Tom Wright on beauty

In Surprised By Hope, Wright has a chapter on ‘Building for the Kingdom’. He sees building for the kingdom as the task of Christians today. The ‘for’ is important. It’s not building the kingdom by our own effort. Instead, it’s getting on with the tasks God’s given us, which he will – in ways we don’t understand yet – use (and is using) in his kingdom.

He explores three areas of the task – justice, beauty and evangelism. Beauty is the one which surprised me. He sees it as the task of artists to show the world beauty. Beauty, he believes, endures.

He sees an impasse between artists who show the world’s ugliness without hope and those who refuse to recognise the ugliness and whose art is thus untrue. He wants Christians to help break this impasse.

The beauty of creation, to which art responds and which it tries to express, imitate and highlight, is not simply beauty which it possesses in itself, but the beauty which it possesses in view of what is promised to it : back to the chalice, the violin, the engagement ring. We are committed to describing the world not just as it should be, not just as it is, but as – by God’s grace alone! – one day it will be. And we should never forget that when Jesus rose from the dead, as the new paradigm, first example and generating power of the whole new creation, the marks of the nail were not only visible in his hands and his feet. They were the way he was to be identified. When art comes to terms with both the wounds of the world and the promise of resurrection, and learns how to express and respond to both at once, we will be on the way to a fresh vision, a fresh mission. (235-6)

I don’t have any startling insights here. I don’t know how to think eschatologically in writing novels (my art form). I’m aware that at the moment I’m striving to be less ideologically driven in my writing – not more. I tried in the wrong way to write theological fiction and it caused problems.

But I do know that I want to write about beauty. Too long in literature I’ve been fascinated by ugliness. Perhaps in response to the kitschy sentimentalism that I felt evangelicalism was pushing me to like. Time to restore beauty. Not that it wasn’t there, but now as a conscious drive.

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7 thoughts on “Tom Wright on beauty

  1. As a Christian who works in the classical music industry, I couldn’t agree more that this is a missing point in much evangelical thinking nowadays.

    When I first decided several years ago that I wanted to work in that industry, I went through a good couple of years of turmoil thinking through why Christians should get involved in this sort of industry (after all, isn’t music just entertainment?)

    It’s something that the church hasn’t really thought through too well in the last century, so it’s good to see some people thinking about it.

  2. Thanks for your comment Matt. Tom Wright’s thinking in this area would strongly uphold the value of what you’re doing. I hope more people come to think like him.

    A good friend of mine gave up on a promising music career because she was told at a conference that personal evangelism was all that counted. I feel sad thinking about that.

  3. I had a similar situation. Someone that I respected in Christian circles told me that I could use my gifts to work for organisations that were “directly advancing the Kingdom of God”. The implication of that, though, was that it sounded as if going into the arts, though, was *not* advancing the Kingdom of God. It took me a long while to work through that.

  4. Glad you stuck with the arts Matt! Next month I’m giving a paper to the Newbigin Group in Perth on how I see my writing in relation to building for the kingdom (using Wright’s model); it’s going to be a good chance for me to think through these issues thoroughly.

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