The Table Podcast

A Theology of Art and Beauty

In this episode, Drs. Darrell L. Bock, Reg Grant, Michael J. Svigel, Timothy S. Yoder, and Natalie Carnes discuss a theology of art and beauty.

Timecodes
00:15
Bock previews the panel discussion on theology, art, and beauty
02:11
Carnes explains how she became interested in the topic of beauty
03:55
Carnes distinguishes between visible beauty and the lost element of beauty
05:49
Carnes explores the relationship between beauty and virtue
09:04
Yoder unpacks the necessity of the study of beauty
11:13
How does one avoid sentimentality when studying beauty?
14:59
Does incarnational theology provide concreteness to beauty?
16:38
Carnes distinguishes between lower beauties and higher beauties
18:33
Carnes defines function, fittingness, disinterest, and gratuity in the realm of beauty
23:38
Grant discusses the theological concept of mimesis
28:19
What is the difference between representing and re-presenting?
32:00
Beauty’s different interpretive lenses
36:53
How does one learn to perceive beauty rightly?
38:25
Svigel explains how theology can drive one into beauty
41:35
Yoder unpacks the relationship between cultural apologetics and beauty
Resources Natalie Carnes, Beauty: A Theological Engagement with Gregory of Nyssa
Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart
Transcript
Dr. Darrell Bock
Welcome to The Table podcast where we discuss issues of God and culture. Today we have as our guest, Dr. Natalie Carnes, Associate Professor of Theology at Baylor University, and author of the book, Beauty. We also have with us the Department Chair of Theology here at Dallas Theological Seminary, Michael Svigel, as well as Dr. Timothy Yoder, Associate Professor of Theological Studies, and Reg Grant, who is Department Chair and Senior Professor of Media Arts and Worship. This is a panel in which they engage on the discussion of the topic of beauty. And we are featuring Dr. Natalie Carnes because she has spent a lot of time studying the area of beauty.

The talk seeks to rediscover the nature and the depth of beauty beyond the cultural definition of aesthetic and visual appeal. And we want to show the transforming power of beauty in what can be seen as a transcendental experience like truth or goodness. And as the podcast moves from defining beauty, it then moves to discussing the necessity of the study of beauty in theology, and the ideas of representing Jesus in the life of the believer as beautiful. It looks into the history of what beauty is from Plato to Gregory of Nyssa. And finally, we look into learning how to perceive beauty rightly and with the right lens, and how beauty can shape how we see the world.

It lands by showing how theology can drive one directly into beauty, and how cultural apologetics can find itself making appeals to that which is beautiful, so that apologetics isn’t just confrontational, but it also can be inviting in the way it asks people to reflect on how they relate to God, and how they see the beautiful world that he’s created.

So, let me ask Natalie to start off with. So, I just found out that Natalie grew up in the same, basically, region of Texas as I did. She’s from Conroe, I’m from Houston. That is a little aside that … Go Astros. Anyway, when it takes 56 years to win a World Series, you’re a happy person. So, Natalie, how did you end up in a gig on beauty?

