David

Equality and Necessary Hierarchy

The current proponents of social justice have little idea of what they may be creating in pursuit of their goal. Their goal is a just society, but the pursuit of radical egalitarianism won’t provide them with that.

Richard Weaver, writing in 1948, describes how radical egalitarianism provides nothing that traditional societies already produced, and may actually be producing a cancerous envy that will destroy society from within. It promises a fiction, and the frustration from pursuing a non-existent and impossible order creates growing angst and unhappiness.

“Equality is a disorganizing concept in so far as human relationships mean order. It is order without a design; it attempts a meaningless and profitless regimentation of what has been ordered from time immemorial by the scheme of things. No society can rightly offer less than equality before the law; but there can be no equality of condition between youth and age or between the sexes; there cannot be equality even between friends. The rule is that each shall act where he is strong; the assignment of identical roles produces first confusion and then alienation, as we have increasing opportunity to observe. Not only is this disorganizing heresy busily confounding the most natural social groupings, it is also creating a reservoir of poisonous envy. How much of the frustration of the modern world proceeds from starting with the assumption that all are equal, finding that this cannot be so, and then having to realize that one can no longer fall back on the bond of fraternity!

However paradoxical it may seem, fraternity has existed in the most hierarchical organizations; it exists, as we have just noted, in that archetype of hierarchy, the family. The essence of co-operation is congeniality, the feeling of having been “born together.” Fraternity directs attention to others, equality to self; and the passion for equality is simultaneous with the growth of egotism. The frame of duty which fraternity erects is itself the source of ideal conduct. Where men feel that society means station, the highest and the lowest see their endeavors contributing to a common end, and they are in harmony rather than in competition. It will be found as a general rule that those parts of the world which have talked least of equality have in the solid fact of their social life exhibited the greatest fraternity. Such was true of feudal Europe before people succumbed to various forms of the proposal that every man should be king. Nothing is more manifest than that as this social distance has diminished and all groups have moved nearer equality, suspicion and hostility have increased. In the present world there is little of trust and less of loyalty. People do not know what to expect of one another. Leaders will not lead, and servants will not serve.

It is a matter of common observation, too, that people meet most easily when they know their position. If their work and authority are defined, they can proceed on fixed assumptions and conduct themselves without embarassment toward inferior and superior. When the rule of equality obtains, however, no one knows where he belongs. Because he has been assured that he is “just as good as anybody else,” he is likely to suspect that he is getting less than his deserts, Shakespeare concluded his wonderful discourse on degree with reference to “an envious fever.” And when Mark Twain, in the role of Connecticut Yankee, undertook to destroy the hierarchy of Camelot, he was furious to find that serfs and others of the lower order were not resentful of their condition. He adopted then the typical Jacobin procedure of instilling hatred of all superiority. Resentment, as Richard Hertz has made plain, may well prove the dynamite which will finally wreck Western society…

It is generally assumed that the erasing of all distinctions will usher in the reign of pure democracy. But the inability of pure democracy to stand for something intelligible leaves it merely a verbal deception. If it promises equality before the law, it does no more than empires and monarchies have done and cannot use this as a ground to assert superiority. If it promises equality of condition, it promises injustice, because one law for the ox and the lion is tyranny.”

(Ideas Have Consequences, pp 42-44)

7. Beauty and Reality

Beauty has made a comeback. After years of being relegated by intellectual elites to the junkyard of old and outdated concepts, it is now popping up everywhere. The terminology of beauty is, strangely enough, now heard often in scientific and mathematical discourse, speaking of the beauty of mathematical models or theorems, the elegance of “nature’s ways”, or the beauty of the cosmos and its laws.

Without explicitly conceding the Christian argument, the world’s very use of this kind of language shows that an indispensable idea has pushed its way back into popular consciousness. Indeed, post-modern culture is a very aesthetic culture. Images are coming to again dominate mass media. Popular music and its fantasy-videos are the daily worship of millions of teenagers. The idolisation of the body and of youth is our world’s near full-time pursuit. Addiction to online media is growing and ever immersive experiences of entertainment are prized. Pornography is more than a contagion spreading beyond men hidden behind screens, but a cultural tsunami that is pornographying fashion, dress, and relationships in general. The longing for religious or quasi-religious experiences in organised or informal religion has never been higher. Sports and thrill-seeking have become quasi-faiths. These are all forms of sensuous experience and phenomena, which is to say, they are aesthetic experiences and aesthetic phenomena. Beauty or its pursuit is everywhere: even when the object of the pursuit is ugly indeed.

