Monthly Archives: April 2012

 

Apr

30

2012

Trevin Wax|3:23 am CT

Beauty Will Save the World

Earlier this year, I saw a blurb in Christianity Today about a new book titled Beauty Will Save the World: Rediscovering the Allure and Mystery of ChristianityOnce I saw the title and description, I knew I had to get it.

If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ve probably seen me harping on the need for Christians to consider the inherent beauty of truthand how that beauty shapes the way we present Christian teaching. Brian Zahnd, author of Beauty Will Save the Worldis saying something similar:

To a generation suspicious of truth claims and unconvinced by moral assertions, beauty has a surprising allure.

I appreciate the evangelistic impulse behind this idea, and I found that this book offered some good suggestions that point us in the right direction. For example, Zahnd is right to insist that beauty has been manifested most powerfully in the cross of Christ:

Every cross adorning a church is in itself a sermon—a sermon proclaiming that if Christ can transform the Roman instrument of execution into a thing of beauty, there is hope that in Christ all things can be made beautiful!

He is onto something when advocating Christian aesthetics:

With an emphasis on truth, we have tried to make Christianity persuasive (as we should). But we also need a corresponding emphasis on beauty to make Christianity attractive. Christianity should not only persuade with truth, but it should also attract with beauty. Along with Christian apologetics, we need Christian aesthetics. Christianity needs not only to be defended as true—it also needs to be presented as beautiful. Often where truth cannot convince, beauty can entice.

Zahnd sees beauty as inherently “cruciform.” Reorienting ourselves around the self-giving love at the center of our faith exposes the dangers that lurk behind Christian partnerships with the powerful and the implementation of worldly strategies to effect change:

The church always faces the temptation to turn its gaze from the beauty of the cruciform and look instead to “the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.”

He also recognizes the distinction between moral conformity and gospel proclamation. He writes:

Our task is not to protest the world into a certain moral conformity, but to attract the world to the saving beauty of Christ. We do this best, not by protest or political action, but by enacting a beautiful presence within the world.

Though I resonated with much of Zahnd’s vision, I have more than a few issues with his proposal. For time’s sake, let me point out my biggest hang-up.

I didn’t sense that Zahnd offered a clear and compelling way forward when the world despises our “alternative society” as ugly and intolerant. He seems to place most of the blame for the decline of Christianity on evangelicals who have compromised the beauty of the cruciform through excessive political involvement. He’s right… to a point. But what happens when beauty doesn’t capture?

Yes, Christian truth is inherently beautiful, and the beauty of truth can be an arresting force that sweeps people into the arms of Christ. But what happens when some people encounter Christianity as the stench of death instead of the fragrance of life?

Beautiful truth does not mean popular truth. Zahnd does a good job laying out the stunning beauty of Christ’s death and resurrection. He is right on the idea of the church being an alternative society that displays this beauty before the world.

But Zahnd is not clear on how we move forward when the world condemns as “ugly” what we know is inherently “beautiful” and celebrates as “beautiful” what Scripture would say is ugly.

Beauty is objective, yes, since beauty is an attribute of God. This means that true beauty is not just in the eye of the beholder. But it would help to know how to present the beauty of Christianity in a world where many subjective “beholders” remain implacably opposed to Christianity no matter how beautiful and cruciform our display is. We need to keep thinking on this…

 
 

Apr

30

2012

Trevin Wax|2:26 am CT

Worth a Look 4.30.12

Once an Evangelical…: On Balmer on Douthat

 Some, like Balmer, believe that progressive, revisionist, non- and post-denominational, “updated” Christian start-ups are the way the faith will survive.  Others of us, like Douthat, see such ventures as extending something other than Christianity.  In contrast, we’re betting on something that will seem almost completely counter-intuitive: that the future of Christianity in the United States depends on the revitalization of orthodox institutions–even (gulp),denominations.  Or, to put it otherwise, we’re betting that the future of Christianity in the United States is catholic.

5 Ways to Overcome Nerves Before Speaking in Public:

Most people feel nervous prior to giving a speech.  This is human nature and indeed some degree of nerves is absolutely essential to remain alert and deliver the speech clearly.  However nerves do become a problem if they are debilitating in any way.  Thankfully, there are practical ways to overcome this which are outlined below.

Learning to Delight in Scripture:

So how can we go from having little to no love for God’s word to savoring it even more than we would a big, fat, juicy fillet or a delicious canoli? I want to present just a few points of application that will help you to get a taste for the sweetness and sufficiency of God’s word in your life.

The South, The War, and “Christian Slavery”

Many Southerners, though, came to embrace the interpretation of their history suggested by Elliott and made explicit by the Reverend J.C. Mitchell. “Read the annals of other nations,” the Alabaman admonished, “and see what destroyed them. It was not foreign force, but internal evil.” After the war, then, for countless chastened white Southern Christians, the evil that provoked the Lord to destroy their nation was the myriad wrongs committed against the slaves they had kept. Vanishingly few asked whether their true sin might be claiming to own those whom the Bible called their brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

 
 

Apr

29

2012

Trevin Wax|3:08 am CT

Swimming in the Merciful Waters of Your Grace

Lord of hosts!
When I swim in the merciful waters of Your grace,
I find that I can neither plumb nor measure the depths.
Your compassion is the greatest of all Your works.

Lord, who ever came to you with a devout heart and was turned away?
Who ever sought You and did not find You?
Who ever desired aid from You and was not given help?
Who ever prayed for Your grace and did not receive it?
Who ever called upon You and was not heard?

Yes, beloved Lord, how many You have received in grace
when according to Your strict sense of justice
they would have deserved something else.

Adam departed from You
and believed the counsel of the serpent.
He transgressed Your covenant
and became for You a child of death.
But Your fatherly love
would not allow Him to be thrown aside.
In grace You sought after Him,
You called and admonished Him
and covered His nakedness with pelts of fur.
You mercifully comforted Him
with a promise concerning His seed.

Paul, Your chosen vessel, was at one time like a roaring lion
and a ravaging wolf against Your holy mountain.
Yet You shone Your grace upon Him
and enlightened His blindness.
You called Him from heaven
and chose Him to be an apostle and servant in Your house.

Beloved Lord,
I am the greatest of sinners and the least among the saints.
I am unworthy to be called Your child or servant,
for I have sinned against heaven and before You.
There was a time when I opposed Your glorious Word
and Your holy will with all my power.
Yet this miserable sinner was never abandoned by Your fatherly grace.
You accepted me in love
and converted me to a new understanding.
You led me with Your right hand
and taught me through Your Holy Spirit.
Then by my own free will
I began also to strive against the world, the flesh, and the devil.
I renounced all my comforts, serenity, honor and easy living
and willingly took upon myself the heavy cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now I also am an inheritor of that promised kingdom
with all servants of God and disciples of Christ.
So again I say, Your mercy is the greatest of all Your works.

Therefore, beloved Lord…
Consider Your great goodness
in which all take part who have placed their hope
in Your holy name and gracious mercy since the beginning of the world.

- Menno Simons, Early Anabaptist Spirituality: Selected Writings (Classics of Western Spirituality), 251-2.

 
 

Apr

28

2012

Trevin Wax|3:50 am CT

No Such Thing as a Normal Christian Life

You ask if anyone with such a sick history as yourself can live a normal Christian life. One would have to say, “What is the normal Christian life?”

None of us are normal, even after we are Christians-if we mean by that being perfect.

What is possible, however, is for us to live in the fullness of life in the circle of who we are, constantly pressing on the border lines to try to take further steps. This is not done in our own strength, but looking to the Lord moment by moment as well as day by day.

- Francis Schaeffer, Letters of Francis A. Schaeffer: Spiritual Reality in the Personal Christian Life

 
 

Apr

27

2012

Trevin Wax|3:46 am CT

Friday Funny: The Value of Textbooks

Ever wonder why textbooks are so expensive? Me too. (HT)

 

 
 

Apr

27

2012

Trevin Wax|2:54 am CT

Trevin’s Seven

Seven links for your weekend reading:

1. World Clock - a running tally of population, death, illness, energy, crime, etc

2. Whose Bible? Which Adam? – James K. A. Smith reviews Pete Enns’ The Evolution of Adam

3. OK! I Got It the First Time! How and Why to Sing Simple, Repetitive Worship Songs (HT)

4. The Flight from Conversation (HT)

5. The first chapter from Mark Dever’s new book, The Church

6. Bill Mounce – “Listening to God: General Revelation”

7. Lecrae’s “Man Up” Mission to Address Father Absence

 
 

Apr

26

2012

Trevin Wax|3:22 am CT

Ransomed Singing

The ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing.
- Isaiah 35:9

“Houston, we have a problem.” Those famous words from the commander of the failed Apollo 13 mission in 1970 were immortalized by Tom Hanks in the successful movie version that told the story of the astronauts’ harrowing return back to earth.

