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Are Protestants Afraid of Beauty?

hans-urs-von-balthasarLeading 20th century Roman Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar contended that Protestantism had no place for beauty in its theology. “Contemporary Protestant theology nowhere deals with the beautiful as a theological category,” he wrote. “For the time being, the only question posed by Protestants is that concerning the relationship between revelation and this-worldly beauty—certainly a justified question, but not a sufficient one.”1

Dutch Reformed theological heavyweight Herman Bavinck seems to provide evidence of von Balthasar’s charge. Bavinck wrote, “It is not advisable to speak—with the church fathers, scholastics, and Catholic theologians—of God’s beauty.”2 Bavinck beautifully summarizes Augustine’s view that God is the epitome of beauty, and that all created things have beauty by participation in him. But he dismisses this view as a bit of Neo-platonic corruption. “In this view of Augustine we encounter the undeniable influence of Neoplatonism….Protestant theologians, by contrast, preferred to speak of God’s majesty and glory.”

The only counter-example that comes immediately to mind is Jonathan Edwards. Of course, Edwards is a pretty substantial counter example, and perhaps he is why von Balthasar said “contemporary” Protestant theology. Yet there still seems to be some teeth to von Balthasar’s charge. The recent evangelical systematic theologies that I am aware of do not denigrate beauty, but it does appear that beauty is completely irrelevant to their task.

And so I ask, Do evangelical Protestants have a blind spot when it comes to beauty? Do we, in fact, treat beauty as interjecting a dangerous and foreign element into our theologizing? If so, does this inherited mindset shed light on why we simply don’t have the categories to cogently evaluate music?

About Jason Parker

Jason Parker is the pastor of High Country Baptist Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He blogs at http://relentlesslybiblical.blogspot.com.

  1. The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics: Volume 1: Seeing the Form, 56-7 []
  2. Reformed Dogmatics 2:254 []