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Creator Spirit

The Holy Spirit and the Art of Becoming Human

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Art is often viewed as being inherently spiritual. But what does it mean to describe an experience of art or beauty as spiritual? Is there a relationship between the spiritual experience a person has in the presence of a work of art and the Holy Spirit of Christian faith?

Theologian, musician, and educator Steven Guthrie examines particular areas of overlap between spirituality, human creativity, and the arts with the goal of sharpening and refining how we speak and think about the Holy Spirit. Through his exploration of the many different connections between art and spirituality, Guthrie uses the arts as a creative lens for exploring the Holy Spirit and offers a unique introduction to pneumatology. He also introduces an important idea from the early church that is now unfamiliar to many Christians: the Holy Spirit is the humanizing Spirit, whose work is to remake our humanity after the image of the perfect humanity of Jesus Christ.

This clear, engaging theology of the arts will be of interest to professors and students in theology and the arts, pneumatology, and systematic theology courses as well as thoughtful lay readers, Christian artists, worship leaders, and pastors.


Foreword by Jeremy S. Begbie Introduction 1. Is There Anything to Talk About Here? Spirit and Mystery Part 1: The Making of a Human 2. Remaking Humanity: John Coltrane and a Love Supreme 3. Remaking Human Bodies: Kingdom Come and the Kingdom of the Abstract 4. Remaking Community: Singing to One Another in Songs, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs Part 2: The Spirit’s Making and Ours 5. Ionized Inspiration: Can a Human Voice Be Heard? 6. The Gift-Giving Spirit: (De-Ionized Inspiration) 7. Finding Our Voices: The Spirit of Freedom Part 3: A World Remade 8. Seeing the Spirit in All Things, Seeing All Things in the Spirit: Discernment and the Restoration of Vocation 9. Beautiful, Beautiful Zion: The Spirit and Completion 10. Perfection, Proportion, and Pleasure: The Spirit and Beauty Epilogue: The Museum of Spirituality Indexes


"[Guthrie] invites us to enter the world of human artistry and reenvision the arts in ways that are illuminating, compelling, and always down to earth. . . . In these pages, you will encounter John Coltrane, Annie Dillard, and Wassily Kandinsky. You will rub shoulders with Augustine, Miroslav Volf, Gordon Fee, and--Guthrie's main theological companion--Athanasius. You will encounter a first-rate teacher who seems to be able to draw on a vast range of images and metaphors to press each point home. You will encounter a theologian who can bring clarity out of confusion without ever stifling a sense of openness and wonder. And most important, you will, by God's grace, encounter the work of the Spirit, sharpening your thinking and enlarging your vision, the Spirit who alone can, and will, remake all things."--Jeremy S. Begbie, Duke Divinity School (from the foreword)

"This book participates in a growing movement interested in the intersection of art, faith, and spirituality. But this book also stands out as a leading voice in this field because of its breadth of vision for the sources and functions of the arts in human life and because of the specificity and clarity of its theological convictions about the work of the Holy Spirit and the expansive nature of salvation offered in and through Jesus Christ. The book's particular interest in Athanasius is especially welcome, inviting all of us to sharpen and deepen our theological vision and to wrestle with the astonishing implications of the incarnation for human flourishing."--John D. Witvliet, director, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary

"The renaissance in pneumatology and pneumatological theology takes a quantum leap with this book, which propels us into other dimensions of the Spirit that allow us to see, hear, and perceive the signs of the coming kingdom in the arts, music, and even Scripture that have otherwise been beyond our ken. Creator Spirit is not just another book about the Spirit but rather one that participates in the re-creative work of the Spirit to make all things new and beautiful."--Amos Yong, professor of theology and mission, director of the Center for Missiological Research, Fuller Theological Seminary

"Creator Spirit is a brilliant book! Steven Guthrie makes nuances exceedingly accurately, so that his readers are able to distinguish various ideas in Christianity (such as 'mortification' and 'beauty') from their mistaken use in historical and postmodern philosophies about the arts. Guthrie consequently frees us to recognize more clearly and biblically the labors of diverse artists and the liberating presence of the Holy Spirit. You will devour this volume, and it will increase your faith!"--Marva J. Dawn, teaching fellow in spiritual theology, Regent College, Vancouver, BC; theologian; speaker

