Abstract: The need for organizations to rely on individual members and their collective creativity to thrive in the 21st century has greatly increased. Today, the words of Bennis and Biederman (1997) ring true:
The organizations of the future will increasingly depend on their members to survive. Great groups offer a new model in which the leader is an equal among Titans. In a truly creative collaboration, work is pleasure, and the only rules and procedures are those that advance the common cause. (p. 8)
The growing literature surrounding group creativity reveals a thriving area of interest among group theory scholars. Questions abound regarding the processes of effective group creativity, the differences between group and individual creativity, and factors affecting group creativity. While scholars focused on biblical research have engaged the idea of creativity (Liesch & Finley, 1984; Owolabi, 2012), the research is limited at best. Aside from generalized conversations about God as Creator and the agency of humanity in creative acts, exegetical research has basically ceased at this point. For this reason, I seek to broaden the base of biblical research considering creativity by exploring the creation act of the Trinity in Genesis 1 and the relationship of the Trinitarian creative process to theoretical foundations of group creativity. This study will draw further understanding of group creativity from a biblical perspective, and also expand the vision of group creativity as a force for greater effectiveness in today’s ecclesial contexts. Finally, I ask how leaders may benefit from group creativity modeled in biblical ways.
Keywords: Trinity at Creation in Genesis, group creativity, Trinitarian creative process, creative leadership
The 21st century continues to see an expansion of literature surrounding teams and group processes (Kim, Choi, & Park, 2012). With the continued development of new social networks and online learning communities, research exploring the connectedness of groups forms an explosive realm of study today (Harvey, 2013). One area of focus that continues to garner attention from researchers pertains to group creativity (Bennis & Biederman, 1997; Boer, 1990; Goncalo & Duguid, 2012; Harms & van der Zee, 2013; Harvey, 2014; Paulus, 2000; Pluut & Curseu, 2013). Understanding the increased value placed by organizations toward innovative and creative ideas in the 21st century, group creativity stands as a critical research area for organizational theorists today (Paulus & Dzindolet, 2008).
Given this context, this paper seeks a biblical understanding of group creativity in light of the Trinitarian creation act in Genesis 1. While there is a base of literature seeking to understand creativity in light of the biblical narratives, the research tends to be based only on God as Creator (Liesch & Finley, 1984) and the agency of humanity in the creative process (Owolabi, 2012). Helpful as this may be, it is also important to develop further understandings of biblical passages related to creativity. Through a socio-rhetorical exegetical approach to the narrative of Genesis 1 (Robbins, 1996), my goal is to pursue a richer understanding of the Trinitarian act of creation as a process of group creativity.
Understanding Group Creativity
The most widely agreed upon definition of creativity is the “generation of
novel and useful ideas” (Harvey, 2014; Paulus & Dzindolet, 2008). It is important to understand the delineation of creativity from innovation. Whereas creativity is about idea generation, innovation regards the implementation of creative ideas (Paulus & Dzindolet, p. 228). While this definition of creativity is helpful, Harvey (2014) expands the definition of group creativity as “a bounded and recognizable collection of individuals who work interdependently toward a shared goal of developing output that is both novel and useful” (p. 324).
Harvey (2014) presents an in-depth model for group creativity specifically for what the research identifies as the creative synthesis process. Harvey’s model sees the composition of a group working toward creative synthesis bringing (a) cognitive resources at the individual level, (b) social resources built from group composition, and (c) environmental resources based on the support and motivation of the external environment (p. 325). Emerging from these three levels of resources, idea generation comes from the enactment of ideas (i.e., individual ideas, healthy group interaction, and group energy), collective attention (what Harvey calls “cognitive engagement with ideas” or group momentum), and the ability to build on similarities (elaboration, connection, and beginning phases of idea selection) (p. 325). These factors draw collective energy to a central process of creative synthesis and the development of creative exemplars that increase the chances of “breakthrough ideas” (Harvey, p. 327).
Harvey points out that much of this model stands against common theories of group creativity built from evolutionary models of random selection (p. 325). Rather than the survival of the fittest ideas, Harvey theorizes that attention given to multiple levels of idea generation and awareness of exemplary models of creative synthesis provide a greater likelihood for breakthrough ideas such as those seen in organizations like Pixar (p. 328).
