Aesthetic Education; Understanding Scripture

October 9th, 2010

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;

in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD and shun evil.

This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.

Honor the LORD with your wealth,
with the firstfruits of all your crops;

then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
and your vats will brim over with new wine.

My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline
and do not resent his rebuke,

because the LORD disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in.

Blessed is the man who finds wisdom,
the man who gains understanding,

for she is more profitable than silver
and yields better returns than gold.

She is more precious than rubies;
nothing you desire can compare with her.

Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.

Her ways are pleasant ways,
and all her paths are peace.

She is a tree of life to those who embrace her;
those who lay hold of her will be blessed.

By wisdom the LORD laid the earth’s foundations,
by understanding he set the heavens in place;

by his knowledge the deeps were divided,
and the clouds let drop the dew.

My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment,
do not let them out of your sight;

they will be life for you,
an ornament to grace your neck.

Then you will go on your way in safety,
and your foot will not stumble;

when you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.

-Proverbs 3:5-24 NIV

After I read these beautiful words I looked out over the hay field to the trees surrounding it and observed the wispy clouds that seemed to envelop the very essence of all that was in my purview.  “By wisdom the LORD laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place.”  The simple experience enthralled me so much because perceiving so many wonderful things that fit together so perfectly was the very act of experiencing the wisdom of God.  Looking at the scene, thinking about what I had just read, and comparing it to the condition of my own heart was enough to be able to put that moment into an eternal context and dwell on it for the rest of my eternal existence.

What exactly was it that spoke to me so powerfully?  Was it the text itself?  Was it its meaning? Was it the encouragement the words brought in light of my broken elbow?  Was it other passages of Scripture coming to mind as I read the text?  Was it where I was when I read it?  Was it the cool evening breeze that picked up and diverted my attention to physical pleasure at just the right moment?  Was it all of the various emotions, sensations, and realizations being enjoyed in separate parts of my mind?  It certainly was all of these things, but it was so much more than that at the same time.  It was all of these elements working together to create a cumulative effect that refreshed my spirit and renewed my focus on God.

A week before this event, I had worked my night shift that Friday morning, and went straight from work to help with my church’s version of VBS (Sports Week).  I’d been there helping with the music and mentoring 12 and 13 year olds. I was very tired the whole week, but I felt so blessed to be able to be a part of what God did that week so the fatigue didn’t bother me.  Then in a split second I was laying on the basketball court with a fracture in my elbow that required surgery the following Monday.  As I recovered I’d been completely helpless and dependent on the wonderful people at my church.  But I’m not the kind of man that likes being dependent on people.  I love to help, but not to be helped; yet I needed a lot of help this summer.  That Thursday evening I was very upset.  I couldn’t work, couldn’t pack my stuff for moving that Saturday because I was so tired, could barely cook, and I wasn’t supposed to drive.  So the Spirit of God led me outside so that I could experience Him through His Word.  He gave me a gift of strength because I had very little left.  He led me to that passage, that physical context, and that level of brokenness so that He could breath His own strength into me.  He communicated his Word to me through an aesthetic experience.  He gave me a gift of realizing a new implication of that passage which resulted in the wonderful joy that is knowing God a little better.

Compare this passage with Psalm 104 and watch a sunset the next time you’re really down.  I dare you to not feel something.  How does God do it?  He does it by connecting His Word to His creation and then back to your heart.  That’s aesthetic.  That’s seemingly unrelated things being connected in your mind to create a cumulative effect so profound that you can’t contain your joy.  Aesthetic education teaches us how to make those connections.

But that’s just part of the story.  Let’s address the Bible outside of any other context.  Are we supposed to think about the Bible as a sequence of words put together in a certain way so that we know how we’re supposed to live?  Are we supposed to read Leviticus and begin stoning people who work on the sabbath, or are we supposed to connect that to Mathew 5, Luke 6, and Romans?  Or let me raise another issue.  How can you expect a high schooler to enjoy Jeremiah when they don’t have a firm enough grasp on literature to read Edgar Allen Poe?  How can anyone understand David’s passion for God when they can’t figure out how to connect the psalms to his life?

Aesthetic Education increases our ability to perceive everything, even Scripture and how it’s integrated with all of reality.  Find an artist (painter, dancer musician, etc.) and start taking lessons; not so that you can create great art, but so that you can perceive great art.  If you can’t perceive human art well, how do you expect to stand a chance in accurately understanding the greatest literary work ever written?  The words of God created the universe.  Do you really think you can understand them when they’re written down unless you learn to see and understand the world around you?

Don’t just tell your children to read the Bible.  Teach them how.

Aesthetic Education; Loving God

July 22nd, 2010

So far this series of posts has dealt with matters of intellect, enhancing people’s awareness of the world, and their overall cognitive abilities.  To the academic world these are matters of significant consequence (Although I am quite certain that I have not persuaded anyone).  But now that we’ve defined our terms and unpacked some sensitive concepts it is time to apply them to things of great consequence to the church and her members.

Getting to know God and becoming more like Him should be a Christian’s chief concern in life. Following His commands is a given, and not sinning would be a very simple task provided we grew to love God with all our hearts.  There are two methods that God as given us to grow closer to him: general revelation and special revelation. Special revelation is God’s word given to us through the prophets and any teaching or analysis done that originates from scripture.  The church handles the word of God quite effectively for the most part, and I have taken a lot from the teaching I have received.  But, unfortunately, simply teaching the word only goes so far and the intense division in the church we have today bears witness to this.  The word of God is only part of the picture, and for the church to not teach general revelation as much as it teaches special revelation is to limit the church’s perception of God’s glory and majesty along with the deep knowledge and wisdom that result from studying his creative work both aesthetically and analytically.

To only study the word is like getting to know a person only by talking to them.  When I first met Liz (my fiance) we got to know each other initially through conversation, but as our friendship deepened conversations by themselves only went so far.  We started to experience life together; listening to a stream together, attending to a specific part of the sky, running, going to the symphony, studying pedagogy, and countless other activities enhancing not our factual knowledge of one another, but in a profound sense our aesthetic understanding of one another.  I didn’t ask Liz to marry me because of the factual knowledge about her that I had accumulated; it was because of the things I had learned abut her aesthetic characteristics in between conversations that I fell in love with her.

Do we somehow expect our relationship with God to develop differently?  How is it that He can give us such a clear picture of what kind of relationship he wants with us using marriage and we (mostly) ignore it?  Just as it is impossible to fall in love with another person by talking it is impossible to fall in love with Christ only by studying the Bible.  You have to spend time with him outside factual knowledge and dive into the richness of his creative work.  By enjoying other people’s perceptions of that work, creating representations of your own perception, and perceiving his wonders first hand, you will gain an aesthetic understanding of our Savior beyond words.  This is when and how you will fall in love with Christ.  Feel free to memorize every word of the Bible, but until you learn to actually perceive Him in the world around you, you cannot know Him well enough to love Him.

Now, when it comes to the study of scripture, it’s impossible to even understand the depth and beauty of the Bible until you’ve experience life with God.  Much of he factual knowledge in the Bible is rooted in the aesthetic understanding of the world.  I, for example, was bored to tears trying to read the major prophets until I had composed the Dark Process since that was how I learned to understand a large work rooted in emotion rather than story.  Several symphonies and concertos by various composers also acted as gateways into the major prophets for me.  But this isn’t even the best part; I met with God and glorified his name in the midst of these aesthetic experiences that also enabled me to enjoy His Word.  So it hasn’t been the Bible alone that has caused me to love God, it has been the perception of His creation through the lens of Scripture which I gained through an understanding of creative work..  That said,  I also want to make it clear that the lens of scripture is vital to the accurate perception that draws us to worship.

Aesthetic education teaches the believer to learn about God through general revelation.  It is through God’s gift of his creative work perceived through the lens of His word that we will learn to love Him.  Therefore opportunities for aesthetic education in the church are essential to foster a passionate and unifying adoration of our Savior.

An Indirect Solution

June 3rd, 2010

One of you says, “I follow Martin Luther”; another, “I follow the Pope”; another, “I follow Baptist doctrine”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was the Pope crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of the Baptist denomination?

C.S. Lewis describes the Christian denominations as a single house with multiple rooms. If you are part of the house, you are living for the same purpose and with the same life direction (seeking a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and behaving accordingly). However, every Christian gravitates towards people with the same specific doctrinal beliefs. Lutherans are in one room, Evangelicals another, Anglicans another, and Roman Catholics another. There is nothing wrong with this. It’s a big book and we’re going to disagree on how to interpret it. But the problem comes in when these different groups refuse to leave their rooms and associate with other people in their family. This behavior doesn’t encourage people from the outside to come into the house and enjoy a relationship with Jesus Christ themselves (which should be our greatest concern). On the contrary, it discourages them from entering and is actively counterproductive to the work of the gospel. Not to say that we have any power over the effectiveness of the Lords work, but he does want his children to be obedient. I Corinthians 1:10, “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” Then Paul says this again in Philippians 2:1-2, “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.”

Unfortunately, all of the various denominations are so set in their different doctrines that they have deprived the body of Christ from necessary diversity. For example, Baptists don’t tend to associate with Pentecostals because Baptists are stiff and reserved while the Pentecostals are hyperactive and emotional. When people of these types don’t worship together, the Baptists become too stiff and the Pentecostals too emotional. Worshiping God must have aspects of both thoughtful meditation (Psalm 119:27) and of joyful noise (Psalm 98); Baptists and Pentecostals need each other in order to not take their natural tenancies too far. Different denominations contain different types of people, and these different types need to each other in order to maintain healthy and well balanced worship. In other words, denominations create extremes.

Getting God’s people to come back into the commons area of God’s house is going to be quite a challenge. In fact I don’t really see how its even possible. But where humans fail, God will succeed. Not only that, but he will succeed while using us to do it. That being said, I don’t quite understand the implications of the idea that I am now going to present to you. I see how it could work, but I know that it is not going to happen the way I think it is. Only God can move in the hearts and minds of his people to having the response necessary in order bring the body of Christ back together again. All I can do is present an idea that God has put on my heart. What God does with it in your hearts is up to him.

To bring all the churches together something must develop that members from all of the various denominations can be a part of. Higher education is already doing this to a large extent. For example, Cornerstone University (where I did my undergraduate studies) has more than 45 denominations represented in its student body. After growing up in a Baptist environment my entire life, this was an incredible opportunity for my ideas to merge with the view points of students from other backgrounds. It resulted in me actually getting into God’s word and discovering truth like I’d never experienced it before. This is the type of growth that could happen should Christians find something comparable to this in their own communities. Unfortunately, higher education can only go so far since it is very expensive and it is completely unreasonable to hope for a Christian university in every geographic context. It is also unreasonable to expect private elementary and high school education to accomplish church unity since this targets a fairly narrow demographic.

Music education is very peculiar. Because of the performance orientation it has, it drives people from very different backgrounds into that same room to enjoy an intellectually rich presentation together. Since the audience is typically connected with one of the people performing, and the people performing are connected to one another, these performances result in social connections that would’ve been impossible any other way. In this way music education has the power to bring random people together in order to strengthen the relational context of a community. But then make everyone in that room a passionate believer in Christ Jesus, and the result isn’t just a well connected community. What results is a well connected church that otherwise did not exist provided that this program does not exist only in a single church. And this finally brings us to the point I wish to make.

Create an inexpensive and Christ oriented music education program in a community that is connected with every church in that community, enroll representatives from every congregation to participate, back it up with prayer, and encourage every congregation to observe the resultant artistic presentation, and you will see entire church bodies uniting starting with the individual layperson and working its way up into the leadership.

If you live in the Lansing area and would like to see this happen, look over the plan in my blog entitled “The Church’s School of Music” and contact me to let me know you want to help make this happen. If you don’t live in the Lansing area but you would like to see this happen in your community, be bold and give it a try.


Thank you all so much for your support by inviting people to join the Facebook group.  I’ve been pretty overwhelmed by the results so far.  To the newcomers, thank you for joining us and taking a look at what God is doing here.  Feel free to invite your Facebook friends to the group yourself.  You can find instructions on how to do this in the post from last week.

May God continue to work out his plans in completely unpredictable ways.

Send Caleb a message!

Blog Subscription