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Article 6: On Beauty

conservative declaration squareThis is a series to further explain the articles of “A Conservative Christian Declaration.”

We affirm that beauty exists in reality and is to be the pursuit of every believer (Phil 1:9-11). We also affirm that the recognition of beauty is fundamental to worship and devotion, and a right response to God entails both recognizing and rightly responding to God’s beauty (Ps 29:2).

We deny that beauty is imposed upon an object by the beholder and is nothing more than the beholder’s pleasure. We also deny that one twisted in his judgments and perceptions can rightly know and love God.

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Most conservative evangelicals affirm the reality of transcendent, absolute truth and goodness, yet most are likely to deny absolute beauty. Instead, beauty is only “in the eye of the beholder” and purely relative.

On the contrary, we strongly affirm that that beauty is transcendent and absolute for at least four reasons:

First, the self-existence of God demands absolute beauty (John 17:5, 24Rev 4:11). Just as truth and morality find their source in the nature and character of God, so objects may be rightly called beautiful, not if someone simply delights in them, but if they likewise reflect Supreme Beauty.

Second, Scripture calls God beautiful (2 Chron 20:21; Job 40:9-10; Ps 9:8, 27:4, 45:2-4, 104:1, 145:10-12, Isa 42:14, Zech 9:17), further confirming that God is the ultimate standard of beauty. God’s glory is his beauty.

Third, in Scripture God declares particular things beautiful. He called his new creation beautiful (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, and 25),1 and he prescribes specific artistic instructions for liturgical adornments so that they would manifest “glory and beauty” (Exodus 28:2).

Fourth, in Scripture God commands that Christians delight in what is truly beautiful. For example, Philippians 4:8 commands believers to “think on” things that are “lovely” (literally “towards affection”), “commendable” (admirable), and “worthy of praise.” These are terms each closely connected to our conception of beauty, and they imply that there are things both worthy and unworthy of delight.

Thus beauty is absolute. Christians should take pleasure in only those things worthy of pleasure, and what determines that worthiness is conformity to the beauty of God himself.

Affirming absolute beauty rooted in God and diligently discerning what is worthy of delight is important for at least three reasons.

First, since things are worthy of delight only to the degree that they reflect the beauty of God, to value something that is not truly beautiful is sin (Rom 3:23). As Piper rightly notes, “All sin comes from not putting supreme value on the glory of God—this is the very essence of sin.”2

Second, rightly ordered worship is predicated upon ascribing beauty to God and worshiping him in “holy beauty” (Ps 29:2). The essence of praise is delighting in the absolute beauty of God.

Third, when one fills his life with what is ugly and pursues delight in such things, his judgments and perceptions become twisted such that he cannot truly apprehend and appreciate the absolute beauty of God (Rom 1:23-25).

In summary, we should take aesthetic pleasure only in those things that are truly beautiful–truly worthy of delight–as compared to the absolute standard of God’s beauty and glory. To do otherwise is sin, and to regularly pursue pleasure in what is ugly hinders ordinate worship and praise to God.

Series NavigationArticle 5: On the AppetitesArticle 7: On Scripture Regulated Worship
Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is on faculty at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He has written two books, dozens of articles, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and two children.



Endnotes:

  1. Kala in these texts is often translated “good,” implying moral goodness, but since these ascriptions are given to things rather than moral agents, it would be better understood as “beautiful,” which is well within its semantic range. []
  2. Desiring God, 56-57. []

4 Responses to Article 6: On Beauty

  1. Christopher Leavell says:

    Scott, Thank you for this series. I have enjoyed the further explanations and am looking forward to the rest.

    I do have one question that you may be able to further explain. Is there any reason why you are not connecting a definition of beauty to God’s creation? I believe the scriptures are clear that God intended for his creation to be beautiful. It also seems clear that God intended to reveal his own beauty through his creation. I really enjoyed T. David Gordon’s article “Finding Beauty Where God Finds Beauty: A Biblical Foundation of Aesthetics.”
    Is there any reason you did not go in the same direction for a description of beauty?

  2. Scott Aniol Scott Aniol says:

    Hi, Christopher. I do mention in the post above that God called his creation beautiful. Is that what you mean?

  3. Christopher Leavell says:

    Thank you. Yes, I missed that statement the first time I read through the article.

  4. Scott Aniol Scott Aniol says:

    It’s an important point, so thanks for bringing it up.

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