The Beauty of God: Theology and the Arts, Daniel Treier Roger Lundin, Mark Husbands, Ed.
This was my top favorite book of the year! The Beauty of God is a collection of articles that discuss the interplay between theology and the arts. Covering music, painting, film, and literature, the contributors discuss various subjects including the role of theology in the music of J. S. Bach, how the resurrection establishes a new redemptive aesthetic in the arts, how Jazz music reflects something of the nature of beauty, as well as how God can speak to us through film. My favorite article in this book was written by Jeremy Begbie, who wrote a wonderful introduction into the nature of beauty. What is beauty, and does beauty tell us something about God? According to Begbie, a theological account of beauty can be developed based upon the Christian understanding of the Trinity. Fascinating read, and by far the best book I have read all year.
Art and Action: Toward a Christian Aesthetic, by Nicholas Wolterstorff
This was a great book, and I enjoyed reading Wolterstorff’s unique perspective on how mankind acts artistically. Wolterstorff maintains that the definition of art can be found by considering the varied activities undertaken by mankind. This book is a very dense read because Wolterstorff, being the philosopher that he is, demonstrates how art is a type of communication, and how aesthetic standards are found in “fittingness.” Artists are workers in fittingness, who take consideration of their tools (paint, musical instruments, words), and how their tools best fit the intent of their message. The best part of this book is Wolterstorff’s exploration of Christian aesthetic standards, and how the Christian should be aesthetically responsible. Humans are made in the image of a creative God and are therefore cast in his likeness, and Wolterstorff explains how the Christian artist can find his role in the cultural mandate of Genesis 2:15.
Being and Some Philosophers, by Etienne Gilson
One of the best books on Philosophy I’ve read. Strictly a work on metaphysics, Gilson traces the historical development of the concept of “being” from the Eleatic philosophers up to the modern era. Starting with the Greek Philosopher Parmenides, Gilson brilliantly explains the parmenidean dilemma, and how the problem of change and permanence was addressed by Plato, Aristotle, and the Scholastics. I enjoyed this book immensely, especially because it placed philosophers within their cultural context, which helped me to understand why philosophers like Plato came up with the ideas that they did. The contextualization helped me to have a better vantage point on the overall history of philosophy, and I’ve not read a book that has done a better job at that than Gilson’s book.
Faith and Beauty, by Edward Farley
During the spring semester I wrote a paper on art in Christian worship, during the course of which I ended up writing about beauty. As I wrote, I began to realize that I couldn’t write about something I knew nothing about. What is beauty exactly? What makes something beautiful, and is beauty merely in the eye of the beholder? Or is beauty, like truth, something that has objective standards? As a Christian, is God beautiful, and what would it mean to say that God (being immaterial) is beautiful? This book was one of the best books I read that addressed these questions. Farley does a great job at surveying the history of discourse surrounding beauty, and enlightens the reader as to how Christianity added to the Platonic and Aristotelian discussion of beauty. Jonathan Edwards gets notable mention, and Edward’s perspective gives a uniquely reformed look on the nature of beauty. I loved this book!
Theology and the Arts: Encountering God through Music, Art, and Rhetoric, by Richard Viladesau
For someone who has no background in the arts, this book was an easy and rewarding read. The premise of this book could be stated like this: That God reveals himself through art, and that art reveals how humans see God. How so? The Bible tell us that God has revealed himself through his handiwork, and this is generally understood among Christians to mean that God reveals something of himself in the stars of the heavens. But is the sky the only place that one can look? Since humans are also the product of God’s handiwork, can something of God be revealed through the human imagination? Since humans are made in the image of God, Viladesau follows what he feels to be the implications of this truth. God speaks through the human imagination, and even through human depravity, glimmers of God’s truth shine forth. Art bears the indelible marks of God’s imprint because the humans that produce art are bearers of that same image. Viladesau explores the history of art with this premise, showing not only how God speaks through the human imagination, but also how the human imagination has changed in how it understands God.
Obviously, I read a lot about art and beauty. It became an obsession of mine over the summer, and I have since become very passionate about the role that theology plays in the arts. I plan on doing further studies in this area. If you enjoy these subjects as much as I do, then these are great books to start with.
I also wrote a blog that incorporated what I learned about beauty during the summer. If you’re interested, please check it out here!