The astronauts had a mission. They were going to the moon, but something went horribly wrong. They couldn’t fulfill their mission. They had to turn back, and the astronauts of Apollo 13 just barely made it back to earth alive.

We too were created for a mission. We were created to reflect the glory of our Creator God in how we relate, how we work, how we rest, and how we rule wisely over the earth.

Yet something has gone horribly wrong. We have rejected our mission and exchanged it for lies. We have chosen to reflect other things. We worship whatever is not God. “Houston, we have a problem.” And that sin problem has sent us spiraling out of control.

The good news is that God is mighty to save. He rescues us from our sin. He showers us with His mercy instead of His wrath. Jesus’ blood pays our ransom. Though sin may hold us back, flinging us back to earth and keeping us now from completely fulfilling our mission to glorify God, we hold fast to the promise of God – that “The ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing.”

I love that verse. I want to soak in the truth of that verse… to let that promise fuel my obedience.

The day is coming when we will fully reflect the majesty and purity of the God in whose image we are made. That’s why we sing of His love now. We sing of His salvation. Soon we will glorify Jesus face to face – savoring His majesty, His righteousness, His love and grace for all eternity.

Kingdom people sing now of Christ’s salvation in anticipation of the day we will see Him face to face.

 
 

Apr

26

2012

Trevin Wax|2:22 am CT

Worth a Look 4.26.12

The idol you love doesn’t love you back:

Here’s what you need to know about your idol: That idol that you love, it doesn’t love you back. False gods don’t love you. Idols don’t keep their promises. Anything you worship and build your life on other than God will suck the life out of you and destroy you.

Being Biblical More than Logical (Or, Why I Am a Four-Point Calvinist):

Like most Calvinists who hold four of the traditional five points, I have struggled with the L of limited atonement. On the one hand, limited atonement makes perfect logical sense and I like the idea that the cross actually accomplished salvation for me. Further, if the cross is efficacious for salvation, then it must be limited or it leads to universal salvation, which is unquestionably non-biblical. On the other hand, there are a number of verses that I have not been able to reconcile with limited atonement. Placing biblical arguments over logical or theological arguments has led me to affirm a general understanding of the atonement.

Leadership and Entitlement:

 As a leader’s sphere of influence increases, he may feel that certain benefits and perks are due him. She may believe that those in the organization exist for her service and needs. Entitlement is a creeping sickness that often envelops a leader with such deceptive subtlety that the leader is often unaware of its control over him.

Here’s an amazing sermon illustration for you, along with a moving video (see below) that makes the point. The Fragrance of Heaven Rising from the Stench of Death:

The smell of death is everywhere. On billboards. On television. In our jokes and anecdotes. So accustomed to death are we that we might even be frightened by the sweet smell of the freedom of the gospel. But for one who has inhaled deeply what Jesus brings, the effect is intoxicating…

 
 

Apr

25

2012

Trevin Wax|3:41 am CT

Heroes and Monsters: A Conversation with Josh James Riebock

Almost every day, I get a book in the mail. It’s one of the perks of being a blogger, I suppose… the constant stream of books from publishers who hope you’ll say something on the blog about a new work.

Most of the books I receive don’t get reviewed. It’s not that they don’t look interesting or wouldn’t be a fit for the blog. Usually, it’s simply a matter of time.

I want to be careful not to focus the majority of my reading on the latest, greatest thing. Better to mix it up. To visit saints from other centuries. To listen to the church fathers preach. To pray with the Puritans and scratch my head with the philosophers.

Occasionally, though, a book grabs my attention and won’t let go. Josh Riebock’s Heroes and Monsters: An Honest Look at the Struggle within All of Us(Baker, 2012) was that kind of book. The look and feel of Josh’s memoir intrigued me. So I started reading and then kept reading and kept reading. I finished the book after a couple of evenings, thoroughly impressed with the artistry with which he crafted the story. Like all good books (and particularly memoirs), some of it bugged me. Some of it moved me. Some of it inspired me. But none of it bored me.

The result is a quirky memoir (“Hide your quirks and you’re a Volvo,” Josh says) that contains some nuggets like these:

The most fascinating people in the world are the people who are most fascinated by the world, and those same people are the ones who change the world. No one who’s ever influenced this planet has ever done so without being remarkably curious.

Dreams can’t live alone. Sharing our dreams with others may risk destroying them, but without sharing them, we destroy ourselves. Most dreams aren’t murdered. Most dreams commit suicide.

Disappointment knows where we hide. Pain is more reliable than Santa Claus, more determined than a starving thief. It will bang the door, jimmy the lock, crawl through a window, come down the chimney, bypass security; it will find a way in. In this life, there is no such thing as safe. Insulation is an illusion.

Laughter is the evidence that we’re still here, the proof that our tragedies will not define us forever. Laughter is the language of the survivor.

Josh lives in Austin, TX, with his wife, Kristen, and they attend Austin Stone Community Church. I asked Josh some questions about artistry, truth, and beauty.

Trevin Wax: Memoirs are an interesting genre, aren’t they? Part biography, part fantasy, with life lessons woven into interesting narrative. What do you say to the person who says, “You wrote a memoir? How old are you? Like 25?” 

Josh Riebock: Well, first off, I think the blend of elements you mentioned—biography, fantasy, narrative, lesson—are exactly why I find the memoir genre so fascinating. It’s such an elastic form of writing, boundless, when we allow it to be.

A memoir isn’t so much the retelling of someone’s life but an interpretation of someone’s life. It’s a writer’s attempt to make sense of their own life and the things they’ve learned in order to help others know themselves and to make sense of their own lives. In some ways, the whole thing is a weird and terrifying stab at intimacy, I suppose.

And yes, I’m a young memoirist (32 actually!). So in that way, I certainly can’t offer people longevity or the wisdom that comes from walking this planet for decades on end the way other memoirs can. But I can offer my life in detail—the beauty and ugliness, the tragedies and triumphs—and do that with honesty and creativity.

To me, those two pieces form the heartbeat of compelling art, compelling communication, compelling writing. And those two traits aren’t necessarily aided by age. Actually, they’re often hindered by it.

Trevin Wax: There’s a lot of paradox in the way you write. In the moments of beauty, you find pain. In the moments of pain, you find beauty. For example, you admit your embarrassment at your parents’ hoarding habits and your father’s alcoholism, and yet your love and affection for them is on display throughout the narrative. Tell me about that. Do you see the exploration of paradox as the hallmark of good writing?

Josh Riebock: Paradox is all about complexity, and that’s why it’s essential to truthful storytelling: because life is complex. People are complex. Experiences and faith and relationships are complex.

For example, part of me hated my dad. And part of me adored him.

On the one hand, I cherish the quirkiness of my family. And yet that same quirkiness has often been a source of shame for me.

I’m a believer. I’m a doubter.

I want to be noticed. And yet I wish I could disappear.

There’s a lot of paradox in the way I write because paradox is something I see when I tunnel into the cracks of my own life and heart.

As a writer, I want to have the courage to talk about what I see, to embrace the often-paradoxical nature of life rather than gloss over it in order to maintain a false sense of symmetry or tidiness. And that, I believe, is a hallmark (I wouldn’t say it’s the hallmark) of good writing—the willingness to embrace, explore, and speak truthfully about the complexities of what we see, to write in such a way that readers are compelled to do the same.

Trevin Wax: You take this picture of paradox and drive it home in relation to human nature. Here’s a quote I liked: 

Every human, Jack says, is both an arsonist and an architect, marked with the thumbprint of good and the claws of evil, breathing both death and life into this world. Humans, Jack says, are both the stench and the aroma. 

