Conference on Aesthetics at Mid-America

Dr. Paul Munson

Each spring the students of Mid-America Reformed Seminary plan and organize a conference based on a topic of their choice. A committee, comprised of Steve Williamson, Nathan Tomlinson, and James Oord, planned the March 29, 1011, conference with Dr. Paul Munson speaking on “Aesthetics, the Study of Beauty.”

Dr. Munson, a ruling elder of Rocky Springs Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Harrisville, PA, teaches courses on various aspects of music as well as art appreciation at Grove CityCollege. His critical edition of Franz Liszt’s Oratorio St. Stansislaus, recorded by the Cincinnati May Festival, makes this composer’s last major work available for the first time.

“We chose Dr. Munson because we knew that he would be engaging, provocative, and would engender a lot of discussion,” explains James Oord. “His passion for God’s glory and love of God’s Word really show forth in all of his writings and teaching. We knew that he is a speaker who would challenge and inspire his hearers.”

In his first session, “Doctrines of Beauty,” Dr. Munson defined beauty from a Christian perspective in apposition to classical and postmodern views.

“In this lecture…combating both the classical view of beauty (beauty is a measure of measurements and symmetry) and the postmodern view (“beauty is in the eye of the beholder”),” Oord says, “Dr. Munson taught that as Christians, we see that beauty has its foundations in our beautiful God. Beauty, then, is that which puts truth and goodness (which are rooted in God) on display.”

Dr. Munson’s second session, “Let Heaven and Nature Sing,” applied aesthetics to personal living, particularly leisure time.

“Our leisure time should be spent seeking to enjoy God, not ‘enjoying ourselves,’” says Oord. “This is best accomplished by contemplating general revelation ‘in art, in nature, and in history.’”

“It ended with Dr. Munson doing a side-by-side comparison of a piece by Schubert and a song by the rock band Switchfoot,” he adds, “performing a musicological analysis of each piece and comparing them in terms of form, content, and depth. This practical demonstration created a lot of controversy, but certainly got his point across.”

The final session, “Why We Fight Over Church Music,” addressed a hotly debated—and often highly emotional—topic in current church circles.

“Using Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16,” says Oord, “Dr. Munson argued that the most important aspect of congregational signing is what we are communicating: the words of Christ. For that reason, our emotion in worship should result from what we are singing, not being an end to itself. Our singing should conform to biblical principles.”

In addition to Mid-America students, faculty, and staff, many members of local churches attended the lectures.

“We feel everything went excellently,” says Steve Williamson. “The Lord answered many prayers. Several people said it was ‘one of the best Mid-America conferences of recent years.’”

Oord concurs: “The Seminary was greatly blessed by Dr. Munson. His visit has sparked many lively conversations about beauty and how to best enjoy it in our Christian life.”

To purchase CD recordings of Dr. Munson’s lectures, contact the Seminary bookstore at 219-864-2400 or via email at bookstore@midamerica.edu.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on p. 9 of the June 8, 2011, issue of Christian Renewal.

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