Beauty, Spirit, and Evangelism
I’m not a poet. Actually, a more candid statement more accurately state that I’m just about as far removed from being a poet and possessing poetic sensibilities as one might get. When I read prose fiction, I don’t see words … images and a sense of what transpires moves through my consciousness as my eyes and the reading process occurs at an unconscious level. When the story gets slow or I’m hurried by external circumstances, I turn the pages faster and the story picks up. Writing as a result comes very hard for me, as normally I don’t interact with sentence, phrase, and the art of the written word. Thus most of my reading misses and fails to perceive the quality and beauty of the prose. Narrative, yes, that I get, wordcraft not so much.
Similarly modern evangelical movements, especially in the US, are for the most part barking up the wrong tree. All to often they fall back on Pharisaic proclamations declaiming legalist standards regarding behavioural norms. There are indeed scriptural precedents for this. Scripture, for example Jeremiah and the minor prophets, abound in strong declarations of consequences of forgetting and falling away from God. But, for the most part, these same minor prophets are inspired by the Spirit of God and also promise reconciliation and a restoration of the covenant after a period of exile. I might suggest that few of those making those proclamations are in a position to offer the same promises, for they are not speaking as God’s prophets.
It is a Christian dogma that we come to Christ through the action of the Spirit of God working within us, drawing us to Him and to seek his Grace. So, how does that work? What does that action look like? Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn famously remarked that the line between good and evil passes through every human heart, so too one might paraphrase this to offer that another line (perhaps with hook attached) can be found in every human heart, that being the one of the Spirit pointing out God to man. But unlike the more obvious maxim of Mr Solzhenitsyn it might be instructive to spend a moment considering what sort of features God’s hook in my heart looks like and what part in me it might be.
Admiration for truth and beauty and an appreciation of the same is universal. Some truths are very beautiful. I’m not a poet (as noted above) so I happen to regard things like Hamilton’s quaternions, obscure programming language constructions, some musical performances, and the SR-71 as some of those expressions of truth and beauty in the modern world that speak to me. This quality, the appreciation for truth and beauty is, I suggest, an important facet in how the Christian teaching identifies and locates the Spirit within man seeking God. All truth is not beauty. At the same time, some truths are ugly, like taking a hard look at the sort of person that I really as compared to what I perceive as the person God calls me to be. But if you want to connect with the Spirit in another person, going the route connecting to the beautiful truths is going to energize and excite another far more than the ugly ones.
Thus if an important part of that which is in me which seeks God is that part which seeks out beauty and truth then that has implications for apologetics and evangelism. And here is where the modern evangelical movement and the perception of them on the public stage is failing. The modern secular members of the Western world just as we do also have that hook in their heart. But, nobody is tugging on it or trying to resonate with it. Few, if any, are writing the poems, the songs, and pointing the way as to how their appreciation for beauty can be fulfilled in and through Christ and His Church. As Paul McCain notes, Bach did. But his methods and ways no longer speak to much of the modern world as they did centuries past. Each generation has special insight into their peers.
More attention to the wonder and beauty inherent and threaded through Christian dogma and thought needs to be made and a little less to the other side of truth, pointing out the corruption and evil rampant in our society and our world and their (and often likewise ignoring our) participation in the same.
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