Is Beauty an Absolute Value?

In my personal doctrinal statement, I state that God is the defining, transcendent, and absolute standard of truth, goodness, and beauty.

This statement is an important distinctive of a full-orbed, conservative Christian theology. As Dr. Scott Aniol puts it, “All truth is grounded in the reality that God is True. All virtue is grounded in the reality that God is Good. All beauty is grounded in the reality that God is Beautiful… Christians as image-bearers of God must commit themselves to thinking God’s thoughts after Him, to behaving in ways that conform to God’s moral perfection, and to loving those things that God calls lovely.”

“Beauty” is being used in the classical sense of not only that which is aesthetically proportionate and appealing, but more broadly as “that which is worthy of delight and affection.” We use other words beside beauty for this kind of concept—depending on what we’re talking about we may call something beautiful, like a beautiful landscape, or a beautiful song, or a beautiful face. But for other things we may use different terms such as lovely, pleasant, fitting, attractive, appealing, becoming, serene, delightful… but they all would fall under the category of beauty—it’s something that’s worthy of taking delight in, because it’s fitting in to its proper place or function.

When you say “why believe that?” the answer “because it’s true,” is sufficient—truth is in and of itself a worthy cause to believe something, because we ought to seek to align our beliefs with those of God. Because God’s perception is never wrong, He is the defining standard of truth. When you say “why do that?” the answer “because it’s good,” is an equally sufficient answer, because goodness is an absolute value, just like truth—that is, we ought to seek to align our morals with those of God; we ought to behave in ways that conform to God’s goodness.

So what I’m simply saying here is that when we ask “why delight in this, but not this?” the answer “because this is beautiful, and this isn’t,” is an equally sufficient answer, because we ought to be aligning our values, our loves, our affections, with those of God. We ought to seek to love the things God loves. Why? Because God is the defining standard of beauty, of loveliness, of what is worthy of delight.

In James K.A. Smith’s book, You Are What You Love, his basic premise is that the world is pulling young people away from the faith not primarily (although this is certainly involved) through trying to change their minds about things, but through seeking to capture their hearts. We can know the truth, but if we don’t love the truth, it won’t keep us from straying. And we can know the good, we can know what is right, but if we don’t love the good—if we don’t love Christ so much that we want to be like Him—knowing what is right will not keep us from doing what is wrong.

The view that beauty has an absolute, transcendent standard is an ancient view in classical philosophy, but has also been the traditional view of the church, especially since Augustine (and then Thomas Aquinas, who rounded out the idea). More recently, however, the common view that “beauty is solely in the eye of the beholder” has become the common view amongst Christians as well. In fact, Roger Scruton is an example of a thinking philosopher (and one of my favorites, at that) who rejects the transcendental trinity, arguing that beauty is actually not as absolute as goodness and truth. Scruton would argue that when you ask “why delight in that?” the answer “because it’s beautiful,” is not an equally sufficient answer because you’d have to go one more step and ask, “why delight in what is beautiful?”

I think, according to Scripture, though, the terminal answer to that would be because God is beautiful (Phil 4:8; Eph. 5:9–10). And that does seem to place beauty on the same level, philosophically, as truth and goodness—since the terminal reason for seeking truth and goodness is that God is true and good.

Pastors in Prison?

Recently, Pastor James Coates, pastor of GraceLife Church in Alberta, was arrested and imprisoned for holding regular church services. His trial is set to begin May 3rd, and most likely he’ll be in prison until that time. Several weeks prior, Trinity Bible Chapel, in Ontario, was also in legal trouble. Trinity Bible Chapel was assembling, contrary to Ontario’s dictates, so all 6 of their elders received citations for holding services, and the sentence was issued to the tune of $83,000 in fines… they’re still meeting.

The two clips attached below are unspeakably important.

One of the things I appreciate about this, about what’s going on both in Canada and the US, is that these are solid churches. These are sound, Bible-teaching churches. It’s not like we’re talking about fringe whackos; and it’s not like these are high profile pastors, or huge mega-churches or something. These are faithful pastors, seeking to shepherd in a manner in keeping with their commission from Christ.

I’m also praying that all of this will get Christians in America to wake up.

To read and hear more of the best material that’s come out on the church’s response to COVID-19, lockdowns, and recent political and ecclesiastical happenings, see my list here.

The first clip below is Pastor Jacob Reaume, the senior pastor at Trinity Bible Chapel, talking about the situation in Alberta. And the second clip is Pastor James Coates, from the Sunday before he was arrested.

Pray for these men and their families.

It’s Not Like the Bible Requires Us to Assemble…

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting the assembling of ourselves together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?…

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, ‘Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.’

