Has Beauty Lost Her Voice?

A high-domed auditorium with classic wood trim speaks to everyone who enters it even if they don’t realize they have joined the conversation. A 30-piece orchestra sends a message too. In the words of R. C. Sproul, “Every form is an art form, and every art form communicates.” That means wood trim, suits and ties, use of technology, paint colors, plants real or fake, hairstyles, furniture, the level of the floor, the height of the podium, and general cleanliness all have meaning. Every art form casts a vote for the values it is promoting.

Art sends messages, and so too do propositions. While seeing truth in beautiful art forms is satisfying, God has also given us beauty in truthful statements as well. I love speaking, hearing, reading, and writing truth in words. Carefully crafted, logical arguments are vital to Christianity making up large portions of the New Testament. Absolute truth can and must be communicated in words and propositions because God did it in the Bible.

To finish the set, we can predicate beauty and truth of actions as well. When a woman serves her children, that is beautiful. When a man sacrifices for his wife, that speaks the truth about the role of men as well as Christ and His church. Good actions, beautiful art, and truthful statements all work together sending messages.

Nevertheless, we often feel like we need to dignify beauty with propositions as if art can’t say anything without our words. In an effort to enhance the art form however, we subtly detract from it kind of like affirmative action does for minorities, “We love you so much we’ll give you help that you may not need or want.”

Here are some examples in a worship service where words of explanation may potentially undermine the art form.

1. Placing the words of the offertory on a screen, thus distracting people from the message of the music itself.

2. Discussing the quality of a song’s lyrics while in a discussion about musical style, thus implying that the only message of music are the propositions in the words.

3. Filling blank walls with slogans, mottoes, or verses, thus interrupting the silent, deep throat of architecture.

4. Projecting announcements on the screen before the service starts, thus calling people away from any beauty in the largest room of the building.

5. Allowing no quiet time during baptism or the Lord’s Table, thus saying that these rituals can be handled quickly so that we can get back to more propositions.

6. Choosing a Bible translation based only on readability, thus saying that beautiful words and poetry add nothing to worship.

The items on this list are not necessarily bad. They are only bad if we don’t genuinely value the contribution that beautiful art can and should make to worship. If our sensibility defaults to a relativistic view of beauty, or if we secretly don’t know how to interpret and enjoy art in worship in a God-honoring way, or if we are cherishing the ridiculous notion that art doesn’t really matter, then these six and others will show up repeatedly.

Words are not the enemy of beauty, nor do all those bad results come each time we explain some artistic endeavor. But for those raised in a world where post-modernity is in the air, for those who basically fit in with the broader sensibilities of the age, for those who eat more mental sugar in a month than our forebears had in a lifetime, we should expect ourselves to discount the objective role of beauty in worship. If beauty has not lost her voice, then we probably don’t need to speak for her.

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