Dr. Natalie Carnes
Well, I’ve shared with some of you that it … went back a long ways. It actually went back to my undergraduate days. And as an undergraduate I began reading postmodern theory … I had a very haphazard education … and ended, finally, my senior year with getting to Plato. And in between, I encountered Gregory of Nyssa. And it was really Gregory of Nyssa’s texts, and the ways that he spoke about beauty that seemed to me so fascinating, because it was also picking up on the power of aesthetics, and the way that these postmodern theorists were, and yet it was talking about a beauty that calls, a beauty that summons, that has a presence that was evocative and different, and fascinated me. And so, I wanted to learn more about it and pursue what beauty was. And as I went on through my education, I discovered this whole lost tradition around beauty, not just in Gregory of Nyssa, but, of course, deeply in Platonic thought, and medieval Christianity and ancient Christianity, and that had really started to move more into the shadows in modernity. And I was interested in thinking about how this tradition can speak into our situation and who we are today.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So, you’ve talked about a lost discussion of beauty, which assumes that there is a discovered or a visible part of beauty. Why don’t we talk about that contrast for a minute. What are you talking about when you contrast perhaps what we normally think of as beauty versus this lost element? What exactly are we looking at?
Dr. Natalie Carnes
Right. So, when we … the lost element of beauty is the beauty that is one of the transcendentals. So that’s something like there is truth and there is goodness. Sometimes we talk about unity. And there’s also beauty. And these are all … they run through all being, they find their final meaning in the one who is being itself, in God. And they are linked and yoked to one another. And this became … this fell out of favor in modernity for a number of reasons. Fell even less out of favor in the 20th century. As art became less interested in being identified with beauty, beauty became banal, beauty became associated with marketing, and with products to make oneself attractive. And so, we didn’t cease to engage with beautiful things, or still have a world full of beautiful things, but we increasingly lost a vocabulary for talking about it. And some of that started to change in the 20th century as particularly one theologian … well, two influential theologians, Jacques Maritain and Hans Urs von Balthasar began different ways recovering theologies of art and beauty that then led to a big resurgence of interest, especially in the 90s and beyond.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So, would beauty be thought of as kind of a virtue? Would that be the right kind of category to put it in? Or would you put it in a different kind of category?
Dr. Natalie Carnes
So, I would put it maybe in a different category, that beauty can name the visibility of virtue to us, the visibility especially of mercy and charity. But it’s a transcendental, like being and goodness and unity and truth, in that it’s something that is part of what it means to be created by a good God of beauty. So, we say that something … there’s this … have you guys heard of this theological idea, the convertibility of being and goodness before? Okay. So, sorry, we’re gonna get into a little theology tonight. But it means basically that something … to the extent that something exists, it is good. And that evil names a deficiency in the existence of a thing. Right? So that to the extent that something is flourishing as what it is created to be, it is good. And to the extent that it is not, that deficiency is named by evil.

This is a way of dealing with how a good God creates the world, and yet we say that there’s evil in the world. It’s called the privation theory of evil. So anyway, being is convertible with goodness. To the extent that something is, it is good. And beauty is also convertible with goodness in that way. So, goodness and truth and being are all different ways of naming dimensions of existence, and that beauty shows the full, flourishing of something in a way that is perceptible to us.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. I’m getting definitions on the table. I’m gonna eventually bring in the others here, who are here to discuss this with us. But I want to walk through a couple of other things. So, when we think about beauty … I think when most people think about beauty today, perhaps the word they relate to it is something related to aesthetics or appearance or something like that. And I think what I’m hearing you say is that there is a dimension to beauty that is far deeper and far more profound than that.
Dr. Natalie Carnes
Absolutely. Yes.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And so, we have reduced beauty down to something that actually gets in the way of our perceiving what real beauty is. Am I hearing that right?
Dr. Natalie Carnes
Yes. I think that’s right, that we have a very diminished context for appreciating beauty.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So, what I’m hoping to do with the rest of our evening, so that everyone knows where we’re headed, is we’re gonna talk about beauty in aesthetics. We’re gonna talk about what I’m gonna call relational beauty … it may not be the best term but … relational beauty. And then we’re gonna talk about beauty in worship. So, that’s three ways to get some hooks into things. And I think what I want to do is to ask some of our panelists to interact with the way we’ve set the table here. So … Now I’ve been told, Tim, that you’re the philosopher in the group, and we’ve been floating around the edges of philosophy, so I think I’ll begin with you. Help us think through some of the categories and definitions that we’re dealing with here.
Dr. Timothy Yoder
Okay. Well, thank you. So, first of all, I … aesthetics is not my primary focus in philosophy, but it is a significant interest. And I think one of the things that bears mentioning is that there’s a lot of us, I think, a lot of Christian evangelicals … I’m sure none in this room … but a lot Christian evangelicals that tend to think that beauty is one of these peripheral kinds of topics, that we … why should we be wasting our time? We should be thinking about the hard theological topics like soteriology or sin or something like that. And beauty is kind of a waste of time.
Michael Svigel
Philosophy.
Dr. Timothy Yoder
Or like philosophy, yeah. But I would make this reply, and that is that we certainly could imagine a world in which we eat and drink and live in everything as the world as it is, but without any color or smell or taste or any of those perceptible things that give us joy and pleasure. And could you imagine a world in which, like the sandwiches that we just ate were nourishing and filled us up, but they … no taste, no substance, no texture, no color, what kind of a depressing world would that be? And so, the fact that God made a world bursting with color and smell and texture and taste and all of these amazing things, at least suggests to me that this is something that’s important to God, and therefore, important to our reflections. So, that’s just an opening statement.

I think one of the things that, one of the questions that I would have in light of what’s been said already is if we try to pursue a kind of deeper theory of beauty, as Dr. Bock was just discussing, how can we do that without going into what I might call a sentimental sort of sense of beauty, in which beauty just becomes a synonym for happy or good thoughts, but doesn’t really have any content of its own. If beauty refers to things, like roses or snowflakes, then it’s something that we can talk about. But if it’s the synonym for all kinds of pleasant ideas, then it loses its sense of meaning, and it becomes, to my … I think kind of sentimental. And that seems to me to be a problem.

Dr. Natalie Carnes
I have my own thinking … Yes. So, of course there’s always the danger of sentimentality. But to the extent that there’s a danger with beauty becoming sentimental, there’s also a danger with God becoming sentimental, right? Because the … And we protect against God becoming a sentimental comfort to us, just an idea, something that’s like our imaginary girlfriend or boyfriend, by … in the same ways that we protect against beauty. And so, one of that is by drawing back to where it is true beauty is revealed to us. And I take it that is the place where God is most fully revealed to us, which is the cross.

And then, we also do with our bodies the things that the church is teaching us to do, which helps our bodies become better perceivers of beauty. And so, that includes teaching our body with baptism, with prayer, even the ways that we bow our head and close our eyes in prayer, with the ways that we embrace one another in worship, with the ways that we go out and care for the marginalized of the world. And those practices open our senses up in a way that we become perceivers of the beauty that is true to the beauty who’s God. The way that you protect against sentimentality in the academy or in academic art is that you learn the artistic traditions, and you learn the traditions of interpreting them, and you become educated in those. And those are ways of educating a kind of imagination for beauty, that an imagination that’s not merely sentimental.

But I take it that part of what’s so fascinating about Christianity is that we don’t think imagination is just some organ that lives in your brain, but that, in fact, our whole body is perceived, there’s a tradition in Christianity of the spiritual senses, which understands the ways that our physical senses can open up to spiritual realities beyond them, in fact, can begin to live into the spiritual bodies that we hope for in the resurrection of the dead. And that the practices of the church, and the practices of the Christian life can begin to form our senses and open our physical senses up to begin to live into these spiritual senses, so that we have capacities for perceiving a beauty that’s true to the God who is beauty.

Michael Svigel
I’m gonna ask a question, or actually make a statement in the form of a question. Isn’t the Christian understanding of incarnation, and our incarnational theology, incarnational worldview in a way working against the abstracting of beauty, or the sentimentalizing of beauty, as it is with all the virtues? We don’t just believe in love or beauty, but we have concrete, tangible experiences with love and beauty, which the incarnation, we don’t just think of God, we think of the God-man, the incarnate one. And so, in a sense, there’s our incarnational worldview is a, I think a way to engage some of the major deficiencies in the modern approaches to beauty, philosophically, especially.
Dr. Natalie Carnes
Yeah, I think that’s right. And especially the way that the incarnation is God’s descent in mercy to us, that it’s God coming to those of us who are sick as the doctor to heal us, to be present to us. And that that’s where beauty is revealed. And the way that God is the love that goes all the way through torture and death without turning from the way of perfect peace, without being transformed by torture and death, but remains perfect love all the way through it. That shows a real strength to beauty that doesn’t degenerate into the sentimental.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Now, you have a book that has a very long title called Beauty. And in it you discuss lower beauties and higher beauties. What does that distinction get at?
Dr. Natalie Carnes
Well, I was interested first in the way that it shows up in Plato. So, you guys might be familiar with Plato has this ladder for how you perceive beauty that starts with encountering one beautiful body. And then you move up the ladder … anyway, through all sorts of things … till you perceive beauty itself. And so, I was interested in that ladder. But then how it doesn’t really stay in place exactly in a Christian tradition because someone like Gregory of Nyssa takes that ladder and says that Christ is the ladder. And so, then there’s this … you don’t progress beyond Christ to Christ. There’s a kind of radical equality that the image begins to suggest. But then there’s still a sense in which some beauties disclose God to us in a way that is more, perhaps profound than other ways.

And so, I think that what begins to happen is that the profound beauties begin to cluster around those beauties that disclose to us the God of the cross, that perfect love, and those become in depth replacing Plato’s version of the higher beauties. So, whereas Plato’s ladder moves from more material to more spiritual, Christology cuts against that, because God is human and divine. God and Christ are material and spiritual. And instead, you get the beauties that are closer to the cross, which come … take us nearer to the revelation of God, and they take on a special kind of importance.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Now, another set of terms … like I say, I’m just getting material out here … is the contrast between … and I’m gonna view these positively and negatively, because I think this is how you used them. Function, vis-à-vis fittingness, and disinterest vis-à-vis gratuity. What’s going on with those four terms?
Dr. Natalie Carnes
I was interested in the conversations about what is beauty, and how do you perceive it, and what’s the right way. So, there’s been a school of thought that takes its cues from the beginning of fine arts in the 1700s, primarily, and a little before, where fine arts were formed around an idea of the beautiful. But these fine arts were distinguished from other forms of arts in that they were disinterested, which means that they were divorced from any sort of user function. So, chair making is not a fine art. It’s a craft, is how it began to be defined, whereas they were less differentiated before. And so, fine arts were those arts that aimed at disinterestedness. They were disinterested because they aimed at the beautiful instead of at a purpose or function.

And so, this idea of disinterestedness became very important in shaping those institutions around fine arts. So, like go to a museum. You’ve got to stand back from the painting. There’s guards watching, making sure you don’t touch it, or you certainly don’t kiss it. It’d be weird if you prostrated yourself before it. That’s what people do before icons. So, you’re supposed to gaze at it. You have a disinterested gaze, and it’s a gaze that’s supposed to be scholarly. It’s supposed to be evacuated of desire.

And then, on the other hand, there’s been people who have responded to this by saying, “No. This doesn’t capture beauty. Beauty isn’t associated with the evacuation of desire and this disinterestedness. No, beauty is, in fact, indexed function.” So, if you look at a farm and the way it’s laid out, you can perceive the beauty in a farm not by saying, “Oh, look at the lovely cabbage leaf against the brown soil.” No. When you look at a farm you say, “Look how well laid out these crops are, and how they interface with one another.” It’s the usefulness or the function of the farm that it’s beauty is indexed to. And so, this school of thought wanted to reject disinterestedness.

And so, I was interested in the way that both of these schools have different types of appeal, but neither seem quite adequate to me. So, I proposed instead fittingness and gratuity. What fittingness means is that you do look at the context of something for beauty. That in fact, the context helps tell you … Your context is the interpretive lens that you’re bringing to see something that’s beautiful. So, you can do both kinds of beauty in a, let’s say, a garden. You can both say, “Look at this flower, and the way that its leaf contrasts with the petal. And isn’t that stunning contrast? Isn’t that beautiful?” But you can also look at the garden and say, “Look at how these different crops, how these different plants are living together in this kind of ecosystem way, and what a beautiful system.” And that you could also look at it and then say, “And look at how the community gives itself over to the life of this garden, and how these humans … And isn’t that …” That may give you a whole other context for seeing. And then, you could say, “Look at the way that these flowers disclose the beauty of God, and the God who cares for every detail of existence.” And it’s beautiful in a whole different way.

And so, these … So, fittingness is a way that enables you to take seriously different contexts and interpretive lenses for what’s beautiful. And it’s, in fact, a quite old tradition in Christianity, this fittingness. I’m thinking especially about the incarnation, and God’s work in the world, theologians would use fittingness. But what’s interesting is that it’s not just that you’re like, “Oh, yeah. It fits. Sure. Um-hmm. It works.” But instead, when something’s beautiful you’re … it’s excessively fitting. It’s exceedingly fitting. It’s more than is necessary. It doesn’t just do the job, like a function suggests. It’s not just that it gets done what it should get done. But it does so exquisitely. And that it’s that kind of exquisite fittingness that suggest a gratuity, where it’s going even beyond fittingness of a particular context that then makes for something that we call beautiful.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Gratuity is …
Dr. Natalie Carnes
Gratuity is that beyondness. It’s that … the excessiveness to the fittingness. It’s excessively fitting.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So, it’s the elegance of it.
Dr. Natalie Carnes
Yes. It’s that it’s the way that it exceeds any particular purpose or function or use.
Reg Grant
My cup runneth over.
Dr. Natalie Carnes
Exactly. My cup runneth over. Yes.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Now Reg, let me ask you a question, ’cause obviously the Arts Week is something that the department is concerned about. And when I think of beauty and I think of art in particular, whether it be a film or a story or a poem or a painting, whatever it might me, tends, I think, at least by default for us, to be on the more aesthetic side of things, generally speaking. But I have a deep suspicion that you have something much more in mind. Am I right about that?
Reg Grant
Yeah. May I borrow your …
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. Yeah.
Reg Grant
There is a mimetic quality to beauty.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. Now that’s a word that some of us are gonna really struggle with.
Reg Grant
It is. You know the Greek word mimesis? The idea, theologically, of mimesis, which basically means a copy or an imitation of … it’s not … when we receive this qualified, beatific vision at our conversion, when we see Jesus for who he is, and he invites us to life, the mimetic quality kicks in. The idea is that we … It’s not like Jesus, in his human father Joseph’s workshop, where Jesus sees Joseph drawing a blade across a piece of wood, and Joseph, his earthly father says, “Okay, son. Now you do it this way. You copy me. You imitate me. You draw the blade across the wood in this way.” And Jesus watches, and he draws the blade. It’s not like Jesus, in the Gospel of John is looking at God the Father, and saying, “Okay, Father.” Because Gospel of John, chapter 5 says, Jesus never did anything or said anything that he didn’t hear or see the Father doing first. So, you get the idea that it’s sort of like, “Well, it’s a great, big workshop. And God the Father is demonstrating for Jesus how he wants him to act, and how he wants him to speak. And that’s not it at all. It is that it is not copying theologically. It is mirroring.

So, when you look at yourself, your reflection in the mirror, and you move, well, which moved first, you or the reflection in the mirror? They’re in perfect sync. They’re in perfect harmony. And mimesis, theologically, is Jesus in perfect sync with the Father. In all that he did and all that he said, and not only in all that he said, but in all that … in the way that he said it. So, what he prays for us in John 17 is that we may be one, even as he and the Father are one. So, there is a, at the theological basis for our art, there is a mimetic quality. We want to advance in our mirroring of Jesus Christ to the world, through the acquisition of greater and greater facility in our discipline, to reveal Jesus effectively in the way that we present in whatever venue, whether it’s acting or singing or whatever it is, sculpting, so that we, as perfectly as possible, re-present God to the world, because we are so united with Christ that our work displays him. That’s the mimetic quality. And that is at the core of what we teach in Media Arts and Worship. It is a union with Christ that is ever growing and dynamic and organic and unpredictable, but that evinces itself through your character, because nobody made two Wiltons. There’s one. There’s only one. There’s only one Kay. God works uniquely through each one of you to produce his masterwork, as you yield yourself to his control. That’s what we’re after.

Dr. Darrell Bock
So, I like the difference between represent and re-present. Talk about that a little more.
Reg Grant
Well, when we represent something, we can … For example, when I was taking … believe it or not I had five years of opera. You would never know it now. But when I was studying under Mr. Gillis, one of my first operatic voice teachers, the way that you learn to sing opera, back in the 60s and 70s, at least, for me was he would give you an album. In my case it was Kenneth McKellar, great lyric tenor, Irish lyric tenor. And he was singing Brigadoon. And so, Mr. Gillis said, “Go home, listen to this, and do that.” So, I would go home, and I would play the grooves off of that record … it was a record. And you would play the thing, lift the needle, put the thing back, and then you would try to emulate that, you’d try to copy it.
Dr. Darrell Bock
You’ve been around a long time.
Reg Grant
That’s … yeah, well, you and I, both, Jack. Look at that hair. So, we would try to copy it, and it’s imperfect, but you had this perfection of a voice in Kenneth McKellar. And you would do your best to mimic him. That’s representing. I’m representing McKellar, because I’m copying him. Now, as the technique becomes a part of me and I stop thinking about the technique, and the technique takes me over and controls me and I enter into and lose myself in this marvelous voice of McKellar, I begin to re-present him. I begin to embody McKellar. That’s what the difference is for me between representing and re-presenting. I am re-presenting Jesus to the world in the same way that Jesus re-presented God the Father to the world.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And yet there is an identity of you, as Reg Grant in that that doesn’t exist in the representation. Is that a fair …
Reg Grant
Exactly. Yeah, yeah. It’s the difference between mask making and mask removal. Because if I am representing, I am wearing a mask. I’m … “This mask looks like Bill Hendricks.” I go around, and I love Bill and I say, “Okay. Now here is what Bill Hendricks looks like to the rest of the world.” But if I take the character of Bill Hendricks and I say, “No, this is a man who mirrors Christ, and we share that desire to mirror Christ,” then I inculcate that, and then what I’m doing is I’m taking the mask off and I’m revealing who God made me to be. So, its authentic, it’s real. People have the idea that acting is putting on masks. It’s just the opposite. It’s taking off masks. And in taking off your own mask, you invite the audience to participate, not just to watch. ‘Cause they’ll watch a masked performance. They’ll watch it, and they’ll give you applause. But what’s uncomfortable for them, and what’s integrative to them is when you remove your mask, you invite them to take theirs off. And you reveal their vulnerability, because you’ve been willing to be vulnerable to them, because Jesus unmasked you.
Dr. Darrell Bock
It’s how they sense and they feel things that otherwise they may not sense and feel?
Reg Grant
Yeah. I think so. It’s an invitation to participation. You cannot afford your audience the luxury of observation. You must compel them to participate. And by God’s grace, and the power of His spirit, that’s what happens when you’re real and authentic, and you take the masks off.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. So, we’ve laid the table some. I’m gonna open up. If you start to think of questions and you want to come to the mics, feel free to do so. Let me talk a little bit about the move from aesthetics to what I will call relational beauty, ’cause I think this is an important move, as well. It strikes me that part of what your book is getting at, and part of what you’re getting us to wrestle with is that there is a surface beauty that a lot of people interact with and identify primarily as beauty. And then there’s … I’m coining a phrase … there’s a beauty beauty. There’s a beauty behind, underneath, over, under, around, and through that that is really what life is about and the way God made us.
Dr. Natalie Carnes
Yeah. That’s an important question. I’ve been thinking about what Reg just said, and about the masking and unmasking. Just want to say something about that first, which is just that it reminds me of the promise that though we see now through a mirror dimly, then we’ll see face to face. That there’s, in some ways, this unmasking is a kind of vision of our eschatological hope.

So have you guys ever seen Tree of Life? And at the end, and the eschatological scene at the beach, do you notice there’s a mask that’s floating down in the waters?

Reg Grant
We could talk a long time about it.
Dr. Natalie Carnes
Yeah. What a rich movie. But about the question of surface beauty and beauty beauty. So, I know when we talk about beauty, the language that we’re often tempted into is inner and outer and surface and beneath. And I recognize that these words do important work. But I think that they can also mislead, and they can end up leading us into a kind of, I don’t want to say hatred of the outer, but our thinking that the outer doesn’t really matter. They can tempt us back into Gnosticism. We’re always being tempted back into Gnosticism. And I prefer, instead, to think about different interpretive lenses that we can get.

And so, I was talking with Tim’s class earlier today, where it’s … One way to say it, to think about this, is to say Mother Teresa is beautiful on the inside, but Miss America is beautiful on the outside. And we don’t want Miss America’s beauty ’cause it’s outside beauty, but we want Mother Teresa’s beauty ’cause it’s inside beauty. I prefer, instead, to think that we need to learn how to see the beauty of Mother Teresa better. And some photographers are really great at capturing the way that the body’s not just a veil that keeps us from seeing the soul, but the body is, in fact, a picture of the soul, that the body discloses to us the soul. And the way that Mother Teresa, in some photographs, you can see just the light from her eyes, and the ways that she looks at people and tends to people. And you can see the love, and that’s beautiful. And I think part of the problem is the ways that we often are trained into looking at people is we’re trained to looking at them divorced of any sort of context, and in this kind of formal manner, or a kind of, through sexualized lens or something like that that is a very narrow and distorted picture of beauty.

