The Kuyperian Commentary

Politics, Economics, Culture, and Theology with a Biblical Viewpoint

Archive for the category “Aesthetics”

Baby Steps Toward the Masterpiece

by Marc Hays

Thanks to a blue-light special at the Kindle store, I recently acquired an e-copy of N. T. Wright’s Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. The first section addresses humanity’s struggle with justice, spirituality, relationship and beauty. His questions are honest and piercing.  His logic is so seamless, that I find it hard to decide on a pull quote without doing a great injustice to the surrounding material as well as the quote itself, but, having said all that, here’s a portion that is exceptionally tasty.  It is from chapter 4, For the Beauty of the Earth,

What we must notice at this stage is that both in the Old Testament and the New, the present suffering of the world–about which the biblical writers knew every bit as much as we do–never makes them falter in their claim that the created world really is the good creation of a good God. They live with the tension. And they don’t do it by imagining that the present created order is a shabby, second-rate kind of thing, perhaps (as in some kinds of Platonism) made by a shabby second-rate sort of god. They do it by telling a story of what the one creator God has been doing to rescue his beautiful world and put it to rights. And the story they tell, which we shall explore further in due course, indicates that the present world really is a signpost to a larger beauty, a deeper truth. It really is the authentic manuscript of one part of a masterpiece. The question is, What is the whole masterpiece like, and how can we begin to hear the music in that way it was intended? Read more…

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A Man and an Art for All Seasons

by Sean Johnson

Christian kitsch

All great cultural produce (that is, art) is religiously motivated—the stylized mythologies of the Mediterranean, the architectural triumphs of Roman civic religion, the gothic style, the hagiographic painting and sculpture of the Renaissance, the scientific innovations motivated at various times by extreme love of God or extreme love of man, etc., etc., etc. In recent years, though, the Church has experienced what many would acknowledge as a crisis of art. The fruit of this historical circumstance has been, among other things, the hot mess of contemporary Christian music, Kinkadean depictions of crosses and cottages aglow with the radiation of sentimentality, and Kingsburyian baptized pulp fictions.

As a people we are still in a moment of uncertainty about how to regain the artistic potency of our forbears, and reinfuse our art with that intangible-but-unmistakable clarity and power—like lightning and cold steel—that truly biblical art cover art Malcolm Guite Englishhas always possessed. Read more…

What Should a Christian Game Show Look Like?

planet of the apes ending, heston, david bentley hart, statue of liberty

As I set about writing an introduction for this piece, I realized that I would be hard-pressed to invent anything more fitting than the following from David Bentley Hart: 

It is one of the most indelibly memorable scenes, and certainly the best twist ending, to have come out of the cinema of the 1960s: Charlton Heston riding his horse along the beach, Linda Harrison mounted behind him with her arms wrapped around his waist, both quite fetching in their late Pleistocene dishabille, until they come upon some gigantic object, visible to the viewer at first only from behind, and just fragmentarily familiar from the ruinous silhouette of its torch and spiked coronal. Heston dismounts, an expression of dawning understanding on his face. The surf breaks about his feet. “Oh, my God!” he exclaims and falls to his knees. “They finally, really did it!” Beating the sand with his fist, he cries out, “You maniacs! Read more…

Taylor Swift, Christian Music, John Cage, and Goats

Taylor Swift and American Fragmentation

Taylor Swift Goat Trouble

Ever since she wrote a song about me, see Hey Stephen, Taylor Swift’s music has been on my radar. Her music is in nearly every way contemporary with the current state of other American art. The lyrics, notes, melody, and music video reveal Swift as a modern John Cage.

Read more…

Impeaching Politics: Saturday Reading Habits

reading the morning newspaper

If you are reading this, you may be in danger. You may be in danger of reading too much politics. Much of the content published here at the Kuyperian Commentary is political in nature and the odds are good that political content drew you here. That is well and good (in fact, tell your friends), and I have no desire to impugn anyone’s sense of civic duty, but I have noticed that often consumption of political news and political commentary is not something done in moderation. As a case in point, consider the people in your social media networks. We can all think of the friends who “just aren’t that into politics” and those who are posting and tweeting political graphics, statistics, rants, etc. a dozen or more times a day (unless you are that friend, in which case, like a Mr. Collins, you may not realize it). It could be argued that one has to read a great deal from a variety of sources to get a balanced picture, but one could also balance bourbon with vodka and not end up sober. Now, I don’t want to take the bottle away, just put some food in those stomachs. Read more…

The Religious Motive Behind Rand Paul’s Filibuster

Paul Leaves the Floor, Refuses to Yield Values

As the thirteen-hour filibuster ended, Rand Paul left the floor to a roar of applause. He took the floor alone, but now the entire twittersphere and even the Republican leadership joined his crusade against the Obama administration’s drone policy. In one day’s time he has reached the name recognition of his father for standing for the same sort of issues. Again, like his father, he has forced the Republican establishment to join him as cobelligerants for the cause of liberty.