Group Creativity and the Trinity in Creation
The question of the current article is simple: How do the Trinitarian actions at Creation in the first chapter of Genesis intersect with the theoretical foundations of group creativity? This study was designed to gain an understanding of not only the clear Trinitarian theology undergirding Genesis 1 but also how God’s act of creation in the first seven days encompasses clear facets of creativity and group creativity theory. Conclusions are drawn regarding God’s creative mandate to humanity (specifically seen in Genesis 1:27–30) and how that mandate entails a biblical foundation for group creativity based on analysis of the inner and ideological texture of Genesis 1.
Triune God in Genesis 1
In Robbins’ (1996) socio-rhetorical method of exegesis, the inner texture of a text “concerns relationships among word-phrase and narrational patterns that produce argumentative and aesthetic patterns in texts” (p. 46). Five levels are considered in the inner texture analysis: (a) repetitive-progressive, (b) opening middle-closing, (c) narrational, (d) argumentative, and (e) aesthetic (p. 48). I will briefly consider each of these in analyzing Genesis 1 and the Creation account.
Without a doubt, there lies a poetic structure to the text of Genesis 1:1–2:3. The opening-middle-closing structure of this passage offers a rich understanding of the poetry. Framing this passage, the opening (1:1–2) portrays the goal of the passage (God’s creation work) emerging out of nothingness. The “formless and void” nature of the cosmos is the scene where God begins His work. At the end of the passage (2:1–3), the beauty of what has been created stands out. Void is replaced with the “vast array” of God’s cosmos, and the work that God completes now paves the way for the seventh day of rest and continuing enjoyment in which God dwells.
The middle of this passage (1:3–31) reveals the order to God’s Creation. It is possible to trace a forming and filling trajectory of the middle part of the narrative by examining what was created during each day. Treier (2005) and Coloe (1997) both suggest a structure to the middle section of Genesis 1 built on this forming and filling (see Figure 1).
Six Days of Creation (1:3-30)
|Day 1—Forming of light and darkness (1:3–5)
|Day 4—Filling with stars, sun, and moon (1:14–19)|
|Day 2—Forming of waters and sky (1:6–8)||Day 5—Filling with birds and fish (1:20–23)|
|Day 3—Forming of land, seas, and vegetation (1:9–13)||Day 6—Filling with animals and humanity (1:24–30)|
Seventh Day of Creation/Conclusion (1:31–2:3)
Figure 1. The six days of Creation in the Genesis narrative consist of forming and filling.
With this structure, Days 1 and 4 correspond as God creates (forms) and separates the light and darkness (Day 1) and then fills them with the great lights and stars (Day 4). Day 2 reveals the formation and separation of water into the expansive sky and the waters below and then the filling of those expanses with birds and fish (Day 5). Finally, on Day 3 God forms the land, seas, and vegetation then fills them with the kingdom of animals and ultimately mankind (Day 6). The tight structure of the Creation account reveals a highly ordered and intentional nature to the text through the opening-middle-ending analysis. Sailhammer (1984) notices that not only does the structure point to intentionality, but so does the use of terms that are familiar to the original audience. Phrases such as] “the deep,” “the expanse,” “formless and void,” “signs,” and “seasons” all reflect familiar terms common to the audience of the Torah (Sailhammer, p. 79). However, these were not strictly Jewish words. Instead, the phrasing of this passage spoke to ancient Near Eastern audiences familiar with other creation accounts. God’s reign over the vast and formless chaos hearkens to what are known as the chaoskampf (struggle against chaos) origin stories, in which the gods brought order to chaos (Waltke, 1975; Walton, 2008).
These familiar terms pave the way for the culturally unfamiliar phrase “image of God” (1:26–27). Sailhammer (1984) points out that in this poetic
structure, the rhythmic repetition of 1:3–25 and God speaking into creation (“Let the . . . and it was so”), followed by a recognition of value (“. . . and God saw that it was good”) is suddenly interrupted in 1:26 by divine deliberation (Sailhammer, p. 74). The pause is filled with Trinitarian conversation (“Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness,” emphasis mine) and reveals this unique moment of God creating in His own image. It is only after His creation of male and female —followed by the divine cultural mandate to fill and subdue the earth that the rhythm returns, this time with an enhancement: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (1:31, emphasis mine). Only now is the sixth day complete; and at this point, the divine Creator experiences a seventh day of rest.
