Last week, I guest-posted (I guess that’s a word) on Trevin Wax’s blog, a meditation from Revelation 19 on “The Greatest Love Story Ever Told.” It was one of a couple meditations that came out of a series of sermons I preached last year on the subject of beauty–namely beauty as it is found in the Bible.
Today, I will begin to add to that post. Looking at the subject of aesthetics, I will consider its place in the Bible, and in the days ahead I will post a few reflections on beauty and its essential place in the Christians’ life. Then, after considering the need for aesthetics, I will offer a few reflections on how the beauty of the incarnation and hell (yes, the beauty of hell) can move us towards greater love and holiness.
Whether aesthetics is a subject that is familiar or foreign, I hope you will consider with me the idea of beauty as it relates to the gospel of Jesus Christ–who is indeed, the most beautiful one of all.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul concludes his six-fold admonition to right thinking by saying, “if there is anything excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things” (4:8). As someone who had seen firsthand the glories of heaven (2 Cor 12:1-3), Paul spoke with a unique knowledge of beauty, truth, and goodness. Indeed, as a herald of the gospel, he was at great pains to proclaim the beauty of Christ and him crucified (1 Cor 2:2) and to see the beauty of Christ formed in the believers whom he betrothed to Christ (2 Cor 11:2).
In a way, Paul was an aesthete (i. e. a person who has a highly developed appreciation for beauty). Now, that sounds really esoteric and unnecessary for the Christian life. But I want to argue that seeing God’s beauty in the Word and the world is essential for Christian discipleship and spiritual growth.
Indeed, I am grateful to Trevin for letting me scribble some thoughts on the subject of aesthetics, and to share them with you. For indeed, it was a book review on Erasing Hellthat Trevin wrote about a year ago that sowed the first seed in my thinking about the subject of beauty and its importance—make that, its necessity—in the Christian life.
A Journey into the Beautiful
I am a novice when it comes to art, literature, and most things that fall under the subject of aesthetics. I have not taken a class on it. I have read very little on the subject. So, I am sure that in what I have to say on the subject will make plain my naïve understanding. However, as a pastor, the subject of beauty is weekly occupation. Here is what I mean.
Called to herald the sufferings and glories of Christ every Lord’s Day and every day in between, I have found that preaching the gospel means more than simply explaining concepts like justification, sanctification, and grace. Of course, Christ-centered exposition must never divert from such biblical theology. However, the call to preach and teach God’s word must go further. Indeed, stewards of the gospel must explain the whole counsel of Scripture, but they must also exalt beauty of these gospel truths. This is why aesthetics is a necessary discipline for Christian preachers and parishioners.
And truly, I am grateful to Trevin for helping me see this. Here is what he said a year ago, that grabbed my attention:
What is needed is a response that takes into consideration the beauty of Truth. We’ve got the truth portion down when it comes to propositions. What is needed is a beautiful and compelling portrait of Truth – the Person. God is inherently beautiful, but many times, we don’t do well at drawing out the inherent beauty of Truth with a capital T.
Trevin makes the probing observation, “We struggle in the area of aesthetics, and I’m not sure why.” Then, he comes back and challenges those who defend the truth by means of propositions to consider other artistic tools to depict the beauty of God’s capital T truth.
The problem with the responses to Love Wins is that, while we are experts at critiquing Bell’s vision of God, we aren’t stepping up with a more compelling portrait of God’s magnificence. We are scribbling down our thoughts under Bell’s chalk drawing instead of taking up the paint brush and creating something that reflects the beauty of biblical truth.
I am grateful for Trevin awakening me from my aesthetic slumber, and so as I have preached, blogged, and counseled in the last year, I have sought not only to diagram sentences but to communicate the beauties of God and his gospel.
One last attribution. I was greatly helped in the months leading up to preaching on the beauty of God in creation and redemption by the excellent little book on the subject of beauty by my friend Owen Strachan and his doctoral supervisor, Doug Sweeney. Their book, Jonathan Edwards on Beauty, is full of Edwards own aesthetic reflections, and is well worth the read.
Over the next few posts, I will try to share a few biblical meditations on some of the things I found in Scripture that stirred my heart, and I hope they will stir your as well.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss