The surprising truth behind creativity

“Creativity is not coming up with new things but finding new ways to communicate old things”

Ecclesiastes 1:9
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

The older I get and the longer I do ministry the more I realize that creativity is not coming up with something new. It’s reintroducing the old in a new way. One of the primary problems with the lack of creativity in any setting is due to what C.S. Lewis calls chronological snobbery.

“Barfield never made me an Anthroposophist, but his counterattacks destroyed forever two elements in my own thought. In the first place he made short work of what I have called my “chronological snobbery,” the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also “a period,” and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.”

What Lewis is getting at is we have a tendency to prefer new over old. Rather than really wrestling something to the ground and understanding it we tend to echo what already is poplar because we want to like more than we want to be effective. Creativity is copying what is already out there. Creativity is taking old ideas and making them new. It’s contextualizing things that are ancient and helping people see the value of what has always been valuable.

Our ability to create for the future is connected to the past. How well do we remember and understand the past will determine how effective we will be in the present and future. This sounds counter intuitive I know. Let me give you an example. Walt Disney. He is remembered for his creative vision of the future. While this is part of his creative legacy the reality is that he built the empire that we see today on a modern retelling of old Fairy Tales. If there was no Hans Christian Andersen there would likely be no Disney World, at least not the Disney we know and love.

Creativity works best when it is repackaging old things in such a way that you maintain what is core to the old truth and change the delivery mechanism. The more I read old books the more I realize that modern success is foundational dependent on past truth. So in our quest for creativity let not throw out the foundational things that allow us to build truth in creative ways. Part of the reason we fail to see the value of old things in creativity is because we look at creation in Genesis and see a God who made something from nothing. What we fail to do is looking to Revelation 21 where we see a God who makes old things new both are creativity. The later is what I believe we are called to as stewards of what God has made. We are called to make old things new.


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