Creativity has its origins in the interactive process between the distinct persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Diversity is not a mere cultural reality that emerges when we encounter persons who seem different from us. Rather, it is a critical component of the Godhead right from the very “beginning.” This is entirely unique to our Judeo-Christian heritage as we broadly trace through Scripture below. Rather than outline a full-fledged theology for diversity, our purpose here is to introduce a summary overview as it pertains to the place of diversity in the creativity of God for the church.
Genesis 1:26 – Image and Likeness
Scripture describes the making of humans as a community effort wherein God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26 ESV, italics added). The diversity of humans is patterned after the multiform differentiation among the persons of the Trinity. For some of the early church fathers that differentiate between the terms, “image” and “likeness,” such as Irenaeus and Origen, “image” referred to humankind’s original condition, whereas “likeness” referred to the final state of glory. The distinction in terms captures to a degree the scope of creativity as a process of transformation from diversity to diversity, i.e., the diversity of the Trinity to its completion and consummation in the person of Christ (1 John 3:2b: “…we know that when he appears we shall be like him….” Italics mine).
Genesis 11:1-13 – Babel: the Benefits of Diversification
Later in the biblical narrative of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-13) human creativity after the Fall stands in radical contrast to the creative impulse of the first creative community. In the Babel episode creativity for the sake of self-preservation attempts “to build for ourselves a city and a tower” (v.4). The creativity of God, however, is not inward focused but outward, not exclusive (“for ourselves”) but inclusive, which forms the basis for radical innovation (a crucial distinction – creativity as more than innovation, but an ethos of inclusion). At Babel, human creativity is met with seemingly disastrous results – confusion and dispersion. But this is not without God’s good purpose. First, far from being a hindrance, the diversification of language prevents further sin (v.6). Second, the diversity at Babel is not an interim phase to somehow be re-homogenized later on. Rather, an earthly city is no place for sacred God-inspired human diversity, which finds its true resting place in citizenship within the household of God (see Hebrews 11:10, 16). Third, as a process of God’s self-revelation, diversity serves a restorative purpose by anticipating the future embodiment of the world’s diversity in the person of Jesus Christ and his work of salvation for all. God’s creativity through the diversity of Christ is how the whole “structure” of humanity is being rebuilt into a “dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (see Ephesians 2:17-22). Herein lies the beauty of diversity.
Contrasting Babel and Pentecost
Genesis 11 foreshadows Acts 2 in specific ways. In the former, human creativity for the sake of cultural self-preservation results in confusion and dispersion. In the latter, the creativity of God by the Holy Spirit brings about bewilderment and astonishment. Again, in Genesis 11, human creativity in response to God’s dispersion cannot but discontinue what it had begun to do (v.8). The diversification in Acts 2, however, is the beginning of something new. God’s creativity by the Holy Spirit unifies the diverse population for sharing perfectly in the creativity of God in a way as never before. In Genesis 11 we observe human homogeneity at work. In Acts 2 we witness Spirit synergy, whereby the beauty of diversity is experienced and expressed by the unitive power of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2, the diversity of languages is no cause for discontinuing the work of building the church since the Holy Spirit gives perfect understanding to every participant.
“The Lord’s Song” as Precursor to “New Song”
In Psalm 137 we hear the cry of a displaced and dispossessed people with their “city” and “tower,” their religious-cultural icons of the day, destroyed and decimated. Apparently, God brings this about quite intentionally. The encounter “by the waters of Babylon” presents an opportunity for witness and dialogue. Though unwilling, the people of God are now brought face-to-face with the task of learning to translate their conceptual understanding of “the Lord’s song” in terms laid out by their captors. What did their “Lord’s song” have in common with the culture of a “foreign land” of the other? In the words of the psalmist, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (v.4).
The scenario above sensitizes us to the place of diversity in the creativity of God for mission. Learning to sing with diverse “others” paves a way for a more robust participation in the very nature of God and his heart for all peoples. The Great Commission therefore comes as no surprise. It serves as a guiding motif for what it means to be the church where encounter with diverse others is more often the norm rather than the exception. Learning to sing the “Lord’s song” sets the tone for learning to sing the “new song” in the final scenario (Rev.7:9) – for further study.
So, what does all this mean for us when it comes to a process of worship design that makes cultural diversity a priority? Here are some initial thoughts:
It is worth restating: Trinitarian diversity is a core dimension of the very being of the Creator God. So let’s,
- Make diversity a priority. Don’t settle for cultural homogeneity. This calls for moving beyond awareness and tolerance to embrace and advocacy. What are some steps that we might take to intentionally cross the boundaries of fear, insecurity, and prejudice in the places where we find ourselves to more fully become the church diversified that God envisions?
- Commit to a lifestyle of learning to steward the diversity of our contexts to beautiful community in Christ. If the diversity of cultures is God’s way of speaking to us, then are we listening? In terms of structure, the creativity of God brings together diverse others for the sake of “being built together into a dwelling for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22).
- Explore creative disruption: what are some steps we might take to foster inclusive cultures for worship and mission? These might seem disruptive. But eventually these will serve to renew existing structures in a sustainable way by unearthing a wellspring of creativity for the irruption of fresh creative partnerships. Let us each bring forward our creative contributions, be it in songs and ideas and languages and cultures, so that we together might more fully live the vision of God through the church diversified and dispersed.
Cultural diversity comes with its share of obstacles for sure. In the context of God’s plan, however, it is more than something to be reconciled. Rather, it is something to be valued and celebrated. According to Joel Hunter in The Distributed Church, “Deeply committed to God, we can accomplish more because of our differences – without giving up our unique identities – than we can accomplish on our own” (2012, 13).