All of this is ultimately a pursuit of meaning, of purpose in existence, of pleasure in life. People desire the experience of beauty, though they fumble in the dark for what it truly is.

Beauty is more than an adjective to describe objects. It deals with the very fabric of reality, the very meaning of existence. The glory and beauty of God is a first principle, an ultimate reality. An encounter with true created beauty is an encounter with some revelation of the divine.

Many former secular unbelievers have come to consider the existence of God or the claims of Christ because of an encounter with beauty, particularly in art. Where reason could not persuade, beauty spoke profoundly and immediately of the true nature of being. In Japan alone, thousands of people have been drawn to Christianity through hearing and playing the works of J.S Bach.

What Rudolf Otto called “the numinous” is the experience of beauty that pushes its observers beyond sheer materialism or naturalism, and towards supernaturalism, transcendentalism, even Christian forms of Platonism. C.S. Lewis’s oft-quoted words on desire sum up the metaphysic that beauty suggests: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world”.

Of course, we must chasten our expectation of how convincingly beauty can persuade one of Heaven, eternity, and God. God’s existence cannot be proved through beauty. Indeed, no one should try to prove what is an axiom of knowledge (Prov 1:10, Ps 53:1), and a matter of innate human intuition (Rom 1:19).  But once it is admitted that beauty exists, the burden of proof shifts to the materialist to explain beauty’s existence without God.

Put simply, beauty witnesses to the supernaturalism and transcendentalism that Christianity’s worldview depends upon. Beauty identifies spiritual ideas such as unity and harmony in the created order. In short, beauty points to existence and reality beyond physical materialism.

A Parable About Pop Music in Church

Christian 1: So I hear you have a problem with lollipops?

Christian 2: Lollipops? No, I think they’re just fine.

Christian 1: But you apparently won’t eat them for family meals.

Christian 2: That’s true. I prefer my family eats some kind of meat, vegetables or healthier food for their meals.

Christian 1: So you prefer the “high” food. That’s okay, as long as you can respect other people’s food preferences.

Christian 2: Preferences? Look, I’m not sure we’re talking about the same thing here. I’m talking about feeding my family. Lollipops are tasty, and fun, but they are not food. They’re amusement for your tastebuds. I enjoy them as much as the next guy, but they’re not real nutrition. It’s really not about high food versus low food, as much as it is about actual food versus dietary entertainment.

Christian 1: So you have a problem with people having lollipops for dinner.

Christian 2: Well, I’m not responsible for other people’s families. I certainly have a problem with doing so for my own family. And I pity and worry about those families that do so, especially if they eat almost nothing else.

Christian 1: You know, I think you really need to spend some time in Romans 14. See, you are what the Bible calls “the weaker brother”. You need extreme convictions to feel “safe” in your conscience. I don’t want to rock your world, but I just want you to consider that there are some very godly and mature believers who have lollipops for dinner.

Christian 2: I’m well aware of that. Do you know why they do so?

Christian 1: Because they have come to see that food is neutral, and that any kind can glorify God. Those believers have a preference for sweet things, just as you have a preference for salty things.

Christian 2: Uh, no. I don’t have a preference for salty things. Given a choice of tastes of what I find more immediately tasty, easier to recognise and more powerfully evocative, I’d take sugary drinks and eats every time. But there is a reason sweets and lollipops are the food at children’s birthday parties, and there is a reason why armies feed their soldiers protein.

Christian 1: I think it’s elitist and snobbish to call lollipops childish just because you don’t like them. It’s spiritual pride to insist that your food preference must be practised by others.

Christian 2: I don’t think you’re listening. I actually do like lollipops, in their place. But I know what they are there for. They are a simple pleasure, a distraction for your tongue. But to turn a distraction into sustenance and nutrition for your family is not about culinary preferences. It’s a serious error in judgement: a complete misunderstanding of what food is, what nutrition is, and what the human body needs to be healthy.