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls
.” — Hebrews 10:23–39

The book of Hebrews is one of admonition and exhortation. The authors are calling on the readers to persevere in the faith, to remain loyal to Christ, to not go back on their confession that Jesus is Lord and Messiah, to not forsake Christianity and return to their former ways (3:6, 14; 4:14; 6:18; 10:23; 11:11). And this admonition (to remain resolute and faithful in our allegiance to Christ) is so needed, only because of the tremendous temptation to do otherwise—to give up, to turn back, to seek relief from the hatred and mocking and misunderstanding of the world.

Here in Hebrews 10, we are urged not to neglect the assembling of ourselves together.

As I’ve pointed out elsewhere:

“The apostles instruct us to not forsake the assembly, as is the habit of some, but to encourage and stir one another up to love and good works (Heb. 10:25). This means the weekly assembly of believers is for the encouragement and edification of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and it ought to be a priority in the rhythm of your weekly routine as a family. By neglecting the regular corporate worship of the church we’ve committed ourselves to, we not only become a discouragement to our brothers and sisters, but we inadvertently teach our children to devalue the local church—while also keeping them, during their most formative years, from one of the primary means God has given for the spiritual growth of His people.”

Assembling together is the most fundamental and foundational thing Christians do. The church is called the “church” (which means “assembly,” or “congregation”), because what characterizes us—what we are marked by—is that we have committed to regularly assemble (to congregate) in Christ’s name to declare, uphold, and proclaim the Word and worth of God, and to officially affirm, equip, and oversee one another’s faith in Christ through discipleship, corporate worship, the teaching and preaching of God’s Word, and the observance of the ordinances.

So, with that being said, I wanted to make two brief but crucial notes about this important passage in Hebrews 10, over which there has been much debate and disputation in 2020 because of the immediate relevance of one’s interpretation of the instruction there to one’s approach to the lockdowns.

First, many have made much of the phrase, “as is the habit of some.” I’ve seen a number of churches getting a lot of mileage out of the defense that “we’re not making a habit of not assembling; this is temporary; therefore, we’re not violating the instruction here.” Without taking the time to argue that churches (or individuals) who do not gather with the body of Christ for even mildly extended periods of time—much less staying away from the assembly “indefinitely,” or “until the virus is under control,” as some have put it—indeed are making a habit of it… I want to point out a common interpretive mistake being made here.

Hebrews 10:25 is not primarily (though an a fortiori argument applies) forbidding the making of a habit of skipping church. It’s merely observing that some have done so, and warning of the danger of it. But the prohibition is not specifically of habitually neglecting the assembly; it is a prohibition of neglecting the assembly. It says not to stay away from the assembly, as is the habit of some.

It’s not merely forbidding the making of a habit, it’s forbidding a practice that others have made a habit of. And that leads to a second note I want to make about this passage.

That activity it’s forbidding is: staying away from the assembly because of the danger of attending. The context is the temptation to stay away from the assembly due to the extreme risk involved with attendance.

The verses later in the same chapter make this evident. When the readers had first become Christians, they endured severe trials of their faith, and had proved faithful. In the face of difficult struggles and suffering and, at times, public shame, disgrace, and maltreatment, they had stood their ground, as well as supporting other believers who had undergone persecution. In that context, it would be very tempting to stay away from the gathering of the body.

Think about it… going to church could jeopardize their very lives. It could endanger their family. It could bring steep legal consequences. And their neighbors certainly wouldn’t understand their going to church—these 1st-century Christians.

It’s in that context… it’s with regard to that specific temptation—to stay away form the assembly, to neglect assembling together for the sake of safety and risk-aversion—that the injunction comes: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting the assembling of ourselves together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

There are a plethora of articles and resources I could share for further edification. For now, I’ll refer you to my list of the best resources here, and just recommend two more recent articles particularly relevant to this post, here, and here.

And, finally, I’ll leave you with a quote (out of the second article above) from a letter written by Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria, “regarding the witness of Christians in contrast to pagans during a fifteen-year plague in the third century:”

“Many terrible things happened to us also before this. At first we were driven out, persecuted, and killed, but we kept our festival even then… But the brightest festival of all was kept by the fulfilled martyrs, who feasted in heaven… Most of our brethren showed love and loyalty in not sparing themselves while helping one another, tending to the sick with no thought of danger and gladly departing this life with them after becoming infected with their disease… The best of our own brothers lost their lives in this way—some presbyters, deacons, and laymen—a form of death based on strong faith and piety that seems in every way equal to martyrdom. They would also take up the bodies of the saints, close their eyes, shut their mouths, and carry them on their shoulders. They would embrace them, wash and dress them in burial clothes, and soon receive the same services themselves. The heathen were the exact opposite. They pushed away those with the first signs of the disease and fled from their dearest. They even threw them half dead into the roads and treated unburied corpses like refuse in hopes of avoiding the plague of death, which, for all their efforts, was difficult to escape.”

