Friday, February 22, 2008

The Wright Attitude to Imagination, Art & Beauty

I've just finished reading a wonderful little book, namely Evil and the Justice of God by N T Wright. Amazingly (given the current blogging theme on beauty here), Wright turns his attention to creative imagination, beauty, and art. I'll quote the entire section below (bold emphasis is mine):

But the Christian imagination - shrunken and starved throughout the long winter of secularism - needs to be awakened, enlivened and pointed in the right direction...Christians needs to sense permission, from God and from one another, to exercise their imaginations in thinking ahead into God's new world and into such fresh forms of worship and service as will model and embody aspects of it. We need to have this imagination energized, fed and nourished, so that it is lively and inventive, not sluggishly going around in small circles of a few ideas learned long ago. And the Christian imagination must be disciplined, focused and directed, as with consciences itself, so that it doesn't simply rush madly about in all directions. It will not do to suppose that any old imaginative world will be as good as any other...

How can the Christian imagination be re-educated so that we can become conscious of living between the victory achieved by Jesus and the ultimate renewal of all things? At this point we must speak about art... To make sense of and to celebrate a beautiful world through the production of artefacts which are themselves beautiful is part of the call to be stewards of creation... Genuine art is thus itself a response to the beauty of creation, which itself is a pointer to the beauty of God.

But we don't live in the Garden of Eden. Art which attempts to do so quickly becomes flaccid and trivial...

The beauty of creation, to which art responds and tries to express, imitate, and highlight, is not simply beauty which it possesses in itself but the beauty which it possesses in view of what is promised to it... If Christian artists can glimpse this truth, there is a way forward to celebrating beauty, to loving God with all the soul, without lapsing into pantheism on the one hand or harsh, negative 'realism' on the other. Art at its best draws attention not only to the way things are, but to the way things are meant to be...

I want to draw out a few things which Wright has brought up in this small passage.

  • We (Christians) need to heed the call to push forward into a new era of creativity in the realm of arts and aesthetics. Wright seems to sense that Christians and the Church are in the artistic equivalent of a cul de sac, going round and round rehashing the same old tired ideas when it comes to art, worship, notions of beauty, etc. I believe we should respond positively to this challenge, accept its rebuke, and move forward.

  • A further important point, which bears repeating, is that we don't live in the garden of Eden. Although most Christians would agree with this, many would perhaps suggest that Paradise of Heaven is the Garden of Eden, and that at the end of the day all of this culture and technology here on earth is a waste of time: one day God will get rid of it all and we'll all go back to the garden, either in Heaven or in the New Creation. Yet to believe this is to fail to grasp a key theme in scripture. The story began in the garden, but it ends (in the book of Revelation) in a garden-city. A garden in the midst of a city (or is it the other way around?). This is not just a theological curiosity, and I expect this is what Wright is on about. God embraces our culture, and brings his paradise into our midst. Thus as we celebrate beauty and our Hope in God, we must remember that this goes beyond images of flowers and waterfalls.

There's lots more to say, but I'll leave some space for my readers to add their comments...What do you folks think about this?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Does Beauty matter to God?

It seems to me that contemporary Christians really struggle with beauty. No, I am not talking about the lack of hotties in church either (!) Rather I am talking about architecture, interior design, aesthetics, art, music ... that sort of beauty. To be sure, this also applies to men and women, but that's not the angle I want to explore right now.

Over at Gentle Wisdom, Peter Kirk is picking up a thread on aesthetics and worship, in particular, the aesthetics of our meeting places used for worship. A suggestion is raised that perhaps we shouldn't even bother about crafting a space with a sacred aesthetic, to which Kirk responds:

I tend to agree. We need functional spaces, buildings to meet in. But it is not for us humans to declare them sacred or presume to make them “crafted specially for a human-divine encounter with God”. If we are to “develop a sense of awe and wonder”, we should do this not through buildings which then become idols, but by beholding and reflecting the glory of God, 2 Corinthians 3:18.