"Creator Spirit brings the Holy Spirit and art together into the creative center of human life. Guthrie shows how the Holy Spirit and art illumine each other and, together, create spaces where God is glorified and we are allowed to become what God intended. This is one of the best treatments of the Holy Spirit's activity in culture."―William Dyrness, professor of theology and culture, Fuller Theological Seminary

"Steven R. Guthrie has offered to a varied audience a study that is both challenging and captivating as it traces how and in what way the Holy Spirit is active in sanctified human artistry. Indeed, Creator Spirit itself reflects the beauty that its author seeks to describe. First, the book displays admirable proportion, balancing an analysis of the arts (music, visual art, dance) with theological, philosophical, and cultural concerns. Next, it provides keen pleasure for the reader in terms of its lively and compelling style and its rich content. Finally, it moves admirably toward a satisfying telos, even if, with all other human projects, it is not perfect. That perfection is instead attributed to the Author and Creator of all, whom this book glorifies, as Guthrie rejoices in the gifts and in the Gift, the Spirit who humanizes those who receive."--Edith M. Humphrey, William F. Orr Professor of New Testament, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

"Talk of the relationship between spirituality and aesthetics has become so commonplace in our culture that it has become both cacophonous and banal at the same time. In the midst of this situation Steven Guthrie has produced a theology of the Spirit and the arts that brings welcome clarity to the conversation while retaining an appropriate sense of mystery and openness. Creator Spirit is a compelling example of the sort of generous orthodoxy that is in keeping with the best intuitions of the Christian tradition."--John R. Franke, theologian in residence, First Presbyterian Church, Allentown, PA

"We have seen a spate of books offering an 'incarnational' affirmation of the arts or a 'sacramental' aesthetic. But in Creator Spirit Guthrie gives us something we have been waiting for in discussions of theology and the arts: a pneumatology. Unafraid to engage popular conceptions of spirituality and art, Guthrie challenges the latent gnosticism in so much talk of 'spirituality,' returning Christian spirituality to the rehumanizing work of the Holy Spirit. The result is a kind of chemical reaction of mutual illumination: I have a new appreciation for the Spirit's work and a new excitement about the arts. I hope this book finds many, many readers."--James K. A. Smith, professor of philosophy, Calvin College; research fellow, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship

"Theological discussions of the arts drawing directly on the categories of Spirit and spirituality are notoriously prone to vagueness and eccentricity. By contrast, in this important new work Steve Guthrie combines his technical expertise and experience as a practicing musician with a sure-footed treatment of core biblical and theological issues. The result is a compelling cross-disciplinary conversation that both advances the concerns of constructive Christian theology and offers insights and resources for those involved in the arts."--Trevor Hart, professor of divinity and director of the Institute for Theology, Imagination, and the Arts, University of St. Andrews, Scotland

"Guthrie compellingly engages what may be the most profound, yet often the most trivialized, dimension of theological aesthetics. The result is a rich, reflective, and learned work that artists and theologians alike have been hoping for."--Robin Jensen, Patrick O'Brien Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame

The Author

  1. Steven R. Guthrie

    Steven R. Guthrie

    Steven R. Guthrie (PhD, University of St. Andrews) teaches religion at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he helped launch a new program in religion and the arts. He previously taught at the University of St. Andrews and was on the faculty of...

    Continue reading about Steven R. Guthrie


Best of the Best Books of 2011, Worship Leader

"A beautifully intricate yet completely expansive dive into everything that is inexplicable about the arts, the Holy Spirit, and how we are created in the image of our maker."--Worship Leader

"Creator Spirit explores the inexplicable connection, controversy, and relationship between the arts, spirituality, Christian theology, and our humanity, and illumines the most marginalized and least understood member of the Trinity: the Holy Spirit. . . . Guthrie takes us through a labyrinth of discovery, ultimately painting a picture of possibility and mystery. . . . Why is this book and developing a theology of the Spirit especially important? Because when the foreground is solely transcendent and 'beyond this world,' what is expressed in art and spirituality will be totally different than if devotional art and the art of living is approached from a perspective of God dwelling in and with us."--Andrea Hunter, Worship Leader

