As a music professor, a performing trombonist, and a Christian, I continually seek books that address fulfilling or considering my vocation in a God-glorifying manner. Books about “Christian music” are common, but often limited to discussing corporate worship, rarely inviting broader application. Other than the “Christian worldview” thinkers of the past century or so, authors in the Reformed tradition have infrequently addressed music in any significant way. Thus, finding a volume consonant with that tradition that is relevant to my work is gratifying.
Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything is not about music specifically, but rather develops a theology of beauty more broadly. Christians working in the creative and performing arts will find useful food for thought here, but author Steve DeWitt has not written expressly for arts professionals. Rather, he describes his own growing awareness of beauty and its importance in a semi-autobiographical fashion, and in a way that invites consideration by all believers.
DeWitt wastes no time in getting to his main point. In the Introduction, he explains the fleeting and ultimately unsatisfying nature of created beauty with the words of Augustine, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you” (7). The author thus begins by sharing his conclusion: Christians are to consider beautiful things not as ends in themselves, but as reflections of the beauty of the Creator.
The major content of the book begins with a discussion of the wonder with which people view creation, and yet our inability to move beyond the beauties perceived by our senses to “the source and standard of all beauty” (15). Our understanding of beauty is both sensory and subjective; we have difficulty considering that the invisible God is objectively and essentially beautiful, and why this is so. DeWitt considers God’s perfection and His infinity, but focuses upon God’s Trinitarian nature as particularly beautiful. He locates this beauty in the love between the three Persons, and particularly in the Son’s willingness to humble himself and endure the cross for the sins of his people. “The cross is real beauty. Everything else is reflection” (40). After such a strong statement, though, DeWitt moves beyond the cross to the resurrected and glorified Christ. Writing in anticipation of the eternal state, he says “We will see the Son in his resplendent glory. That blessed and beautiful vision is what our souls crave” (51).
The next four chapters flesh out the ideas expressed thus far. DeWitt discusses more fully the idea of creation as an expression of the beauty and character of the Creator, and how, as God’s image-bearers, our creativity is a reflection of his. The consideration of beauty will lead us to wonder, and then to worship, yet mankind is prone to misdirect that worship. The result? “Emptiness is what image-bearers feel when they worship beauty for its own sake” (93). Reminding us that observing even the most beautiful things in the created world is insufficient to bring us to a saving knowledge of the Creator, DeWitt notes that a right apprehension of beauty will lead us to consider our most beautiful Savior.
The next three chapters are the most practical in their applications to those that wish to enjoy or produce beautiful things in a God-glorifying way. Most helpful is DeWitt’s essential denial of the concept of “Christian art,” where the only artistic expressions deemed legitimate are those with overtly Christian themes. In contrast to this, he invites us to consider beauty in the arts more broadly: “Beautiful art will reflect the excellence, goodness, harmonies, virtue, and redemptive glory of God” (143). DeWitt does not limit goodness or even beauty to that which is “pretty;” even those expressions deemed dark or negative can be legitimate, provided that these are not idealized. As we consider artistic expressions, the question is not so much whether they are expressly Christian or even positive, but whether they present the world truly, and where negatively, in a way that does not glorify sin but rather looks forward to the ultimate redemption of all things.
DeWitt returns in the final chapter to the ultimate end of all of our consideration and creation of beauty. Again looking forward to the eternal state, he writes, “Eternal beauty will remind us of this world’s wonders and pleasures, but only faintly. We won’t miss them or long for them” (177). In that Day we will be with Christ, and our enjoyment of the beauty and glory of our Lord will never end. Indeed, that is our chief end, “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”
In his endorsement of Eyes Wide Open, Leland Ryken wrote, “As a starting point for why and how Christians should value beauty, this book is the gold standard” (front cover). That is a fair assessment. Readers familiar with other Christian works on beauty, art, and culture might find DeWitt’s book to be a bit elementary, but will still find it both sound and edifying. For those just beginning to think seriously about these things, this book is a good place to begin.