The Wooing of Beauty: God’s Evangelistic Reach

by Carrie Boren Headington

Beauty and evangelism, nature and evangelismThis morning, I awoke to one of God’s most magnificent masterpieces—hues of rose, orange, and pale yellow warmed a brilliant blue sky powdered with billowing white, silver, opaque, and sheer clouds.

In that moment, my heart expanded and beckoned me to things Heavenly. In those moments, every sense is awakened, the physical is heightened, and the soul transcends. It occurs when one watches Usain Bolt run or David Ortiz’s bat hit a baseball; when one hears Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto; when one watches a ballerina pirouette in Swan Lake; when one gazes upon leaves changing or the first snow fall gently to the ground.

I remember when my best friend and I gazed upon Monet’s Water Lilies paintings together. We stopped in silence, and without a word, glanced at each other and welled up with tears. The beauty took our breath away. On these occasions, time is suspended and one is lured upward.

Beauty is one of God’s greatest and most powerful evangelism tools. The great theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar proposed the beautiful draws the person, transforms the person, and motivates the person to serve. A leader in the Roman Catholic Church’s new evangelization, Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles, advocates that art is “the best evangelical strategy because it moves from the beautiful to the good and finally to the true.”

Barron notes that especially in our relativistic pluralistic culture where people balk at anyone telling them how or what to believe, beauty is unthreatening. Beauty beckons, calls, and woos us to God.

Barron’s proposal that the beautiful leads one to the good which ultimately leads one to the true is powerful. As believers, we know that the “true” is a person, Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).

Philosopher and writer Sir Roger Scruton states in his documentary “Why Beauty Matters” that,

Beauty has been central to our civilization for over 2000 years. From its beginnings in ancient Greece, philosophy has reflected on the place of beauty in art, poetry, music, architecture and everyday life. Philosophers have argued that through the pursuit of beauty we shape the world as a home. We also come to understand our own nature as spiritual beings. But our world has turned its back on beauty and because of that we find ourselves surrounded by ugliness and alienation. I want to persuade you that beauty matters; that it is not just a subjective thing, but a universal need of human beings. If we ignore this need we find ourselves in a spiritual desert.

So what does this look like practically?

Perhaps instead of running an Alpha Course right away (of which I am a big fan) as a way of reaching seekers, take them to a concert or an art museum and have a discussion afterwards. Open your church to local artists to share their work, read their poetry, hold their concerts. This experience alone will soften the soul to a transcendent experience.

Reach seekers through the arts where they frequent—coffee shops, parks, pubs, homes. Hold films nights and have discussions. My church in Hollywood had its own theatre troupe which performed secular plays. This same church allowed local bands to use their space on Saturday nights. The line was around the block to get into the church space.

At the end of the concert, an invitation was made to attend church or to join a group to journey spiritually. One of our churches holds a weekly film night with a meal. With great frequency after the film, people wander into the worship space and have a time of silent peace before the crucifix. Is this Gospel proclamation? No. But it is a precursor.

Beauty found in the arts or a nature walk is the beginning of the wooing process. As Scruton argues, it calls one home. It is a foretaste of the world we were made for—the world where God is our natural habitat. A world of beauty. The gospel frees us from the prison of self. Sharing beauty is a starting point, a taste, an invitation to enjoy the beauty, embrace the good, and turn to the truth.

 

Carrie-Headington-2Carrie Boren Headington (@CBHeadington) is an evangelist and apologist who communicates the good news of Jesus locally, nationally, and internationally. Carrie founded the Good News Initiative helping people meet God, know God, and share God. She is adjunct professor in evangelism at Fuller Theological Seminary, an evangelist in the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas, the wider Episcopal/ Anglican Church, and an occasional guest on Daystar Christian Television.