The Good, the True, the Beautiful

The Good, the True, the Beautiful: A Multidisciplinary Tribute to Dr. David K. Naugle. Edited by Mark J. Boone, Rose M. Cothren, Kevin C. Neece, and Jaclyn S. Parrish. Pickwick Publications, 2021. 352 pp, paperback, $41.00.

Back in the summer of 2012, I had the privilege of speaking for Summit Ministries, a worldview academy headquartered in the idyllic town of Manitou Springs, Colorado. As I gave my talks on the apologetics of C. S. Lewis, its founder, Dr. David Noebel, was finishing a half century as the head of Summit. For fifty years, I learned, Noebel had been training high school and college students in the importance of worldview thinking.

When I learned this fact, I was at first taken aback. I had been hearing much about worldview studies, but I had thought such studies had only been popular in the evangelical world for the last five or six years. How was it that Nobel had been analyzing worldviews for fifty? I soon learned the reason. He was a disciple, not only of Francis Schaeffer, but of the Dutch theologian and Prime Minister Abraham Kuyper, he who had famously proclaimed, in a speech he gave in Amsterdam in 1880, that “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” (3).

This quote appears in the introduction to a collection of essays gathered in honor of another great disciple of Kuyper, Dr. David K. Naugle. Currently Distinguished University Professor Emeritus at Dallas Baptist University, Naugle taught at Dallas Baptist for nearly thirty years (for many years of which he served as the Chair of the Philosophy Department), trained thousands of students to understand the full meaning of God’s sovereignty over ever inch of human existence, and authored, among other books, the seminal Worldview: The History of a Concept (Eerdmans, 2002).

In her excellent study of the horror genre, “Ordeal by Worldview: A Naugelian Study in Lovecraftian Horror,” Jacklyn Parrish, one of the four editors of the collection, defines worldview succinctly by quoting from Naugle’s book:

“According to David K. Naugle, a worldview is a ‘semiotic phenomenon,’ one which ‘consists primarily of a network of narratives signs that offers an interpretation of reality and establishes an overarching framework for life,’ providing a ‘foundation or governing platform upon or by which people think, interpret, and know’” (106).

As academic and esoteric as that definition may sound, all the authors of the collection, inspired alike by Naugle’s writing and teaching, treat it as the chief guide to their interactions with God, the world, and their students. Christianity for them, and their mentor, is more than a formula for salvation; it is a coherent, all-encompassing filter through which all of life can, and should, be perceived and understood. That is why the essays move smoothly from heady philosophical discussions of the problem of pain and the proper ordering of our loves to popular and personal analyses of the It horror films and of Martin Scorsese’s highly-controversial The Last Temptation of Christ.

I am not a horror fan, and nothing could induce me to watch the It films, but Parrish’s argument that horror both seduces and terrifies us by throwing our worldview out of whack left me rethinking all the books I have read and films I have seen in that genre. “Audiences,” she explains, “are not afraid of Cthulhu, Frankenstein’s monster, or It..."

"...rather, they are afraid of the conceptual frameworks that would allow such beings to exist. Demons, murderers, and tentacled freaks are simply the narrative means by which artists reach the emotional end of Weltanschauung-in-crisis. We scream because our worldview [a literal translation of the compound German word Weltanschauung] is being dismembered before our eyes” (108).

I am certainly not the only Evangelical who finds horror distasteful, and yet, as both Parrish and Leigh Hickman, in her “From Losers to Lovers: How the ‘It’ Films Take Us to Church,” demonstrate, horror may be one of the best means to force secular and agnostic readers and viewers to face what would happen if the Judeo-Christian worldview broke down. In fact, as I read their two essays, I wondered to myself whether Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov shouldn’t be reclassified under the genre of horror.

Thankfully, for those with weak stomachs, The Good, the True, the Beautiful offers many other essays with advice on how to reach, invite, and challenge the secular world with the gospel. David Dallas Miller, for example, argues, in “Evangelism through Beauty,” that of Plato’s three transcendentals, beauty is the one most likely to connect with postmodern skeptics and to sneak past what C. S. Lewis called the “watchful dragons”:

“Beauty goes beyond words and touches a person at the level of the soul. It is, in fact, hard to underestimate the power of the beautiful to draw the observer into its orbit. There is an inherent power in beauty to win someone’s heart and soul without telling her what to think or how to behave” (288).

