02 May 2016

Beautiful and True

This morning, for well over an hour, I ruminated upon an idea blossoming in my mind. Trying to construct the "perfect tweet" is often a more difficult task than one might imagine. One cannot express nuance in a mere 140 characters. At least I cannot. How does one meaningfully fit a morning's contemplation into a sentence or two?

Perhaps sharing a few of my abandoned lines will provide some background.

  • Christianity is true, but it is also beautiful. 
  • Christians have a responsibility to show the world that Christianity is true, but also that it is beautiful. 
  • We need ministries like @STRtweets to show us that Christianity is true, but we also need those like @TheRabbitRoom to show us that its beautiful. 

 Each fully true, but incomplete. Let me explain.

I believe Christianity is true. Objectively so. I believe that Christ really walked the earth, really died on the cross, and really rose again from the dead. It is not simply wish fulfillment, It is not merely my subjective impression. It is not one truth in a sea of competing truths. It is what Francis Schaeffer called "true Truth". Furthermore, I believe that reason leads us to God. Christian philosophers and apologists (those who purpose themselves to defend the faith) have described numerous and robust arguments in support of the truth of Christianity.

Though there may be disagreement about what exactly Christianity teaches, I doubt most Christians would take issue with the Truth of Christianity. When we tell others about Jesus, we operate from the assumption that he is not merely true for us, but that he is true for them as well. Church and parachurch ministries often seek to teach Christians about how to present these truths.

Yet, as much as we talk about truth, too often we expend little effort on beauty. Yes, Christianity is true, but it is also beautiful. Too often, I fear, Christians minimize beauty as distracting, or worse, harmful. They renounce beauty as a sinful preoccupation that takes away from the "real purpose of Christianity--making disciples converts."

It hasn't always been so. One look at the towering cathedrals of medieval Europe, Michaelangelo's Pieta, or the icons of the Orthodox church reminds us that beauty matters. Basking in the cantatas of Bach, who routinely signed off his compositions with "SDG"--Soli Deo Gloria/Glory to God Alone--brings to mind that God inspires beauty. God Himself stresses beauty in His word. From the instructions for the temple to the Psalms to the descriptions of the New Heavens and New Earth, we see that beauty is important to God. Indeed, God is beautiful.

I suspect that the tendency to downplay beauty in modern Christianity finds its roots, at least in some measure, in 20th century evangelicalism. I am fairly confident that supposition is not new to me. Evangelicalism, for all of its benefits, promoted a detrimental imbalance. As evangelicals, we encourage evangelism, [right] giving, service, and biblical morality. These are all good things. Yet, we are suspicious of things deemed too "impractical," like art. We encourage our congregants to read their Bibles and come to church and talk to people about Jesus, but we are less likely to encourage them to paint. We encourage our children to pursue "practical" majors. We become uncomfortable when their university programs require them to take courses in the arts. The words "liberal" and "arts" both make us suspicious. When the two words are combined, our suspicion grows exponentially.

Unfortunately, this imbalance has been detrimental. We try to intellectually muscle people into the Faith, but put no effort into demonstrating the breath-taking beauty of God. In a recent discussion with Eugene Peterson, Bono said that Christians need more honest art. He's right. Yet Andrew Peterson also correctly responded (Twitter, April 29), "I get where Bono is coming from, but the fact is, there's TONS of honest art by Christians. Lot's of it. It just isn't mainstream." We need to promote a culture where beauty is not only acceptable, but encouraged.

Church, let us be people who show the true beauty and the beautiful truth of Christ.

You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord.-Isaiah 62:3

As Andrew Peterson pointed out, there is a lot of honest (and I would add beautiful) Christian art. His body of work testifies to this truth. Start with his most recent album "The Burning Edge of Dawn" and move out from there. Let me also offer a few other recommendations and know that I would love to hear yours as well!

  • Truth and beauty intersect in Eugene Peterson's writings. I especially love The Pastor
  • An online community of Christians committed to art and beauty exists at the Rabbit Room. There is so much good there. Go and poke around. 
  • A difficult, but important step for me was to read more fiction--CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Marilynne Robinson, and Walt Wangerin. Add Andrew Peterson's Wingfeather Saga to the list as well. 
But don't simply consume. Go forth and create! 

No comments: