Tag Archive for beauty

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.

Chestless Churches

What would ‘Churches Without Chests” look like? To use a strictly Lewisian definition, it would be groups of professing believers without ‘the spirited element’. In plain language, that would be believers who have profoundly under-developed parts of their souls.

Chestless churches would be:

Churches Without Beauty. The music, the poetry, the rhetoric in the sermons, the architecture of the meeting places, the prose of such Christians could be laid side-by-side with Bach, Herbert, Spurgeon, Wren, and Austen and it would be obvious that a profound uglification had taken place. In place of the sublime would be the glossy, in place of the profound would be the emotive, in place of the sober would be the maudlin, in place of the simple would be the trivial, in place of the magnificent would be the flamboyant. In fact, these churches would not stop to consider if their worship was beautiful. They would ask only if it was doctrinally correct, and broadly similar to other churches within their tribe.

Churches Without Judgement. The bigger problem would be that such churches would be largely unable to tell the difference between the beautiful and the banal, indeed, they would be unlikely to even think in those categories. An atrophication of moral judgement would have created Christians agnostic on the question of beauty, shrunken in their capacities to feel and express admiration, and largely addicted to the cheap thrills of popular art.

This profound lack of judgement would show up in other ways, too. Churches with nothing to mediate between their rationalistic (head) knowledge of propositional truth, and their appetites (the belly), would be at the mercy of their appetites. In a contest between what they’d know about lust, and their appetite for porn, the appetite would win. In a contest between what they’d know about covetousness and their appetite for consumption, the appetite would win. In a contest between what they’d know about reverence, and their appetite for amusement, the appetite would win. The result would be ‘trousered apes and urban blockheads’ in the pulpit and pew.

Churches Without Imagination. The judgement would be missing because the deepest part of these Christians would be malformed – their image of ultimate reality. Having been shaped by churches without chests, these Christians would have a hodgepodge of competing ideas, unproven assumptions, and fairly secular ideas about reality. They would be the oddest hybrid of all – evangelical modernists. As such, they’d have little time for the symbolic, for ceremony, for art, for this would just be getting in the way of ‘the facts’. They’d imagine that they have unmediated access to reality, and tear aside any symbol, ceremony, ritual, custom, or art form that didn’t give them the effect of immediacy.

Churches Without Culture. The imagination would be secular because the churches would be without Christian culture. That is, their churches would be adrift in the sea of mass culture, picking and choosing bits and pieces from the anti-culture of secularism. There’d be no sense of the Christian vision of reality and its consequent judgements. Each church would be an exercise in eclecticism, home-spinning its judgements, with little idea of what Christians had made, thought, said, and decided before that moment. The worship would be secularised, the wandering star of relevance would provide navigation, and inane statements about contextualisation would prove that they had long ago been set adrift from Christian culture. Propositions from Scripture would be the supposed norming norm, but continued fragmentation in the church would prove that such propositions were little more than disembodied ideas without form, once Christian culture had been abandoned.

Churches Without Tradition. The churches would be without Christian culture because they had been seduced by modernity, and were now obsessed with contemporaneity, in love with the new, mesmerised by the latest, and slaves to the relevant. They would have little love for the Christian past, and so be strangers to their own culture. They would not measure their own judgements, ideas, affections, or works by the standard of the church triumphant. They would use the authority of Scripture as an excuse to dishonour their parents in the faith – to ignore Christian tradition altogether, or to pay it the occasional, patronising compliment. In the name of evangelism, they would ignore the collective judgements of 2000 years of church history, and use those of 21st century pagan marketers, media professionals, and celebrities.

No beauty because of a lack of judgement. No judgement because of a lack of imagination. No imagination because of a lack of culture. No culture because of a lack of tradition. These would be churches without chests.

Know any?

Without Chests?

“Men Without Chests” is the curious title of a chapter in Lewis’ book The Abolition of Man, and it’s from that chapter title that this blog takes its name. (You can read the chapter here). What does this odd title mean? Is this some odd anatomical reference? Is it an obscure metaphor referring to cowardice?

Lewis guides us by taking us back in time. He takes us back to the ancient Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans, who thought of education very differently. Training a young child was not a matter of filling his head with information which could later be cashed in in the form of a well-paying job. Rather, both pagans in the classical era and believers in the pre-modern era believed a child needed to be trained in an area completely neglected by modern secularists: feeling correctly. The child needed to be taught to judge all things for their value, and develop healthy admiration for what was true, good, and beautiful, and develop healthy distaste for what was false, evil, and ugly. This was not simply the training of the reason, but the training of the heart, not simply the accumulation of knowledge, but the development of desires. Education, for pre-moderns, was not the path to a career, it was the shaping of a human to be just, noble, honourable, and responsible.