Christian 1: If it is such an error, why are so many families doing it?

Christian 2: I don’t know. Possibly parents are becoming more permissive and child-centred, not wanting to displease their children, and giving them what they want to keep them happy. Perhaps parents have been cut off from a living tradition of good meals and are now turning to whatever they see advertised. Maybe those parents who try to give good meals are overwhelmed by the sweets-envy their children have of other families, and they capitulate to keep the peace. Perhaps parents are becoming more ignorant about the nutritional value of food, and more obsessed with being popular parents.

Christian 1: Well, I just don’t think this is something worth dividing over.

Christian 2: Maybe. But when your children get sick, they play with my children. My children can’t give your children their health. But your sick children can give my children their sickness. What you call a preference affects others.

Christian 1: So maybe your family should just keep to yourselves, and keep away from our ‘sickening influence’.

Christian 2: No, that wouldn’t be loving. When you and your family land up in hospital, someone needs to visit you, care for you, and teach you the importance of good meals when you come out. Someone needs to conserve health, because a lot of sickness is coming.

Christian 1: Well, we’re doing just fine right now. I think your whole “food-conservatism” thing is a bit quirky, and probably quite limiting for you.

Christian 2: I hope you are blessed with good health. God’s laws of sowing and reaping mean that bad choices add up to a bad harvest, so if I am correct about the dangers of lollipops-as-meals, I don’t think the result of your choices will be a good one. If that day comes, I have some great recipe books I’d love to share with you.

Christian 1: Recipe books! Ha! I haven’t seen one of those for years! But that’s a nice thought.

Christian 2: I hope that’s all it turns out to be.

Fifteen

Fifteen

Fifteen years can seem too short
To find a love hard-won and fought,
To know the ease of silent thought
And rest in love that can’t be bought.

Fifteen years can seem too long
To finally have a love so strong
That weathers pain and suffering
And still retains a joy that’s young.

Fifteen years can seem so swift
To know her as God’s gracious gift.
While seasons come and manners shift
And still her name my spirits lift.

Fifteen years can seem so slow
To patiently the other know.
While shallow roots flowers quickly show
The deepest things do slowly grow.

Fifteen years can seem so quick
To build a life one brick on brick.
Not till the candle’s burnt its wick
Does love’s cement begin to stick.

Shlomo in his song of songs
Spoke of that lily in thorns among.
For such a wife it would be wrong
To love her short and not love her long.

So I thank God for time so long,
And I thank God for years still young.
For her I thank God when I pray
That’s made fifteen seem like yesterday.

6. The Value of Beauty

What possible value can the study of beauty deliver? Isn’t this fiddling while Rome burns, counting daffodil petals while barbarians lay siege to the city? In times of apostasy, false teaching, deception and darkness, shouldn’t aesthetics go to the bottom of the priority-pile?

When caricatured as effete aestheticism, then yes, beauty will seem to be of little value. But when understood as a deep property of being, something like God’s glory, beauty has nearly unsurpassed value as a study. We can easily suggest four questions that beauty answers.

First, beauty deals directly with the nature of reality. Is the universe essentially material, an impersonal collection of atoms that accidentally produced minds, or is the universe essentially personal: a meaningful and therefore beautiful communication from the eternal Mind to ours? Beauty cannot be consistently upheld in an atheistic worldview. Atheists may agree that beauty exists, as they might agree that goodness exists. But they have no real basis in reality for such things: a sterile universe doesn’t have rules, and a dead cosmos doesn’t try to please and delight. Beauty, if it exists, is essentially supernatural: a pattern of pleasure and harmony from Designer to His creation, where both the message and the ability to read it are placed there by the Creator.

Second, and consequent upon the first point, beauty deals with morality, ethics, and evil. Beauty and morality are not separate domains, but deeply intertwined. Good souls love beautiful things; depraved ones love what is despicable. Think of the horror of people loving torture, rape or child pornography. Yet people do: they even film it, laugh at it and share it. Such people are finding pleasure in what is wicked and ugly. Sin’s deforming power leads souls to love what is ugly, and to even despise what is beautiful. For them, ugly has become beautiful, beautiful has become ugly: they love darkness, for their deeds are evil (Jo. 3:19).

