Sunday, October 29, 2006

On the Trinity and Culture

My brother is on a Trinity kick. Having finished his research on N. T. Wright/Federal Vision/Norman Shepherd/New Perspective on Paul, and discovered the truth that all the afore-mentioned groups are not Confessional, he has turned his attention to the somewhat more exalted grounds of the Trinity.

I was talking with him Sunday night about it, and Lane mentioned a quote of Sinclair Ferguson, talking about the "cash value" of the Trinity. What Ferguson was talking about was the practical value of the doctrine of the Trinity. What good is it? And Ferguson noted that in the Upper Room, what did Jesus talk about? The Trinity. There's proof enough that the Trinity doctrine has value.

That reminded me of the extremely important place I believe the doctrine of the Trinity holds in the culture wars, specifically beauty.

Now I have posted on beauty before; if you follow my archive link to August 2005, and scroll down to the second-to-last post, you will find the post on Philippians 4:8. Also, in January 2006, I have a post entitled Philippians 4:8 Revisited. What I should like to do is tie the doctrine of the Trinity into all this.

To recap those blog entries: 1. Philippians 4:8 tells us to logizesthe on beautiful things, among others. The word logizesthe means to dwell on deeply, to meditate. It does not mean to bleep on over. It would be folly to imagine that Paul would urge his readers to logizesthe on things that were not worthy of it. What things are worthy of the logizesthe kind of thinking? I argue that it is the complex things that will stand up to that kind of meditation, not the simple things. 2. The second point I made is that Paul does not tell us to logizesthe on those things we think are beautiful, but the things that are. This automatically implies that things have intrinsic beauty whether we see that beauty or not. Put another way, beauty is more absolute, not relative. So in terms of a thing, it could be beautiful or not. Also, our perception of that thing could be either that we think it is beautiful, or not. You could set up a little table with these options. If the thing is beautiful, and you think it is beautiful, or if it's ugly and you think it's ugly, that is called having good taste. If it's ugly but you think it's beautiful, or if it's beautiful but you think it's ugly, you have bad taste.

I have argued that complex things are more beautiful than simple things. I should really say that those things that have at least a layer of complexity to it in some aspect are more beautiful than those things with are simple no matter which way you look at them. The reason is that they stand up to logizesthe.

Now where does such beauty come from? From the beauty of holiness. The beauty of otherness, of being set apart. The Trinity is nothing if not holy, but the Trinity is also exceedingly highly beautiful above all else. It has complexity to it. You might also argue that it has a simplicity to as well. Well said! We worship one God in three Persons. So there is simplicity and complexity. My point is that there is complexity. So things which well represent this philosophical idea of the one and the many simultaneously, will be a far greater art than that which does not. The greatest art of all is that art which seems simple at first glance, but has complexity when you analyze it. As I have mentioned before, in Matthew Henry's commentary on Proverbs 12:23, he writes, "Ars est celare artem - the perfection of art is to conceal it."

This flies directly in the face of popular culture, as Ken Myers would say in his seminal book All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes. Popular culture is not interested in complexity, because complexity interferes with instantaneous gratification. We want it NOW! Appreciating complexity requires time, which popular culture does not want to spend. And thus Myers argues that popular culture is not healthy for the Christian because it propagates a mind-set antithetical to proper Christian thinking. That's not to say that exposure to popular culture will corrupt you irretrievably: we believe in grace for crying out loud! But what is the balance in your life? Weigh the popular culture against the folk culture and high culture (the latter two, Myers argues, are conducive to proper Christian thinking) in your life, and see what comes out on top. Beware a steady diet of popular culture and nothing else! Also beware attempting to heal the wound lightly!

These are things we need grace to do. It's hard work to appreciate high culture and even folk culture. This is not work we can do to be saved (see
Susan's recent post on this: On Causation (Law and Grace), October 29th, 2006); rather it is a work I believe Christians are called to do because they are saved.

