Welcome to the Gum, Geckos, and God Blog Tour! I was delighted to be invited to participate. I not only enjoyed reading the book, but interacting with Jim has been fun, too. Jim Speigel is Philosophy Professor at Taylor University in Indiana. (Also, Jim and his wife just launched a new blog as well, called Wisdom and Folly.) I had a hard time confining my questions, so I asked Jim a series of questions. I'll be posting a new one every couple of hours, and I hope you find these engaging. Here's the first installment.
Embarking: My question comes from pages 20 and 21. You are talking there about how you realize that no matter how hard you try, you cannot shield your kids from the evils of life. Then you talk about Tolkein's Lord of the Rings Trilogy (a favorite of mine as well), the Black Riders, and the intent of "this present darkness" and the rulers of this age to hurt, intimidate, and influence your children against the Kingdom of God. Then you mention that you didn't realize how your training in philosophy - what you call "the study of wisdom" would prepare you to be a better parent. The question, then, involves your appropriation here of Tolkein, and later Star Wars and your mention of art and the aesthetic in the spiritual formation of your children (see p. 131). I love your appropriation of art and aesthetics to develop a creative imagination for what it might be like to in another person's shoes to better live out the Golden Rule. Throughout the book, we can see clearly your appropriation of both philosophy and your training in biology, but can you tell us a little more about the use of art and aesthetics in such things I imagine as training children in a biblical worldview, increasing their sensibilities to beauty and its malformations, and strengthening them for engagement with the world in which we live? And beyond children, how can we increase and imaginative vision that boosts morality practically in our churches today? (By the way, I think such creative imagination and imaginative teaching is seriously missing from our arsenal for a number of cultural reasons, particular in the Protestant and evangelical manifestations of Christian faith.)
SPIEGEL: The category of beauty is crucial to a Christian worldview, and both adults and Christians should have a strong aesthetic sensibility. This is so for several reasons. First, we believe that God is the Cosmic Artist. He created everything, and he made his creation beautiful. Now as we struggle to comprehend both God and the nature of the universe, the concept of God as artist will help us in both respects, especially as we encounter confusing or mysterious aspects to the world and the divine nature. Since good art has many layers of meaning and needs to be interpreted, we can better understand why there would be so much mystery in the world given that God is an artist. Beauty is often confounding, even in human-made art. How much more so, then, in divine art?
Second, God himself is beautiful. Scripture frequently refers to the "glory" of the Lord, but rarely do Christians-especially evangelicals-recognize that the term "glory" is an aesthetic concept. So when we consider the truth that God does all things for his "glory," we discover that the meaning of everything is ultimately aesthetic-for God to demonstrate the beauty of his being. It was through reading Jonathan Edwards' The Nature of True Virtue that I came to this realization, and it has transformed the way I think about and apply theology. I now see, as Edwards points out, that even moral concepts are subcategories of the aesthetic. For example, virtue is a kind of moral beauty.
Third, God's primary special revelation-the Bible-is itself a work of literary art. This not only reveals God's high regard for aesthetics but it also implies that a sound biblical hermeneutic must be aesthetically savvy. And those of us who handle Scripture in a leadership capacity-as theologians, biblical scholars, preachers, youth ministers, etc.-must learn something about aesthetics if we are to maximize our effectiveness. Minimally, I think this implies that Christian leaders should regularly "consume" good art, in the form of quality music, film, literature, etc. This point answers your last question, I think. We, as a church, will develop a stronger "imaginative vision" as we become more aesthetically literate. Christians should be connoisseurs of all kinds of art forms. As churches become more aesthetically trained, a number of salutary effects will follow, from increased discernment to greater creative ability among Christian artists themselves.
Finally, to address something you allude to in your question, in Gum, Geckos, and God I explain why aesthetic development is a boon to moral-spiritual development, particularly as regards our ability to apply the Golden Rule. Since application of this rule requires a strong imagination (as one tries to imagine what it is like to be person X in a certain situation), the more we can develop our imagination, the better we will be at applying the Golden Rule. Well, of course, this rule is at the heart of a Christian ethic, so it follows that the more imaginatively skilled one is, the more morally mature one will be-other things being equal, of course. In other words, whatever one's state of moral-spiritual formation, it can only be improved through aesthetic development. Here we see, then, a strong recommendation for training in the arts and aesthetics.