Losing Beauty in Worship

A discussion of beauty is one that seldom remains unemotional.  “Beauty,” we have been told, “is in the eye of the beholder.”  And with that powerful suggestion of autonomy, each individual is able to declare what they believe to be beautiful, and what is not.  To challenge this cultural assumption is often met with disdain, yet to clearly understand beauty this assumption must be challenged.

As an element of philosophy, beauty is part of the study of aesthetics.  In a larger context, it is part of the three-fold scheme philosophers have considered for centuries:  goodness, truth and beauty.  According to John Cottingham, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading:

“Truth, beauty and goodness…are all what philosophers call normative concepts — they carry with them the sense of a requirement or a demand.  The true is that which is worthy of belief — “to be believed”; the beautiful is that which is worthy of admiration; and the good is that which is worthy of choice.  They all therefore seem to be rather ‘queer’ properties (as the late Oxford philosopher John Mackie once put it). They have this odd, magnetic aspect — they somehow have ‘to-be-pursuedness’ built into them.”*

As concepts which are “to-be-pursued,” we can recognize that they are outside of us with an existence (if we can say it that way) that is independent of our thoughts or opinions.  In other words, something is not beautiful because we determine it to be so (“in the eye of the beholder”), rather, beauty is something we discover because it is in the world for us to find. When considered this way, it is no longer a matter of opinion, but an objective reality that anyone seeking truth and beauty can discover.

This is in keeping with a biblical view of beauty.  Goodness, truth and beauty as constructs of thinking are evident in many Bible passages (see Romans 12:1-2 as an example).  Overall, these are part of God’s creation, because His creation represents His character (Romans 1:20).  They are all discoverable things – so that beauty is something that we discover infused in God’s creation around us.  Things are not beautiful because we think that they are, we discover the beauty and agree that the beauty is there!

Worship in the gathered Christian community would benefit from removing the cultural baggage that beauty is “in the eye of the beholder.”  Rather than singing songs we like, or that “get us moving,” or somehow touch us emotionally, we would benefit from finding songs that represent beauty holistically (the music as music, as well as the message), allowing them to shape our response.  Beyond music, architecture, lighting, use of technology, and other facets of worship must be part of this thinking, and we would be well-served to avoid making decisions primarily because they are practical.  In doing so, we may lose the beauty in the process.




Posted on November 4, 2015, in Arts, Christian Worldview, Content of Worship, Corporate Worship, Leadership, theology, Worship Leader and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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