True beauty humanises the soul, and to the degree that one is growing in Christlikeness is the degree to which he loves the beautiful (Phil. 1:9-11). The kind of judgement one uses for ethical judgements is very similar to the kind used for aesthetic judgements. Indeed, the problem of evil (where evil came from, why it exists, why God allows it) is best explained in light of beauty: the most beautiful angel (Ezek 28:12) seeking glory that belongs to the Beautiful God. The creature with greatest original beauty becomes the most deformed one of all, his love becoming more and more corrupt and corrupting. His temptation and deception of the race made in God’s beautiful image is his way of turning an effigy of God into an ugly parody of God’s beauty.

Third, beauty explains the problem of knowing. For the last 500 years, the West has struggled with how subjects can know objects outside of themselves. How do we know what we know, and how can we verify anything we know? Should we use reason, experience, tradition, faith, imagination or authority to know certainties? Can we know anything objectively, or is all knowledge purely subjective? Beauty actually provides a compelling answer. On the one hand, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. On the other, that can be the fault of the beholder: beauty exists and some fail to perceive it. This shows that reality is both independent of observers and yet rightly or wrongly perceived by those observers. When the heart possesses the fear of the Lord, it is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom. Beautiful souls will perceive the beauty that is there.

Finally, beauty appears to be at the heart of motive. Human action has beauty at its core: people are moved and inclined towards what they think is beautiful. That is not to say that all agree on what beauty is. Indeed, this comes back to ethics: bad people are motivated by evil things (Ro. 1:32). However, if beauty is that which provides most pleasure, that which best harmonises and unites sense experience, and that which seems most real (true) and good (best), then one can easily see how beauty is at the heart of all action. People pursue what they think will bring them pleasure. People are moved by what they think is best. People are motivated by what they think is the most comprehensive explanation of reality. Once again, the nature of the heart will then determine what is pleasurable, real, good, and symmetrical. In other words, the love will correspond to the idea of beauty. However grotesque, however bizarre, however irrational, the behaviour of a human can be explained by some inner idea of something as beautiful.

Each of these four is worth considering in a little more detail. We’ll deal with these in turn.

5. Beauty and Christianity’s Primary Endeavours

Once we understand that beauty is close to glory in meaning, we will without any difficulty find beauty at the heart of many Christian endeavours. The most obvious is worship. Worship is the act of returning to God affections corresponding to His beauty. Psalm 29:1-2 captures this: “Give unto the LORD, O you mighty ones, Give unto the LORD glory and strength. Give unto the LORD the glory due to His name; Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.” Worship is then an act of rightly perceiving the revealed glory of God and rightly responding to that glory.

The gospel itself is a proclamation of God’s beauty to a sinful world. Paul calls it “the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4). The glorious God created men for His glory (Is 43:1), but all have sinned and fall short of that glory (Ro. 3:23). God will be glorified either through the destruction of His enemies or through His mercy on believers (2 Thes. 1:8-10). Justifying sinners without being unjust is the grand glory of the gospel message (Ro. 3:20-28). Salvation being by grace alone through faith alone gives no glory to man, and all the glory to God (Eph 2:8-9, 1 Cor 1:27-31). The grand purpose of saving men is not simply their justification or eternal life, but their obtaining of glory (2 Thes. 2:14; Ro. 5:1-2; 8:29-30; 1 Pe. 5:10).

Therefore, evangelism and missions is a proclamation of God’s beauty to the world: what is most valuable, how we have prized lesser beauties over God, how the most beautiful and ugliest acts met at the Cross. Through the beauty of grace through faith, we may come back to the beauty lost in the fall. First Peter 2:12 says that believers are to live before unbelievers in an honourable way, “that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good (kalos) works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. (1 Pet. 2:12). The word for good in 1 Peter 2:12 was Plato’s favourite word for the beautiful. It is by the beauty of our lives that we commend, or adorn the gospel (Tis 2:10). In fact, it is my contention that what persuades in apologetics is not the force of logic, or the appeal to facts, but the overall beauty of the combined harmony and elegance of the evidences, reasons and appeals to self-evident truth. The beauty of the comprehensive explanatory power of Christianity, and the beauty of changed lives, changed cultures and changed art is what persuades the heart. And as Pascal said, the heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.

