How (Transgressive) Beauty Will Save the World

At the HOST conference it was my pleasure to get to meet Brian Zahnd for the first time. Brian’s HOST presentation was on “How Beauty Will Save the World,” a quote from Dostoevsky that is also the title of Brian’s book How Beauty Will Save the World.

Brain’s main point is that Christian apologetics works best when we use an aesthetical approach, an appeal to beauty. And when the standard of beauty is Jesus, well, what can be more beautiful than that?

I’m totally with Brain on this point. I’ve been writing about beauty as an apologetics for many years. I’ve found the approach particularly helpful with my doubting college students. When belief is hard, beauty is often a gateway into faith. I think artists are our most effective evangelists.

That said, during the Q&A with Brain after his talk I raised the issue of transgressive art.

Regular readers of this blog and my books (i.e., the “Piss Christ” chapter in Unclean, and the chapter about “The Thomas Kinkade Effect” in The Authenticity of Faith) know I’ve been thinking about art, ugliness and theology for quite sometime.

Specifically, if Jesus is “beautiful” his “beauty” was first experienced in the gospels as ugly, transgressive and monstrous. Yes, we thrill to the beauty of Jesus embracing the unclean. But the visceral disgust and shock experienced by those watching Jesus would never have led them to call his actions “beautiful.”

And this I why, as I argued in Brian's Q&A, so few Christians actually behave like Jesus today. We actually don’t find Jesus very beautiful.

Just like in the gospels, we’re still scandalized by the trangressive nature of what cruciform beauty looks like.

Beauty will save the world, but it often will be experienced as a transgressive beauty.

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