They saw that the parts of the man that mediated between reason (the head) and appetite (the belly or loins) were the affections or desires (the chest). When the ‘chest’, or the noble affections were trained, the human had a seat in the soul to protect it from giving in to sheer visceral appetites and passions.

By contrast, modern education pretends to eschew all judgements (except for non-judgementalism), embrace all truths (except exclusive truth), and see all things ‘beautiful in their own way’ (except those who claim that beauty is an objective reality – they find those people ugly). Twelve years of this produces what Lewis calls “Men Without Chests”. That part of the human which loves, admires and praises, or disdains, hates, and refuses is sorely underdeveloped, or even missing.

When it is missing, what results is a human with nothing between himself and his appetites.  The man without developed affections pendulums between brutality (loving too harshly or not loving enough) and sentimentality (loving too sweetly or loving too much). Brutality and sentimentality are equal and opposite errors, and they are both forms of idolatry.

Now picture entire churches, entire segments of professing Christianity, lacking this judgement, this sense of beauty or ugliness. Picture churches whose worship is either brutal or sentimental. Picture Christians incapable of admiring God for His beauty, unable to spot cheap substitutes for true worship, lacking all ability to distinguish between worship and entertainment. Those would be Churches Without Chests.

And now consider whether such a phenomenon requires your imagination, or merely your powers of basic observation.

The Green Book

Poor Alex and Martin. Misters King and Ketley had no idea that their forgettable English textbook would unleash one of the twentieth century’s most eloquent and destructive critiques of modernism, with the two of them in the marksman’s crosshairs.

The Control of Language: A Critical Approach to Reading and Writing, was published in 1939 as a textbook for upperform students in British schools. Little did Alex King and Martin Ketley know that their work would catch the ire of Oxford don and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis. But ignite his ire it did, and the result was one of Lewis’ most important books, The Abolition of Man.

In his first chapter, “Men Without Chests”, Lewis graciously gave King and Ketley the pseudonyms Gaius and Titius, and to The Control of Language he gave the title The Green Book. But beyond his civility towards their persons, Lewis gave no quarter when it came to his criticism of their book. For within the book, Lewis found an error that was pernicious and destructive, and one with the power to subvert young minds.

Their error has now become a commonplace in our day. They comment on Coleridge’s experience of hearing two tourists see a waterfall, one describing it as “sublime”, the other calling it “pretty”. Coleridge endorsed the former and was disgusted at the latter. King and Ketley wanted their readers to see this through modernist eyes, however. They wrote: “When the man said This is sublime, he appeared to be making a remark about the waterfall… Actually … he was not making a remark about the waterfall, but a remark about his own feelings. What he was saying was really I have feelings associated in my mind with the word “Sublime”, or shortly, I have sublime feelings.’” 

And here Lewis released his truth bloodhounds. For contained in that statement is the germ of modernism, naturalism, and even atheism. Beauty, or sublimity (a form of beauty), according to King and Ketley, is not a real attribute of persons, places, things or ideas in the universe. Beauty is not something that can be predicated of another with any coherent meaning. Instead, beauty simply refers to pleasure in the subject. Beauty is the happy approval of observers.

From there, a logical connection is quietly made in the young person’s mind: we are not to make judgements of value about the world, calling things true, good or beautiful. Instead, we are simply to say, “Such and such is beautiful to me” or “I feel pleasurably attracted towards such-and-such”. All we are allowed to do (by the rules of modernism) is make statements about our thoughts and feelings. To make value judgements about the world would be to assume a meaningful universe that can be judged for meaning – including its beauty.

Lewis knew that this view was an Enlightenment revision, and an anti-Christian one. He wrote, “Until quite modern times all teachers and even all men believed the universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could be either congruous or incongruous to it—believed, in fact, that objects did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval or disapproval, our reverence or our contempt.”

One wonders how many pulpits are occupied by men like Gaius and Titius.

“When you say that certain music is beautiful, what you of course mean is that it is beautiful to you, and that you know according to Romans 14 that it may not be beautiful to another Christian.”

“To say that Isaac Watts wrote beautiful poetry is true. But is it not true that a child’s prayer is just as beautiful, in its own way?”

“What style of music we like is simply a preference. That we all defer to one another’s preferences is what really pleases God. God has no musical preference.”

Whether or not they realise it, men who say these kinds of things, and the churches that approvingly nod, are heirs of King and Ketley. Finding the path that Lewis reminds us of may be a difficult task, but it is the original path of Christianity, and the one we must follow.