Once in the faith, sanctification and discipleship is a process of being conformed to the beautiful image of Christ, from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor 3:18). Paul describes Christ’s work of sanctification as essentially a process of beautification. Christ beautifies His Bride, so as to present her to Himself in perfect beauty (Eph. 5:25-27). Discipleship is a process of being renewed according to the beautiful image of Christ (Col 3:10). Paul stated it was his desire to present every person perfect in Christ (Col 2:28). One of the clearest marks of this maturity is the ability to distinguish between what is beautiful and ugly, good and evil, true and false (Heb. 5:14), being able to approve the things that are excellent (Phil 1:10).

The church is the primary means by which God’s beauty will be seen by both the world (Eph 3:21) and by angels (Eph 3:10). All ministry which edifies the saints and grows them into the image of Christ is part of this beautification (Eph. 4:11-16).

One’s vocation can be traced back to Genesis 1:28, when God blessed Adam and Eve and encouraged them to “be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it”. Man’s calling was to spread the glory of God over the earth, as the waters cover the sea. Through reproduction, mankind would be numerous enough to shape, tame and transform all of creation. God remedied the formlessness that existed on day one by beautifying the creation for a further six days. Man was essentially given a similar sub-creative task: to transform the wildness of the world outside the Garden. In essence, the Garden was meant to expand to encompass the world with its beauty. Although fallen, man’s vocations are still meant to do this: to bring God’s order, beauty and goodness to the world. That’s why all that we do can be done in Christ’s name (Col 3:17) or heartily as to the Lord (Col 3:23). Whatever we do is to be done for the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31).

In light of this, a Christian understanding of leisure is also grounded in beauty.  Recreation is truly re-creation. We do those acts of restoration, of creativity, that bring beauty into the world, or at the very least, do not defile us or bring more disorder or ugliness.

All of life can be an act of contemplating God’s glory, or consecrating acts for God’s glory. Either way, we unite with beauty in perception or action. For this reason, George Herbert called this attitude “The Elixir”, in the poem by that name. In Herbert’s time, the fascination with alchemy led some to believe that an elixir, or philosopher’s stone, was a substance that would turn base metals into gold. Herbert believed that either consecration or contemplation could turn all of life into the gold of God’s beauty.

Teach me, my God and King,
In all things Thee to see,
And what I do in anything
To do it as for Thee.

Not rudely, as a beast,
To run into an action;
But still to make Thee prepossest,
And give it his perfection.

A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heav’n espy.

All may of Thee partake:
Nothing can be so mean,
Which with his tincture—”for Thy sake”—
Will not grow bright and clean.

A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws,
Makes that and th’ action fine.

This is the famous stone
That turneth all to gold;
For that which God doth touch and own
Cannot for less be told.

4. Beauty as Scripture’s Theme

The idea of beauty is present in the first chapters of the Bible, as God creates and then makes the evaluative judgement that it was “good”. God was not judging the morality of the world, but praising the the beauty of creation. The Bible opens with God creating a cosmos which was aesthetically pleasing to himself, including man in his own image.

Almost immediately, God commits the stewardship of the world to his image-bearers, essentially charging them to bring more order and beauty to the world, and so glorify him (Gen. 1:28). The Creator charges man with sub-creation, bringing the same order and beauty to the world, that God brought out of the formless void of Genesis 1:2.

Man’s sin introduces ugliness. Man’s rebellion demonstrates that, left to itself, the race will not image forth the beauty of God. Genesis 1–11 shows a race descending into ugliness, although even in its fallen state, humankind still constructs things of beauty out of creation.

God selects Abraham to create a nation of kings and priests (Ex. 19:6), who will mediate God’s kingdom and beautiful glory on Earth. Israel’s history through the periods of the Patriarchs, the Exodus, the Conquest, the Judges, the United and Divided Monarchies, the Exile and the Post-Exile shows that Israel could not keep its covenant obligations. A new and better way was to come in Israel’s greatest son—the divine Messiah.

