Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Importance of Beauty for Protestants

Ever wonder why good, solid, Reformed Presbyterians like Scott Hahn become Catholic? Why do they abandon so much truth?

Ever wonder why worship these days is lackluster, despite all the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) hype?

I submit that part of the answer lies in beauty. Once upon a time, theologians stressed the important of truth, beauty, and goodness in the life of the believer. Truth and goodness are both upheld today in various denominations. Correct me if I'm wrong, but here I'd say goodness is godliness, or holiness. It is growth in sanctification. All God's truth is truth. So what about beauty?

I don't think the modern world has much of a conception of what beauty is. The world says that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But Paul, in Philippians 4:8 doesn't say, "Whatever ... you think is beautiful ... think on these things." He says, "Whatever ... is beautiful ... think on these things." Evidently, things have beauty whether we see that beauty or not. That's just one example where the modern world seems to have fallen by the wayside.

Part of why Presbyterians are becoming Catholics is because the Presbyterians have abandoned beauty in their worship service. The Catholics, while perpetuating the abomination of the Mass (and thus re-sacrificing Christ in contradiction to Hebrews), have a stunning worship service. It is lovely. And we human beings are made to respond to beauty like that. When it's missing, we think something's wrong, and rightly so.

R. C. Sproul once said that the medievalists claimed beauty consisted of three things: form, harmony, and complexity. I think most people could agree on the first two, but that third one throws a lot of people for a loop. I've posted before on why I think complexity is necessary for true beauty.

I think that, with God's grace, we Reformed folk need to recover beauty in our worship. But it goes beyond that, even. We need to have much more beauty all around us. We should decorate our homes beautifully, we should listen to beautiful music, and read beautiful books.

Why don't people do that? Probably one reason, as Susan pointed out to me, is that people might have a pessimistic view of eschatology, or end times. If the world is getting worse, why bother to fiddle while Rome burns? I have one answer to that: God's sovereignty. He holds you in the palm of His hand; nothing but good (that is, things that will drive you closer to God) will ever happen to you in this life. So you can relax. It will all work out in the end, trust God for that. And if you trust God for that, you can spend time obeying Paul in Philippians 4:8. Evidently, God commands us to seek out beauty and enjoy it for His sake. Don't forget, in so doing, though, that all beauty must reflect the beauty of holiness. There is no other kind now.

As Douglases Wilson and Jones wrote in their fantastic book Angels in the Architecture, Jesus Christ has thrown down the older pagan beauty of the Greeks. The modern pagan world cannot even come close to it. If you will have any beauty at all, you must borrow it from Christ. Anything else is ugly.

Beauty is important because God is beautiful, the Ultimate Embodiment of Beauty. God wants us to experience that beauty. God lures, rather than coerces, us to Himself. He shows us the incomparable riches of Christ, and desires that we should desire those riches. As Lewis wrote in The Weight of Glory, "It would seem that God finds our desires not too strong, but too weak... We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

You can pursue beauty with near abandon, and if you continually couple it with truth and goodness, I do not think you will often stray.

Another interesting comment Susan made, that I would appreciate your input on, is the following idea: beauty is a logical consequence of truth and goodness.

So what about worship? What about CCM? It lacks complexity, and so is not as beautiful as much of the older music. There is newer music being written, to be sure, that is wonderfully beautiful. Morten Lauridsen and Arvo Part are two living composers writing stupendous works. Age does not inherently have anything to do with beauty. Older works have this advantage: since only the good stuff survives the test of time, older works tend to be better on that basis. But we can equal Bach, I claim. We have to get back to his level first.

One common mis-assumption these days is that young people want CCM. That is not quite true. We're seeing many young people more interested in the traditional hymns, because the words tend to be deeper. The people most interested in CCM are the baby boomers, because they think that's the "in" thing. I think CCM will pass away soon enough, like many fads.

In Christ.

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At 11/16/2006 02:55:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post. I agree that reformed worship need not lack beauty. We are sensate beings, our worship needs to appeal to our senses as well as our intellect. Young people are merely looking for a wholelistic worship experience. I believe, done properly, that it can be found in reformed worship.

At 11/16/2006 05:27:00 PM , Blogger zan said...

That is funny that you mentioned Scott Hahn. I am in the middle of one of his books about the Mass. I have probably mentioned that my parents are in the process of converting to Roman Catholism from being Reformed Presbyterians. Scott Hahn has been a big influence in their studies as have the church father's writings. I have listened to Hahn's testimony of why he converted.