The past three decades of American politics have been blessed with two generations of men who are unafraid to be political game-changers. Ron and Rand are Leaders seemingly incapable of “relinquishing” their values. Rand’s thirteen-hour filibuster is a good tribute to his father’s legacy of refusing to “yield” to politics as usual.

One has to ask what creates such men?

The answer may be a surprise to many. Presbyterianism.

Read more…

Lent, Fish, and the Feast of the Gentiles

lenten fish fry, fish fries for lent, symbolic fish for lent, lent symbol, lenten season fish, eating fish for lent, why eat fish for lent

(First, if you aren’t quite sure how to think about Lent, start here)

I like eating. Eating is glorious and it’s at the heart of the Christian life, so I think about it a lot. That being the case, I recently got to thinking about the historical practice of eating fish during Lent and about the possible rationale behind it. Aside from an apocryphal story about a corrupt pope who owned a fishing business, I didn’t find much to satisfy my Protestant curiosity. Still I came to the ultimate conclusion that regardless of one’s particular Lenten practices, we could afford to eat more fish during the season. Let me tell you why.

Some arms of the Church, Romans in particular, have a longstanding tradition of observing the Fridays in Lent as days of particular penance, marked by abstinence from the eating of meat. Historically, fish has served as a popular meat substitute on these days, distinguished from other prohibited meats because the fish is a cold-blooded creature (Lev. 7:26 seems to back this up). Excepting a sometimes-but-seldom-invoked acronymic relationship between the Greek word for fish—ἰχθύς—and the name of Jesus—Iesous ChristosTheou Yios, Sotor—the choice of fish, in practice, is mostly arbitrary or pragmatic (it is filling and satisfying like meat). But there better, deeper-rooted reasons to make fish a part of our Lenten diet.

In Scripture, the seas and waters under the earth are commonly a symbol of the gentile nations, and likewise the fish dwelling in them. The rulers of Tyre are called “the princes of the sea” (Ez.26:16), Nebuchadnezzar is pictured as a great sea monster (Jer. 51:34), the nation of Egypt is called a nation of fish and river-dwellers (Ez. 29:4). (for more on this, see Through New Eyes or pretty much anything else Jim Jordan has ever written…ever…probably even his grocery lists). In contrast, Israel is seen as a people of the land, and in the Old Testament the prominent men of God are farmers and keepers of livestock, not fisherman. That changes when Jesus comes calling fishermen into his service. With me so far? Okay, here’s where the ride speeds up.

The forty days of Lent are taken from the forty-day period our Lord spent in the Wilderness after his baptism, which in turn shares a typological relationship with other ”forty” periods in Israel’s (or protoIsrael’s) history—most notably the forty days on the ark after Noah’s flood and the forty years of exile after crossing the Red Sea. These earlier events culminated in further separation from and/or victory over the gentile “nations.” Jesus’ forty days, however, orient Israel in the opposite direction. He comes out of the Wilderness and departs immediately to Galilee of the Gentiles, the first order of business being to recruit experienced fish-catchers. Unlike the conquest of Canaan, Jesus doesn’t slay gentiles and drive them away, but begins drawing them to himself by the net-full.

In fact, after Jesus’ forty days of fasting, the first food mentioned in each of the synoptic gospels is fish. While the first Joshua supplanted the nations and took possession of their land and their vineyards, the final and greater Joshua desires to possess the nations themselves—fish is the sign of the gentile peoples being incorporated into the body of Christ. Throughout the gospels, fish is one of the few foods explicitly named as something Jesus ate, and he is always feeding it to his disciples. Alongside bread it is the food given to the multitudes in all the gospel accounts of miraculous feedings. Jesus not only tells Israel to embrace the nations (to love her enemies and be a light shining before all nations), he has them practicing it through meals of fish. Finally, the Lord’s “feed my sheep” admonition to Peter in Jn. 21 follows immediately on the heels of his preparing a breakfast of fish for his disciples and bidding them “come and eat,” a possible sign that the life and health of the Church will be bound up with the pursuit and inclusion of the gentile nations.

So, how should we then eat? As we—the Church, a mixed multitude—move through this season that appropriately culminates in both Jesus’ calling of the gentiles and his death and resurrection (if you aren’t already thinking about the Sign of Jonah, start now), giving thanks to God that the work of Christ is for all the world, we have a boat load of reasons to have fish on the table. Do my comments and observations translate into a biblical imperative to consume fish? No, of course not.. But, all things considered—whether feast, fast, or famine—I can’t help but find it beautifully appropriate.*

*Unless you’re eating fish sticks, which should only be served to children (as punishment for being picky) or to convicts (as punishment for being convicts).

Is Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder?

