The God of Infinite Beauty: A Theocentric Vision of Aesthetics
The new issue of Credo Magazine has been recently released: Holiness. The following is an excerpt from Samuel Parkison’s book review, The God of Infinite Beauty: A Theocentric Vision of Aesthetics. Samuel G. Parkison is a Regular Contributor at For The Church as well as a PhD student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He lives in Kansas City with his wife (Shannon) and their two sons (Jonah and Henry), where Samuel serves as a Pastor of Teaching and Liturgy at Emmaus Church. You can follow Samuel on Twitter at @samuel_parkison.
“The core weakness of theological aesthetics throughout the history of its various developments,” writes Jonathan King, “has been the primary neglect of a specifically biblical- and systematic-theological treatment” (p. 7). Addressing this weakness is exactly what King labors to do with his recent work, The Beauty of the Lord: Theology as Aesthetics. The impetus for this book comes from King’s refusal to relegate aesthetics to philosophers and artists alone; he shows that aesthetics is the appropriate province of biblical and systematic theologians. Thus, King sets out to reverse the current evangelical state of affairs, in which “a theological view of beauty plays almost no part in the work and pedagogy of systematic theology and its contribution to Christian doctrine” (p. 332). Further, The Beauty of the Lord is an interdisciplinary study of the best kind. Fairly treating philosophy, systematics, exegesis, and historical theology, the finished product is a masterpiece, one Michael Horton calls, “a feast for the soul.” Everything God does is glorious, and therefore everything he does is beautiful. Click To Tweet
King begins this work by establishing his terms and placing them within their historical contexts. Here he introduces Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Aquinas, Herman Bavinck, and Karl Barth as his theological-aesthetic conversation partners (as one might expect, Jonathan Edwards and Hans Urs von Balthasar join the party as well, but they arrive later on). King then labors toward a definition of God’s beauty in relation to his glory. Leaning heavily on classical theism’s conception of glory and the doctrine of Divine Simplicity, King argues that “the beauty of God manifested economically is expressed and perceivable as a quality of the glory of God inherent in his work of creation, redemption and consummation” (p. 51). In other words, King develops a radically theocentric vision of aesthetics. Beauty, as a particular manifestation of glory, is, therefore, a divine attribute. For King, the glory of God’s triune simplicity defines ultimate beauty. God manifests this beauty in—and creatures perceive and experience this beauty by—his ad extra work of creation, redemption, and consummation. Everything God does is glorious, and therefore everything he does is beautiful.
The rest of this volume explores these ad extra manifestations of God’s beauty. King begins such an exploration in chapter three by examining “Beauty’s Debut;” namely, creation (p. 88). Here, King shows the symmetrical outline of the cosmos and their place in, what King calls, the “Sublime Comedy: The Theodramatic Form of the Divine Plan” (p. 88). All of creation displays a fittingness within the story that God tells with history (i.e., the theodrama), which is a crucial vehicle for displaying his beauty ad extra.
King then moves from a consideration of creation to Jesus as the fitting incarnate redeemer of this theodrama. Chapter four considers, specifically, “the christological contours of beauty” (p. 141) in the Son’s revelation of divine glory through the incarnation. Significant in this chapter is King’s insistence that, contrary to popular belief, the Son’s incarnation “in the form of a slave” in no way concealed or hid divine glory. Rather, “Christ’s humanity in the form of a slave was most befitting for God the Son to take in accordance with his role as the Messiah” (p. 141). Given this theodrama, in other words, it is fitting for God to reveal his divine glory in the Son who “emptied himself” by taking on the form of a humiliated (and later exalted) slave.