Surprised by Hope: Beauty

Wright likens the world to a chalice or a violin — beautiful in itself but much more beautiful in anticipation of the wine it will hold or the music it will play. Thus, the world in which we live is beautiful especially because of the even greater beauty it will display when it becomes the dwelling of God.

Therefore, he argues, it is fitting that the church have a well-developed sense of beauty. Indeed, the theology of a new heaven and new earth should open up our artistic sensibilities for new, better art.

In the Churches of Christ, it’s particularly difficult to have an artistic sensibility, due to our Calvinistic roots. It’s well known that the Restoration Movement fled the Calvinistic view of salvation, but few realize that we kept the Calvinistic view of art and beauty.

When the Calvinists took over cathedrals in medieval Switzerland, they painted over the frescoes and melted down the statues, preferring plain and simple buildings — giving rise to the term “iconoclast,” being someone who destroys icons.

Some of this was due to an understanding of the commandment against graven images. Some was due to a desire to escape some of the excesses of the Catholicism of the day.

Barton W. Stone and Thomas and Alexander Campbell were former Presbyterians — Calvinists. Many of their converts came from the ranks of the Baptist churches, which were also very Calvinistic in those days.

Hence, we in the Churches of Christ prefer simple buildings and are suspicious of stained glass, steeples, and even crosses. We have no representational art in our auditoriums. Some preach sermons against the wearing of crosses (the logic of which I’ve never really followed). Even our baptistries are rarely decorated with more than the occasional Jordan River scene.

Luther, on the other hand, taught that art should be used in the service of the gospel, which led to an outflowing of Christian music (Bach, for example) and painting in Lutheran lands. But those of us touched by the Calvinistic tradition are much more into the left-brain side of things, with our creativity poured primarily into our sermons and theology (which is often quite creative, although not always in a good way).

Lately, our artistic yearnings have begun to find expression through Christian music. And our architecture is getting better. But we remain suspicious of the artistic gifts God gives us.

And yet … if God really does give talents and gifts, then surely our members blessed with the ability to paint, sculpt, design buildings, and compose music should find their gifts used most fully and beautifully in service of the gospel.

A few months ago, I posted several YouTube videos to show the beauty of music written to God’s glory. I invite readers to post links to favorite paintings, videos, and architecture in the comment section.

Now,  I must add that even a gift from God can be misused. We can waste money on architecture, for example, or we can worship a statue. But it’s a false economy to treat all artistry as wasted money. In fact, our buildings, for example, present a certain image of who we are to the world. And some of our buildings show us to be tight-fisted, joyless, pickled souls. We can do better.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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