A Matter of Perspective

A couple of weeks ago, I read Between Wittenberg and Geneva: Lutheran and Reformed Theology in Conversation by Robert Kolb and Carl R. Trueman. In his discussion of Reformed worship, Carl Trueman wrote:
Nevertheless, there is a sense in which beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The Reformed worship service with its simple aesthetics focused on the basic elements of prayer, preaching, singing, and sacraments has an austere beauty of its own, as anyone who has ever attended, for example, a traditional service of worship in a Presbyterian congregation on Scotland’s Outer Hebrides will affirm. The unadorned human voice and the air of tranquil and reverent piety possess their own peculiar and often powerful beauty. Simplicity has its own aesthetic and can indeed have its own unadorned beauty.
I couldn’t help thinking of that passage yesterday when I read the following passage from Peter May’s The Blackhouse:
No colourful stained glass in this austere Calvinistic culture. No imagery. No crosses. No joy.

. . . A cheerless place, with worn floorboards and dark, varnished wood. It smelled of dust and damp clothes and time. . . .

Fin traced his childhood footsteps through the left-hand door and into the church itself, rows of unforgiving wooden pews flanking two aisles leading to the raised and railed area at the far end, from which sombre elders would lead the psalm-singing. . . .

In his head, Fin could almost hear the singing of the Gaelic psalms. A strange, unaccompanied tribal chanting that could seem chaotic to the untrained ear. But there was something wonderfully affecting about it. Something of the land and the landscape, of the struggle for existence against overwhelming odds. Something of the people amongst whom he had grown up. Good people, most of them, finding something unique in themselves, in the way they sang their praise to the Lord, an expression of gratitude for hard lives in which they had found meaning.

Different perspectives on Scottish Presbyterianism, to be sure — written with different aims, in very different kinds of books, but if you look hard enough, you can see them describing the same thing. It was a little striking running into those so close together.
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