So instead of thinking of inner and outer, I prefer to think of having a richer interpretive lens, or being ourselves transformed in a way to better perceive the beauty, the truer beauty, the beauty beauty.

Dr. Darrell Bock
So, you’re thinking of an integrated beauty, in which you don’t disconnect one piece of the person from the other piece of the person.
Dr. Natalie Carnes
That’s right. That’s right. Where we can see someone’s … where we learn to see someone’s beauty by looking at them, and in looking at them. And, of course, that’s gonna be informed by more than just our eyes. It’s also gonna be informed by our histories, and things like that. But that it’s not something where we have to close our eyes in order to know someone’s true beauty.
Dr. Darrell Bock
All right. So, how do you encourage us to find that other path? It’s a simple question.
Dr. Natalie Carnes
Good. Well, I can tell you in three simple steps.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay.
Dr. Natalie Carnes
Just kidding.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And the organ plays at the end, correct?
Dr. Natalie Carnes
Right. If only. Man, then I could really sell some books.

Yeah. I think that the way of learning to perceive that beauty is a way … it’s impossible to become a better perceiver of beauty without becoming transformed. We have to be transformed. And the ways we’re transformed are the ways you all already know. It’s by loving the marginalized. It’s by loving our neighbor, embracing our enemy. It’s by being baptized. It’s by becoming peacemakers. It’s by mourning. It’s by … you all know it. You’re Bible scholars. You have the Beatitudes. You have the Ten Commandments. And those are things that are not just a series of duties that we need to check off, but those are ways that we are transformed so as to become more like Christ, and to perceive the beauty that Christ perceives.

Dr. Darrell Bock
All right. I’m gonna ask my theologians. They’ve been sitting there, and I see one of them taking copious notes. And then there’s our department chair who’s just been …
Dr. Timothy Yoder
He’s writing a poem.
Dr. Darrell Bock
… gazing.
Dr. Timothy Yoder
He’s inspired.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So, Michael, tell us … I hate formal titles. So, tell us a little bit about what you’re hearing. And the question I want to ask is, sometimes I have a feel that the way in which we teach, which emphasizes oftentimes the conveyance of a lot of information, gets in the way, or risks getting in the way of this kind of personal development. So, you and I both work in different spheres in which we’re busy doing a lot of content. I don’t think of a genitive as beautiful. And so, it might express a beautiful thought, but in and of itself, it doesn’t knock me over at night, or even in the morning, or at any point in the 24-hour day. So, how do we wrestle with the pursuit of theology in a way that draws us into beauty?
Michael Svigel
That’s great. I’m reminded of a quotation I stumbled across from Hans Urs von Balthasar. It was in the context of Karl Barth and his theology. And he had just this simple line that the theology of Karl Barth is beautiful. And I thought about, how is the theology of someone beautiful? How do we … what makes a theology or a theological system beautiful? And you start to think of your traditional definitions of beauty or descriptions of beauty as … there’s proportion and balance, and there’s depth, and it invites you in. You participate in it. It accomplishes everything it’s meant to accomplish. It sounds kind of stale to me.

But when I think of trying to define, then, beauty, which is beauty is, draw a blank, and you draw blanks. So, I think in terms of … I love how your book ends, especially with taking it from the anthropological to the Christological to the eschatological. And you could trace this through. Even what we’ve been talking about here, mimesis, and mirroring. This is imago dei anthropology, which is Christology, who is the image of God. And it always gets us to, ultimately, the glory of God.

When people ask me, “What is theology?” I say, “Faith seeking understanding.” Okay. It’s just a simple little definition that you can dig deeply into. If I think of beauty, I think beauty is the glory of God, which is reflected in humanity. Human’s proper functioning is the imago dei. But deeper than that it invites you into something. It invites you into a trajectory of glory. And I really love the patristic emphasis on “this is not stasis, this is dynamic.” This is ever growing toward and never fully reaching the infinite glory of God and the being of God. And if you think of God as beauty, you’re being invited into something that has no end. Then you start to think of all of your ologies, the theology and the narrative, and the beginning point, and where we’re at, and where we’re headed, and the redemptive community. And I think it’s all of it. It’s laced with this, not abstract, but incarnated sense of beauty.

So, I think it’s inviting devotion. It’s inviting reflection, contemplation, all of these things that turn theology from this stale thing into something that’s lived, something that is transformative.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Tim?
Dr. Timothy Yoder
Okay. I was thinking in things a little bit differently, although I like that. I thought that was very good. But I teach apologetics, and so another aspect of our Christian life and service is to be defenders of the faith, and to be God’s representatives and ambassadors to an unbelieving world. And I think, traditionally, and especially in a setting like this, given all the content that we learn and teach and read and study, we tend to think of apologetics as very intellectual. And I’m an evidentialist, so I like that. I like the argument for the existence of God, and the reasons why Jesus rose from the dead, and all the theodicies that we can do to respond to the problem of evil. I like all that stuff.

But I think there’s another aspect of apologetics that involves … and it’s what I called … I’m not sure it’s the best way to call it … but I call it a cultural apologetics in which we use the arts and music and other human practices that … more artistic sorts of things … to make the Gospel attractive. So instead of trying to persuade somebody with a strong argument or a set of facts, you try to make the Gospel attractive. And I think we … the grand cathedrals, and the beautiful works of art, like Handel’s Messiah do that. And there’s something very powerful about that.

There’s a line … and I won’t be able to quote it exactly, because I didn’t know I was gonna be up here tonight … but Chinua Achebe’s book Things Fall Apart, which is about missionaries working in Africa, and it’s a tragedy. It’s a sad book of what they perceive as the injustice. But there’s one part in that where this one African comes to faith, and he describes … I can’t quote it exactly … but he hears the hymn. And there’s something about the hymn that sinks into his heart the way that a downpour sinks into the cracks in the ground. And it just changes him. The beauty of this hymn has this powerful, spiritual force. And I think that there’s a place for this kind of beauty in even our apologetics, in trying to make the Gospel attractive in a way that promotes deeper reflection on the eternal truths of the Gospel.

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Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than forty books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
Michael J. Svigel
Department Chair and Professor of Theology and Church History, patristic scholar, writer, husband and father, accordion player. Passionate about the church and her Lord.
Natalie Carnes
Natalie Carnes is Associate Professor of Theology at Baylor University, holding degrees from Harvard University, University of Chicago, and Duke University. Dr. Carnes is a constructive theologian who reflects on traditional theological topics through somewhat less traditional themes, like images, iconoclasm, beauty, gender, and childhood. In addition to authoring articles in Modern Theology, Journal of Religion, and International Journal of Systematic Theology, among other journals, Natalie has written two books. The first is Beauty: A Theological Engagement With Gregory of Nyssa, and the second, forthcoming December 2017, is titled Image and Presence: A Christological Reflection on Iconoclasm and Iconophilia.
Reg Grant
Reg Grant serves as Department Chair and Senior Professor of Media Arts and Worship at DTS. He enjoys teaching courses in homiletics, drama, oral interpretation, and creative writing. Dr. Grant also serves on the board of directors for Insight for Living. He has coauthored several books and has written, produced, and acted for radio, television, theater, and film. Reg is married to Lauren and they have three grown children and one grandson (Lauren is "Lolly"; Reg is "Pop"). In his free time, he loves to spend time on his ranch south of San Antonio. You'd never know it from his cultured personality, but this guy can "cowboy up" right quick.
Timothy S. Yoder
Dr. Timothy Yoder currently teaches as an associate professor in the Theological Studies department with a special emphasis in Philosophy and Apologetics. He and his wife Lisa came to DTS from Cairn University in the Philadelphia area, where he taught since the early 1990’s. Dr Yoder has a seminary degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and a PhD in philosophy of religion from Marquette University. The Yoders love travel and missions, reading books and rooting for the Super Bowl champion Eagles!!
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