Drawing from the text itself, Sailhammer (1984) perceives the Creation narrative in connection to the larger Pentateuch. God, in Creation, is dealing with Himself, humanity, and the land of His people—the very pervasive theme of the Mosaic corpus (Sailhammer, p. 74). Waltke (1975) suggests that the familiar understanding of ancient Near Eastern creation mythology so common to this audience could now be seen in a monotheistic sense. This does not occur merely as the divine triumphs over some chaotic and equal being, but rather creates a world where the formlessness of chaos is overtaken by the beauty of one God’s creation (p. 28). Walton (2008) perceives Genesis 1 as “ancient Near Eastern Temple cosmology” in which the movement of the passage transitions the formless and empty existence from a “nonfunctional and nonproductive condition” to a rich and fruitful existence under the creative hand of God Himself (pp. 56–57).
Before drawing conclusions regarding the inner texture of this passage, it is important to deal with one specific question related to a Trinitarian understanding of the Creation account: Is the reference to the Trinity even to be found in this passage? Murphy (2013) helpfully handles this question. First of all, it can generally be accepted that Trinitarian theology is supported outside of Genesis, especially in the New Testament (i.e., Matt. 28:18–20; Rom. 15:16, 30; John 17; Matt. 3:17; Matt. 17:5; 2 Pet. 1:17). More than this, the Johannine prologue makes plain that the “Word”—Jesus—was present at the Creation of the world. However, what can be gleaned from the text of Genesis 1:1–2:3 in regards to the Trinity?
Murphy (2013) states that two arguments have been made regarding the Trinity in Genesis 1. The first utilizes the reference to God as Elohim (1:1). This term is commonly understood with two definitions. The first refers to a plurality of gods, while the second is specifically used for Yahweh, the God of Israel (p. 168). Murphy suggests that Elohim, in this passage, is used in an “honorific or majestic way” to refer to Yahweh rather than to reflect a Trinitarian understanding consistent with the New Testament (p. 172).
The second Trinitarian argument in the Creation narrative centers on the use of the plural pronoun in 1:26. “Let us make mankind in our image,” as discussed above, represents a break in the poetic rhythm as God deliberates before the final act of Creation. While it has been argued that God could have been speaking to angels, this argument holds little weight. It is not only God the Father creating (1:1), but also the Spirit hovering (1:2) and the Word speaking into existence (1:3). This combination of efforts is where divinely creative acts happen. Surely, then, as Murphy (2013) suggests, the “plurality of persons in 1:26 are reflective of the Godhead “three in one” (p. 173).
At this point, it is essential to summarize several points from the inner texture of Genesis 1 and the Creation narrative. First, that this passage stands as the opening of the Torah is no coincidence. This is the first brick of the Jewish (and Christian) theological understanding of God’s work in the world. From the formless and void chaos God Himself—three in one—has divinely created the beauty and richness of the cosmos. God is King from the beginning—powerful, mighty, and honored Elohim—He is not a created being but rather the ultimate Creator. The repetitious rhythm to this passage—“God said let there be . . . and there was . . . and it was good”—reflects an order to the beauty of this artist—a process bathed in beauty and rhythm, structure and creativity—and all points to the majesty of God Himself.
Second, from the start, this text presents a monotheistic and Trinitarian theology consistent with Jewish and Christian traditions. One God, three in one, creates the cosmos and reigns over His creation. He is sovereign and is unlike the other gods of the world at this time. The climax of the passage is not the exceptionality of humanity but rather the God who rests as He surveys His cosmos and recognizes that all that is created is very good.
Finally, it is essential to notice the role of humanity in the created order. Clearly, the creative deliberation and Trinitarian conversation in 1:26, followed by an extended mandate to humanity in 1:27–30 to not only exist but actually subdue and fill the earth, reveals what the writer of Hebrews would say so many millennia later as he reflected on humanity’s position: “You made him a little lower than the angels” (Heb. 2:8). Humanity, in relationship to the rest of God’s formed and filled world, stands as image bearer, tasked with the job of vocation and creation, to carry on the work of God in the world. Humanity is not only God’s work but rather is also a part of what Moltmann calls the “ecology of creation,” the very household of God’s indwelling Spirit (as cited in Molnar, 1990, p. 673).
