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?