The well-known reformed theologian, R. C. Sproul, founder of Ligonier Ministries, some of you readers know died on December 14 this year. I appreciated his defense and exposition of many important aspects of the biblical and historic doctrine of the Christian faith. He impacted much with perhaps his most well known book, The Holiness of God.
Sproul has stepped out in what is now considered a bold way concerning objective beauty, defending the transcendentals of truth, goodness, and beauty. In recognition of his recent death, I want to point out his communication of objective beauty as one of the three legs of the Christian faith. He wrote several articles at Ligonier on beauty to expose and defend this foundational element to the right understanding of God. Here are several articles (1 here, 2 here, 3 here, 4 here, 5 here, 6 here, 7 here, 8 here, 9 here, 10 here). He also has done a lot in video (9 part series on beauty, here) and audio (here, here, here, here, and here). I'm not saying he and I agree on everything, but he puts a lot of effort into saying this is something we can and should judge.
If there is beauty, there is not beauty. If we can judge something to be beautiful, then we can also judge something not to be beautiful. The premoderns categorized beauty as a transcendental, that is, beauty proceeds from outside of this world and from God. Our understanding of beauty should be based on the holiness and majesty of God and separate from mankind. God defines beauty.
I have used the terminology, "truth in the real world," to apply to what God expects everyone to know. It is assumed truth. I wrote a two part series on "effeminate" in a major way to say that we can know what is effeminate. We can judge that. We are responsible to judge what is effeminate and God is judging and will judge effeminate qualities of men. We read the verbiage, "worldly lust," and it is assumed among many other assumptions of God that we know what worldly lust is. If the grace of God that has appeared to all men teaches us to deny worldly lust, we should assume that we can know what worldly lust is. We can't play dumb with that and many other truths in the real world.
It is rebellion against God to say that we can't know. Sproul says we can know. I believe he compromises and capitulates, but he doesn't lie and say that we can't judge these things. I admire him for that. What Sproul knows is that people get an understanding of God through what someone is willing to call "beautiful."
Whatever it is that people offer God with music says what they believe about God. If what they offer isn't beautiful, that reflects their understanding of God and also shapes their and others understanding of God. I have written here many times that God is shaped in people's imaginations by what God is offered in worship. If it is worldly and lustful, for instance, than that is the perception of God. That has, therefore, become the perception of God. If God isn't God in someone's imagination, then he has a different God. This is a form of idolatry, and it relates to the gospel.
God doesn't like or accept everything. We see that throughout scripture. He doesn't like fleshly or worldly lust or that which conforms to the spirit of the age. We can judge that. We have to judge that. If we go ahead and offer God what we like, that He doesn't like, that is our view of God. It is rebellion against the nature of God, His truth, goodness, or beauty.
The defense is, you can't judge beauty or aesthetics. That is an attack on truth. We can know the truth in the real world. We are required to know all three: truth, goodness, and beauty. This is the greatest threat of apostasy, people's wrong understanding of God based on the inability to judge. They conform God to their own lust, replacing the true God in their imagination.
Sproul says that beauty is not in the eye of the beholder. The eye of the beholder or the beholder himself has become god. Men don't know God because their knowledge of God has been distorted in their imaginations by their perversion of beauty.
Today men cannot or won't identify manhood, because that has become perverted. This has occurred to the degree that now someone can self identify his own sexuality. Churches are capitulating here like they have already in music and worship. Churches won't judge worldly lust, fleshly lust, and worldliness, because they say scripture doesn't tell us what they are. They deny the assumption that we can know. The path away from God into apostasy doesn't come mostly from a change in a doctrinal statement, but based upon these issues that Christians today say they can't judge. God expects that we will, so we should assume that we can.