Read This Book: Awakening Wonder by @DrTurleyTalks (@ClassicalAcadPr)

“There is no argument against beauty.” -Peter Kreeft

It has become increasingly clear to me in recent years that North American evangelical Christianity suffers from a lack of confidence in and appreciation for Beauty. We pursue and call for the Good and the True, yet our strategy has centered primarily on syllogistic rationalism. We’re not all that apt at aesthetics. We love Truth, but we’ve forgotten that whatever is true is also beautiful, and we’ve forgotten that Beauty itself is deeply persuasive. There is no argument against beauty. 
Given my growing interest in the role of theological aesthetics in pedagogy and apologetics, I was very excited to see Stephen Turley’s new book from Classical Academic Press (CA), Awakening Wonder: A Classical Guide to Truth, Goodness, and Beauty (2015). I’ve been following the work of CAP for several years now and have found their resources invaluable. This book is no different. 
Turley’s book introduces the reader to the role of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in shaping human life through a distinctly Christian education. The book opens in dialogue with C.S. Lewis to survey the way contemporary Western culture has redefined what it means to be human by removing objective value from our common life (chapter 1). This is followed by a look at the birth and development of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty as objective values in the classical world, and Plato’s role in that development receives focused attention. (chapter 2). Turley then traces the development of these values by the Christian Church in the Greek East (chapter 3) and the Latin West (chapter 4). All of that then serves as the foundation for his argument that the recovery of objective aesthetics by classical Christian educators provides the necessary tools to redeem the senses (chapter 5), sanctify the imagination (chapter 6), and reform education (chapter 7) in order to provide an environment in which our children grow up to embody the objective values of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. The strength of the book is the author’s ability to synthesize and communicate a significant amount of material across a variety of disciplines and apply it to the contemporary classical Christian education project. The coherence of the argument embodies the values it promotes.
The God who raised Jesus from the dead is perfectly beautiful, and his beauty beckons us. Turley has provided a framework for developing our ability to perceive the divine beauty which calls us with joy to himself. The result is the recovery of that which we have neglected in the modern period, and the rediscovery of full human life that faithfully incarnates the sacred vocation to shine forth the beauty of the glory of the triune God in whose image we are made. Take and read. 

Defining the Good

Everyone operates with some definition of the word “good.”  As far as I can tell, such definitions are usually arrived at without explicit thoughtfulness and usually involve moralistic criteria.  We think people are basically good if they seem to care a bit about others and minimize expressly harmful activity.  So, humanitarians are good and murderers are bad, and people who get a lot of speeding tickets are basically good, if a little rambunctious.  But one problem with defining “good” in moralistic categories is that everyone has, at least, slightly different categories.  For one person, twenty speeding tickets is heinous; for another, it is not such a big deal. 
Defining the good in moralistic terms also makes it difficult for us to understand why the God revealed in Jesus Christ is displeased with those whom we think are basically good but have no faith in Christ.  It is hard for us to imagine that God is displeased with an agnostic orphanage worker.  But scripture says, “whatever is not from faith is sin” (Rom 14:23).  So, if an action does not proceed from faith in Christ, it is sinful and displeasing to God, even humanitarian work.  What is going on here? 
The problem is our definition of “good.”  The word should not be primarily defined in terms of morality.  As we have seen, this creates a crooked standard.  Rather, the “good” should be defined in terms of what is pleasing to God.  Romans 8:5-8 is helpful.  In these verses, Paul describes the conflict between the flesh and the Spirit.  “Flesh” is Paul’s word for humanity apart from Christ and in sin.  “Spirit” describes those who have come to new life in Christ.  The flesh and the Spirit are antagonistic and wage war against one another.  Ultimately, Paul says, “The mind set on the flesh cannot please God” (8).  This means that anyone who is not in Christ and in whom the Spirit of God does not dwell is entirely incapable of pleasing God.  He looks upon their works and is displeased, if not angered.  Why?  Because their works do not proceed from faith in Christ.  Their works are not the fruit of his indwelling Spirit.  No matter how moral their lives look to us, they are not acting out of love for God in Christ.  Thus, they are displeasing to God.  They are not good. 
This passage helps us as we reorient our definition of “good.”  Something is good only when it is pleasing to God.  It is not the apparent moralism, or lack thereof, that makes something good or bad.  It is not apparent altruism or humanitarianism.  Goodness depends on whether or not God is pleased.  And God is pleased only by the life lived in his Son Jesus Christ. 
This makes sense if salvation is only by grace through faith.  If God were pleased with works and actions performed by the unregenerate, his approval would not be based on the person and work of Christ but on the morality of our behavior.  This makes the cross of Christ unnecessary. 
A whole lot more is riding on our definition of “good” than we normally realize.  If “good” is to be understood in moralistic terms, then Jesus is unnecessary and the gospel is a sham.  Rather, as we evaluate what is good in the world and in our culture, let us evaluate it as God does.  Our question should be: Is a particular action the fruit of the Spirit and born of faith in Christ?  If so, then it is pleasing to God and good.  If not, it is as a filthy rag to him.

Edwards, Assurance, and the Beauty of God

I’ve never really read Jonathan Edwards (I know, I know, shame on me), but I’m presently reading Gerald McDermott’s brief guide to The Great Theologians (IVP), and he includes a chapter introducing several major points in Edwards’ thought.  One issue struck me particularly.  According to McDermott,
“Edwards said that what distinguishes the regenerate from the unregenerate is that the former see the beauty of holiness.  The latter see only God’s holiness.  This is why the devils in hell see that God is holy, but remain in hell.  The regenerate love that holiness because they see its beauty.  So it is aesthetic vision that separates the saved from the unsaved” (120).
As I first read this, it occurred to me that this statement has huge implications for Christian assurance of salvation.  All Christians long for certainty of their right standing before God.  Most (if not all) have at one time or another wondered whether their experience of salvation was indeed authentic.  The question is often answered in terms of obedience.  After all, Jesus said that those who love him will obey him.  And while that is of course true, indwelling sin remains even after we are justified.  So, if our obedience is not an infallible indicator of Christian assurance, what are we to do? 
McDermott’s reading of Edwards suggests that the regenerate see God’s holiness as beautiful, and that this is precisely what separates them from the unregenerate.  If correct, this should mean that the Christian can find some measure of assurance by considering whether he finds God’s holiness to be beautiful or attractive.  I find this to be greatly comforting because, even when I stumble, I know that I have loved and longed for the holiness of godly character.  Nothing is more desirable than the altogether perfect and pure holiness of the triune God.  Indeed, the beauty of his holiness is unspeakable.  Even when we find ourselves grieving over indwelling sin, this aesthetic approach to assurance means that assurance can be maintained because grief over sin comes from a failure to reflect that which we find supremely beautiful, namely divine holiness.  I suspect this is part of what it means for God’s Spirit to testify with our spirits that we are his children.
So, Christian, when you find yourself asking how you know that the regenerating Spirit of God dwells in you, consider whether you find God’s holiness beautiful.  Does your heart long to properly reflect God’s great glory?  Do you desire to see the beauty of God’s holiness?  If so, then you may be sure that you belong to him!