Playing on this same theme, that beauty can sometimes reach people living in an age of ethical (the good) and philosophical (the true) relativism, Mary Flickner presents God’s order and design in nature as a wordless testament to the Christian worldview. Her thesis is stated fully in the long subtitle to her essay, “In Defense of Beauty: How Gardens Manifest the Unity of Truth and Prescribe a Life-Preserving Posture of Submission.” Using as her example the fascinating true story of how an abandoned decaying elevated train in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen was transformed into a living, growing garden, Flickner argues that gardens can show forth how Christ the Logos “directs the natural world, generating life”:

“Across the wisdom books, Scripture exhorts man to look at this Logos as empirical poof for the rightness of God’s total authority and wise ordering of willful human hearts. Nature submits and thrives” (313).

Speaking of God’s total authority and our need to submit to it, Mark J. Boone, one of the editors of the volume, places our proper submission to God at the center of his compelling essay, “From Evidence to Total Commitment: Two Ways Faith Goes beyond Reason.” Whereas the modernist worldview sets faith against reason, Boone argues that faith transcends reason by adding a personal element of trust to the empirical foundation on which reason rests. To further explore the relationship between faith and reason—a vital Kuyperian-Schaefferian-Naugelian goal if one is to rescue the traditional Christian worldview from the artificial split between facts and values, reason and faith propagated by the Enlightenment—Boone surveys the thought of Kant, Augustine, Kierkegaard, and William James. Though he discovers that all four thinkers disagreed on various aspects of the relationship, all agreed that faith “requires belief in that which reason has not first comprehended perfectly and proven to be true” and “involves action that reason has not proven to be correct” (191).

In this conclusion, Boone echoes a common theme among all the contributors: that Christianity is not just a cerebral exercise, but calls on the whole person, body, soul, mind, and strength. God’s sovereignty over every area of our life is absolute. The Christian commitment, Boone explains, “is meant to be total..."

"...we do not get to keep 10 percent of our idols or 10 percent of our sins, and follow Jesus carrying 90 percent of a cross if a good study of apologetics leads us to assess the probability that Jesus is the Messiah at just 90 percent. The evidence is not binary, but the action is: We do it, or not” (176).

There is much more to enjoy and reflect upon in The Good, the True, the Beautiful that this review cannot hope to cover: a wildly imaginative science-fiction story by Boone in which the inhabitants of hell are condemned to dwell for eternity in their own tight, narcissistic microcosmic bubble; an empirical assessment by Christine Hand Jones of modern worship songs and how they affect us on both an intellectual and visceral level; an intriguing philosophical tour de force by Russell Hemati that sets Descartes, Bacon, Nietzsche, and Augustine into a four-way dialogue on the various idols that turn our minds away from the true nature of reality and God; an Augustinian defense by Tavner Threatt of how sensual pleasures, when rightly ordered, can lead us to transcendent spiritual truths; and, as a special bonus, a first-time translation into English by D. P. Fahrenthold of an oration by the great Protestant Reformer Phillip Melanchthon in defense of the life of the leisured, seemingly non-utilitarian life of the scholar.

Whatever the subject matter of the essays, all pay tribute to the life and work of David Naugle, a type of professor that every Christian college and university could use a dozen of. In an age that has become increasingly polarized, not just between Christians and secular humanists but among Christians themselves, Naugle’s call to slow down, take a step back backwards, and analyze the larger picture of the Christian worldview is more important than it has ever been. Naugle, writes Steven Garber in his Afterword, is that rare professor who not only sees “into the deepest questions of the human heart,” but who guides “his students with a remarkable wisdom, grace, and skill into honest answers to their honest questions—from beginning to end, loving his students into loving the things that matter most” (318).

Louis Markos is Professor in English and Scholar in Residence at Houston Baptist University. He holds the Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities. His 21 books include Atheism on Trial, Apologetics for the 21st Century, and Lewis Agonistes: How C. S. Lewis Can Train Us to Wrestle with the Modern and Postmodern World.

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