The Aesthetic Beauty of the Gospel

Mark Mattes | October 30, 2017

To be human is to be captivated by someone or something, and this is no less true for Christians. We sing “Fairest Lord Jesus” because Jesus has captivated our hearts. We experience the gospel as beautiful—that God would reach out to rebels to forgive them, embrace them, and return them to his care. 

But seldom do we explore how this gospel is beautiful.

Luther wouldn’t seem to be a go-to thinker for a theology of beauty. He’s known for his ferocious and desperate wrestling with God and conscience. Beauty, by contrast, conveys a sense of tranquility, delight, and pleasure. These words hardly seem compatible with the storms Luther faced.

But there’s another side to Luther. He had a deep appreciation for music and the visual arts. He played the lute, sang tenor, composed hymns, and was good friends with the Wittenberg painter Lucas Cranach. (He also inspired Bach.) This appreciation was undergirded by his conviction that the gospel is intrinsically beautiful.

Beautiful Cross

Luther’s theology of beauty grew out of his understanding of the gospel as God’s word of comfort and joy to repentant sinners. But this gospel isn’t attractive to everyone.

Luther distinguished this “theology of the cross” from the “theology of glory,” which can initially seem…

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