So see what Beethoven and gourmet and Celtic and Dickens are all about. They will reward you according to how much you put into them. Popular culture reaches a point of diminishing returns. Which will you choose?

In Christ.

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At 10/30/2006 03:48:00 AM , Anonymous John Dekker said...

I choose beauty.

But how do you know Dickens is beautiful? Becuase he is simultaneously simple and complex?

At 10/30/2006 05:53:00 PM , Blogger Susan said...

Nice post :). I choose beauty also. This summer, while you were MIA, I posted this quote which I think you would greatly appreciate.

The Trinity is one of the most beautifully complex truths in scripture and is definitely not one that can be studied lightly. I like your tie to popular culture, true beauty, et al. Myers' book was excellent at explaining the antithesis between the "in the moment" attitude of popular culture and the transendence of God.

The hypostatic union is another spiritual truth that just awes me with complexity and beauty. The incarnation is a tear-jerking truth, really! That is why I love Advent so much, I think.

And thank you for the link :).

At 11/01/2006 10:32:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

what do you mean by NT Wright is non confesional?

At 11/01/2006 10:52:00 AM , Blogger Adrian C. Keister said...

Reply to John.

Dickens is beautiful because, while I don't think he was a Christian, he wrote great truths about suffering and abuse. His style is simultaneously simple and complex as you said. His writings have form, harmony, and complexity. He also has goodness in his writings which go to the heart of a man. For example, A Tale of Two Cities is about the greatest theme in all of literature: the theme of sacrifice. The Christ-allusions are difficult to miss!

Reply to Susan.

I did appreciate your post, thank you. :-)] You're welcome for the link.

Reply to Anonymous.

When I say that N. T. Wright is non-confessional, I mean that the system of doctrine he espouses is not in accord with the Westminster Standards (the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms), which are the constitution of my denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). His doctrine of justification in particular (quite central to Christian doctrine) is different from the Standards. This is not a problem in and of itself in terms of church unity, for Wright does not belong to the PCA. However, his doctrines are, unfortunately, influencing a number of pastors in the PCA who are required to uphold the Westminster Standards with only minor exceptions. The Federal Vision group, which is currently in the PCA, has been influenced, I think, by N. T. Wright.

I should also point out that I am in no way prepared to debate this topic; I obviously don't know where you stand on this issue. If you do happen to sympathize with N. T. Wright and the other groups I mentioned, I have to say that I refuse to debate with you. My brother Lane will probably not debate with you, either. However, I'm sure he would have no objection if you were to read what he's written on the subject. He has a yahoo debate forum, nppdebate, in which he has discussed this extensively.

In Christ.

At 11/01/2006 11:14:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for the clarification, i'll check out the forum.

At 11/01/2006 03:38:00 PM , Anonymous Lane Keister said...

Sorry I haven't commented already on this. It is a great post, and exactly that for which I was looking (the lengths one has to go to sometimes to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition!). I will link to it on my blog.

At 11/01/2006 04:31:00 PM , Blogger Susan said...

It is a great post, and exactly that for which I was looking (the lengths one has to go to sometimes to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition!).

That made me laugh. . . but it's so true! Sometimes it's so much less awkward to break that little rule, but I cringe in the process.

At 11/01/2006 04:40:00 PM , Anonymous John Dekker said...

Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which we should not put.

At 11/01/2006 05:53:00 PM , Anonymous Lane Keister said...

I'm reminded of the story that Dad tells ad nauseum (maybe I'll beat Adrian to it, but I'm absolutely certain that he's thinking this way and remembering this story) of the little boy who didn't want his father to read a certain book. He was upstairs, and asked him not to bring that book but another one. Well, his father went down and retrieved the unwanted book. So the boy asked, "Why did you bring me this book that I didn't want you to read out of up for?"

At 11/01/2006 08:17:00 PM , Anonymous John Dekker said...

LOL! Sounds like a bad translation from German...

At 11/02/2006 10:59:00 AM , Blogger Susan said...

It does sound like a bad translation :). Funny!


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