The Nature of Creating in Genesis 1
Robbins (1996) identifies the ideological texture of a text as the overarching pattern of biblical discourse and how it communicates “patterns of cognitive and moral beliefs about humans, society, and the universe” (p. 192). At the simplest level, ideological texture deals with the “politics” of a theology (p. 192). Thus, the ideology of a text emerges from the underlying worldviews of the people located in the historical setting of the text (p. 194). In this texture of analysis, there are four levels of ideological analysis: (a) individual locations of writers and readers, (b) the relation to groups, (c) modes of intellectual discourse, and (d) spheres of ideology (p. 195).
The word used in Genesis for “create” is the Hebrew phrase bara. Liesch and Finley (1984) were among the first to study this in relationship to biblical creativity. They point out that this is a unique word, with nearly 50 occurrences in the Hebrew Scriptures and almost 40 occurrences of the corresponding Greek term ktizo in the New Testament (p. 189). Both of these terms refer specifically to God’s work, and never that of humans (p. 189). God, in His bara activity, has created not only the cosmos (Gen. 1) but also Israel (Isa. 43:1), the Church (Eph. 2:10, 15), righteousness and justice (Isa. 45:8), praise and joy (Isa. 57:19; 65:18), as well as the work of regeneration and cleansing from sin (Isa. 45:8; Ps. 51:10) (p. 190). The work of bara carries two primary dimensions. First, the term can imply construction, as is seen in Genesis 1 (p. 190). Second, bara can also reflect a dimension of performance, as in the case of God performing miracles (p. 190). Finally, Liesch and Finley draw attention to the fact that bara always leads humanity to worship the Creator (p. 190).
Owolabi (2012) builds on the theology of bara creativity by suggesting that God’s mandate to humanity to be fruitful and multiply while subduing the earth (Gen. 1:28) “implies taking creative responsibility for our environment and all creatures as the delegated authority of God in creation” (p. 100). Owolabi goes on to say that, as humans, in the creative process “we attempt to give life to our understanding and experience of existence.” In fact, the “impulse to create is regarded as our yearning to live” (p. 101). For Owolabi, the ability to create is central to what it means to be a part of God’s created humanity.
All of this raises a potent question regarding the ideological texture of Genesis 1 and the creation narrative. If bara lies only in the work of God in the Scriptures, is it possible to call humans biblically creative? Is human creativity a biblical concept? Specifically, can human creativity, as Liesch and Finley (1984) ask, be accurately compared to divine creativity (p. 194), and if so, to what extent?
Liesch and Finley (1984) suggest that while several answers to this question have been proposed, two primary views currently exist. The first is the Sacramentalist view, which perceives art as the act of creation (p. 194). Sacramentalists, including the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Anglican streams, consider humans as sub-creators of God—lesser but nonetheless creative. The Reformed tradition, on the other hand, considers art and creativity acts of work; the human creator, in his or her complete depravity, is ultimately dangerous and self-seeking of glory (p. 194). Offering a bridge and perhaps a third way forward for understanding biblical creativity, Liesch and Finley propose the biblical concept of “newness” for understanding human creativity (p. 195). Newness, they suggest, is common for understanding human activity in Scripture (1 Sam. 6:7; Deut. 20:5; Pss. 33:3; 96:1; 98:1). These passages, and others like them, point the way forward for a theology that recognizes God as the source of creation deserving of praise, but also of humans as reflective of His image and created with the potential for new works.
With that said, we must return to the term bara. Given biblically only to the things created imaginatively by God Himself, it is essential that Genesis 1 and the creation narrative point to the fact that in some semblance the ability to create has been divinely passed on to the life and impulse of humanity. It could be said that while men and women are never given the full creative and creating capacity of God Himself as seen in Genesis 1—we will never create exnihilo and we will never deserve the worship that goes with that ability—part of what it means to be fueled by the divine deliberation in Genesis 1:26 as unique to God’s creation is a gift for creative potential. The “image of God,” so mysterious and so long discussed in theological circles, must at least imply that God breathed a breath of imagination that humanity today still carries.
Applying God’s Creativity at Creation to Christian Leadership
At the start of this article, I noted that biblical understandings of group creativity and their connection to ecclesial leadership are limited at best. So, from the exploration of the creation narrative in Genesis 1, what can be said about the creativity of the Trinity and its implications for modern Christian leadership? In this section, three critical conclusions can be drawn for Christian leaders today.
Biblical Creativity Is Part of the Mandate of Humanity
Near the end of the Creation narrative in Genesis 1 is God’s simple mandate to humanity to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). Both Moltmann’s “ecology of creation” (as cited in Molnar, 1990, p. 673) and Owolabi’s “yearning to live” (2012, p. 101) as the understanding of God’s image seen in humanity reveal the gift and call of creativity as a mandate to humanity. To be fruitful and increase is a creative act. Filling the earth is about more than biological reproduction. It also entails the God-breath carried in each individual that allows the parts of creation that have not experienced life and creativity to be filled in a lesser way with what C. S. Lewis called the weight of glory (Lewis, 1949).
For the Christian leader, then, understanding God’s mandate to bring life and creativity into the world is as central as understanding the call to grow spiritually. It is all too common to hear individuals—and often leaders—make the claim that they just are not creative people. Perhaps these leaders have a faulty theological understanding rather than a limited intellectual muscle. Perhaps the understandings of creativity among leaders could expand not only to novel ideas but also to the great work of transformational leadership that enables followers to grow in their own creative capacities of adding fruitfulness to their own world.
Biblical Creativity Is a Missional Endeavor With Eschatological Implications
Next, it is imperative to understand the mandate to create as not simply a human-centered endeavor. Instead, the narrative of Genesis 1 reveals the first act of God’s eschatological purposes of bringing life to the world. Because of this, Christian leaders today taking up the mandate of creativity are enacting a missional task that continues to participate in God’s work in history of bringing the final consummation of the Kingdom with creation.
Sailhammer’s (1984) exegesis of Yahweh’s Creation dealing with Self (Trinity), humanity (Adam and Eve), and land (the Cosmos) offers a framework for a missional understanding of biblical group creativity today. Ecclesial leaders enacting group creativity in their own settings are functioning within those same realms. Creative leaders must be reconciled to themselves enough to believe and trust God’s work in bringing life from their sinful being (a total work of grace). Second, creative leaders deal with humanity in the groups they lead. The creative process and the creative leader coexist with humans (groups) to model God’s creative work as the Trinity—a community of mutual submission. Finally, the creative group—ecclesiologically—deals with “the land” by engaging the larger world in missional ways. The creative act, among] Christian leaders and Christian groups, is always about bringing the mission of God to places and people where it has not yet reached. This echoes Walton’s (2008) “Temple cosmology” language of bringing life and hope to formless and void lands (pp. 56–57). Thus, the creative Christian leader and her group will further the mission of God with biblically creative efforts.
Biblical Creativity Is a Movement of Worship
Finally, we must return to Liesch and Finley’s (1984) description of bara as the biblical foundation of creating. Critical here is their concept of newness as a third road to understanding human creative capacity. Rather than perceiving creativity through the Sacramental (humans are sub-creators) or Reformed (humans are workers) lenses, Liesch and Finley conceive of human creativity as capable of newness because of the newness God works in humans (2 Cor. 5:17).
Ultimately, bara is a creative work of God that without fail brings worship and glory back to God Himself. In humans, then, men and women have been given a capacity to create—to make new—and ultimately point glory back to God in the same bara way. It is only when they are made new in Christ that humanity recognizes in the fullest earthly way possible the great creativity that goes into being made new in God’s image.
