“The Beauty of Theology (an Advent Call)”-GoingToSeminary.com


I just wanted to let all of you know about a new article I recently put up on GoingToSeminary.com.  In light of this advent season, I retooled some of the things I wrote in my Beauty series to encourage those of us getting bogged down in holiday busyness and school finals.  I hope the article is used to stir many of you towards the great God that dwelt among us.  Here’s the link:

http://www.goingtoseminary.com/the-beauty-of-theology-an-advent-call/

Also, for those interested, my church, Liberti (I go to the South Philly campus) has put together a prayer guide for Advent.  I hope this further helps you in the weeks to come.

p.s. – “Slavery, Atheism, and the Bible, part 2″ will be out either this weekend or monday (Part 1 here)

Beauty: The Complete Series


screen-captureWe’re done.  I promise.  Really.  I just wanted to do two things: First, offer this directory, or “Table of Contents” to the Beauty Series for a clear organization of the parts so people can navigate it more easily.  Secondly, below you’ll find not only the full audio and complete manuscript based off this series, but, for the first time, you’ll see a special appendix I put together.  It’s a complete breakdown of every word in both Greek and Hebrew that the English Standard Version of the Bible translates as either “beauty” or “beautiful”, broken down by frequency.  Along with those words (and all their forms), I’ve offered the most literal definition of each of those words so you can easily see the huge range of meanings that the Biblical words for “beauty” carry.  It took a while to put together so I hope it’s helpful.  You don’t need any knowledge of Greek or Hebrew to understand it or get something from it.  Enjoy.  And this is it for the series now.  I promise.

The Outline for the Entire Series:

Resources for this series:

[photo by David Schrott]

The Gospel is Beautiful{12} | it is finished


Rembrandt-Return of the ProdigalWell, it’s done. This is the end of the Beauty series. I won’t say too much, because this part is long enough already. I would just remind all of you of two things. Firstly, this whole piece began with the story of the most beautiful thing I have ever seen: the city of Edinburgh as I stood above it on top of a hill in the city. Secondly, our definition of Beauty: Beauty is the attribute of something that expresses complexity, simply. It what takes the complex strands of the world, reality, experience, or God and weaves those complexities into a simpler tapestry which we can perceive with our physical and spiritual senses. The more complexity expressed more simply, the more beautiful something is. And with that, let’s finish this thing out. What’s coming next? I have a post ready for that that I’ll post up in a couple of days. We pick up right where we left off

In conclusion, I want to talk about the thing that ties every one of these things together. The thing in which there exists in a glorious and beautiful harmony between all the different things we’ve talked about tonight. The last part of our text tonight, Ecclesiastes 3:15 says “That which is, already has been; and that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away.” God seeks what has been driven away.” In conclusion, the Gospel is Beautiful. The Gospel, in short, is the story and message of Christianity. It comes from the Greek word meaning “good news”. So what is this good news for us? The news that God did the ultimate act of beauty. The ultimate act of condescension of filling this finite world with the most Infinite of Beings for the sake of knitting it together again, and actually ultimately filling it with Himself. You see, God began History and ordered it in such a way that it was beautiful. He filled this simplicity with the marks of Himself, so all things pointed to Him and reflected Him perfectly. Humans came on the scene and were made in His image so that they as well truly and purely reflected, represented, and “Imaged” (that would be the theological term) this God on earth. But sin entered into the world, and made this world fallen from its original place of beauty. And we have followed suit. You see, sin is not finding certain things, people, or places beautiful. It’s that we find them more beautiful than God and these responses that are due God, we give to other things. We worship and “image” and express fallen simple things rather than the Holy complex God. We all have done this. I have done this. You have done this. You have soiled your beauty and abandoned it to your lusts! You no longer represent the One whom you were meant to mirror and reflect and therein find your beauty! You merely represent the world. The lowly fallen world. Fallen people imaging fallen things. There’s no beauty in that.

