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Is Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder, Part 5: The Judgment of Beauty

The following is taken from Sound Worship: a Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World.

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: The Source of Beauty
Part 3: The Marring of Beauty
Part 4: The Redemption of Beauty

The Judgment of Beauty

Once a person becomes a Christian — once his capacity to recognize beauty has been restored — that person has an obligation to correctly judge things beautiful or ugly. God commands believers to “test everything” and “hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). The word translated “good” here signifies the intrinsic excel- lencies of something, and its first definition in Greek dic- tionaries is “beautiful.” It is contrasted with “good” from verse 15 of the same passage, a word that identifies something that is beneficial. In other words, here Christians are specifically commanded to evaluate everything in order to determine whether something has intrinsic worth.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Perhaps the passage that most clearly articulates such a command is Philippians 4:8:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Here we find a list of absolute standards by which we must judge all things. The phrase rendered “think about” literally means, “take into account.” Everything we en- counter must be judged by the qualities in this list. Each of these terms is worth considering:

  • “true” — truthful, honest, real, genuine
  • “honorable” — noble, of good character, worthy
  • “just” — conforming to the standard, righteous
  • “pure” — holy, chaste, innocent
  • “lovely” — literally “towards affection,” pleasing
  • “commendable” — worthy of praise, admirable
  • “excellence” — moral excellence
  • “worthy of praise” — commendation, approval

These qualities could be grouped into the three cat- egories of truth, goodness, and beauty. Something is true when it agrees with reality; something is good when it meets real needs; and something is beautiful when it is worthy of pleasure.

In all three of these categories, there is a subjective realm (what we think) and an objective realm (what really is). With truth, we may subjectively think something is true that is objectively not true. For example, I may truly believe that grass is red, but that doesn’t make it true. So in the case of truth, we must always change what we think is true to match what God says is true in his Word. John 17:17 says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” With my belief about the color of grass, I have to readjust my beliefs to match reality.

With goodness, we may subjectively think that something is good for us when it is objectively not good. For example, I may think that drinking cyanide daily is good for me, but that doesn’t make it so. Here, too, we must always change what we think is good to match what God says is good. With my views of cyanide, either I would need to adjust my thinking or reality would eventually sink in!

The same is true with beauty. We may subjectively think something is beautiful — we may take pleasure in something — but what we think may not match with what is objectively beautiful. For example, I may take pleasure in a particular work of art or song or style of music and think that it is beautiful, but that does not make it beautiful. According to this passage, we are to take into account things that are worthy of praise, things that are admirable. This implies absolute standards. Here again we must change our tastes to match what God says is beautiful. Our responsibility as Christians is to change what we take pleasure in to those things that are actually worthy of our pleasure — those thing that are actually beautiful.

Next: Change Your Taste

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies 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 Culture, 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 four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.