The day will declare it.

So, What’s the Plan?

So, it turns out things are not just magically settling back down to a world we feel we can safely control. We’re not going back to normal, whatever that was. So, what do we do?

Well, until we have a clearer picture of what God’s providence has allotted to us, it’s our responsibility as Christians to sit tight, trust the Lord, keep our heads, and keep our feet. As pastor Wilson has stressed, there’s little benefit in jumping to extreme measures or irreparably drastic courses of action, or even trying to gauge what we should do about it, before we even really know what “it” is.

So then, focus on making your household more antifragile, shoring up your resources and support structures—finances, supplies, the strength of your marriage, the intentionality and effort you’re putting into bringing your children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, networks and relationships with fellow believers, etc. Of course, the foundational thing we do, (and we work out from here), is gathering with Christ’s people to encourage and strengthen one another, to sing praises to God together, and hear the Word of God together.

Central to everything about how we respond to the curves and stresses of life, is that we need to be dedicated to knowing and applying God’s Word to every area of life. We can only know Christ, and we can only know how He would have us live, if we are hearing His instruction for us through His Word. In Acts 2, the first mark of the New Covenant community is that we are a learning community. Christians are a people of the Book. Central to the study of the Word of God here in our church is a commitment to teach the whole counsel of God—to teach believers, as Christ puts it in the great commission, to obey all that He has commanded. We’re committed to the systematic, consecutive, exposition of the Scriptures, and so we’re bound also by a commitment to have no problem passages—where the Scriptures speak, we speak.

We’re committed to the public reading and studying of God’s Word, because it is through the faithful study and application of the Word of God that we can grow to better know, love, and serve our Lord and Savior and King, Jesus Christ.

See some more thorough thoughts on the proper response and preparation here.

On Illegitimate Governments

“Governments can either be good or evil, and governments can also be legitimate or illegitimate. Those are not synonymous alternatives. So this gives us a set of four possible combinations. A government can be good and legitimate, evil and legitimate, good and illegitimate, and evil and illegitimate. Not only so, but these categories can get really blurry, right? They can morph from one to another.

The Telmarines invaded and conquered Narnia, which they had no right to do, making their occupancy illegitimate, but over time, the circumstances changed. They changed so much that Miraz killing Caspian’s father made him a regicide and a usurper, and Prince Caspian the Tenth was the lawful heir to the throne, which Trufflehunter recognized. If you are not familiar with this story, you really need to read your Old Testament more.

In other words, the illegitimate can become legitimate over time.

And Rehoboam was the lawful heir to Solomon’s throne, but through a combination of hubris and bungling (1 Kings 12:1ff), he provoked a massive tax revolt, leading to the establishment of the northern kingdom of Israel. The legitimate thus became illegitimate, and Jeroboam became the legitimate king in the north.

Over time, legitimacy is therefore a function of stable occupancy. The House of Windsor replaced the House of Hanover, and nobody cares anymore about the Tudors and Stuarts. As we shall see, when it comes to legitimacy as biblically defined, there really is a large amount of de facto in it…

After Nero was forced to commit suicide in 68 A.D., the Roman Empire was in a good bit of turmoil for a time. That year is known as the Year of the Four Emperors, and if we count the time that Nero occupied in it, it was a stretch of time that actually had five emperors. After Nero’s death, three men in quick succession took the throne—Galba, Otho, and Vitellius. And then Vespasian, who was the general besieging Jerusalem, left that task with his son Titus, and came back to Rome in order to establish the Flavian dynasty. But for a while there pretty much everything was up in the air. So if you were a tidy-minded Christian, wanting Romans 13 to remain simple, plain and clear, that would have been quite the year for you. You would have only been part way through your sermon series on why obedience to Otho was a biblical necessity, only to find out that you were going to be charged with treason for not preaching the biblical necessity of obeying Vitellius…

Absent clear leading from the Lord, it is our responsibility to sit tight as Christians, waiting on the Lord. We should be waiting for a clear view of what providence is assigning to us. Don’t try to gauge what we are supposed to do about it before you actually know what ‘it’ is (Prov. 18:13).” — Doug Wilson

Read the rest of this important and helpful post here.

More on the Sons of God

I’m impressed to see this come out of Southern Seminary. Peter Gentry delivers a helpful discussion on a controversial topic—the interpretation of Genesis 6 and the “sons of God.”

For more on the sons of God, see my argument for their identity here. You can also watch Wes Callihan, of Roman Roads Media, explain in this video how the Nephilim may be the source of many of the ancient Greek myths.