Considered by many one of the best films ever made, "Casablanca" premiered in New York City, but its general release only occurred two months later. Based on an unpublished play by Murray Burnett, Casablanca is a romantic melodrama set in the Moroccan city of the same name during World War II. The movie starred Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henreid.
"If you draw a giraffe, you must draw him with a long neck. If, in your bold creative way, you hold yourself free to draw a giraffe with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe. The moment you step into the world of facts, you step into a world of limits. You can free things from alien or accidental laws, but not from the laws of their own nature." So writes G. K. Chesterton in his book Orthodoxy.
In our world of whimsical art and computer-altered images I have seen plenty of incredible depictions of giraffes, from a blue giraffe to a fat giraffe to a giraffe jumping over the moon. Though none of these depictions are realistic, they are still recognizable because they retain the giraffe's defining characteristic: a long neck.
There is creativity, and then, there is creativity. One kind of creativity brings out the true essence of a thing, helping the onlooker see the object under consideration in a new light. The other kind of creativity distorts the subject beyond recognition; the subject becomes incidental rather than essential.
While I view creativity as a good thing, there is a danger in practicing the latter kind of creativity in the realms of Christian spirituality and scholarship. There is far more pressure in the academic world to say something that is perceived as original or innovative than there is to say something true. A scholar can swiftly rise to prominence by suggesting that every previous historian or theologian has been mistaken. Promoting truth that has been tested and tried is far less popular and attracts less attention.
The same pressures can be true of spirituality, whether in worship, preaching, or the exercise of any spiritual discipline. As humans, we are enchanted by novelty, and novelty is good, as long as it points us in the right direction rather than becoming the focus of our interest. But when the methods of devotion become our focus rather than the glory of God, we have ceased to worship. God-centeredness is the defining characteristic of true worship.
It bewilders me when individuals or churches choose to unswervingly identify themselves as Christian, all the while abandoning every defining characteristic of the Christian faith. It makes as little sense to call someone a Christian who does not believe that Jesus rose from the dead as it does to call a creature a giraffe, though it has no neck. Followers of Jesus come in many theological shapes and sizes, yet to be identified as a Christian, it is only logical that one should bear certain defining characteristics.
One of the earliest known confessions used by the first-century church was the declaration, "Jesus is Lord." Some find creeds and confessions constricting. But confessions such as this one remind us that there is an essence to Christianity, and that is the recognition of the lordship of Jesus. In the words of Abraham Kuyper, "There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'"
Chesterton advises the reader, "Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump: you may be freeing him from being a camel. Do not go about as a demagogue, encouraging triangles to break out of the prison of their three sides. If a triangle breaks out of its three sides, its life comes to a lamentable end." Those who seek to free the world from the lordship of Christ only succeed in freeing themselves of their Christianity. For the Christian, the lordship of Christ is not constraining; it is life itself.
Betsy Childs is associate writer at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia
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