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What does “classical” mean?

classicalThe word “classical” gets thrown around a lot, from descriptions of classical music to classical education to classical culture. But what does it really mean?

As with most words, people could use the term, of course, for a whole host of different ideas and connotations.

But here is what I think is at the heart of what it means to be “classical.”

First, “classical” affirms the reality of transcendent principles of truth, goodness, and beauty, believes that those principles are knowable, and commits to preserving and expressing those principles. It denies relativism in these areas, but rather insists that there are absolute, observable standards of truth, goodness, and beauty.

Second, “classical” commits to preserving those forms and institutions that best reflect and recognition and respect for that transcendent order. “Classical” recognizes that culture is nurtured within systems of values, and that it is not created in a vacuum. Every culture-maker builds upon what has come before, and something “classical” builds on those forms that have been nurtured within contexts that best express the transcendent character and nature of God.

“Classical” doesn’t necessarily mean “old,” not is it necessarily opposed to what is new or contemporary. New things can be “classical” as well if they recognize, respect, and preserve what is true, good, and beautiful, building on the rich heritage of such forms that have been passed down.

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Cutlure, 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 three children.

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