"In some ways, Guthrie's approach here is revolutionary in the realm of pneumatology. Instead of looking at Scripture and trying to figure out what it means in the practicalities of creative life, Guthrie looks at artists' experiences and then scours Scripture to make sense of them. While there are dangers in this approach, Guthrie is a careful and methodical theologian, even as he reveals himself as a deeply intuitive creator as well. . . . For those looking for a fresh perspective on the Holy Spirit, Creator Spirit is a book that will provide much food for thought. While most of the insights themselves are not new, Guthrie's novel approach of examining the Spirit in light of His relationship to art and creativity presents them in a new light and this may help readers incorporate truths into their own lives or put concepts together in a way that they had not done before."--Sarah Winfrey, Englewood Review of Books

"Quite wide-ranging, very well-written, and entirely readable."--Tim Gombis, Faith Improvised blog (

"This refreshing treatment of pneumatology is unusual in the integration of Christian theology and aesthetics. . . . This book tells the story of the Spirit's work of redemption. It is thus recommended for lovers of the gospel and of the arts, for theologians, pastors, teachers, students, and others who desire to join the Spirit of God in His work in this world."--Glenn R. Kreider, Bibliotheca Sacra

"The brilliance and necessity of Guthrie's book is that it focuses the sheer delight of being human in the midst of particular communities within creation through wonderfully reflective theology alongside reflection on aesthetics generally and the arts in particular. . . . There is a treasure trove covering an alphabet of famous musicians and artists, authors and others in the arts interacting with key theologians and biblical scholars in Guthrie's narrative. . . . Guthrie has provided us with a wonderful book. It has clear theology of the Spirit and creation. It challenges us to enter into the world of the arts as inhabitants of creation who seek meaning. It invites us to participate as a missional community in meaning-making for the world through the arts. It is clear in its challenge to be active participants in what the Triune Lord of Creation desires to do through Christians in the arts, through our interacting with artists in every sphere as they shape human understanding of 'what it is all about.' It understands that as artists seek to be meaning-makers within culture, Christians must participate in that conversation or become irrelevant."--Mary Fisher, Crucible

"In what is a timely and relevant book, Steven Guthrie offers an expert map through some rather difficult interdisciplinary terrain. Perhaps the most helpful feature of Creator Spirit is the way that it challenges certain myths about the relationship between art and spirituality inhabiting contemporary thought. . . . By bringing a robust Christian theology of the Holy Spirit into conversation with others who explore the relationship between art and spirituality, Guthrie offers a viable alternative to the dialectic between modern and post-modern thought that plagues much contemporary thinking on the arts. . . . It is a book that exemplifies the vitality and value of interdisciplinary research in theology today. This book opens up a variety of questions for further exploration, and it will be valued as a guide for these questions by readers both inside and outside of the academy."--Jim Watkins, Transpositions

"An exceptional contribution to the ongoing dialogue between theology and the arts that weaves together our comprehension of art, the Holy Spirit, and our own humanity. . . . The book is an insightful and balanced exploration of the subject matter, drawn from sacred Scripture, Tradition (in particular Athanasius), and current theological thought in relation to contemporary experience. It sketches a thorough and balanced theological understanding of artistic activity in connection with a Christian understanding of anthropology and the Spirit's role in transforming us to be fully human. . . . In the growing area of theology and the arts Guthrie's book is insightful and thought provoking. It will be an invaluable resource both for those researching and teaching in the newly emerging area of theological aesthetics."--Maeve L. Heaney, Theology

"[Guthrie's] aim is to provide a conversation facilitator for both theological students and arts students to enable an intelligent, Christian conversation concerning theological anthropology, pneumatology, and aesthetics, done within a biblically informed eschatological frame of reference. . . . Guthrie carries out his project with great deftness, erudition, depth of scholarly engagement, biblical and theological insight, and respect for Scripture. . . . A fine book on a difficult subject!"--Graham A. Cole, Themelios

"A rich and detailed meditation on the Creator's and the artist's work in making artwork. . . . Where there have been two options Steven Guthrie offers a welcome third option. The newness of the Spirit and the space limits of one book allow him only so much, just a sketch of what a new artistic world might be like. It is scholarly and well worth the read, both for his own propositions as well as for the range of thought he brings in."--Larry M. Taylor, Cithara: Essays in the Judaeo-Christian Tradition

