Aesthetics and Worship -- By: James S. Spiegel

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 02:4 (Winter 1998)
Article: Aesthetics and Worship
Author: James S. Spiegel

Aesthetics and Worship

James S. Spiegel

James S. Spiegel is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Taylor University, Upland, Indiana, where he has taught since 1992. He is the author of several scholarly articles, and is currently at work on a book about hypocrisy.


As the twentieth century of Christian history draws to a close, I believe that we can safely conclude the church is at a low point in terms of artistic accomplishment. The golden days of church leadership in music, painting, literature, drama, and architecture are a thing of the distant past.1 Perhaps gone as well are the days when we Christians could entertain realistic hopes for a recovery of our leadership position in the arts. Therefore, two pressing questions loom for the church mired in an aesthetic malaise as the third millennium commences: what went wrong? And what can we do to make things better? The first query has been addressed ably by Christian scholars.2 Credible answers to the second question, however, have been sparse.

Curing the aesthetic ills of the Christian community will be a mammoth task, if it is to be achieved at all. Without question the prescription for success will demand attention both to the theoretical (theological and philosophical) foundations of Christian thought as well as to assorted practical matters. Elsewhere I have addressed the matter of the philosophical foundations of aesthetics.3 In this essay I shall discuss the theological foundations of a Christian aesthetic and make some concrete applications, specifically to the matter of worship. First, I will develop a biblical theology of beauty and the arts. Second, I will spell out a particular practical approach to the arts implied by this theological aesthetic framework, giving special attention to the matter of worship.

Towards A Biblical Aesthetic

Evangelicals tend to be nervously suspicious of secular art, rigidly utilitarian in their approach to Christian art and apathetic about developing a biblical aesthetic. These prevailing attitudes represent so significant a deviation from a properly biblical approach to the arts that I am tempted to suggest that the church is guilty of what might be called the “aesthetic heresy.” But, alas, there has never been an official church aesthetic or doctrine of the arts, and without theological orthodoxy there can be no true heterodoxy. Still, the dominant view is grossly unbiblical, and recognition of this fact is the first step towards recovering a biblical aesthetic.

Divine Beauty

Aesthetics, generally speaking, i...

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