Archives For Aesthetics

BenefitEver since we started Eternity Bible College in 2004, we have been training students to understand deeply the biblical view of the world and to apply that truth in every area of their lives. And we mean every area. While we have proudly sent many of our graduates into the world as pastors, youth pastors, worship pastors, and missionaries, full-time vocational ministry is not our only focus. We have also proudly sent many of our graduates into the world as teachers, musicians, paramedics, youth workers, and a host of other professions.

With that second category of graduates (those working in non-vocational ministry), it’s not that we trained them in the technical side of their field. We offer no classes in music theory, medicine, etc. Yet these students who are leaving Eternity with a degree in Bible are walking into these professions and feeling well equipped. Why? Because we are teaching them how to pursue God’s mission in every area of life. We are helping them see the implications of the gospel for everything they do. So while they still need to learn to teach world history and treat trauma wounds, they’re ready to bring God’s truth to bear in their unique part of the world.

Truly, the gospel speaks to everything we encounter in this world. It transforms every aspect of our lives. The mission of Eternity Bible College is to saturate this generation in biblical truth and give them the tools to change every aspect of the world.

This being our mission, we are pleased to announce our third annual Art & Music Benefit. This year’s benefit will take place:

This Friday, April 25 @ 7pm

Hosted by Cornerstone Church in Moorpark
379 Science Drive, Moorpark, Ca

Jon Kim Painting

One of the paintings we’ll be selling at the event. I’ll let the artist, Jon Kim, explain his heart in making this painting, including the theological significance. We’ll also be selling a series of paintings on the book of Revelation and many other inspiring pieces.

The Art & Music Benefit will be an excellent opportunity to learn more about Eternity Bible College, our students, and our mission. On Friday night, we will highlight some of the art and music that some of our students are creating. These students are thinking through all of life at a deep level, and their biblical worldview shows up in their creativity. We will also be sharing the heart and vision of Eternity Bible College.

If you are anywhere near Simi Valley / Moorpark, we invite you to come spend an inspiring evening with us. Come and learn about what God is doing through Eternity and learn how you can partner with us in our mission. Come ready to enjoy the music some of our students are making, to appreciate and even purchase some of the art, crafts, and baked goods that our students are creating, and to celebrate the vision and mission of Eternity together with us.

If you’re too far away to join us in person, please consider praying for the event. And we also invite you to partner with the school in some way. You can learn more about partnership opportunities here.

 

The following video is from one of our students who will be playing at the event:

To hear music from the other bands performing (also featuring students and graduates) click here (Rosie Harlow & the Tall Tale Boys) or here (Big Flambeau).

The Apologetic Value of Beauty

Mark Beuving —  February 11, 2014 — 1 Comment

Whenever I teach on the relationship between Christianity and art, there are always questions about how evangelistic our art should be. Christians are commanded to communicate the gospel. And art is a means of communication. So shouldn’t we be putting crosses in our paintings and verses in our poetry? Shouldn’t our literary characters be converting and our film characters be preaching?

One factor that often gets overlooked in these discussions is the nature of beauty as God himself formed it. When God created the word, he made it beautiful. Overwhelmingly so. There is beauty at every turn. There is beauty that literally brings us to tears. There is beauty that makes us stop and contemplate. Beauty is everywhere in the world that God made.

But why did God make his world beautiful? For example, why should lilies be beautiful as opposed to merely functional? The answer seems to be that God is a lover of beauty. As many have said throughout the years, beauty needs no justification. We don’t need to explain why the world should be beautiful. Why shouldn’t it be so?

But there is also an apologetic function to the beauty that God made. In other words, beauty is a tool for evangelism, for pointing people to God.

“The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)

The artistry in the created world reflects the God who crafted it, and it does so to such a great extent that David can say that it declares and proclaims God. Paul says something similar, and even goes a bit further:

“What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19–20)

Paul is saying that everyone knows the truth about God. Sure, they’ll deny him. But deep down, they know God. How do they know this? Because God has shown himself to them in the things that he made. When people look at the beauty and grandeur of the created world, they are actually witnessing revelation about God. So evident is God in the beauty of this world, in fact, that Paul says that everyone who sees the created world has no excuse for their disbelief (sorry agnostics).

Christian LilySo here’s my point. God didn’t print Bible verses on flower petals. The beauty of those petals points to God without an explicit declaration of the plan of salvation. So it is with the art that Christians make. The beauty their art embodies points to God, even if John 3:16 isn’t written on the canvas. Beautiful, creative, well-crafted art is evangelistic—even when there is no verbalized gospel presentation.

This is because beauty inherently points beyond itself. Beauty, says N. T. Wright, “slips through our fingers.” We try to photograph it, to paint it, to record it. And we genuinely cherish and enjoy these beautiful expressions. But even so, the beauty embodied in our art does not fully satisfy our itch. And for Wright, this reveals something about beauty itself:

“The beauty sometimes seems to be in the itching itself, the sense of longing, the kind of pleasure which is exquisite and yet leaves us unsatisfied.”