I think you have brought up a pretty good argument, here. Reformed churches lack beauty. It is almost like they are afraid of it. A Lutheran minister came into our plain OPC church and was astonished how plain it was. I think with the dull surroundings in which we worship and the music that is sung either accapello or off key increases the deadness in the Reformed churches I have been in. I have heard some reformed Christians say that they don't want to make idols. Well, didn't the Temple have statues? The ark was made of gold and had angels on it.

I just never felt like I was worshiping in a lot of the Reformed Churches I attended. I was more bored more than anything. Ofcourse church isn't for entertainment and I have a big problem with that.

I attend a Baptist church now that has introduced choruses. They are so lame. I want to leave the sanctuary when they start to sing them. They are nice (if you are sitting around a camp fire with a guitar), but not in church with an organ and piano.

At 11/16/2006 09:38:00 PM , Blogger Susan said...

I thought of another reason that beauty is ignored in the modern protestant church. Besides a presiding pessimistic eschatology, there is also a notion in much of the modern church that the primary call of God's people is to evangelism. We are called to evangelism, yes, but our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. When we see our chief end in that light, then beauty is seen as a vehicle by which we can do that.

We are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God. And why? To declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light.

Very excellent post, of course :). It gives me hope when someone thinks CCM may die a natural death. Camp fire singing. That's a good analogy, Zan.

At 11/18/2006 11:37:00 AM , Blogger Ben Garrison said...

What about CCM? It lacks complexity

Not true! For example:

"I'll do my best to point you in the right direction
But don't look at me
No, no, no
Don't look at me
Oh, dont look at me
I'll only let you down
I'll do my best to point you in the right direction
no no no no no oh oh look at Him
yeah, yeah" ~ Don't look at me

This song shows a very complex misunderstanding of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. And you'll notice the complex transition between "no no no", "oh oh" and "yeah yeah".


I do understand your point that sometimes Christians tend to shy too much away from artistic and aesthetic beauty as if it were a bad thing...but I do kind of wonder how much of an important thing it is from God's perspective that we try to incorporate that into worship, or pursue it whilst rome is burning. I'm not sure the word in Phil. 4:8 means "beauty" so much as "pertaining to love". Of course, I don't know greek, so I wouldn't know why the NIV translators translated it to 'beauty', so maybe they had a very good reason. :-)

However, looking through the Bible at the good things that are called beautiful...none of them really have to do with "form, harmony, and complexity" as it relates to outward things like art, but they have more to do with character and eternal quality. ("The feet of those who bring good news", "The wife who submits", "The Branch of the Lord", "The bride of Christ", or the woman annointing Jesus with purfume) I think inasmuch as the Bible does command us to think on beautiful things, these are the type of beautiful things that it's talking about. I think the closest thing I can think of to "beauty in worship" is the ornate intricacies of the temple - but of course, when the disciples were talking about how beautiful the temple was, Jesus pointed out that not one stone would be left on the other. "My beauty will supercede". And yet he was not beautiful to look at.

In worship, I think the beauty isn't found in the complexity of old hymns, or the fadishness of new songs, but in the heart of the one who is singing it - which can be just as beautiful with an old hymn as with a shallow melody, and can also be just as dark. I would submit that the reason that people who are really seeking God leave any church is that they do not see the true beauty of worship in it. And I think in many ways, that is lacking from most churches today moreso than artistic beauty. And the people who are not seeking God who leave...well, it's because they're seeking other things.

Just my two cents. :-) Sorry for such a long comment! I was going to comment on my sister's blog, but I thought that would make less sense. :-)

At 11/18/2006 04:33:00 PM , Anonymous Lane Keister said...

Very funny, Ben. It reminds me of Dr. Gaffin, a very serious professor of systematic theology at Westminster East, at a talent show. He exegeted a Beatles Song. It was the funniest thing I ever saw at the seminary. "'Hurt,' from the middle English 'hurten,'" "not just love, but the "yeah, yeah, yeah, kind of love." It was hilarious.

At 11/20/2006 10:06:00 AM , Blogger Ashley said...

You've forgotten to mention the very in-depth and thought-provoking CCM song of all!

And we say yes Lord yes Lord yes yes Lord
Yes Lord yes Lord yes yes Lord
Yes Lord yes Lord yes yes Lord Amen

Sorry, I couldn't help but mention that song. :-)

At 11/20/2006 09:32:00 PM , Blogger Susan said...

*groan* I twitch at the sound of that song, Ashley! That was one of the VBS songs this summer :-P. I now know annoying hand motions to accompany the trite words. *groan*

That was incredibly amusing, Boy :). I think the Bible speaks of both types of beauty, actually. The most important is inner beauty. Period. But outer beauty is also valued highly in the Bible. As for whether God wants us to incorporate it into worship, I'd say the temple (and the *incredible* detail and beauty involved) would indicate yes. It's not an either/or; it can be a both/and. Absolutely the heart is the most important.

At 11/23/2006 01:10:00 PM , Blogger Adrian C. Keister said...

I like Susan's reply to Ben's comment. I don't see any either/or. Moreover, I'm not even sure that inner beauty is more important that outward. When it comes to obedience, for example, I think the Bible makes them equally important. Jesus says that the Pharisees are neglecting the weightier matters of the law, which in Jesus' list includes mainly more inner things. They should be tithing dill and mint and cumin, which are more outward things, while also doing the others. When God created the heavens and the earth, it was all very good. The Bible speaks of a bride's ornaments as a given, which would be rather silly if such a thing were wrong or bad. I guess what I'm saying is that there is always a connection between inner and outer beauty, to the point that in some contexts we should not attempt to separate them. In worship, for example, in the OT in Leviticus, there are extremely detailed instructions on making the tabernacle, with many of the articles being constructed for beauty.

In Reformed churches, I do see significant inner beauty. There is truth and goodness in Reformed churches, at least the ones I have been privileged to attend, and also inner beauty. However, very few churches I have attended have beautiful worship services (outward beauty).

Ben's comment that the Bible does not speak of "form, harmony, and complexity" is, of course, not any sort of conclusive argument against the idea. Otherwise, by that reasoning, the doctrine of the Trinity would be in trouble. Theologians have invented lots of terms that are not in the Bible in order to make distinctions, a very important occupation.

I would argue that if you do look at the tabernacle furnishings, as an example, you will see form (the various tent hangings and furniture definitely has a specific form), harmony (the items work together to make a whole), and definitely complexity (that's rather obvious). The same could be said of the Psalms, particularly Psalm 119. So these concepts are there, though the Bible does not speak of them directly or explicitly.

In Christ.

At 11/24/2006 09:57:00 PM , Anonymous Fr. Bill said...

Hello, Adrian,

I wandered over from your brother's blog. Worship is what led me to and keeps me in the Anglican fold. I think if the English Reformation were institutionally viable, it would have attracted and held a good many of those who swam the Tiber or the Bosporus, and are continuing to do so. But, realistically, a viable Anglican parish is difficult to find these days in most parts of the country. If the Lord is gracious to this variety of the faith, that might change in a couple of generations.

Meanwhile, I would warn you -- and here the warning is offered with genuine concern and with all the seriousness of a heart attack -- that you tend carefully to the conversions of people like Hahn and those similar to him. I haven't followed him closely, though I did read his testimony in several places. One thing from his testimony (mimicked in some friends' trek) is this: for most of their staunchly Protestant (and, by that, I include the notion of fierce anti-Catholicism) backgrounds, they harbored some very erroneous notions of Catholicism. This, as it turns out, worked a sort of spiritual jujitsu move on them when those erroneous notions were exploded.

Otherwise, I find younger people (the 20-somethings) looking at Catholicism and Orthodoxy with great favor, not because they are careful students of history and theology and have judged these communions desirable, but because they see Western Protestantism today to be just so much aping the world, or mindless and irrational reaction to ... well, the very things in Catholicism and Orthodoxy which they find appealing.

And those things are:

1. Worship, as you and others have noted here.
2. Beauty, again noted above.
3. A credible claim to historical continuity to All the Church, All the Way Back to the Beginning.

Protestantism has usually gloried not only in its anti-Catholicism, but in its anti-catholic (note the small "c") preferences. A church today that reminds people of the world will have less and less appeal to those who long for the communion of the saints, whose house doesn't look like this world at all.

Fr. Bill

At 11/24/2006 10:38:00 PM , Blogger Susan said...

Absolutely there is a connection between inner and outer beauty. I quite agree, Adrian. That, I think, is where my notion that beauty is a consequence of goodness and truth would come in nicely :). And if you are placing "good works" under outward beauty, than all the more so. I think outer beauty indeed is the manifestation of inner beauty. How that inner beauty is manifested outwardly, though, will vary per circumstances (culture, economics, etc), and that is what I mean by inner beauty being more important. In like manner, good works are the outward manifestation of a saving faith, and certainly the faith is the "most important," though we cannot have one without the other. And just as outward beauty manifests itself in different ways, so do good works.

Oh, and for strict OT/NT divisors (i.e., brothers and sisters of a dispensationalist persuasion), I realized that Revelation also has many beautiful word pictures of the New Jerusalem, etc. that emphasize beauty in worship.