But God, being rich in mercy. Though we have abandoned God’s beauty and our own true beauty, God has not abandoned them. He loves His Beauty. And He loves the Beauty of His creation. So this God, for the sake of the worship His own beauty, and our own own joy in His Beauty, comes. The most perfectly knit together tapestry in the universe chooses to come and express the most Holy Complexity in the most intimate simplicity. This perfectly woven tapestry walks the earth, lives the perfectly woven life, and then stares into the cup of God’s perfectly woven wrath reserved for all things and people that are not beautiful in this world. And he drinks it. This perfect tapestry of complexity expressed simply goes to the cross willingly and allows the tapestry of His soul to be torn apart strand by strand by strand as the wrath of God that hung over everyone who would believe was gathered by God and poured it on Himself. That wrath that hung over many of us in here. That wrath that hangs above some of us tonight, that will be poured out on something. Either on Christ at the cross, or in you in Hell. Did you know that Hell is beautiful? Not for those that are there, but it is. It is pure, white, Justice and Wrath poured out on all that was wrong in the world. So God’s wrath will be poured out either in Hell or the Cross.

And history revolves around this cross. Because at the same time that Christ, Beauty Itself, was literally being torn apart, he was reconciling all things to Himself. In other words, he was taking every stray strand in the universe – every bit of evil, suffering fallenness there will ever be in history - and reserving its proper place in the final tapestry of History that we call heaven. He was making Himself the common glorifying thread that would reknit the broken fabric of a broken creation. And so we live now in the process and story of God putting all those strands in their proper place. As more and more beauty floods the earth He is still inviting his people to join Him in this epic story. He is calling his people to praise Him and draw near to Him, and out of the overflow of that to proclaim His Beauty to others and make more beauty, so as to usher in this new creation – or to put it in our terms tonight – the New Tapestry of Creation. Better than before. It is the one that has woven in it the purpose for all pain, sickness, death, and dying that God has ordained and allowed to take place so that this tapestry might make good on it all to the praise of the Beauty of God’s name.

And we, His people, His Bride, those that are “in Christ”, that are simple people Imaging and expressing the most complex of Beings, are woven into that tapestry that is Heaven and the New Creation. We’re not just going to live in it, we are part of it. Second Corinthians 5:17, in most Bibles reads: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” But that’s not what it says in the Greek. It doesn’t say “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation”. There is no “he is”. The Greek literally says “If anyone is in Christ: new creation!” More accurately, I think it should be translated “If anyone if in Christ, this is the new creation. he old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” I remember an old professor at Westminster named Richard Gaffin. He used to go up to students, stop them, and just say to them “you are just as resurrected now as you will ever be”. We often forget that. Yes, we will get new bodies and the penalty, power, and presence of sin will be done away with, but as far as our souls go, we are as resurrected now as we will ever be.

We are the new creation. The new tapestry. We have been woven into the fabric of this ever-increasingly redeemed world that is being flooded with the Beauty of God. The new has come in Christ. Through the Gospel. The good news of our salvation is that all that has been ugly with the world and in ourselves has been conquered. Beauty is here, and Beauty is ever increasingly filling the earth, and this Beauty is our salvation from ugliness and sin. George Marsden in his incredible biography of Jonathan Ecdwards ends the whole book with this summary of Edwards’ view of all of life and salvation. He says that

“[Edwards believed that] God’s trinitarian essence is love. God’s purpose in creating a universe in which sin is permitted must be to communicate that love to creatures. The highest or most beautiful love is sacrificial love for the undeserving. Those. . . who are given eyes to see that ineffable beauty will be enthralled by it. . . They will not be able to view Christ’s love dispassionately but rather will respond to it with their deepest affections. Truly seeing such good, they will have no choice but to love it. Glimpsing such love . . . they will be drawn from their self-centered universes. Seeing the beauty of the redemptive love of Christ as the true reality, they will love God and all that he has created.”

The Gospel, this salvation, is beautiful.