Weaving the Tapestry of Biblical Creativity
These conclusions offer a clearer path forward for Christian leaders concerned with creativity from a biblical viewpoint. Understanding creativity as a human mandate and a missional effort connected to the Christ-community and intended to bring glory to God, creativity becomes not simply a peripheral task for church leadership teams and worship leaders seeking to bring more spunk to their worship service gatherings. Instead, group creativity practices within Christian leadership becomes an opportunity for leaders and team members to bring life to self, to each other, and to the world. Recognizing the formless and void portions of our own hearts, as well as the empty regions in the hearts of those we work beside and the great hopelessness of a fallen world, group creativity is a way of carrying out the work of God seen in Jesus Christ by bringing newness to old hearts. We could say simply that biblical creativity is a matter of Gospel faithfulness.
I wish to close this study with conclusions from the analysis of Genesis 1:1– 2:3 and how they relate to the theoretical framework of group creativity. To do so, I ask several questions. Is it possible to identify group creativity theory at work in the Creation account and demonstrated in the Trinitarian action of creation? How does God’s work in the seven days of Creation mirror or diverge from group creativity literature? Is it possible to even define the Trinitarian work at Creation as a work of group creativity?
First of all, the last question I asked is perhaps of first importance. It is essential to understand that the Genesis 1 narrative can absolutely be viewed through the lens of group creativity theory. Paulus (2000) defines a group as two or more who function with “interdependence and have influence through their actions” (p. 238). As discussed above, the Genesis narrative (1:1–3; 1:26) clearly portrays a Trinitarian theology in which three distinct persons compose one God who functions together independence and influence toward each other. Paulus later identifies group creativity as a “bounded and recognizable collection working interdependently toward a shared goal of novel and useful
output” (p. 239). While I am not as comfortable with labeling the Creation narrative as a novel idea, it is clear in Genesis that the Trinity moved toward a shared goal of something that had never been achieved before. If novel is the word, then so be it. The resulting cadence of “and God saw that it was good” uttered again and again from God’s perspective becomes “it was very good” at the conclusion of the passage when humanity in relationship to the cosmos is seen. What had been formless and void is now complete and entwined in the Shalom establishment of God’s created cosmos. All this makes clear one fact—the work of the Trinity at Creation is not only an act of group creativity; it is the first and original act of group creativity.
The second connection I wish to make with group literature pertains to the processes of group creativity. Paulus (2000) points out that group creativity entails idea generation, selection, and execution (p. 238). It is through both divergent and convergent thinking that ideas emerge with fluency (large numbers), flexibility (variance), originality (uniqueness), and elaboration (building on each other) (p. 238). It takes little effort to examine the beauty of Creation surrounding the world today and see that every one of these characteristics occurred through God’s handiwork in Genesis 1. There were perhaps no official Trinitarian brainstorming sessions, but the very reflection of mutual submission seen in the Trinity reveals a relationship of idea generation (God the Father), selection (the Spirit), and execution (the Word) that effectively demonstrated resulting fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration.
Finally, I wish to consider Harvey’s (2014) model of creative synthesis as demonstrated in Genesis 1. This model paints most clearly the Trinitarian actions at work in Creation. Harvey says that creativity at the group level
comes through individual, social, and environmental resources. What emerges from this is that the theology of the Trinity—three separate beings unified as one—represents both the individual and social resources of Harvey’s model. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit serve each other in mutual submission, bringing the fullness of their own personalities (for lack of better words to define the Trinity) to the table of Creation. Fully as individuals, and fully as a group, the ability to enact ideas and give collective attention to the creative process serves to allow for the fullest potential of group creativity. As Harvey makes clear, it is not a survival of the fittest mentality for creativity here but rather the emergence and selection through collective effort (pp. 324–325). Perhaps a different Darwinian conversation than has surrounded Genesis 1 for so long could be launched after this study.
All of this paves the way for future exegetical and ecclesial research regarding the nature of group creativity in our modern context. What can be gained from an understanding of Genesis 1 and the Creation narrative as a Trinitarian work of group creativity is not only a foundation for further creativity research rooted in solid theology but also a call for leaders today to pick up the mandate of God’s bara breath and continue the work of creativity in our current ecclesial settings
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Justin Bowers is a doctoral student at the Regent University School of Business and Leadership. He received a bachelor’s degree in Student Ministry from Geneva College and a master’s degree in Transformational Leadership from Bethel Seminary. He currently works as the lead pastor and church planter of New Community Church in West Virginia and is also the director and lead consultant of “Intensional” Coaching and Consulting.