At 11/28/2006 09:28:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does beauty equal extravagance?
Does beauty have to be expensive?
The images that come to mind of Roman Catholic churches (your example of beauty in worship) all have lots of gold and costly adornments, lots of images and "stuff." Are these necessary to true worship? What else could have been done with that money? What is true beauty in worship? Is it in appearance or substance? Yes it can be both, but you will see that I think the RC churches have only appearance.
Roman Catholics deny the finished work of Christ on the cross (that's why they keep Him there on the crucifix) and they crucify Him afresh each day they perform mass. They are not worshiping God in spirit and in truth, so are their services really beautiful to God? Should they be good examples for us?
I understand what you mean about modern churches generally lacking the elegance and sobriety that should be in the presence of our King, but I am challenging the idea that the Catholics have it all right.
It is quite beautiful to behold a group of poverty-stricken Liberian believers worshiping and praising the Lord with joy on their hearts, even though they are assembled in only a small un-air conditioned room on a crowded, dusty street.
I respect your opinion and am not trying to start an argument; just after reading your post and some of the comments, I have a different thoughts than you. Friendly challenges are welcome!

At 11/29/2006 10:13:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jessie, for saying some of what I was thinking! I've been in some fancy churches and it didn't do anything for me. It made me sad. They're 'beautiful', but not really beautiful the way I see them.

At 11/29/2006 10:32:00 AM , Blogger Adrian C. Keister said...

Reply to Jessie and Hannah.

My post is pretty much about external beauty. I don't think the RC position is nearly as biblical as the Reformed view. So that's why, for example, I wrote, "Why do they abandon so much truth?" I think we'd be in agreement there. It's rather the gold ring in a pig's snout to have the external beauty without the internal to go along with it. My post is much more about having internal beauty without the external, which is really sad. The Bible is very holistic, especially in the OT. There is no dichotomy between these two beauties in the Bible. Abigail, for example, was very beautiful on the inside and the outside. Feminine beauty is mentioned often enough in the Bible to take it as a given. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all married beautiful women. You get my point.

As to whether beauty has to be expensive: that's an interesting and very practical question. Leave it to a woman to ask such a question! ;-)] Ja, we men tend to have our head in the clouds. I claim true outward beauty must have form, harmony, and real complexity (though not necessarily outward, easily seen complexity). If it has real complexity, it's entirely possible that most of the time you're going to have to pay for that complexity. There may be counter-examples, so I don't think a blanket statement is in order, but you're probably going to have to pay for beauty most of the time, in one way or another. Money isn't the only way to pay for it. Example: teaching yourself to sew in order to make beautiful clothes. You might be able to do that at a comparitively low cost. Susan could provide more input on this than me. Here's another example: I've had many years of expensive piano lessons. That expense would still pale in comparison to engaging Van Cliburn to play for church. On the other hand, now that the lessons are paid for, I can spend two hours and get a decent program together for church. In other words, I'm saying you can spend time instead of money. Or take someone who arranges flowers: they can invest their time, instead of going to a professional. Same with photography.

In the end, I think you're going to have to pay for beauty one way or another. You'll have to spend resources: time, money, etc., to get beauty.

In Christ.

At 11/29/2006 03:21:00 PM , Anonymous Chris Hutchinson said...

The pears were beautiful, but it was not pears that my empty soul desired.
~ Augustine ~

Obscurely, Chris

At 11/29/2006 08:39:00 PM , Blogger Susan said...

I favor quality obtained by thrifty methods :-D. Jessie is at least as knowledgeable in matters of sewing as I am, actually, right, Jessie? :) I'm a penny-pincher, but I also like quality. I think these two things don't have to be mutually exclusive, though. One can find quality items at thrift stores (new clothes with the tags, for example) or at thrift stores. I do not consider Wal-Mart to encompass both quality and thrift ;-). Though I do admit to buying fabric there on occasion :).

And as for sewing being cheaper, yes and no. Patterns cost an arm and a leg not on sale (especially good ones, which are hard to come by), and fabric is pricey as well. The key is to buy things on sale ($1/pattern sales!) or find new items at garage sales. I found 17 yards of a nice drapery fabric one time for about $15(!). Or remaking old items is a great way to get quality at a low price. I took an old queen-size quilt that was stained, for example, took the useable parts, and made a set of wall-hangings and pillows. And I've used an old skirt to make culottes. And a nightgown to make a petticoat. And a rather unflattering jumper into a nice skirt. Et cetera. All of these projects cost little or no money with donated or cheaply purchased old items (friends, garage sales), but the result was nice :). But, yes, time was required, though not always a great deal.

At 1/24/2007 10:34:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

did you ever think that maybe Scott Hahn was attracted to the beauty of Truth?


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