Aesthetic Criticism

As I’ve long insisted, beauty is objective. It’s instilled from a transcendent source. Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is in the nature of the beholden. And as I’ve also argued, Goodness, Truth, and Beauty are interchangeable and co-informative qualities, because they’re all attributes of the one true God. Thus, they’re all mutually illuminating attributes of one another. So, loveliness and ugliness are implicit statements about the goodness or badness and the truth or falsehood of a thing.

Aesthetic qualities are clues to the morality and veracity of an idea. They’re also clues to the moral integrity and veracity of particular human beings. This has many applications, but one that I’ve attempted frequently is fathoming what it is that feels so askew about particular pastors of churches and various infamous and controversial Christian public figures. It also works well on high-profile politicians.

Aesthetic qualms about a man’s character as a Christian leader aren’t a purely subjective statement like a personal preference for ice cream flavors. They’re a genuine ethical and veracious criticism at work. This cuts to the heart of a man’s qualifying or disqualifying character as a leader with integrity and honor.

An aesthetic criticism is a harder sort of criticism to make. It’s easier to just be selectively nit-picky about facts and try to argue about truth and falsehood directly when deep down we know the real issue is the pervasive ugliness of the man. When that’s the real issue, an aesthetic criticism is a more profound, honest, and effective argument to be made. It gets past the symptoms and addresses the root disease.

There’s a place for ugliness in the prophetic offense. But it’s an ugliness in the message. It’s the truthful ugliness of the horrid reality of the thing being confronted. For instance, the meaning of the Cross of Christ is an ugly truth and a horrific good, because it’s where righteousness and wickedness collide and find resolution.

But the prophetic offense isn’t in the man. The prophet is to represent God as holy. When a prophet fails to represent God as holy, God will chastise that prophet. The prophet who brings the Word of the Lord to bear must let the Word be the offense. That’s the principle at work in the ministry of the Word. That’s the preacher’s responsibility.

An obvious ugliness that is the ugly character of the minister is a defect of goodness and truth in him. There’s room to affirm the goodness and truth of a message while affirming the ugliness and falsehood of the messenger. And doing both is doing the whole truth.

I see what I regard as this sort of ugliness in a number of Christian public figures in “both sides” who go after one another. So, I’m not indirectly or namelessly calling out one camp or another here. I see it as a universally common problem.

And I think rejecting this thesis is essentially affirming that “truth” functions as a mere blunt instrument of power for individuals and whole crowds who lack or resist properly informed and nurtured aesthetic sensibilities.

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