Whilst on one hand I can agree with Peter's statement, I am left troubled thoughts: that this approach can and does lead to a pseudo-gnostic approach to Christian faith, where things of this earth count for little or nothing, and things of Faith is all that matters. Is this why contemporary Christianity struggles with concepts such as beauty, and for that matter, New Creation? If in Christ we are a New Creation, and we await not an ethereal eternity in the celestial clouds, but a renewed physical universe [New Earth], then surely we can't short change issues such as aesthetics and beauty. If redeemed humanity are sons and daughters of the Most High, and if we are taking the cultural mandate seriously ("Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it" Gen 1:28), then surely we can't let what we know is a fallen and decaying world under the power of Satan have the last word on architecture, music, art, and beauty?

In summary, I believe the Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit is beautiful, and that whatever God has made in some way reflects his beauty. All beauty originates from God. In addition, as redeemed Sons and Daughters of God, Christians should aim to fulfil the cultural mandate and fill the world with beauty.

Now if this is true, perhaps the aesthetics of the buildings we worship is not completely insignificant. Perhaps the aesthetics of the worship should be considered. Perhaps we need to take a long hard look at how a theology of aesthetics and beauty would change the way the think about mission, worship, art, and work.

Its time for the church and for Christians to wake up to the fact that God is not only truth, and love, and light, and holy, but that God is beautiful. Over the next few days I will try to expand and unpack what this means to us.


I always find it hard to step back into blogging after taking a break. So to help me write again, I thought I'd give you a list of stuff I am reading or about to read right now.

  • Evil and the Justice of God, by N T Wright. I'm about half-way through this right now. This is classic Wright: a concise, flowing post-modern aware prose, taking me through the story of the world, of Israel, and of Jesus. Its great how no matter what the topic, Wright always brings it back to the cross. One thing I find interesting is how he talks about Satan as "the Satan" (following the Hebrew) and refers to him as "it" -- refusing to ascribe God-gifted image-bearing gender to it. He reminds us that the feminists may be pushing to refer to God as "she", but strangely there is no debate to call Satan "she"! Quite right too, but as ever Wright cuts through the political mumbo-jumbo to deliver a fresh insight on otherwise familiar territory.

  • The Nature of the Atonement (Four Views. Looking forward to this one. The four views are Christus Victor (Boyd), Penal Sub (Schreiner), Healing (Reichenbach), and Kaleidoscopic (Green). I expect I will agree with both Boyd and Scheiner, and I am very curious as to what Green has to say - sounds like he might take a multiperspectivalism approach, or at least a nod in that direction.

  • Gettings Things Done by David Allen. The main thing about this "life-changing" book is that I need to actually read the darn thing. Perhaps it should come with a free pamphlet entitled "How to start and finishing reading this book".

  • Freed to Lead by Colin Buckland. Looking forward to this one.

  • Who Can Be Saved? by Terrance L Tiessen. I've read about half of this interesting book on accessibilism: the belief that the salvation that Jesus wrought on the cross extends beyond the church's proclamation of the gospel. Actually most people believe this, otherwise young children and babies who sadly die prematurely will spent eternity in a fiery hell, a picture not even the grumpiest meanest Calvinist can contemplate. However Tiessen believes that rather than having different methods of salvation for different groups, is is necessary to coherently figure out a doctrine of salvation which accounts for everyone who is saved. I've been thinking the same for many years, so its been very enjoyable to read this book. Take-away thoughts thus far are "All true Christians are saved, but salvation extends to beyond Christians" and the whole idea of the difference between guilt and culpability, again something I've noticed for a while in the gospels but have yet to see a good explanation of. I need to finish reading this one!

  • Understanding Power by Noam Chomsky. From the minute I picked up this book I have found it hard to put it down. This guy is a genius. Within pages he exposes the level of corruption and control within the United States. After 44 pages, I am already convinced that the United States is currently the best candidate for an "Antichrist", if ever there was one (and I'm not sure that there is!). Lets face it, the US has an awful lot of power, a very biased and controlled media, and military forces stationed all over the world. Its responsible for the deaths of countless hundreds of thousands of civilians over the last 60 years. The only problem with this book is that at the moment it leaves me feeling quite down and depressed about global politics. A brilliant expose of the Powers that be in todays world. So much for Christian America.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Still Alive

Just a quick note to say that I am still alive etc but have been too busy recently to blog. I hope to resume soon!