For Disciples and Disciplers . . . A Short Biblical Survey of Beauty

waterfallAnd we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. . . . In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
— 2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:4–6 —

In recent days I have become increasingly convinced that biblical teaching, preaching, and discipleship must do more than transmit information. We must proclaim the Truth of God with the same beauty that we find in Scripture. Indeed, the Spirit of Truth did not inspire the Word in some drab and dull way. It is filled with poetry, irony, mystery, and symmetry—in a word, beauty. And the more we see such Christ-centered beauty, the more we will understand God’s Word and become like the Word made flesh.

To put it biblically, if salvation comes from seeing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:4–6), than sanctification is beautification, where the disciples of Christ reflect the glory of God in ever-increasing ways (2 Cor. 3:18). As Kevin Vanhoozer puts it, “The ‘holy array’ in which the priests of ancient Israel worshiped God (1 Chron 16:29, RSV) now becomes the righteousness of Christ (Gal 3:27), the humility (1 Pet 5:5) that clothes all believers” (Kevin Vanhoozer, Pictures at a Theological Exhibition129). Continue reading

Gospel Logic and Revelational Beauty: John Stott on Romans 1:16-20

Rom 1On Sunday I preached from Romans 1:16-32. Earlier this summer I preached from Romans 1:16-17. Last year, I preached from Romans 1:1-7. In each instance, I found great help from John Stott.

For those unfamiliar with Stott’s work, he was an evangelical Anglican who during the latter half of the twentieth century preached the gospel, championed missions, and published numerous books, especially commentaries on the New Testament. His commentaries are always brimming with insight and full of crisp clear exposition. Thus, I share a few of his remarks on Romans 1:16-20. They helped me unpack Paul’s opening argument about the gospel, and I trust they will help you as well. Continue reading

The Word of God (Genesis 1:3)

Genesis 1:3

“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

“God speaks, and it is done. The centrality of the word of God in the acts of creation anticipates the deeper truth given in John 1:1, that the second person of the Trinity is the Word” (History of Salvation in the Old Testament: Preparing the Way for Christ,” in the ESV Study Bible, p. 2635).

Word and wisdom; Logos and logic. Imbedded in creation is the capacity for (in)finite communication. That God’s relationship with man comes through the medium of words reveals the necessity of speech and the essence of who God is.  He is the speaking God. Creation happened when God spoke, because as it is revealed later in Scripture, the God who created the world with his word, is “the Word” himself (John 1:1). Continue reading

Eternal Judgment: An Unbelievable Problem or A Blessed Promise?

Yesterday, I argued that there is a certain kind of beauty to the reality of hell.

Now, if that sentence is taken by itself, it sounds cruel and compassionless, but indeed when we consider what Revelation 19 records, we need to see that just as there is incredible beauty in the wedding feast of the lamb (Rev 19:6-10), there is a corresponding beauty in Christ’s decisive victory and eternal judgment over all those who stand against him.

Therefore, we look again at Revelation 19:1-5, to behold the beauty of the victorious Lord.  But before reading on, please read yesterdays post; both are necessary to see how Scripture portrays Christ’s beautiful victory over his foes.

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The Beauty of the Incarnation

When God created the world, he filled it with splendor and beauty.  The sky above flashes a myriad of colors, and the world below is covered with majestic mountains, lush valleys, winding rivers, hidden lakes, and fields filled abundant wildlife.  All of which highlight the wise creativity of our God.

The beauty of our planet is so pervasive, that many give their lives for the preservation of the environment or the thrill of filming the most exotic locales.  Yet, God’s beauty is not just seen in creation.  The pages of history, while smeared with darkness and death, display a redemptive beauty that in the end will swallow death.  Aside from the death-defeating resurrection itself, nowhere is the jaw-dropping beauty of God’s sovereign story-telling more evident than in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

Thus, as we think about aesthetics and the beauty of God in creation, history, and redemption, we must behold Christ’s humble beginnings.

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Aesthetics Is Not Optional

Why aesthetics?

Aesthetics is kind of a funny word.  Using it in casual conversation could easily gain the charge of being esoteric (another funny word), but indeed, the word and its employment are essential for the Christian.

