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Argument from Beauty: Evangelical Christians have Neglected a Favorable Catalyst for the Gospel

It seems to me that some Evangelical Christians have taken a certain biblical passage in the wrong direction. Perhaps I, considering myself to be an Evangelical Christian, am guilty of such as well.

Romans 12:1-2 says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” 

Verse 2 is where we get the phrase, be in the world, but don’t be of the world. What this means is that we should know our place. Our place is in heaven. The Bible says that we are citizens of heaven, and that we should think and act as if we are. Philippians 3:20-21 says, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” We should think and act as if we are citizens of heaven. We find in Colossians 3:1-2, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”

So, we should think and act as if our citizenship is in heaven because that is the ultimate reality. We should be not conformed to this world because our citizenship is in heaven. We should be in the world, but not be of the world, because our citizenship is in heaven. But the problem is, I think many of us have taken this in the wrong direction. 

Christians in medieval times believed that everything beautiful pointed to God, and believed everything was sacred. Anyone who visits the Vatican and its Museums can see the truth of this. This is why there are so many things from medieval times that point to such beauty. Think about all the statues created and all the beautiful paintings painted in the name of Christianity. I would bet that the reason you likely have not heard of many of them is because art is unfortunately not what Christian’s value today. This is such a rare thing today because through history, we have begun to view the world as boring and ordinary. It seems to me that this perhaps has its origins in the protestant distancing from Catholicism, which if this is true, then it boils down to the genetic fallacy. What I mean by that is that when the 95 theses were nailed to the door, it seems that some protestants when they stepped away from Catholicism thought that the art and architecture of the cathedrals were either worldly on some level, or even worse, that it was idolatrous. I would argue that if this is the case, it is wrong. It would be committing the genetic fallacy because not everything that Catholics say and do is wrong. I think that in considering 1 Timothy 3:15, that the church is the “pillar and foundation of the truth,” that we should be on the forefront for art. If there are things that are objectively beautiful, then this objective beauty points to God. If a human being is capable of producing art that is objectively beautiful, then this person’s art points to God. 


From the Top of the Copula at the Vatican Facing East.

Art is a way for us to point to the beauty of God to those who view the world in a similar fashion. I think that when we are in the world but not of the world, this discussion is not part of that, even though we have often made it such. Objective beauty is “out of this world” so to speak, and so as Christians, we should be involved with it. In other words, we are not supposed to dismiss the beautiful things that we find in the world, but we are instead to embrace them for God’s honor and glory. Look at what the Lord says to Moses in Exodus 31:2-5, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft.” 


The School of Athens by Raphael.

I find it interesting that both the Temple of God and the Tabernacle of God in the Old Testament were to be so profoundly beautiful and exact. Not only does this show us that God expects the body of Christ to strive for excellence, but I would also argue that it is totally appropriate for our buildings to be beautiful. Not only does this set apart a building from the rest of the community, but when a person finds themselves in it, the beauty therein can be comforting, peaceful, and awe-inspiring itself. Isn’t this what we want for our people? Some may argue that we should instead be concerned with helping the poor and doing other things (which we should), but isn’t this good as well? In a dark and dreary world, we can recognize the beauty that God inserted into His creation, and let everyone be a part of it by highlighting objective beauty in our churches. I think as Christians, we should be the leaders, the authority, and the pillars of all things art. Yet, we have in a large way, neglected such a favorable catalyst for the gospel. 

God gave some people the ability to create beautiful works of art, just like He did with music: 


 

Vatican Museum Hallway

Praise the Lord!

Praise God in his sanctuary;

    praise him in his mighty heavens!

Praise him for his mighty deeds;

    praise him according to his excellent greatness!

Praise him with trumpet sound;

    praise him with lute and harp!

Praise him with tambourine and dance;

    praise him with strings and pipe!

Praise him with sounding cymbals;

    praise him with loud clashing cymbals!

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord![1]

 

All of the musical instruments mentioned require skill. When a person is learning to play the guitar for instance, the songs are small and easy: “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” “Whole Wide World” (Wreckless Eric), blues riffs, etc. But, when a person continues to play, the skill escalates to playing songs that sound like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Led Zeppelin, not only impressing the artist himself, but also giving others enjoyment by listening to him.            

Paul Gould writes in his book, Cultural Apologetics, “The ideas and beliefs that fill our hearts with wonder are largely the same things that fill the nonbeliever’s heart with wonder: romantic comedies, political scandals, dystopian thrillers, sports, visits to the mall, a day at the amusement park, a trip to the beach.”[2]


This is what "the pillar and foundation of the truth" has lowered itself to.[3] We need to get back to
valuing art above all others as Christians. We need to be on the forefront of praising, handling, promoting, admiring, and creating beauty. Beauty transcends all people because true beauty is objective. 

If even one thing is objectively beautiful, then God exists. If this one thing transcends all people by its beauty, then it is because its beauty is found in the object, not the subject.

 

1. If objective beauty exists, then God exists.

2. Objective beauty exists.

3. Therefore God exists. 

 

Augustine asks regarding things of beauty, “My first question will be whether these things are beautiful because they delight, or delight because they are beautiful. Here he will undoubtedly answer that they delight because they are beautiful.”[4] This is an interesting thing to ponder. He is asking if the thing is beautiful because it is objectively beautiful itself, or if the thing is beautiful because some subject thinks that the thing is beautiful. There is an infinite difference. This is why it is important that the church today, including evangelicals, should be on the front lines for art. As Paul Gould argues in his book mentioned above, this is one way we can bring people out of the mundane, boring world, into a belief in things that transcend us. Art can spark curiosity, it can revive imagination, and it can point to God. As Christians, we should not distance ourselves from such, but we should not only embrace it, but we should be the leaders of it. 



Written by Nace Howell through the grace of our Lord Jesus


 © Nace Howell, 2023 



[1] ESV, Psalm 150.

[2] Paul Gould, Cultural Apologetics: Renewing the Christian Voice, Conscience, and Imagination in a Disenchanted World(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019), 177.

[3] See 1 Timothy 3:15.

[4] Augustine, De Veritate Religione (translated by Edmund Hill New City Press: Hyde Park, NY, 2005) 69.

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