Monthly Archives: June 2020

10. Beauty and Motivation

As surprising as it might sound, beauty lies at the heart of motive. Why we do what we do is a question of desire, and desire is rooted in what we think is good and beautiful.

Jonathan Edwards tackled the questions of motive, desire, and freedom in his work The Freedom of the Will. There Edwards argued that the strongest inclination is the choice one makes, and that choice is the same as the will. There is no neutral “deciding faculty” within us, independent of beauty. Whatever the mind perceives as the greatest apparent good, the heart chooses.

In Edwards’ view, the human will is not the faculty that decides, it is the decision itself. The mind knows the objects of desire, and the heart chooses, or loves what it desires as the greatest good. The greatest motive always prevails as the thing chosen. In other words, what the will chooses is precisely what it loves. This is why it is not strictly correct to speak of “choosing to love”, for one is really thereby saying “choosing to choose” or “loving so as to love”.

The will does not choose to love; the will chooses what it loves. Your chosen desires reflect what you think it best to choose. Loves can be formed and shaped, but they cannot simply be willed into being.  You always love what you think is most beautiful; or to put it differently, best.

Lying at the heart of human action is then a picture of beauty: what the good life is, what is most pleasurable valuable, reliable. Every one of us is inclined towards a vision of something we believe is good. J. K. A. Smith writes, “Our ultimate love is oriented by and to a picture of what we think it looks like for us to live well, and that picture then governs, shapes, and motivates our decisions and actions.” This picture is not a set of abstract ideas, as much as it is an aesthetic idea, an affective, sensible picture of what reality is really like or should be like. This is the telos to which the human heart is inclined; it is its treasure, to which you will always find the heart inclined (Matt. 6:21).

Here is another reason why beauty and morality are intertwined. Those who are hardened sinners do not only do what is evil, they “also approve of those who practice them.” (Rom. 1:32) That is, they delight in sin. They “love darkness, because their deeds are evil” (John 3:19), and they “take pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thes 2:12). For them, their sin is beautiful. Evil is aesthetically pleasing to them. Wickedness is something to be gazed at, admired, courted, pursued, coveted, memorialised, shared, and celebrated. When you love or desire what God hates, then what is ugly to God has become beautiful to you, and what is beautiful to God has become ugly to you. You have inverted good and evil, beauty and ugliness (Is. 5:20).

If what motivates you is something God condemns, you are doubly condemned: you commit acts of evil, and you do so because you treasure what God abhors. On the other hand, if your heart finds joy and delight in holiness, you will pursue those things, and find joy in them. A background vision of God’s holiness, harmony and happiness will explain what a holy man pursues and why.

9. Beauty, Ethics and Worship

Sometimes throwaway lines leave a deep impression. One of those were words written on a blog I avidly followed about fifteen years ago. The writer said, “A good man does not love ugly things”. Words like that enabled me to see a profound link and overlap between what is true, good, and beautiful.

Real beauty nourishes Christian ethics. One of the effects of true beauty is to deeply humanise our souls. In fact, the kind of judgement we use to evaluate the beauty of art or a face or a scene in nature is the same kind of judgement we use to evaluate moral matters. Such judgement employs more than one kind of evaluation; it employs comparison and contrast; it uses memory and tradition; it attempts to relate parts to the whole or individual actions to the greater good. The pursuit of real beauty teaches people the difference between selfish consumption and pursuing the pleasure of beauty for its own sake. That, in turn, helps people identify idolatries and self-love in contrast to generous, noble love.

Some churches are concerned only with truth. Without goodness and beauty, they struggle to attract and convince people who are not usually drawn to sheer dogmatism. On the other hand,  a concern for goodness without truth or beauty becomes nothing more than dead moralism. Both truth and goodness, lacking beauty, do not have the power to convince and save.

Beauty and Worship

Beyond metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, beauty is integral to Christian worship. The neglect of beauty within Christian liturgy and practice in the last century have had visible effects on Christian worship. The last one hundred years or so have been a less fruitful era for Christian expression in terms of music, poetry, literature, architecture, and the plastic arts. This lopsided emphasis on propositional truth may have contributed to a century that has seen little in music to rival Bach or Mendelssohn, little in poetry to rival George Herbert, Isaac Watts or even Christina Rossetti, little in literature to rival Daniel Defoe, Jane Austen, little in painting to rival Rembrandt.

