuinely normal and very average Christian.
Nevertheless, I still knew that something would soon emerge from the tossing turbulence of the late 20th century. A recent candidate for this emergence has grown up around the notion of “design,” where we are told that we now live in an age of celebratory creativity and inspirational inventiveness.
To be sure, the rapid rise of modern technology has driven some of this design movement, but human nature remains intractably and inherently relational, and technology often pushes against this messy and embodied aspect of human existence. Thus, many of us have not been so taken by it all as technologists might have hoped or thought we would. And there continues to be quiet, thoughtful, and persistent movements like those followers of Wendell Berry who push hard against the depersonalization of the technological. At the same time, you have the techno-savvy savants like Stephen Hawking insisting that the greater future of humanity resides in a gnostic disembodied existence where minds can be “downloaded” and permanently saved on a computer disk—naturalism’s latest form of heavenly immortalism.
But one of my deeper concerns right now for the church is this: Will it have the spiritual depth and grounding to move powerfully and influentially within the forefront of cultural creation? What I see in the society at large is a passion for creativity and self-realization but primarily detached from any sort of basis or “design set.” Stemming from the postmodern distrust of tradition and authority, precious little concern is given for crucial questions like, who we were made by and what we were made for? Instead, the focal assumption is that we were simply made for making.
Regarding this creativity motif within the church, God somehow becomes a source of hopeful inspiration, like a fuel source for launching us into realms previously unknown and unreachable through the dynamic power of human ingenuity and creativity. Yet it lacks the delimiting humility of seeing ourselves primarily as creatures and not merely creators. Detaching creatures from the Creator becomes just one more means for a contemporary expression of an idolatrous celebration of the self—or at least the worship of the most ingenuous representatives of those creative selves, people like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and a growing host of others.
The church, it seems to me, traded the “slick” of modernity for the “grunge” of postmodernity and is now trying on the “inspiration of creativity” while forgetting why it exists in the first place: to know and love and make God known since He knows and loves and has made Himself known to us through creation, the scriptures, and supremely through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Almost no one in the church today knows the Bible well anymore because almost no one really reads it. It’s passé, it’s historical, it’s boring. But it’s also the word of God and through the power of His Spirit, it tenaciously transforms those who have the dedication and daring to both know and take it seriously. Yet this transformation is grounded in the being of God Himself, not in some internal dynamism that magically springs forth from the unbridled and uncontainable human psyche.
True creativity must be done, as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien insisted, as sub-creators, as creatures placed consciously beneath the absolute Lordship of Christ. In this way, creativity flows from the well-spring of life and is directed outward in unexpected but theologically grounded ways. But it is not a product from nowhere, meaning nothing, going no place. It is intentionally actualized to be and become and remain a witness to the creative Source from which is emanates.
I cannot help but wonder: Is the church creating only to be relevant and/or enjoy herself? Or it she creating as a living response of active submission to the One in whom we live and move and have our being? Only the latter will have any lasting impact upon the world in an “Age of Design” whose real need is less for creative design and more for the recreation of the Designer.