Friday, July 4, 2008

Apologetics and Aesthetics

The wide-ranging, foundational perspective provided in God's word allows Christians to take anything as the proximate starting point for a discussion of the truth as it is in Jesus. With God as our ultimate starting point, we may take any fact in hand and show the necessity of relating it to Jesus Christ if it is to be intelligible and salvageable. As one writer observed:

"The Beauty of Van Til's philosophy is that, since God created everything and everything reveals God, one may begin with literally anything when speaking to an unbeliever. The only limitation is a believer's familiarity with the subject matter." (Joseph A. Fielding III, "The Brute Facts: An Introduction to the Theology and Apologetics of Cornelius Van Til", The Christian Statesman, March-April, 2003)

With the above in mind, the more our knowledge is expanded to include the salient points of the various disciplines and activities that men and women are interested in, the better equipped we will be to present to them the intellectual challenge of the gospel and press the claims of Christ upon them.

(One of the practical ramifications of this is: for unbelievers who are otherwise apprehensive about a "religious" discussion, a topic that is presumed to be neutral or "unbeliever-friendly" can often rope them in. Furthermore, unbelievers are more apt to participate in a discussion over a topic they consider especially important, or a topic about which they consider themselves to be especially well informed.)

And so, for example, by enriching our understanding of something like aesthetics, if we run across an unbeliever who belies an interest in anything beautiful or artistic, the more ably we will be prepared to show them the One who makes sense out of it all - Jesus, who is altogether lovely, the fairest among ten thousand.

As a quick illustration, if a believer was to talk to an ancient adherent of Platonism in art, they might ask him or her how the Demiurge (Plato's finite creator) really provides a pou sto (or foundation) for the imitative aspect of art (i.e., mimesis). After all, the Demiurge is not ultimate, independent, self-explanatory, or self-contained; consequently, he/it cannot account for mimesis in the final analysis. To this, the die-hard Platonist may respond that the Demiurge rests on something further back, which itself rests on something further back, and so on until we get to "God" or the "Form of the Good." The problem with this, amongst many others of course, is that it is the Demiurge, not the "form of the Good", that sullies his hands with the chaotic and otherwise unformed matter of this world. In other words, what such an exercise will show is that Plato's ultimate, his postulated "form of the Good", is good for nothing as far as mimesis is concerned. Hence, the would-be Platonist is left without any ultimate foundation for making what he does intelligible.

The Christian solution is found in Colossians 2, for there we are told of the second person of the Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom dwells all the fullness (Gr. Pleroma) of the Godhead in bodily form. In other words, Jesus is no Demiurge, no emanation, no lesser being that is strewn somewhere along a continuum of created or contingent things, but is the Pleroma of God, the radiance of the Father's glory and the exact representation of His being. By Him all things were made and in Him all things hold together. He upholds all things by the word of His power. His creative and ongoing providential activity accounts for mimesis in a way that Plato never dreamed of.

From an exercise like the above, we can then move on to proclaim that this same Jesus can save the one whose "good works", like Plato's forms, are good for nothing.

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