Monthly Archives: March 2021

34. Conclusion: Beauty as Love

In this series, we have considered the meaning of beauty, objections to beauty, and how beauty is to be sought. We’ve answered the objections that beauty is “subjective”, or that it is nothing more than personal preference.

We have also found that parallels exist between finding beauty in general revelation, and finding it in special revelation. Christian spirituality can learn from some of the postures and techniques used by those seeking beauty in art.

Our survey of ideas regarding beauty decided that Jonathan Edwards, channeling Augustine, has the most comprehensive view of beauty. God’s beauty is God’s perfect desire for Himself. The spiritual beauty of Christians is their answering desire for God. God’s love is His beauty, and love for God is the experience and apprehension of this beauty.

This love is developed in four ways: through the implantation of a new nature, the cultivation of a profoundly Christian imagination, the regular practice of direct and indirect communion with God, and the repetitive use of spiritual disciplines that shape and develop the Christian’s sense and experience of the other three.

Perhaps these findings are surprising. Perhaps we were expecting that beauty should be defined as some combination of harmony or clarity or luminance. But in the end, beauty is so much more than visually pleasurable sights or pleasing music. Beauty existed when there was no world, and no humans with five senses to perceive it. Beauty is ultimately personal: the very person of God delighting in Himself. The effulgence of this beauty may lie at the heart of why God created: as gift to Himself.

Believers may sometimes scorn New Age talk of “being in harmony with the universe”. But a grain of truth lies within that deception. Believers are meant to be in harmony with deepest reality, which turns out to be loving God with God’s love. This is subjective and objective beauty in one, and man’s deepest purpose.

33. The Practices of Correspondent Love

The practices, or disciplines of the Christian life function to nurture correspondent love. The disciplines are not themselves the sum and substance of communion with God. Instead, they are the gymnasium, or rather the exercises, that develop and strengthen ordinate love for all of life. The process of experiential communion with God extends to family life, vocation, avocation, recreation, evangelism, and discipleship. It is not merely an exercise in one’s private devotions or in corporate worship. One can love God correspondently in all of life. Nevertheless, the disciplines are concentrated, repetitive forms and practices that nurture that love. The disciplines provide the greenhouse in which desire for God thrives. How so?

First, these disciplines provide the opportunity for communion with God to occur. The spiritual disciplines, rightly used, are the moments when one can give clearest attention to the process of communing with God, confessing sins, and conforming one’s life to Christ. It is no wonder that some have mistaken these means as ends, for they provide some of the most concentrated experiences of communion with God.

Second, the spiritual disciplines form and shape the Christian imagination, filling the mind with analogies and metaphors by which to understand invisible and ultimate realities. The spiritual disciplines are not simply conveyors of information. They shape the imagination on a non-cognitive level through their form. The pattern of correspondent life is imprinted on the mind. They also create a rhythm of life that shapes the imagination (Deut. 6:6–9).

Third, the spiritual disciplines unite the pattern, position, and process of the Christian life in one act. They shape and strengthen the other three pillars of correspondent love. Like those tasks in life that require one to combine and co-ordinate several actions at once, practice is necessary. Practical disciplines give the soul practice at combining these.

Many spiritual disciplines have been suggested. We suggest three major categories of practices: the prescriptive practices of corporate worship, the derivative practices of private worship, and the formative practices of developmental worship. Why these three? The first two were considered the “means of grace” by the first Puritan generation. The third is derived primarily through the Lutheran and Moravian traditions.

1. The Prescriptive Practices of Corporate Worship

The Regulative Principle of Worship states that only what the Word positively prescribes to be used in corporate worship should be included. The prescribed elements of corporate worship are then concluded to be the public reading of Scripture, the preaching of Scripture, public prayer, song, the collection, and the ordinances. This holds for corporate worship, since that is where the consciences of God’s people are bound to the shared practice. Corporate worship stands at the head of all practices, because of its powerful shaping influence.

Although the elements of corporate worship have been prescribed, the circumstances have not. The circumstances refer to the form each of these will take: the kind of music, the type of prayers, the length and presentation of the elements, the shape of the liturgy, the architecture of the meeting place, and so on.

2. The Derivative Practices of Private Worship

Private worship refers to acts of communion performed alone or (where available) in solitude. The prescriptions for corporate worship do not necessarily apply when it comes to private worship, but the practices of private worship are assumed by example (Dan. 6:10; Ps. 1:2; 5:3; Matt. 6:6; Mark 1:35; Eph. 1:16) and commanded in the form of principles (Col. 4:2; 1 Thes. 5:17). Private worship derives its practices from corporate worship: some form of reading Scripture, meditating on Scripture, praying, or singing (which is a form of prayer). Added disciplines such as memorisation of Scripture or journaling are really additional ways of meditating on Scripture. Missing from private worship are those elements that cannot function in solitude: the Lord’s Supper, baptism, and the collection.

3. The Supportive Practices of Developmental Worship

The supportive practices are those practices that aid in developing the skills, judgement, discernment, and aesthetic literacy that support corporate and private worship.

Christians have not only taught the people they evangelised to read (so as to read and comprehend the Word), they have taught them to sing and make poems (“psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”) and tell their stories. Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19 imply that Christians are to make music and poems.

The arts are not mere embellishments for cognitive and didactic truth; they are formative and substantive. They are a transmission of emotional knowledge. One cannot worship without art, and one cannot then worship intelligently unless some aesthetic literacy is present. Public and private worship are hamstrung without aesthetic literacy. The advent of audio and visual recording, and storage and playback technologies have increasingly turned much of the modern population into art consumers, rather than producers.

What aspects of beauty or art should Christians produce? At least two are suggested by Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16: music and poetry. A third can be implied by the dominance of narrative in Scripture: Christian stories and histories. Christians should be hearing, learning, and making music, poetry, and stories that reflect the Christian imagination.

These practices are supportive in the sense that they support and shape the prescriptive and descriptive disciplines. They are not themselves prescriptive: it would be tenuous to say that Scripture commands all Christians to cultural production in the same way that corporate worship is commanded. J. K. A. Smith asserts that “[M]usic and singing whilst not of the esse (i.e., essence or being) of the church are vital for the beneesse (i.e., the health or well-being) of the church”.

Some presence of these practices is, however, assumed by Scripture as normative. Christian history has similar examples of this artistic production. The Lutheran tradition is one. Luther made sure musical training was present in all three divisions of Lutheran schooling.
Similar to the Lutheran tradition, American Moravians wove musical literacy into the education of their young. At all four levels of instruction, nurseries, primary schools, academies or seminaries and the ‘choir’ houses of Single Brethren and Sisters, music was integral

Where and when these supportive practices have waned, corporate and private worship have suffered. Lacking these practices on a widespread scale, Christians are cut off from a living tradition, and default to the aesthetic production of their surrounding popular culture. Without these supportive practices, Christians lose aesthetic judgement, and must borrow the judgements of their leaders, who themselves may be aesthetic illiterates.

As artistic production ceases, the choices for circumstances of worship are cast upon an evil choice: to seek to repristinate fossilised ancient practices, or to attempt to “Christianise” artistic forms foreign to historic Christianity and lacking in reverence.

Christians steeped in these supportive practices develop aesthetic judgement, gaining the skill not only to worship more meaningfully, but better to judge the circumstances of corporate and private worship. When a large groundswell of Christians standing on the shoulders of their tradition are making music and poetry, emerging from the mass will be a few works of high excellence, that enter into the worship of the church universal.

The prescribed practices of corporate worship, the derived practices of private worship, and the supportive practices of developmental worship find their support in Scripture and Christian history. These will greatly nurture correspondent love for God, through which we know and love God’s beauty.

32. The Process of Correspondent Love

Love for God’s beauty is known not only by imagination and through changed nature, but also by exposure. The writer of Theologia Germanica wrote, “And he who would know before he believeth, cometh never to true knowledge…We speak of a certain Truth which it is possible to know by experience, but which ye must believe in, before that ye know it by experience, else ye will never come to know it truly” (Theologia Germanica, XLVIII).

Though the believer is in ontological union with Christ, loving God’s beauty is a matter of experientially seeking that union, of consenting or desiring to live in experiential union with God. This experiential union with God requires the ontological union, but ontological union with Christ does not automatically lead to experiential union. Instead, believers are commanded to live in God’s presence, as seen in Christ’s command to “abide” (John 15:1–7).

What does this experiential union look like? A wise option is to investigate the “shape” of corporate worship, since corporate worship is the most distilled and unified form of worship.
The common pattern of the order of worship in the historical church actually reflects the progress of the gospel in the heart. First, the worshipper recognises who God is in adoration. Once that is realised, it leads to an understanding of self, and therefore to confession. The gospel then assures of pardon, so that the worshipper is led to thanksgiving, petition and more devotion. God provides his Word in response to the desire for aid, and the worshipper heeds the instruction, leaving with the charge to do so and the promise of God’s blessing.

This gospel-shaped process can be adapted for the experience of loving God’s beauty in all of life. This process necessarily includes public and private worship, but it also includes family life, service, discipleship of other believers, evangelism, one’s vocation, education, avocation, recreation, and entertainment. All of life is to be lived in a love for God (1 Cor. 16:14, 10:31).

This state of communion is often experienced as the Spirit of God does his work of illumination. Illumination is the Holy Spirit’s work of communicating spiritual realities to a Christian’s spiritual eyes by opening the eyes of a believer’s affections (Eph. 1:18) to recognise and experience the reality and beauty of truth about God.

When illuminated, a believer sees spiritual reality, which is to say that the believer sees what ought to be loved, and to what degree. This is the state of being the apostle Paul calls being “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18) or being “filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19). The Spirit is himself the communion between Father and Son, and he is the means of experienced union with Christ for regenerate human beings (John 15:26). In the place of illumination, a believer is loving God ultimately, loving what God loves, and loving in expansive joy.

Experiential communion is life lived coram Deo, in God’s presence or before God’s face. Christian mystical writers have spoken of the ideal of unbroken communion with God or practising his presence at every waking moment. Some of these writers have set up an unattainable goal, asserting that such unbroken communion should always be direct; that is, a Christian’s conscious communion with God should never cease, even when going about work, solving pressing problems, or communing with other human beings. Very few people, however, have the ability to have their inward focus on more than one thing at a time. As Michael Polanyi noted in his epistemology, physical eyes are able to see many things in one’s peripheral vision and in the background, but they focus on one object at a time. Communion with God may be a focal awareness or a subsidiary awareness. Communion with God does not require that the Christian always be praying, meditating on the Word, or otherwise adoring God directly. Indirect communion with God will include loving what God has made by admiring God’s handiwork. Indirect communion includes serving God by focussing on the task at hand, or by focusing on the person one is serving for God’s sake. In these circumstances, Christians are actually turning their gaze from direct communion with God to something or someone else, while retaining God in their subsidiary vision. They do their work well, or consider carefully creation, or love another person, while keeping God as the ultimate, though presently indirect, end of all their actions. Richard Baxter said, “The intending of God’s glory or our spiritual good, cannot be distinctly and sensibly re-acted in every particular pleasure we take, or bit we eat, or thing we use: but a sincere Habitual Intention well laid at first in the Heart, will serve to the right use of many particular Means” (Works, Vol.1, 266). This means that the process of ordinate love comprehends all of life.

Correspondent love is cultivated through actual experience. The experience of communing with God, when illuminated by the Spirit, is that experience. Therein, the believer loves God ultimately, loves what God loves, consecrating all things to God. When he or she falls, there exists the option of confession, cleansing, followed by a deeper conformity to Christ.

How is this process to be deepened, and its posture strengthened? The fourth aspect of cultivating correspondent love supplies much of the answer.