The-Eye-Of-Sauron

We have often heard it said that, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” This is often said in response to a disagreement in artistic preference and does help maintain a sense of “agreeing to disagree.”  Being able to look past disagreements and maintain civilized, social order is a habit that many of us would do well to nurture, but is there any truth to the old adage?  Is beauty indeed in the eye of the beholder?  Is there any such thing as objective beauty?  Something that’s beautiful even if no human had ever said, “Wow. Pretty.”

One way to pursue an answer to this question is by studying patterns in philosophical thought.  The three major branches of philosophy are: Metaphysics (the study of stuff and its origin, whether physical, spiritual or otherwise), Epistemology (the study of knowledge and how mankind comes to acquire knowledge), and Ethics (the study of the evaluation of human conduct).  Theologian John Frame makes a wise assessment when he generalizes this third branch into “Value Theory” instead of just “Ethics”.  Value theory steps beck from merely assessing rules and codes of conduct to encompass traditional descriptive, normative and applied ethics, as well as aesthetics (the study of beauty) and economics.  Aesthetics fits nicely as a sub-category of “value theory” but might be a tight fit under the category of “ethics”, or would it?

adolf hitler eyes

Here’s what I mean by patterns in philosophical thought. As Christians, when it comes to metaphysics, we do not leave the answers to the big questions about reality, existence, minds, bodies, God, space, time, causality, etc., up to the one asking the questions.  If someone says, “what’s true for you is true for you.  As for me, reality is in the eye of the beholder.”  That’s not an answer that receives much support from orthodox Christianity.  In fact, most folks would scoff, right before questioning the person’s sanity.

Stalin eyes

And what about epistemology?  How can I have knowledge of myself, the external world, and God? As Christians, is there some other point of beginning for knowledge and wisdom besides the revealed Word of God?  If God has said, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge”, do we allow for some neutral zone where people can acquire knowledge on their own terms?  How is it that we have the possibility of knowledge?  Should we be rationalists or empiricists, or both, or neither?  Tertium quid, anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

What about ethics?  Is moral human conduct up to the individual?  Is it a social contract?  Is it the greatest good for the greatest number of people?  Is the greatest good even recognizable?  When it comes to ethics, Christians are famous, if not notorious, for not allowing ethics to remain in the eye of the beholder.  We have the ten commandments, the two greatest commandments, Psalm 119, which is a really long song about loving the law, the entire Pentateuch, the law of God written on our hearts, etc.  The answer to this question of value theory rests in the revealed Word of God which contains His Law.  No eyes of any beholders here.

mao zedong face

So, I mentioned a pattern earlier.  Metaphysical questions?  Objective answers revealed by God.  Epistemological questions?  Objective standards revealed by God.  Ethical questions?  Ditto.  What about questions about beauty, another branch of value theory?  Does God have an opinion on what is beautiful and what isn’t?  Does He delight in some things and find others detestable?  If ever there was an opportunity to say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, this is it.  God sees.  God assesses.  God beholds and declares beautiful or ugly.  God weighs in the balances and finds some things wanting.

Pol Pot eyes

Once we’ve rejected the myth that all beauty is subjective, we can make some real progress towards a Christian aesthetic. So where do we begin?  There is the difference between “beauty” and “preference” to consider.  The smell of anchovies or the texture of sushi may come up in the conversation about preferences.  There is the fact that everything that God finds beautiful may not tickle our fancy. Author Nate Wilson commends us to the reproductive patterns of the leopard slug, if we want to expand our horizons of aesthetic study.  God created leopard slugs with all their mucous and odd protrusions, and God created bunnies and kittens.  However, we often see bunnies and kittens on posters containing bible verses, but we never see posters with leopard slugs reproducing.  Is there a verse somewhere in the Bible that extols the blessings of bunnies and kittens while condemning leopard slugs to eternal perdition?  Maybe we do not yet see creation through the new eyes that we have been given.

Are questions concerning objective beauty the easiest questions to answer?  Obviously not.  Does the present author have an entire system of biblical aesthetics worked out?  Uhhhh, nope.  Is beauty one of those square inches of creation about which Jesus Christ says with great affection, “Mine!”?  Yep. So, for those interested in embarking on the journey of Christian aesthetics, there’s a great article by Justin Hawkins over at FareForward.  Here’s a sample…

In the Christian understanding, humanity was made for the contemplation and enjoyment of God, and since the beauty of creation is the shadow of the radiance of the divine beauty, it is no mystery that we are attracted to it as to the echo of a lover’s voice.  In the beauty of creation, our Creator is speaking to us, and that is why we love beautiful things.

Ethics and aesthetics are too closely linked in value theory for one to be objectively true and the other to be left to individual preference.  The non-Christian would agree with me and say that ethics and aesthetics are very closely linked, and they both ought to be based on individual preference.  What should the Christian say?

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