Bounded Freedom and the Emerging Church
Why I Love Cheerwine: A Story (Part Five)

What Good is Good?

RykenA couple of years ago, one popular online music web site had as its moniker something like "where good music begins," or words to that effect.  I searched for a definition of good and, finding nothing, and being acquainted with the founders of the site, I asked them what they meant by "good."  An email back referred me to writer Annie Dillard, as if that would be sufficient.  Annie Dillard is, in some ways, a "good" writer, but that wasn't very helpful because they didn't tell me what about Annie Dillard was good.  To this day I still don't know what they meant by "good" but, then, the moniker is now gone and the business sold.

What good is calling something good when you can't define good?  Not much.  In his helpful essay, Art for God's Sake, Philip Ryken very helpfully points out that goodness is both an ethical and aesthetic standard.  Christian artists are not allowed to make anything immoral or that is designed to serve as an object of religious worship.  I understand this to mean that the art points beyond itself to something good, even if it does that by showing the consequences of sin.  Thus, for example, a novel may have a lot of immorality in it without being immoral, yet if immorality is glorified, that is, the particulars of the story point to a universal theme that says this lifestyle is acceptable or preferred, it is an immoral work.  Christians so often single out works that have immorality in them as off limits when we should look to see what the novel, film, or other work of art is saying about what is good (or true, or beautiful).  On the other hand, other Christians are uncritical consumers of music, books, and film without even asking questions about what they are saying about what is good.  What is called for is discernment, informed by Scripture and discerned in community with other Christians.

Ryken also says that good has an aesthetic component, and we also forget this.  Just because something is Christian in theme doesn't mean it is aesthetically good.  Good artists learn their craft.  They master the particular area in which they work.  Writers, for example, master words.  I was reading one of the articles my son was reading today about theater stage lighting, and I realized that it is an art that requires careful attention to many factors that derive from the nature of the play itself as well as the technical capabilities of the lights in use.  Lighting designers are not called "designers" for nothing; it is an art.

Next time you see a movie with someone and comment that it was "good," consider what you're saying.  Consider what's good about good.  It's not the only question to ask, but it is an important one.