In Jesus Christ comes the glory of God made manifest (John 1:14–18; Heb. 1:3). He is not merely made in God’s image as man, but he is God’s image, being fully God. He calls men to repentance and belief in him, so that the image of God in them may be restored, beyond even the glory of the first unfallen Adam. His death and resurrection is then explained in the Epistles as the means to union with God, and entrance into the kingdom.

By union with Christ, a process of beautification has begun in the believer (2 Cor. 3:18), which will consummate at the end of all things. Christ is committed to beautifying his Bride, the Church (Eph. 5:25–27). The church is now an embassy of this glory, displaying the beauty of God to the world (1 Pet. 2:9), witnessing to God’s glory through the beauty of their good works (1 Pet. 2:12). As the church acts as ambassadors of the glorious God, and ministers of reconciliation, they spread the glory of God.

The book of Revelation predicts the final judgement that will bring the ugliness of evil, with its curse, to an end (Rev. 21:4), and bring in the perfection of a faultlessly beautiful New Heavens and New Earth, enjoyed by those who have been beautified by God’s grace.

What is this beauty that the Bible speaks of? We have yet to study a definition in detail, but it can be closely mapped to the idea of God’s glory. God’s glory carries the idea of the refulgence and expression of His being. God’s glory is His being in delighted self-expression and manifestation.

Theologians such as James Hamilton have argued persuasively that God’s glory is the central theme of Scripture. While covenant is an essential idea, while kingdom is certainly central, both covenant and kingdom are still means to the highest end: the display of God’s glory. Jonathan Edwards argued this in his “A Dissertation Concerning The End For Which God Created The World“, the title of which does not leave you in suspense as to the contents of the book. And Piper has similarly gathered samples of texts which demonstrates that God’s glory (or name, or praise, or own sake) is the central desire of God in Scripture.

Without any theological contortions, we can fairly easily relate the central themes and practices of the Christian life to the theme of God’s glory. We turn to this next.

3. Beauty in Scripture’s Words and Forms

C. S. Lewis once wrote that the modern dilemma is

either to taste and not to know or to know and not to taste—or, more strictly, to lack one kind of knowledge because we are in an experience or to lack another kind because we are outside it. As thinkers we are cut off from what we think about; as tasting, touching, willing, loving, hating, we do not clearly understand. The more lucidly we think, the more we are cut off: the more deeply we enter into reality, the less we can think.

This is part of the problem we have with beauty. When we are in the act of abstracting beauty into a definition and thinking about it, we are not experiencing it. When we are simply experiencing it, we are not analysing that experience for the sake of defining beauty. The one act excludes the other. This is a problem for those of us who have inherited the philosophy of the Western tradition. To think about beauty is to lose its experience, and to experience it is to cease thinking about it.

The Hebrew writers of the Old Testament display no consciousness of such a dilemma. They never seem to abstract the experience of beauty into a philosophical, speculative concept. Consequently, to attempt to find a philosophical definition of beauty in the Old Testament will likely be an elusive exercise. Instead, the Old Testament writers are pointing to a shared value, even an ultimate value, found in creation.

By the time of the writing of the New Testament, the Jewish authors of the New Testament have felt the influence of Greek speculative thinking, but still display continuity with their Old Testament counterparts in combining concept and experience. The New Testament has a similar array of words. At least nine Greek words occur over 300 times, which carry the ideas of appropriate, well-bred, handsome, fine appearance or beauty, beautiful, good, useful, free from defects, or fine, pleasing, agreeable, lovely, amiable, magnificent, sublime, majestic, adorn, decorate, brightness, splendour, radiance, glory, honour, and fame.

The Literary Form of Scripture

Scripture not only speaks of beauty, but displays it itself. Form cannot be separated from content, and the Scriptures that describes beauty also employs it. The Bible is given in aesthetic form. Biblical writers chose to use sophisticated literary forms: narrative, poetry, wisdom and other forms that display a high degree of craftsmanship.