Even those who have never dabbled in the academic discipline of aesthetics are being shaped by someone to think about beauty, art, and culture.  It may come from the paintbrush of Thomas Kinkade or the pen of Wendell Berry.  The source does not make someone an aesthete.  We all assign beauty to certain things, and thus we should learn what the Bible thinks about beauty and how it plays a formative role in the believers salvation and sanctification. Consider four reasons why aesthetics is so vital for the Christian.

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Aesthetics 101: Learning to Look for the Beauty of Christ

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.

Aesthetics 101

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

Beholding the Beauty of Christ in Wal-Mart: The Backstory

Christmas is a beautiful time of year, one that prompts giving, singing, family gatherings, and worship of our Savior born in Bethlehem.  Contemplating these things, I wrote an article for our church newsletter that The Gospel Coalition also ran on God’s hidden beauty revealed at Christmas.

To give a little backstory, I wrote it on a day when I had walked through the aisles of Wal-Mart and sadly had a bah-humbug spirit.  Surrounded by God’s image-bearers my sinful heart was not loving my neighbor.  It was simply wanting to get in, get out, and get done with what I had to do.  Such an attitude is sinful and selfish, and it stems from a vision problem–I was not seeing the people around the way Christ sees them.

Accordingly, I wrote the piece “Beholding the Beauty of Christ in Wal-Mart” as a means of preaching the gospel to myself.  I need the gospel everyday to remind me of my ugliness before the Lord, and how in Christ he has showered his beautiful grace on me.  If there is anything good in me, it is from the Lord (John 15:5; 1 Cor 4:7). Prayerfully, such amazing love and forgiveness will result in greater love for others.

As I walked out of Wal-Mart that day, I was confronted with the ugliness of my un-love.  I still groan over the fact that I am drawn to worldly beauty more than heavenly beauty, and that this causes me to slight people and make much of me.  Ugh! I praying that God would continue to renew my mind and change my heart, and I to do so, I keep looking to the person and work of Christ.  He alone is beautiful, and in his light we see light.  As we behold him, we become like him.  I wrote this article for that reason, and I share it with you that you might benefit too.

Here is how it begins,

Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, so the old saying goes. Just the same, we choose to behold (read: pursue and acquire) what we think is beautiful. Unfortunately, for so many of us, we have given little attention to what the Bible says about beauty. While Christians may have read the Bible for years, I wonder, when it comes to beauty, how many of us have been shaped by magazine covers, movies, and prom nights more than God’s inspired Word?  Christmas may be one exception.

You can read the whole thing at The Gospel Coalition website.

Repentant and Repenting, dss

What Can Make Me Walk Away From Sin?

[This article was originally featured in our hometown newspaper, The Seymour Tribune].

“What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

Encapsulated in these words is the profound truth that the God of heaven and earth has made forgiveness possible through the death and resurrection of his Son.

But this raises a question: “If Jesus’ blood can wash away my sin, what can make me walk away from sin?” On this thanksgiving weekend, I give thanks for my forgiveness, but I wonder out loud, “Is the Christian life only about getting a ticket into heaven? Or does how I live matter?” Let me answer in two ways.

First, those who have had their sins washed away are those who have been born again. And as 1 John says, those who are born again must practice truth, walk in light, confess their sins, strive to obey God’s commandments and turn from sin. In his epistle, John does not teach perfectionism. He simply asserts that those who have been forgiven will lead transformed lives.

Second, when someone’s sins are washed away, the Holy Spirit gives that person a new appetite for Christ. This is what it means to be born again. Whereas before, this person might see Jesus as irrelevant or unattractive, now, in Christ, the same person sees Jesus as the most attractive person in the universe. Obeying God’s commandments is not burdensome because they love God and his Word. In truth, those who are forgiven delight in God, God’s Word and God’s people.

Such an experience is recorded in the Psalms: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” David’s words express the Christian’s heart. Those who know God’s pardon, simultaneously have a passion for his presence. While the blood of Christ washes away our sin, it is his beauty that makes men and women walk away from sin.

What about you? Have you beheld Christ’s beauty? Or have you encountered only the ugliness of some false imitations? Don’t be fooled. Christ is gloriously beautiful, to those who have eyes of faith. Don’t miss him because of a bad experience. For he alone can wash away your sin; he alone can make you whole again; he alone can make loving him an easy duty; because he alone can show you his beauty.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss