Re-enchanting the Gospel: The Role of Objective Beauty in Worship

In the last few years I have done some reflection on the role of objective beauty in worship and faith. I am convinced that we need to re-enchant ourselves and the world with the objective beauty of God. Many theologians, philosophers and authors have dealt with or addressed this idea, including C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton, George MacDonald, Dietrich von Hildebrand, and Flannery O’Connor, to name just a few. One of the most effective means of making worship relevant and attractive comes through an enthusiastic embrace of objective beauty, because that is who God is, the manifestation of infinite beauty. Beauty should take the lead, so to speak, when we are trying to find a relevant connection with the culture and to advocate for the re-enchantment of life, faith and even theological reflection through beauty. Beauty conjoins or holds together immanence and transcendence, body and soul, intellect and senses, mind and heart, subject and object, supernatural and natural, even God and the world. Objective beauty, epitomized in Jesus the Christ, is the enfleshment of the truth and the goodness of God. Beauty is the simultaneous encounter of form, and experience of splendor, of the truth and the goodness of God. There is no truth more beautiful than the truth of the incarnation of God in Jesus the Christ. The objective beauty of God in Christ forms the context in which truth and goodness make sense. By virtue of objective beauty in Jesus Christ, truth is really true and goodness is really good. Worship is a primary conduit for the beauty of God in Jesus Christ!

We must always keep the Gospel of Jesus Christ at the very center of our worship. But this Gospel should not be an overly discursive or overly moralizing Gospel. Rather, it should be a re-enchanted Gospel, full of wonder, awe and beauty, revelatory of Jesus Christ himself. He is the most beautiful one who will arrest those who encounter him, transform them and send them on mission. But we must also participate in God’s beauty and glory by giving attention to the full employment and embrace of objective aesthetics in our liturgies, our preaching, in all of our worship arts, and even in our handling of scripture through interpretation and presentation. Additionally, we are called to live lives of beauty, filled with the Holy Spirit and participating fully in God’s goodness and truth through Jesus Christ our Lord. That beauty is alluring and winsome to our world that is so devoid of such beauty, and living lives of beauty, goodness and truth is truly the hope for our darkened days.

We need to ask ourselves: do our liturgies, preaching, sacred arts, sacred buildings, scripture interpretation and presentation, and even our lifestyles of virtue, lift our spirits out of the ordinary and toward God, or do they let us remain in the comfort of the increasingly hostile secular world around us? Certainly all of us in our various communities could stand to reflect more deeply on what we are doing to make our worship, liturgies, homiletics, worship arts, and our faith life, something that draws us out of ourselves into an encounter with the transcendent.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

This is a segment of a longer article I have written for Anamnesis, the IWS alumni newsletter that will be published here in early April. Please check this out for a more developed look at objective beauty in worship.

Photo by Texas Tongs and used under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial license.

About the author

Dr. James R. Hart has served as President of the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies since 2007. Dr. Hart was a member of the first IWS doctoral class, the Alpha class, and served as Dean of Students during his matriculation. After graduating from IWS, Dr. Webber appointed him as the Dean of Administration, and then Provost in 2006. In June of 2007, he was inaugurated as the second president of IWS. Dr. Hart holds a B.M. in Sacred Music from Oral Roberts University, an M.M. in Trumpet Performance from the University of Tulsa, and a D.W.S. from the Institute for Worship Studies. He was critical to the formation of IWS in Florida and has held administrative responsibilities since its inception in 1999. He is a professional trumpeter, choral director, and worship leader, and a published composer/arranger, songwriter, and author. He has been involved in worship leadership in various contexts around the globe for over 40 years and has taught in the areas of worship, theology, and music in various conferences, colleges, and seminaries. Dr. Hart and his wife, Carol, have three daughters and three grandchildren.