Literary structures such as parallelism, chiasms,  and sophisticated narrative structure abound in Scripture. Robert Alter’s The Art of Biblical Poetry (1985) examines in detail the forms in which Hebrew parallelism take, the narrativity within biblical poetry, the structures of intensification, indeed, even the powerful use of irony, wit, and humour. These literary structures demonstrate implicitly the importance of beauty to the Hebrews. Arranging the actual form of the narrative, poems, prophecies, and wisdom literature into recognisable literary structures displays the writers’ desires to communicate not only accurately, but also beautifully.

Aesthetic literary structures are equally abundant in the New Testament. Chiasm is evident in Matthew, Mark, John, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, 2 Timothy, Philemon, Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation. The Gospels each display a sophisticated use of selected events, summaries, discourses, travel episodes, interludes, and speeches to paint a portrait with a particular emphasis. In summary, New Testament writers remain in harmony with their Old Testament counterparts, seeking to convey content in an aesthetically pleasing form.

But word studies and literary form studies by themselves are not persuasive that beauty is central to Scripture. One could easily dismiss these lists as showing nothing more than Scripture’s gesturing towards the quality of excellence, or its adoption of commonly used literary structures. What is needed is proof that the Bible actually presents beauty as a theme, and not merely as a subordinate theme, but as its primary theme. To that we now turn.

2. Beauty in the Hebrew Bible

Few Christians would say that beauty is unbiblical. After all, they vaguely remember references to “the beauty of holiness” or the desire “to behold the beauty of the LORD”. But many might think of beauty as extra-biblical: mostly an aesthetic and philosophical concept, more at home in art galleries and philosophy lecture-halls than in churches and seminaries. And as that ancient biblicist Tertullian put it, what hath Athens to do with Jerusalem?

This objection is the first of several stumblingblocks that modern Christians may have toward the concept of beauty. Are we forcing the square-peg of a Greek philosophical idea into the round hole of Scripture? Before I reveal all my cards on whether Plato and Paul could share a meal, I’d prefer to call for a cease-fire between biblicists and philosophers with a question for both: could there be a transcendental Reality that our English word beauty refers to, and which the Bible describes in several ways? In other words, could both Scripture and philosophy be pointing toward something transcendent that exists in God’s universe, even if the nomenclature differs between theologians and philosophers?

My answer is positive: the reality to which beauty refers is all over the Bible. Seeing it might require wiping some of the salt-spray of the Enlightenment from our hermeneutical lenses, but it is fairly plain to see, if you look.

Let us proceed inductively, working from the worm’s-eye view all the way up to the bird’s-eye view. We’ll begin with the vocabulary of Scripture that carries the ideas of beauty, proceed to the key verses about beauty, and ultimately scan the themes of Scripture that seem to support the idea of beauty that carry across the canon. We’ll also notice the actual form of Scripture: the beauty of its own literary structures.

Wait. Aren’t we begging the question with such an approach? Aren’t we assuming a certain definition of beauty to be proven, and then finding in the Bible what we were required to prove? Yes and no. It is nearly impossible to avoid some circularity when we try define transcendentals such as truth, goodness or beauty, because you keep needing the concept to validate if you’re finding the concept. But it is still possible to do an honest search, and find if the ideas broadly accepted as approximate to beauty  are found in Scripture. The vital thing is to keep allowing Scripture to hammer our idea into shape, and not try to tame Scripture with our philosophical whip.

Hebrew Words

A word-search on the English word beauty will not yield illuminating results, because the English equivalents of Hebrew words are variable, including such synonyms as glory, beauty, excellency, honour, loveliness, comeliness, pleasantness, and delightfulness. You could say that the Hebrews took the idea of beauty for granted, without seeing a need to define it abstractly or conceptually. Beauty is more of an adjective than a noun in Hebrew thought, more a descriptor than an idea considered in itself.

At least twelve Hebrew words carry the idea.

. In the Hebrew beauty-vocabulary, the ideas of splendour, majesty, honour, and glory mingle with the ideas of pleasure, desire, attractiveness and enjoyment. For the Hebrew mind, no division seemingly existed between what was lovely and loving it, between the desirable and its desire, between splendour and its admiration.