Exquisite—not banal—pleasure that leaves us unsatisfied. As Ann Voskamp says, “See beauty and we know it in the marrow, even if we have no words for it: Someone is behind it, in it.”

Many Christians choose to talk about the gospel explicitly in their art, and many do this very well. But we sometimes impose upon our artists a Christianese quota that must be fulfilled in every song, film, or painting. And when we do this, we are (inadvertently) demeaning the apologetic value of the beauty that God infused into the most mundane facets of creation. And John Calvin goes so far as to call this sort of undervaluing of God’s diverse work “demeaning” and “reproachful” towards the Holy Spirit.

As I parked my car for our early morning pre-service band rehearsal and pulled my guitar out of the trunk, I realized that I had already been worshiping. No, Chris Tomlin had not been on my car stereo, nor was I listening to sermon podcasts. I hadn’t meant to worship (that sounds lame), but I had my eyes and ears open, and it just happened. Here’s how.

As I began driving to our church building, the sun was just preparing to rise. Everything was partially lit with the blue light that precedes sunrise. I drove West, and my rearview mirror displayed a gradually lightening sky with varying shades of deep blue as the sun reflected off of the Eastern clouds. Looking ahead, the moon was sitting low and shining brightly in the even deeper blue sky, shining through some wispy blue clouds. It was the kind of predawn that almost makes early mornings sound like a good idea.

All this I saw with my eyes, but my ears were busy too. I was listening to “Miasma Sky” by Baths (see the video below), a song I am only just becoming acquainted with, and it was killing me. The instrumentation and arrangement are so beautiful, so reflective. It’s nothing like a worship song, but the few and simple lyrics are about being swallowed up (in a foreboding way) by the grandeur of nature. This, too, was incredibly moving.

As I drove, I felt myself drawn into worship.

Then my former semi-fundy self questioned the validity of this experience. There have been times in my not-so-distant-past when I would have considered it fluffy, mystic, or “emergent” (my past self not understanding any of those terms) to be led to worship by a sunset and a “secular” song. So in the final moments of my drive I asked myself, “Is there a biblical basis for what I’m experiencing right now?” And I answered myself, “Yes, I think so.” (Apparently I have a very active and formal inner dialogue.)

Both aspects of my experience (being led to worship by non-religious sights and sounds) are easily explained both biblically and theologically. Psalm 19 insists that “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Romans 1 says that God, from the moment of creation, has been revealing himself through the things he has made.

So I saw beauty, and I saw God. He’s the God of beauty. He’s the God in beauty. Ann Voskamp says it insightfully: “See beauty and we know it in the marrow, even if we have no words for it: Someone is behind it, in it.” His lights and colors were streaming through the universe on my short drive, and I beheld his manifold grace.

Likewise, I heard beauty, and I heard God. His name wasn’t spoken, but the sounds that he designed and made possible were being pushed into the air from my speakers. Those sounds travelled in waves through the cab of my car, obediently following the laws of physics that God instituted. They struck my eardrums, which resonated accorded to God’s design. And my brain, following God’s impossibly complex instructions, interpreted those fleshy vibrations as beauty.

It goes even beyond that, actually. Those sounds found their way onto my iPod because God ingrained human beings with the ability and inclination to experiment and create. He carefully chose the musical gifts he would give to the musicians in the band Baths. He formed a musical universe that through the creativity of his human beings would eventually yield guitars and drums and a host of beauty creating instruments. And the eventual result was “Miasma Sky” flowing through my speakers in the early dawn, filling my ears as the color filled my eyes, and drawing my heart to the beauty of the Creator.

So I say to my former semi-fundy self: “Yes, I was right to worship.” As the old hymn says:

“This is my Father’s world
He shines in all that’s fair
In the rustling grass I hear him pass
He speaks to me everywhere.”

Here’s to impromptu worship sessions. May we find them often and everywhere.

Charles Darwin saw glory in this world. He couldn’t help it. His vocation as a scientist forced him to stare at all of the crazy and beautiful things in the world on a regular basis. You can’t look at this world for any length of time without seeing the glory all around you.

Something special is going on here. We can’t deny it. But if there was ever a person who might try to deny the specialness of this world, wouldn’t you think it would be Darwin? After all, he is famous for declaring that this world is nothing more than a huge accident. Or more accurately, a near-infinite series of infinitesimally small accidents that taken together form one mammoth accident. This accident is the sum and substance of everything we have ever known. Should we really expect the world’s biggest mistake to be glorious?

You wouldn’t think so. Especially when you consider the type of mistake the world is supposed to be. It’s not the kind of mistake that Van Goh might have made. You can imagine Van Goh painting something breathtaking, then accidentally mixing his colors a bit wrong or letting his brush slide just a hair, only to discover that his mistake added something intangibly wonderful to the painting.

"Starry Night Over the Rhone" by Vincent Van Goh

No, the world is not this type of mistake. If Van Goh made a mistake like that, it would still have the power of personality behind it. You still have a volitional being—a master artist, actually—bending his creative powers toward the production of something beautiful. A mistake in the painting process might come as a pleasant surprise, and it would quickly become a part of the painter’s new vision for the painting.

But according to Darwin, the world is a different type of mistake entirely. It’s purposeless. There is no personality behind it. It churns accidentally, thoughtlessly, and its productions are not appreciated or valued by the impersonal forces of chance. It simply is what it is. An accident whose non-existent creator cannot recognize it, let alone categorize it as beautiful or ugly.

You wouldn’t think that this type of world would be glorious, nor would you think that the biggest accident in this near-infinite line of accidents would possess the desire or the categories to see it as glorious.

Yet Darwin looked at the world and saw glory. He saw that something special was happening. But when no one is behind that specialness, when all this beauty is a huge mistake, you have no one to praise but the accidents themselves. So Darwin proclaimed:

“When I view all beings not as special creations, but as the lineal descendants of some few beings which lived long before the first bed of the Silurian system was deposited, they seem to me to become ennobled.”[1]

Ennobled! Really? When I recognized that these things were big accidents, I realized how noble they were. Hmmm. He says it again:

“Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”[2]

Grandeur! Really? When I saw that these beautiful things were the unintentional exhaust of a mindless machine, I saw glory. Hmmm.

Darwin saw it, but he couldn’t explain it. His system simply did not have categories to account for what he was seeing. So how should we respond to the beautiful mess we are accidentally floating in? We should be proud of our accidental selves:

Man may be excused for feeling some pride at having risen, though not through his own exertions, to the very summit of the organic scale; and the fact of his having thus risen, instead of having been aboriginally placed there, may give him hope for a still higher destiny in the distant future…We must, however, acknowledge, as it seems to me, that man with all his noble qualities, with sympathy which feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only to other men but to the humblest living creature, with his god-like intellect which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system—with all these exalted powers—Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.”[3]

Be proud of yourself for being the biggest accident of all, but recognize that you still kind of look like the crap from which you were mistakenly spawned.

For some reason, that doesn’t do it for me. Van Goh probably could have made some beautiful mistakes, but I don’t think that Nothing can do the same. All I’ve ever seen Nothing do is nothing. Go ahead and deny purpose and craftsmanship, Darwin, but I know that you know. I can see that you can see it. Your statements about the glory of it all simply confirm what God has already told me:

“The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things…they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!” (Romans 1:18-25)

 


[1] Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (New York: Avenel, 1979) 458-459.

[2] Ibid., 459-460.

[3] Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (London: Penguin Classics, 2004) 689.

I love staring at people. I don’t even know how to say it in a less creepy way. People are just plain fascinating.

I first got a taste for people watching when I was dating my wife. She studied kids in college. Seriously. She was a child development major. So every date we ever went on involved some degree of observation. She would sit there, wide-eyed, mouth slightly agape, and just take it all in. I didn’t understand her preoccupation. Now I see that she was on to something.

You never know what people are going to do. What makes a cool person cool? Or an awkward person awkward? Or a funny person funny? Why do so many people fall in line with social norms? And why do a few people seem to be oblivious to these norms? Why do these select few do things in a way that no one else would think to do it? How can people be so alike and yet so different?

There is a theological reason why people are so fascinating. People are actually hand-crafted by the Creator (Psalm 139:13-16). So when we look at another human being, we are actually looking at a work of art more intricate than anything a human artist could ever imagine. A human being is a staggering feat of engineering, chemistry, physics, aesthetics, etc.

As amazing as that is, it doesn’t take into account the soul. The most incredible thing about human beings is that we are actually made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26). There is a lot of debate about what exactly that “image” is (our personality? our ability to reason? our will? our stewardship? some kind of physical resemblance?), but the point is that in some important respect, we are made to resemble God.

Those two things are all the justification we’ll ever need to stare at people. Everyone you see has been hand-crafted by God and bears God’s image. Unbelievable. Walk into a museum and you can stare at Van Gogh’s artwork. Walk into a coffee shop and you can stare at God’s.

Of course, sin ensures that people do not resemble God and His craftsmanship as nearly as they should. Sin can even have an aesthetic affect on us. Yet the image of God still remains even after the fall (see James 3:9).

So stare away. In a sense, staring at people is a way of staring at God. We always have to be cautious of sin—sin pervades our hearts and turns admiration of God and His handiwork into idolatry, jealousy, slander, and lust. But people are still fascinating. They deserve to be watched. So don’t be creepy, but watch what people do and admire them for God’s sake.

In the next post, I will discuss another important aspect of people watching: the unbelievable beauty that comes out of a person’s life when the Spirit does His work.