By Tom Garfield
Affirming the reality of the trivium of Truth, Goodness and Beauty is easy for a school to put in their mission statement, putting feet on these necessary elements of a Christian education is another matter. That can get downright messy. Here are some short and admittedly incomplete definitions of terms with some examples from Scripture:
“Truth” – That which is unchangeable over time and place: God’s Word and work.
* Examples: Jesus Christ is God incarnate (John 1:1). God made the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1).
“Goodness” – That which is always appropriate to express or do: Holy actions.
* Examples: You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Lev.19:18 ). Speak so as to edify and build up others (Col. 3:16,17).
“Beauty” – That which is always comely and adorning: Truth and goodness magnified creatively.
* Examples: The beauty of holiness (Ps.29:2). The heavens declare the glory of God (Ps. 19:1).
Presenting Truth in a Christian school is a glorious and relatively straightforward activity. Actually, it’s more of a commitment to faithfully present God’s Word unflinchingly, in and out of the classroom. Whether Truth is being consistently presented or not can be seen and recognized by all, and virtually no Christian parents or teachers would object to Truth being presented in an unvarnished way.
Goodness also is a fairly popular aspect in Christian education. Kindness, love in the details of living together, boys holding doors for girls, and general pleasant speech and behavior are either the norm in daily life at school, or not. Here again, this is all recognizable, as well as universally admired and desired in a Christian education.
Beauty, on the other hand, while still a valued element of a Christian education, can cause some serious heartburn. With Beauty we seemingly and suddenly enter the realm of the ‘subjective’, illustrated often with remarks in the vain of, “Who’s to say what is good or bad in art, or music, or theater, or…?” Is Beauty really relegated to the ‘eye of the beholder’? Are there really no biblical standards by which we can determine what earns the title of “beautiful” and what doesn’t? There have been many fine books written on this very issue; the focus of this essay is to address some biblical world view elements to consider in constructing, presenting and encouraging the visual arts in a Christian school. By ‘visual arts’, we are including all formal presentations of the arts that we require from the students: paintings, drawings, songs, plays, etc.
Therefore, keeping in mind the necessary consideration of the ages and frames of our students, below are some basic biblical principles applied to the arts. First, some appropriate Scripture passages are referenced, then some applicable principles that may be drawn from those biblical foundations.