Even the seeker-friendly church-growth movement is now reconsidering its adaptation to contemporary culture in its worship, finding that its younger target-market now misses the mysterious, the ancient, and the beautiful. The significant exodus from Protestant Evangelicalism to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy in the last few decades is at least partly due to aesthetics: the perceived barrenness of beauty in the average Evangelical or low-church.

If beauty exists, and if the human being is made in God’s image, a dearth of beauty must produce both a thirst and an eventual demand.

It is important to add that the perceptive powers needed to recognise beauty are needed in worship. The arts are fundamental to both private and public worship, and without the ability to perceive the beautiful in art, there will be little sensed beauty in worship. To put it another way, lacking the ability to see beauty in general may hamper the Christian’s ability to encounter and experience God.

 

Black Voice-Matter

If you believe that black lives matter, and if you believe that non-blacks must listen to what blacks have to say about race and equality to properly understand the black experience, then you can do no better than listen to the following black voices on race, equality and economics. You should listen, even if what they say does not sound like the mainstream media.

Thomas Sowell

The Economics and Politics of Race.
Pink and Brown People
Black Rednecks and White Liberals
Compassion Versus Guilt
Ethnic America: A History

 

 

 

 

 

Walter Williams

Race & Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?

 

 

 

 

 

Shelby Steele

The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race In America

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bob Woodson

Lessons From the Least of These: The Woodson Principles

On the Road to Economic Freedom: An Agenda for Black Progress

 

 

 

 

 

 

Allen West

We Can Overcome: An American Black Conservative Manifesto

 

 

 

 

 

 

Herman Cain

This Is Herman Cain!: My Journey to the White House

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clarence Thomas.

Punishment and Personhood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doctrinal Triage for Worship

Many years ago, Al Mohler published a widely-read article on doctrinal triage, a method for evaluating the seriousness of doctrines. Kevin Bauder then pointed out that this approach was something that mainstream fundamentalists had espoused for many years, with possibly more sophistication.

I’ve thought for a while that we need something like that for the question of worship. Too often, we hear blanket statements such as “We shouldn’t divide over worship” or “worship is not something to separate over”. But this sounds rather unwarranted and simplistic, given how important worship is.  After all, we wouldn’t say those things when it comes to polity. In fact, our differing ecclesiologies are sources of truncated fellowship. I can fellowship with an evangelical Presbyterian on several levels, but we cannot fellowship in the act of planting or leading a church together. We simply lack fellowship on several questions of church order. If this is the case with orthodoxy and orthopraxy, surely it is the case with orthopathy, too.

No doubt, judging this matter is difficult, for questions of worship combine doctrinal truth, ecclesiastical practice, and questions of wisdom and the affections. But it would be worthwhile for those who already practise something of a triage doctrinally and practically to do so with worship, too. What follows is a suggested approach, using triage for questions of worship.

First-order questions of worship would be those that affect the gospel itself. A practice that denies one of the five solas, or undermines an essential of the faith is a catastrophic error, a heresy of the first order. Teaching that baptism and the Lord’s Supper bring about regeneration and atonement is an example of this. Introducing a priesthood that usurps the uniqueness of Christ’s High Priestly work, or introducing living or dead mediators that compromise His unique status as sole mediator between God and man are explicit or implicit denials of the gospel. Sacerdotalism is worship heresy.

