Aesthetics & the Gospel

Yesterday I read an article that I wanted to bring to y’all’s (my faithful reader or two) attention and briefly discuss. The article itself discussion the much publicized Bibliotheca Kickstarter campaign Adam Lewis Greene. It’s a pretty amazing occurrence considering the original goal for the campaign was $37,000 and as of right now they’ve raised almost $1.5 million! The goal of the Bibliotheca Kickstarter project is to publish a Bible. Greene’s vision is to simplify the Bible and remove much of the additions that have found their way into Biblical production over the years. No, Greene is not talking about the actual content of the Bible, he’s focusing on things like: cross-references, footnotes, study notes, concordances, and all the other things you’ll typically find in a Bible at Barnes & Nobel. Greene wants to publish a Bible (ASV translation) looks, feels, and reads more like a book.

For those of you who are familiar with the project I apologize for the necessary redundancy of information presented in the previous paragraph. What I would now like to focus on is the article that was brought to my attention yesterday that addressed the Bibliotheca project. In the article, Jason Morehead asks (and answers) the question of why someone would want to “make the Bible more beautiful.” One of the questions he raised was something that you’ll hear often in modern Christian contexts; I’ll quote the paragraph in full for context:

Ultimately, this is a question of pragmatism versus aisthetics, and it goes beyond Bible design. An obvious parallel exists concerning church architecture. I once got into a discussion concerning Saint Cecilia’s, a massive cathedral that dominates Omaha’s skyline. I was praising the building’s beauty — and lamenting that Catholics always have the best architecture — when I was rebuked. Such grand architecture was unnecessary, I was told, and a waste of money — money that could’ve been used for a truly worthwhile ministry, like helping the poor or funding missionaries.

Like I said, this sort of argumentation is often heard in modern Christian circles. In short, the argument believes that pragmatism should always trump aesthetics. Morehead answers this challenge well (I think) by going on to conclude his article by quoting Rod Dreher:

When you have truth united to beauty, you have something very powerful indeed. Beauty is unsettling because our response to it is visceral, not intellectualized. We are not pure minds, but our minds are incarnate, inseparable from our bodies. Beauty seduces. The question of whether or not it seduces one toward truth and light, or towards falsehood and darkness, is a separate one, but not nearly as separate as we might thing.

As James K.A. Smith once said in an address he was giving “We Moderns like to think of people as ‘brains of a stick.'” In other words, we often assume that all their is to life is knowledge and that if we could just change people’s way of thinking then we could change their person as a whole. The issue with this, as Dreher points out, is that you cannot change the whole person by just dealing with the mind.

Another thing that came to my mind when I was reading Morehead’s article was something Douglas Wilson said in a sermon sometime last year in regards to Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000. Wilson addressed the reality that we do not live in a “zero-sum universe.” By “zero-sum” Wilson meant that their is a finite quantity of material, like I pie-graph. Like a pizza, in a pie-graph if you take 20% away then you are left with 20% less material. Wilson does a good job explaining that that is not the kind of world that we live in. We are not participating in a zero-sum game. Therefore, when a Christian wants to build something that is going to be “expensive” he need not worry that the funds he is using for his project are taking a slice away from the pizza that could have been better used elsewhere (like in missions or feeding the poor). What we need to remember is that Jesus describes his kingdom (many times) in terms of harvesting language. Moreover, the language of harvest explains a phenomenon of exponential return (30, 60, & 100 fold). In the harvest of the kingdom there is always a greater return than the initial investment. The world is not a zero-sum game.

Food for thought.

Michael

Post Script – If you have not seen the Bibliotheca movie then check it out!

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