Hebrew writers are describing a phenomenon, not defining an idea. Obviously the phenomenon contains the idea: excellence or attractiveness, as well as pleasure and delight. At this stage of pre-speculative intellectual history, no separation existed between the experience and considering the experience in the abstract. The Hebrews knew both as a value and as an experience all that we now call beauty.

1. In Pursuit of a Doxology

In 1962, A. W. Tozer warned that the evangelical church was missing a jewel.

“Now, worship is the missing jewel in modern evangelicalism. We’re organized; we work; we have our agendas. We have almost everything, but there’s one thing that the churches, even the gospel churches, do not have: that is the ability to worship. We are not cultivating the art of worship. It’s the one shining gem that is lost to the modern church, and I believe that we ought to search for this until we find it.

“The purpose of God in sending His Son to die and rise and live and be at the right hand of God the Father was that He might restore to us the missing jewel, the jewel of worship; that we might come back and learn to do again that which we were created to do in the first place–worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, to spend our time in awesome wonder and adoration of God, feeling and expressing it, and letting it get into our labours and doing nothing except as an act of worship to Almighty God through His Son Jesus Christ.”

If worship was the missing jewel in 1962, we might say in our day that we have lost interest in jewellery altogether. We have not simply lost admiration for the beauty of holiness. We appear to have lost beauty itself.

I don’t mean we have lost prettiness. I don’t mean we have lost pleasure in what we find attractive. I don’t think we’ve lost the capacity to experience the transcendent. I mean Christians appear to have lost a firm grip on the Reality that the word beauty points to.

Some believe beauty is nothing more than another word for pleasure, a synonym for what a beholder finds personally pleasing. Some believe it is an abstract adjective, describing ornamental or decorative excellence. Whatever it is, most evangelicals don’t mind living with two out of Plato’s three: truth and goodness, but not beauty. Ask a Christian to define beauty, and his nonplussed expression will tell you all you need to know. This is an idea that has dropped out of regular Christian conversation for at least a generation.

Ironically, simultaneous to this loss is a revived interest in theology and the arts, an interest in “aesthetic theology”, and much talk of the postmodern return to beauty, imagination and tradition. Yet for all this, evangelical music, poetry, literature, film, architecture, remains prosaic, propaganda-like, and mostly imitations of popular culture. A lot of it is, in a word, ugly, or at the very least, boring.

We have invented substitutes for true beauty, but their flimsy and fabricated natures are plain to see. Bored and listless worshippers, the poor adhesive quality of modern Christian teaching to the lives of its followers, the implausibility of Christianity to the onlooking world, the absence of compelling Christian alternatives to secular beliefs and practices all speak of something essential to the Christian faith that is mostly absent. Evangelicalism is largely a secular religion clinging to a supernaturalistic creed. Beauty’s absence from worship, discipleship, preaching, apologetics, and vocation is apparent, and yet denied. Our insistence that no problem exists only compounds the problem.

Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say,`We see.’ Therefore your sin remains. (Jn. 9:41)

I’m convinced that beauty refers to the central reality of existence, and hence the central theme of Scripture. I believe it explains the central priority of the Christian life, and lies at the heart of the gospel, sanctification, worship, discipleship, evangelism, eschatology. I’m persuaded it lies at the heart of motive and incentive to act. I’m further convinced it answers questions of epistemology, being, ethics, and even the problem of evil.

Those are large claims, and one should always be wary of claims to have found the “one lens” through which to view everything. I am confident, however, that they can stand up to the scrutiny of Scripture and human reason shaped by Scripture.

In this series, I hope to make good on those claims. I’ll begin by trying to show beauty’s priority, from a biblical point of view. Second, I’ll pursue the question of beauty’s value, particularly from the point of view of philosophy. The third section will be dealing with beauty’s difficulty: the question of philosophical and biblical incompatibility, the notion of subjective and objective knowledge, the problem of equivocation of meaning, the difficulty of beauty’s misidentification, as well as the matter of taste and judgement. Fourth, I’ll turn practical: seeking a definition, a description, and then a method for pursuing God’s beauty in the special revelation of Scripture, and the general revelation of nature.

In short, I hope to present something of a doxology – a study or theology of God’s glory.