Secondary but important doctrines of worship would be those that affect the whole approach to worship. Whether worship is regulated by Scripture or not is vital to its shape and order. Whether we can do only what God commanded, or whether we may do what He has not forbidden is a very significant question that shapes what elements of worship we will include. The understanding of how the Holy Spirit works in corporate worship affects the whole system of faith and practice in corporate worship: questions of spontaneous revelation, supernatural gifts, involuntary revival, the use of the altar call, and the understanding of how music is to be used in worship. How men and women lead or act in corporate worship is another important doctrine affecting the entire shape of corporate worship: views on male headship and female submission come to the fore in corporate worship. Understanding baptism and the Lord’s Supper as gracious sacraments or as memorial and testimonial ordinances is an important secondary doctrine, expressing our understanding of who is a disciple and member and what is occurring during those events. Our understanding of God’s sovereignty and human freedom will also shape worship significantly: concepts of what means God will use (and how effectual they are), how urgent or patient we should be in each corporate worship service, the meaning of revival and of progressive sanctification are important doctrines. They will influence our view on what the “high point” of worship is, how the music functions, what the result of preaching should be, and even whether corporate worship is primarily evangelism or discipleship. Finally, there is the important but difficult question of what the attributes of God deserve: what kind of reverence, what kind of joy, what kind of contrition correspond to the God we believe is revealed in Scripture and what forms and circumstances best communicate that. Errors in any or all of these secondary matters will not be heresies proper, but heterodox worship practices.

Tertiary worship questions will include many of the circumstances of the elements of worship that we include. These are judged by wisdom, knowledge of meaning and ordinate affection. They both flow down from our overall understanding of worship expressed in the second-order doctrines, and also flow back up to express and shape that understanding through their practical embodiment of worship practice. The particular selection of hymns and songs, the use of calendrical liturgies or free forms, the number, form, and length of the prayers and Scripture readings, the kind of preaching and type of sermon, the shape of the service, dress of the worshippers, the architecture of the building, the use of technology, the use of one cup or one loaf in the Lord’s Supper, the form of the music used, are all examples of these third-order matters. Errors, missteps or unwise choices in tertiary worship doctrines are neither heresies not heterodoxies, but possible heteropathies: examples of inordinate affection.

A few comments about this taxonomy and its application.

First, in a “worship triage”, tertiary questions are not on the same order of importance as tertiary doctrines in a doctrinal triage. That is, questions of who were the sons of God in Genesis 6 are almost diversionary in nature. Questions of what music to use and what hymns to select are not diversionary, but quite formative. Placing them in the third category does not make them unimportant, but it differentiates them from heresy and heterodoxy. Heteropathy is serious, but more difficult to judge, with more flexibility to accommodate shifting cultural meanings. Especially in the long run, heteropathy tends to eventually undermine the second-order doctrines of worship. These, in turn, can eventually even affect the gospel as embodied in ordinate worship.  As Charles Hodge put it, “Whenever a change occurs in the religious opinions of a community, it is always preceded by a change in their religious feelings. The natural expression of the feelings of true piety is the doctrines of the Bible. As long as these feelings are retained, these doctrines will be retained; but should they be lost, the doctrines are either held for form sake or rejected, according to circumstance; and if the feelings again be called into life, the doctrines return as a matter of course.” (This is another question altogether, but there can be instances of heteropathy that actually represent not just heterodoxy on what God deserves, but even heresy as to who God is.)

Second, fellowship and separation over worship affects us most often on the local church level, since that is the occasion for corporate worship. How another church worships is not usually a matter for separation, since we do not have to collaborate in order to worship in our individual churches. Fellowship on matters of worship is mostly a question for agreeing to covenant together as members of the same church, and particularly for leaders within the same church.

However, there are areas of targeted collaboration where differences of worship come to the fore. One is missions and church-planting. Those we send as our own representatives to plant churches that we believe are biblical should have fellowship with us on the second-order matters of worship. Agreement on the tertiary level is ideal, but not always likely.
Another is education. If we agree to collaborate to educate leaders for ministry, agreement on first and second order matters is vital. If possible, a seminary that finds much agreement among its faculty on tertiary questions will be great, since much of the application of worship is fleshed out at this level. Again, it might be ideal, but it is not likely.
A third would be conferences, when representatives of different churches congregate for mutual edification. Even though such a conference is not the gathered assembly, it will likely practise some singing, prayer, and Scripture reading and teaching. Here, the wisest approach is deference to as many consciences as possible, employing not what has the widest appeal but what will cause the least offence and encourage the most voluntary participation.

We need not separate over every differing application of worship. But neither should we imagine that worship itself is a tertiary matter. Instead, we should use the same triage we use in doctrinal matters to understand how to weigh up questions of worship and their application to fellowship and collaboration.