And we receive this salvation by seeing its Beauty, turning our stirred affections toward this God, and trusting that we cannot reknit our own souls but Christ has reknit them for us. And as our affections are further stirred we press into Him ever increasingly as He draws ever-nearer to us. I pray, I plead, that those in here tonight that have not done so, would trust this beautiful God to have accomplished for them what they could not do for themselves. Please, consider this story, this message. See if it is not the most beautiful thing you could ever conceive. Just for a moment, see if something in you is stirred for this God. Even if you don’t believe He exists, or that He is this particular God that I have spoken of tonight, is there something in you that at least wishes it were true? Wishes it were this way? Wishes that God did in fact arrange everything to make it all beautiful in its time? Even if you won’t admit it, if that’s true, if you did wish this were the case, don’t ignore that. You have been designed to long for the Beauty of this Gospel, this story. Don’t ignore it. Sovereign, Beautiful Father, Lover, and Lord, save people that read this.

In conclusion, I’m going to break every rule I learned in my preaching class this last semester about how to end a message and end mine tonight with a poem. But not someone else’s poem. This is a poem I wrote in one take one particular afternoon through broken tears standing on top of a hill looking out over the city of Edinburgh as I was taken over by the most beauty I’ve ever seen. Let this encourage the weary saints reading this blog post, and let it perhaps woo those that have yet taste what these words are about. You can find the poem here, or just click in the section above entitled “The Site”.

Here are the links to the full manuscript and the full audio of my presentation of this material:

Click for Manuscript Pdf

Manucscript

Click here for sermon audio

Audio

Proclaiming & Producing Beauty{11}


Sandorfi - KalfonariumThe next post after this will be the last in this series.  But today, we are finishing up the section on how we respond to Beauty.  As I stated earlier, there are two fundamental ways we respond to Beauty: we contemplate it, and we enjoy it.  But, within the enjoyment piece, I think there are four main ways to to that: we praise, participate in, proclaim, and produce Beauty.  Once more, our working definition is Beauty is the attribute of something that expresses complexity, simply.  It takes the loose strands in reality and weaves them together into a tapestry that out senses are able to perceive.

Now, let’s pick up right where we left off:

Proclaim

But the process is still not over. First we praise the thing as beautiful, then we participate in its beauty on its own terms. Thirdly, we proclaim it as beautiful. Proclamation is not the same as praise. I believe it was C.S. Lewis that something along the lines of this: joy in something is not complete until it is shared with someone else. Proclamation is the telling of the Beauty of this thing to someone else. It is sharing in this affection with someone else. Here we start seeing something about Beauty that will lead into our final response: Beauty longs to be known and spread – almost like a virus. It wants to inspire you to tell others about it, so that those people might participate in it as well. For creational Beauty this is done in many obvious ways like reviews and just telling someone else about it. For divine Beauty, this is typically referred to as preaching. Speaking of this God should be the natural response to someone who has praised and participated in the Beauty of God. It is out of the overflow of this in someone’s heart that they should speak. Not out of begrudging compulsion or sheer white-knuckled obedience. We tell others about the things we find most beautiful. Should this not also apply to the highest of all beautiful people – God?

Produce

This brings us to our last part in the process of responding to beauty. It’s very much tied to the previous one and has to do with Beauty replicating itself. God, in His love for us, calls us to respond to beauty not only by proclaiming beauty in word, but also producing beauty in deed. Produce is the last way we respond to Beauty. We are built in the Image of a God who doesn’t just desire, delight in, and display Beauty, but a God who also does Beauty. We, likewise, all have abilities to produce beauty. Not only that, our response to beauty is not complete until it has inspired us to likewise create beauty. Every musician in here knows what it’s like to be at a show or concert, seeing someone play the instrument that you play and suddenly having your mind swirling with musical ideas you want to try out when you get home. There’s an entire field of art history that tries and find the obscure pieces that inspired some of the greatest pieces of art we adore today. It works off the assumption that nothing that beautiful exists without inspiration before it. The longer I live, the more I am convinced that everyone has some creative ability in them. I don’t care how “uncreative” you think you are. You are built in the image of a Creator God! You have not only the ability, but I fully believe the responsibility as well to bring forth more beauty in this world and further participate in God’s “re-knitting” of the universe. Now this “creative” ability in all will look different in everyone, so don’t think you have to stick to conventional forms of “creativity”. Really, anything that makes beauty does this. It can be gardening, serving, counseling, or raising your kids, even. I would argue all those take a certain type of “artistic eye” to do them well. We all have it. Find it. Do it well. Do it often. And do it as a response to the Beauty that is around you in both God and Creation.

This also shows itself in the Christina life (and in our text) as holiness, or “doing good” as the author of Ecclesiastes puts it. Seeing the Beauty of God should inspire us to holy living and loving of others. Serving those around us in order to share with them and replicate the Beauty of God that we have seen.

Click for Manuscript Pdf

Manucscript

Click here for sermon audio

Audio

Baptized in Beauty{10} (Enjoy, Pt. II)


Schrott1

photo credit: David Schrott

For those that have followed this series on Beauty, you will know that we have hit three major sections so far: “Why do we long for Beauty?“, “What is Beauty?“, “What things are Beautiful?“, and now we’re in the “How do we respond to this Beauty” section. I am in the process of laying out four “stages” of an appropriate and full response to Beauty. The first stage of this response is a contemplation of the Beauty.  The second is our enjoyment of it.  The first step in that process is Praising Beauty, which we talked about last time. In this post, we talk about the next step. This also happens to be my favorite part of the process of responding to Beauty. It’s when we are joined to Beauty and are swept up in its complexity and nuances. I love this feeling, I love this experience, and I loved writing and talking about it. I hope you enjoy reading it. Once again, the full manuscript and audio of the lecture I gave on this is below. We pick up right where we left off, saying that we must praise Beauty.

______________

Bur praising is not enough. Seeing something beautiful and calling it such does not complete the purpose for which that beauty exists. Beauty has an attractive quality. It draws you toward it at a very deep level. The next step, after acknowledging this beauty is to allow it to suck you in. I call this “Participating” with the Beauty of that thing or person.

Practically, this looks lots of different ways. With other people, it’s a drawing near to that person. Conversing with them. Viewing more of the nuances of the Image of God in them that makes them beautiful. For art, it looks like accepting the art on its own grounds and letting it draw you in in whatever way it’s asking of you. For plays and films it’s that idea of “suspension of disbelief”, where you allow yourself to forget that you technically “know” this isn’t real, and you let yourself get sucked into this beauty. Other forms of art tend to ask us to get lost in the object itself and explore its nuances. Closing your eyes during a musical piece and hearing every note; letting the words of a poem get inside of you and change the vocabulary you use to describe its own beauty or the world around you; letting distractions fade as you stare at a painting and see every stroke, every color (anyone who has seen a piece in real-life by John Singer-Sargent or Vincent VanGogh knows this feeling most definitely). Have you ever cried because of Beauty? This is participating with it. In the contemplation stage of this process you ask yourself “what is the beauty of this thing asking of me? It’s drawing me to itself, but to what end?”

But what about God? What about Divine Beauty?  This is where His Beauty shows especially brilliantly. All other forms of beauty can only draw you near to itself. God can and does actually draw you into Himself and Himself in you. We can participate with Him in a way that every other form of beauty only faintly strives for. How? Well, He takes the first step upon changing someone by actually sending his very Spirit to dwell within His people.

But God not only let’s us participate in His Beauty spiritually, but also physically.  After He draws near to us, we do what the Bible calls “abiding” in Him, where we draw near to Him through various things the Bible calls “means of grace”. These are traditionally called sacraments.  They are physical things that we participate in and by faith He meets us there. One of the clearest examples is Baptism.  It is where we are brought into union and participation with Christ in response to his faithfulness and action toward us.  Another is Communion. Just think of the word: “Co-mmunion”. It’s where we “commune” with God. That bread and wine is a symbol, but not just that. It is in those elements that we His people are actually drawn further into God to “commune” and participate with Him in His beauty. This is why Communion is such a big deal in the Bible. God kills people – even Christians – because they misuse this beautiful thing. He will let no one lightly and trivially participate and be drawn into His Beauty.

