Theological Aesthetics

I just got out of my Aesthetics class, and I am pretty sure my whole future, God willing, was just defined for me. Seriously, I cannot think of a more fitting class for me; with it, I think I now know the area where I may be devoting the rest of my academic studies and, later, teaching.

Since I was a child, I have been enamored with the arts. First and foremost, drawing was my way of expressing myself, entertaining myself, comforting myself – it was everything. Next came writing, a close second, where I expressed myself in storytelling. However, drawing and painting were always forefront in my childhood and teenage years. I took art lessons from two teachers during my childhood and adolescence, and became the instant favorite of the latter one, as my talents began to take shape. I was known as the “top artist” at my high school, was the set designer and publicity artist for the drama department, and was involved in the art club and as many art classes as I could take. I received a scholarship to Reinhardt College after showing my artistic portfolio to a professor in the art department.

Then it happened. Actually, two things happened during my freshman year of college. The first was a sense of calling that was foreign to me. My four years of growing in Christ had caught up to me… I knew God was calling me into some sort of ministry. Some people claim very profound, supernatural experiences that show them their calling. Mine was not so much that, though it was nonetheless clear. My love for God, my growing, extremely intense interest in theology, and my equally growing concern for the Church simply left me no other option in my mind and heart. Then the second thing happened: I hit a dry spell. I did not want to draw. For the first time in my life, I actually did not want to draw. This shook my world. Perhaps it was the fact that I was doing around five rather large sketches a day (minimum), of still-life objects such as fruit, bottles, skeletons, etc. I don’t really know what it was… but an art major who cannot endure drawing is in real peril. Therefore, I changed my major. I never even picked up my sketches from the art department. I washed my hands, switched my major twice over my college career, first to communications and then, finally, to English, as my passion for writing and studying literature had not ceased. I dared not enter the Religion department at my school, as it was dominated by very theologically liberal professors, and so I waited until seminary until my theological pursuits could begin.

At the end of my college career, my passion for art had begun to resurge. It had never truly died. Only my desire to draw constantly had went into a remission, and that for about two years after the above occurrence. However, my appreciation for art, art history, aesthetic philosophy, and such had never really diminished; yet, with my lack of artistic participation, I had neglected myself from indulging in the arts, but with my college career ending, I found myself draw back to the materials, the philosophies, and such of the artistic world. I found myself remembering how much the world of the Church and the world of the arts had intersected for the past two millennia, as I had studied in Art History. This provoked me to wonder: how can I possibly find some way to intersect art, literature, and my theological vocation?

At the same time, I became a youth minister. What initially was thought to be a temporary, interim position lasted a full fourteen months. I found myself increasingly drawing… graffitiing the white board in my youth room with diagrams, word art, sometimes elaborate illustrations… and it felt good! I loved to draw again. The church, eventually discovering my artistic talent, also had my draw holiday decor for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Maybe art was, in some way, how I was supposed to serve the Church.

I looked at various seminaries. The only one I would have even considered that had any program in theology and the arts was Fuller, in California. Yet Fuller, once a solidly conservative evangelical school, has leaned heavily into modern-liberalism in the past several years. I could not go there, based on theological principles alone.

I came to Southern. It was, in my view, the best choice theologically. World-renown professors and a Confession of Faith that, if I were asked, I could sign my name to. Yet my ever-pondering nature continued to ponder. I found a church here that was surprisingly plugged into the artistic community. Yet I wasn’t sure where I fit into this whole arts-theology mix. Then I read an article online that somehow I had missed until this point. It had happened a year before I came… Southern had hired Dr. Steve Halla to head up a Center for Theology and the Arts at Southern Seminary, exploring how art, literature, film, and our Christian faith intersect. I had come here, not knowing this, and yet it drops into my lap. There are now theology and the arts classes at Southern, with a Ph.D. concentration now developed in that very area.

Tonight, I took my very first class from Dr. Halla, Aesthetics. Aesthetics: the philosophy of beauty and arts. The field had become wide open for the study of aesthetics and the arts from a Christian perspective. The Catholics have been doing it for years, but evangelical Protestants are newly engaged in this discussion, and so the voices that rise up in the next few years from the Protestant churches will be able to venture into previously uncharted waters.

Dr. Halla had a similar tension between the artist and theological worlds that called him. Now, because of God working through him, the door has been opened for me to pursue both. Theological Aesthetics is an area where I can see probing the philosophical questions, theological ponderings, and artistic expressions that are so much a part of who I am, and to do it ultimately for the Glory of God.

I ask for your prayers as God continues to rock my world and change the course of my life in ways I would have never dreamed.

2 thoughts on “Theological Aesthetics

  1. Jacob, I too am experiencing this awakening. I find if frustrating that I had to come all this way to find out that I needed to do what I could have done all along. I love the arts. And I love Jesus. When I felt “the call” the only response I knew of was to pack up everything and go to Bible College. This is just what you did if you felt called. I now realize that there is another option. Yes, perhaps God is calling you to full time vocational ministry as a pastor, but perhaps he is just affirming your current line of study and is warming your heart to the idea of serving him through that vocation. We are all ministers, who call Jesus our Lord, some of us just get paid for it. I have realized that I don’t want to get paid for it. I just want to serve Him. I want to give my life, not just my vocation to God.

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