Steve Dewitt describes himself as “a guy who is happy to be a pastor of people, pursuer of beauty, and proclaimer of God’s truth as best he understands it.” He’s the senior pastor of Bethel Church in Crown Point, Indiana, and author of a helpful book titled Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything (Credo, 2012). This book deals with a topic close to my heart (beauty), so I’ve asked Steve to engage in a blog conversation about beauty, truth, and goodness.
Trevin Wax: You write:
“Beauty, along with truth and goodness, dominated serious thinking and serious thinkers.”
We’ve gotten away from thinking deeply on beauty and wonder and its role in the life of the Christian. We’ve got this rich storehouse of past insight on these issues, but evangelicals have left it largely untapped. Where have we gone wrong?
Steve Dewitt: In the big picture, the more man-centered a culture is, the less wonder is found there. Why wonder when we have it all figured out or think it is all about us? Wonder and awe whisper that there is something beyond us, something mysteriously greater than us. I like Dubay’s comment very much:
“Wonder at reality demands the humility to sit at the foot of a dandelion. The proud are so full of themselves that there is little room to marvel at anything else.”
What is more troubling is why, in the modern evangelical’s worldview and life worship, a God-ward appreciation for beauty and wonder are so conspicuously absent. I propose in the book that it is because we don’t appreciate or marvel at the beauty of God and therefore don’t allow the daily beauties around us to enrich our daily worship of God. I wrote the book to highlight God’s beauty and to help the average Christian experience beauty and wonder and inwardly turn them into worship.
Steve Dewitt: While not denying that beauty and pleasure have serious roles to play in corporate worship, my passion is for Christians to enjoy God in the pleasure moments of everyday life. Here is where C. S. Lewis is so helpful to me because he has a knack for turning things upside down, at least as most people see them. He writes in Letters to Malcolm on how he would capture moments of pleasure and turn them into opportunities for adoration. That set me to thinking – what if God purposed all good pleasures to do this and even the beauties that produce the pleasure?
A quick look at my life revealed how lacking this was in my own daily walk. So I began to bring God into my aesthetically pleasing moments, from my daily coffee to the occasional brilliant sunset to the music my on iPod. I found that by turning my happiness in them toward God, I enjoyed them immensely more.
This has been for me a tremendous blessing as all around are God-intended reflections of His character and goodness. In this way, beauty can and will produce energy (wonder) that the Christian can turn into moments of God-ward worship.
Trevin Wax: It’s often said that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Do you think this is the case? Is there such a thing as objective beauty? And if so, how do we make sure our eyes are tuned to recognizing beauty when we see it?
Steve Dewitt: That oft quoted saying is true in a sense and unhelpful in another. Typically people quote it when there is a disagreement as to the desirability of something. Obviously not everyone finds the same things or experiences beautiful. However, this is the root of our problem because we want to be the measure and judge of it. Rather, God is the true beauty behind every created beauty. They are there to tell us what God is like, not us.
Take art as an example. The degree to which human art expresses God’s beauty is the degree to which God delights in it (and so should we). This is why God the Father rejoices over Jesus with “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Jesus is the exact representation of God’s being, the perfect mirror eternally showing who is the fairest of them all. God’s kind of beauty is His beauty. The world, the Word, and His Son are the only perfect reflections. Since we only see His beauty “imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror” (1 Cor. 13:12, NLT), our artistic expressions and interpretations lack clarity and precision. Yet we can express, appreciate, and enjoy what we know about God.
Beautiful art will reflect the excellence, goodness, harmonies, virtue, and redemptive glory of God. In this, beauty is in the eye of the Beholder as long as we recognize God as the Beholder of all beauty.
Trevin Wax: How can Christians cultivate our appreciation for art? What kind of guidelines would you give us to help us recognize beauty in the midst of a fallen world?
I am a happy expositional preaching pastor. This means that I feed my flock by drawing truth and meaning from the text of God’s Word.
In a sense, all Christians have to do the same with natural and man-created beauty around us. We have to draw truth and meaning from them. Ever since the fall, we don’t do this by nature. Yet God has restored this capacity through redemption if we will “see” and “hear” and “touch” and “smell” beauty as God intended.
I find this easier to do with nature than with art. Human art creates tensions because all art is speaking and proclaiming truth, at least truth from the artist’s perspective. In a fallen world, this means these “art stories” deal with falsehoods and brokenness.
Here is where the Christian experience of art can be so powerful and wonderful. As we experience the artistic expression, we can experience the artist’s exposition of truth through the grid of God’s perspective as found in Scripture and His redemptive story. God’s story explains the artist’s story and his artistic expression of it. Because we love the truth, artistic celebration of it is an opportunity to enjoy it for God’s sake. When it is consistent with what is true, the beauty and the truth create gladness within. When art contradicts God’s story, the Christian can still enjoy how the contradiction highlights the truth.
There are dangers lurking here, and art that tells falsehood often does so very convincingly. Yet if we mine for God’s truth and relish it wherever we find it, we will find great opportunities to turn the wonder beauty creates within us into worshipful thoughts, meditations, and joy in God.