"[This] insightful book compares and contrasts biblical and Christian pneumatologies with notions of spirituality prevalent in aesthetics to illuminate how the Holy Spirit makes and remakes 'our humanity.'. . . This is a useful book for seminary courses on pneumatology or theology and the arts and for theologians working in these areas. Seminary libraries should have this book on their shelves."--Don Schweitzer, Religious Studies Review

"Our need for pneumatologically intelligent material that also captures our imaginations is a considerable one. To the extent that Guthrie . . . satisfy[ies] this need, we owe [him] a debt of gratitude. . . . With Creator Spirit . . . we are offered an invitation to inhabit a richly en-Spirited world and to discover our particular place in it."--W. David O. Taylor, Books & Culture

"The conversation between theology and the arts has hardly suffered from a lack of voices. Adding to this rich tradition of interdisciplinary dialogue is Steven Guthrie who, in his ambitious and engaging work, explores the various reasons why many have found these distinct disciplines so congenial. . . . Creator Spirit is doubtless an engaging and thoughtful evaluation of two realms of thought and participation that inform much of what we do as humans. Guthrie's main strength is his ability to engage with both scholarly and popular theologians and philosophers alike in a way that does not alienate or bewilder the nonspecialist. . . . Creator Spirit is useful for the undergraduate with a background in either theology or the arts, who cannot quite shake the sense that both, in fact, might be two sides of one conversation."--Michael Ryswyk, Trinity Journal

"Few books published on the Holy Spirit can be recommended as highly as Steven R. Guthrie's Creator Spirit. . . . This is beautifully written theology, and will reward virtually any reader at multiple levels."--Jeremy Begbie, Living Church

"Guthrie has set himself an ambitious project in attempting to determine the correlation between the work of the Holy Spirit and artistic creativity, particularly given the strongly eschatological emphasis within his work. It is a well written, engaging treatment of this issue, however, and reflects the author's sustained scholarly attention to the relationship between Christianity and the Arts. Throughout, he purposefully draws on a range of traditions and areas of knowledge, giving, with plentiful scriptural references, particular attention to the writing of Athanasius and other early Church Fathers. It is a refreshing and comprehensive approach, for rather than limiting himself to 'high art' from much earlier periods, he also draws on a vast array of artistic output from contemporary culture. . . . [Guthrie] should be commended for attempting to realize an integrated, inclusive approach to the irrepressible desire that abounds for creative expression and for relating that desire to a renewed interest in pneumatology. Focusing on the realization of all human aspirations in Jesus Christ, the eschatos, gives the work a strongly positive, Christological foundation. . . . This is a very valuable, satisfying, and enriching contribution."--Peter Stiles, Expository Times

"What is the true relationship between the Holy Spirit and creative pursuits? Guthrie . . . mines this territory for insights and conclusions regarding the role of the Holy Spirit in artistry. . . . Readers well-versed in pneumatology will find new ideas and authors from the realm of aesthetics and musicology: famous philosopher-artists who are quoted often in such discussions. Readers well-versed in aesthetic theory will encounter new authors, scholarship, and vocabulary. . . . My favorite attribute of this work is that Guthrie consistently points toward a third way of experiencing and exploring art, through the spirit, in a way that honors Christ. His writing is clear as he examines various traditional and contemporary understandings on the Holy Spirit's role in our lives, communities, and creative output. Guthrie draws helpful distinctions that both recognize the complexities of the subject and point toward a workable model of engagement with the Holy Spirit. . . . This volume is a valuable part of the canon of works exploring aesthetic theology from an evangelical protestant perspective."--Kyle Baker, Stone-Campbell Journal

"Guthrie has drawn together an impressive assortment of resources in a highly plausible fashion. As such, his text is especially valuable for those interested in interdisciplinary studies. . . . Guthrie sets out to distinguish the work of the Spirit from what sometimes is uncritically attributed and, tot his end, provides a broad cultural critique. He admirably captures the restorative intent of the Holy Spirit. . . . Guthrie approaches a controversial topic in an admirably civil manner. It does justice to his emphasis on love as expressive of life in the Spirit, which one may attribute to a genuine humility."--Morris A. Inch, Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies