33 – How Excellent in All the Earth
Apologies for the delay in last episode. I had some major technical issues as my iPad stopped exporting audio (and I had to export the audio manually by playing the audio from my iPad into another computer which lowered the audio quality as well). We are not transitioning to a triweekly podcast, but there may be some delays as I am using borrowed equipment.
I met a gentleman named Dave at church after we recorded our last episode. We were chatting about random stuff and the topic of podcasts came up and I mentioned that my podcast was called Balm in Gilead and he had heard of us! He listens to presbycast and heard us on there. Kinda cool.
Mr. Beyenhof’s name pronunciation.
Problems I see here:
- Impinges on Christian liberty cf. WCF 20
- The author misunderstands the role of the church WCF 21
- Ordinary means of grace: Word, sacrament, and singing
- Wrong view of what’s wrong with the world
- Wrong view of church and state WCF 23.3
As we walk through the Excellence element, our approach and our goal are going to change slightly. With the Psalm Model and Scripture Element, we focused heavily on what the Bible said concerning the matter and we sought to glean from Scripture a pattern of what God desires from us as we write and discern music that is useful for Worship.
For the Excellence Model, I admit that we are veering into a more subjective area. The Bible does not have an explicit command to pursue excellence, it does not have an explicit definition of excellence, nor does it tie the pursuit of excellence in the arts with sanctification or any other spiritual discipline.
However, the descriptions of artistry given, especially those concerning the building of the Tabernacle and Temple, are clear descriptions of Excellence. The Bible is not silent on the matters of Excellence, Beauty, or Craft; and I want to take this episode especially to lay some biblical groundwork in the argument that God cares about our pursuit of excellence in beauty and craft.
My ultimate goal for this season, though, isn’t to build an entirely biblical argument for the Excellence Model. Nor am I trying to build an argument that is solely useful for Type 1, 2, and 3 music. My ultimate goal for this season is to offer a helpful guide for what I believe are generally accepted ideas about excellence, but I will admit that I have some personal ideas in the mix as well. As such, this Element has more potential to change as we work through it than the Psalm Model or Scripture Element.
My thesis for my defense of the Excellence Model is built on an idea that John Cooper said well on his podcast: Christians should be making the best stuff because the Spirit is in them and they have no excuse not to be making the best stuff. He argues that Christian music should be the best music, Christian movies should be the best movies, Christian plumbers should be the best plumbers, etc. because they have no excuse not to be.
If God is dwelling inside of each Christian, and God’s standard is perfection, and God is sanctifying us daily, then we should be glorifying Him by refusing to settle for cheap throwaway twaddle.
This idea is not unique to John Cooper. In fact, I wrote my first draft of this questionnaire more than a year before ever listening to Cooper Stuff. But this idea is not unique to me either. I would wager that nearly every Christian creative has had the thought, and I would wager this because we all share the same Spirit, and He is a creative Spirit.
For this episode and for season three, I am going to discuss Excellence, Beauty, and Craft. I am going to look at what the Bible says about them, what professional creatives say about them, and what I have to say about them. I would love this to become a conversation, and I am looking to expand my horizons on these topics, but I do take the stance that the best music pursues Excellence in both Beauty and Craft; and the music that doesn’t, doesn’t last.
Most people probably have a general understanding of “the pursuit of excellence”, but I want to go ahead and carefully explain what I am talking about and what I am not talking about.
I mentioned in one of our first episodes that one of God’s incommunicable attributes is His perfection, but that He does give us Excellence instead. As we are being sanctified, we are becoming more and more like Christ every day, and when we are glorified, we will be perfected in Him.
Our Excellence then, in many ways, is part of our becoming perfected.
We cannot be perfect in anything we do or create. This isn’t to say we can never play a song flawlessly or make a 100% on our music theory final, but it is to say that we can never arrive at a complete understating of the art of music.
I have heard it said that the pursuit of perfection is the enemy of “done”. I have also heard it said that the pursuit of perfection is rooted in the belief that I can be like God (aka the first temptation). But the pursuit of Excellence is rooted in the understating that I am being made perfect, but that I have limitations. In acknowledging my own limitations, I can strive daily for one step closer, and I can look to Christ as my example.
I think a very incomplete definition of Excellence is to try your best and grow as you go. While that is indeed part of it, I do believe that true Excellence must be rooted in sanctification. This is the very core of the concept that Christians should be the best at everything. Unbelievers do not have that element of being perfected by God. They also do not have as high a standard of beauty as the believer, as God himself is the standard.
I do believe that common Grace allows for a shadow or type of Excellence for the unbeliever, but even then there is a process of learning that comes before the ability to do, and then there is a process of growing into the role beyond simply trying hard where passion and devotion kick in and carry you deeper into the process.
So in the simplest of terms, as we move forward, I will try to sum up the complexity of the idea into this concept: Excellence is the pursuit of growing in knowledge and ability towards the standard of Beauty and Craft set in place by God in both general and special revelation.
As we see unbelievers pursue excellence, we know they are still holding God as the standard as the common Grace He gives them allows them to see His handiwork in the world around them. But we have His special revelation and His saving Grace, we can better see His standard and have greater means of pursuing it. Therefore we are without excuse.
“Excellence is the pursuit of growing in knowledge and ability towards the standard of Beauty and Craft set in place by God in both general and special revelation.”Bryan Emerson
I want to take some time now to look at a couple passages that mention excellence:
 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (ESV)
The idea of Excellence is listed among very positive attributes of Christ like thinking. These attributes are all related and in some ways all overlap with over another. It isn’t wrong to say, then, that true Excellence must contain truth, honor, justice, purity, loveliness, commendability, and that which is worthy of praise. I could spend an episode unpacking each one of those, but I must move on.
“Excellence must contain truth, honor, justice, purity, loveliness, commendability, and that which is worthy of praise.”Bryan Emerson
The next passage is less familiar:
 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,  by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (ESV)
There is a lot to unpack with this passage, and we do not have the time to fully do so, but I did want to point out a few major things:
- Excellence belongs to God
- Excellence is a gift from God
- Excellence comes from knowing God
- Excellence is tied to God’s glory
- Excellence is tied to God’s promises
- Excellence is tied to sanctification
This is very broad and is not explicitly about Excellence in arts, but it is essential to the foundation of understanding Excellence. With this foundation, we can see that Excellence is not merely a worldly concept, but it is a biblical concept. As such, we must never settle for less than Excellence, both on our work, but also in the work we approve.
In our next episode we will focus specifically on Beauty and Craft, what they are, what they aren’t, and how they apply to Excellence.