This should lead us to a “sacramental” view of life, where God is using all things to communicate Himself to us and communicate His Grace to us. Let everything: every good-tasting piece of food, every sunset, every cool breeze, every joyful moment all be moments where God communicates Himself and His grace to you so you might participate and be joined to Him in His Beauty and we further praise Him even more. Historically, the Christians that do this well have been referred to as “mystics”. They are the ones that say seemingly crazy things. Brother Lawrence was a 17th century monk and he said: “I have at times had such delicious thoughts on the Lord I am ashamed to mention them.” John Owen, my favorite Puritan, says

O to behold the glory of Christ…Herein would I live; herein would I die; herein would I dwell in my thoughts and affections…until all things below become unto me a dead and deformed thing, no way suitable for affectionate embraces.

Oh that we longed in that way for God. There is a participation in the Glory, Beauty, Majesty, Goodness, and Love of God that is at hand for those who believe and far for those who don’t. Please, I beg of you, if you are not a believer, seek the Beauty of God, for it’s only suitable response is to be drawn into into and know his intimacy in this way. He, the fountain of all good things, the One for Whom your soul was made, does not disappoint those who seek to know Him. Participate in Beauty.

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“Seminaries & the Nature of Truth” – GoingToSeminary.com


Hey, just wanted to write a quick note letting you all know that my new article is up on GoingToSeminary.com.  This is Part 2 of a very unofficial series I’m doing on Truth and Doctrine.  The first part went up about a week and half ago, and had some great feedback on it.  This article is getting mostly positive feedback, though maybe I wasn’t as clear on this one.  I would love some more feedback.  By the way, Beauty Part 10, should be up in the next few minutes.  Here’s the link to the GtS article:

http://www.goingtoseminary.com/seminaries-the-nature-of-truth/

Enjoying Beauty{9}, Part I: Praise it.


Sargent - Claude Monet Painting in a Garden

We’re almost done! This is the home stretch of the series. After this, there are three more posts in this series on beauty. Then maybe a summary-conclusion article. Last time, we talked about what it looks like to contemplate Beauty. Here, we ask why we contemplate it and what the implications of this answer are. So, why do we contemplate Beauty?

So we can enjoy it to the fullest.

Our text says that God’s gift to man is the ability and call to enjoy and take pleasure in all things, even our vain toiling and strivings of heart. After contemplation, there comes the time when we must engage with what we have contemplated. Even in Christianity, our theological study and discovery of who God is is not complete until actually close the Bible, look up, and enjoy this revealed God. But how? What does this enjoyment look like? Well, as I’ve thought about it, I’ve broken down enjoyment into four different stages. To enjoy Beauty, we Praise it, Participate in it, Proclaim it, and Produce more beauty. Let’s break this down:

First, we praise the beautiful things.

This seems fairly simple at first, but it has a deeper level to it. In its external form, praising the beauty of something is as simple as calling it beautiful. But what about nature? Or art? Or a book? or poem? Perhaps the original artist is dead or not available for you to say to them, “Hey, that’s beautiful.” Those cases help show us that “praise” goes deeper than mere words. “Praise”, more accurately, is a turning of affections toward the object of the beauty before you. It’s acknowledging beauty at the deepest part of who you are. Now, don’t worry. I’m distinguishing between the affections we turn towards these things and the affections we have for God. Those that have been changed by God to see His Beauty have had their deepest affections changed so that God is highest in those affections. But it’s okay to have an affection for things that God loves and has affections for. Having affection for His Church, His people, your family, and Beauty (even the Beauty of quote-unquote “non-religious” things) is completely in line with someone who has been changed by God to see Him as most beautiful. The implications of this more accurate idea of “praising” are huge. First, it means that you can be “praising” with your lips and not actually be praising. It also means that you can be praising something fully, accurately, and appropriately without ever having uttered a word. Imagine staring at a beautiful piece of art. It’s just you and the art while everything else fades away, and every distraction disappears. In that moment, as your affection swells for this thing of Beauty, you are calling it beautiful – you are praising.

In the next few days we’ll discuss what it looks like to Participate in Beauty.  This will be a much longer, more developed idea.  And my favorite way of enjoying Beauty.  So until then…

Here are the manuscript and lecture that this series is based off of.

Click for Manuscript Pdf

Manucscript

Click here for sermon audio

Audio