That’s a beautiful way of expressing the shattered image of God in humanity – that God created us good and yet we are fallen in our sin. How has your study of Scripture and theology – and your life in church – influenced what you write?

Josh Riebock: In some ways it’s made writing more difficult. As Christians, we sometimes foster a culture of fear that makes artistic expression very intimidating. Often we spend so much energy critiquing theology and culture, and in doing so we drive creativity underground. People—along with their imaginations and gifts—go into hiding in order to protect themselves rather than being set free to make beautiful things.

For years I’ve struggled with the fear of how the church would receive my writing. I’ve feared making a theological misstep and then being rejected for it. Sometimes I still do.

But recently, as I’ve been growing through some of my own insecurities and fears, I find that theology, Scripture, and the church are so much of what propels me to write. Scripture talks about God and humanity through poetry, fiction, short story, biography, song, and metaphor. It’s spectacular. It’s off the wall. It’s raw. It’s creative. The writers of Scripture didn’t just care about what they were saying but also about the elegance in how they said it. That releases me to do the same.

And therein lies the incredible challenge and opportunity of writing. I want to write about the things of God using a language and form both accessible and fresh to those who’ve grown tired of the same Christian talk and to those who struggle to engage Scripture in the ways it’s often talked about. I want people to see the artistry of God in every sentence I write.

Trevin Wax: I’ve talked to pastor-friends about how to encourage artists and fan the flame of their artistry for the glory of God. Reminds me of a quote from Francis Schaeffer:

Christians should use these arts to the glory of God — not just as tracts, but as things of beauty to the praise of God. An art work can be a doxology in itself.

How can we encourage men and women like you? How can the analytical, theologian types help you sharpen your skills so that truth is never compromised for the sake of artistry, but neither is beauty ever minimized as an expression of truth?

Josh Riebock: Great question. What we all have to navigate is the line between sharpening and meddling, and I’m not always sure what that line is.

I suppose sharpening is an attempt to help someone become who God created them to be. And meddling is an attempt to help someone become who I want them to be. One glorifies God. The other glorifies me. One contributes. The other detracts. Like I said, I’m not always sure how to do that. But I will tell you that I want guidance from people, from pastors. As an artist, and a man, I need it.

One specific thing that I’ve found so encouraging is when pastors are willing to address the subject of creativity and artistry corporately. A class. A sermon. A staff meeting. Whatever. Doing that—even if I don’t agree with what is said—invites my wife and I, my friends and I, my small group and I, to have these conversations. It tells the church that these conversations are important, worth having—that the artist is important, worth having. And in that I’m able to learn so much. I’m able to see the places where I’m wrong, the places where I need to grow, the places where I have grown, and the places where I can help my community grow.

Pastors can be catalysts for healthy conversation about beauty and truth and what it might look like to do that in a way that brings God joy. That is something I cherish. That sharpens me. I suppose that sharpens all of us.

 
 

Apr

25

2012

Trevin Wax|2:30 am CT

Worth a Look 4.25.12

Zach Nielsen points out a variety of cheap eBooks this week, including Sifted, AND, Exponential, For the City, On the Verge, Barefoot Church, and It’s Personal.

Coaching Young Leaders Effectively: Seven Observations

The key to coaching missional leaders is relationship. Young, developing leaders are looking for relationship, and they will receive coaching and mentoring from those with whom they have relationship.

Christian goods and appreciating the best:

To me, the consumption or promotion of goods based on their “Christian-ness” contributes to that false and prevalent mindset of a divide between sacred and secular. We have imbued cultural goods of various kinds with a supernatural value that allows them to be “better” than other “secular” goods whether they are qualitatively so or not. In so doing, we have determined their value based on criteria that aren’t inherent to their respective mediums and have praised work that is qualitatively deficient by the standard of its field.

Carson and Zaspel: Rest in the Gospel or Strive Unto Holiness?

What we need to get rid of is this bifurcation in which God does everything and we sort of sit around and do nothing. Or, on the other hand, we think of God doing so much and we add our bit. They’re both wrong. You want to say a plague on both your houses. Whereas you put them together and see that the things that are mandated to us are precisely the things God empowers us to do by his Spirit, and it seems to me they’re coming a little closer together. Is that fair?