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“That book of systematic theology is just a bunch of crap.”

I was sitting across from a bright, young college student, who was telling me why he was enamored with the Emergent movement. (Ironically, just before expressing his disdain for a popular theology book, he had told me that it was the humility of the Emergent advocates that had first attracted him.)

I asked my friend why he had such a problem with books about theology. “I tried to read some of it. I was so bored. There was nothing inspiring in it at all.” Coming to the theologian’s defense, I reminded my friend that looking for a warm fuzzy from a systematic theology textbook is like hoping to be inspired by the encyclopedia. Different books for different purposes.

But my conversation with this young college student caused me to reflect. My friend said he had been attracted to Emergent Village because of the inspiring nature of the theological conversation. The stories fired up his imagination. He came to believe that those of us in the more traditional camp unthinkingly cling to a bunch of uninspiring, dead doctrines.

When our lunch was over, I did not feel compelled to abandon my theological convictions and subscribe to the narrow-minded liberalism that is becoming increasingly characteristic of Emergent.

But I did come away with a lesson I hope to apply the rest of my life: Truth is beautiful. And if truth is beautiful in and of itself, then surely our presentation of truth should be beautiful as well.

In our postmodern age, it is not only important to make the case that a certain belief is true. We also need to make the presentation of that truth beautiful.

I realize now that I have never given much thought to the beauty of truth.

  • How many times have I sought to win an argument by running down a list of Bible verses without pointing to the beautiful picture of the Bible’s complete storyline?
  • How often have I pointed to the biblical evidence and historical precedent for believing in biblical inerrancy without painting the grander picture of a perfect God, condescending to humans in our language and yet who always tells the truth?
  • How many times have I taught about the attributes of God without telling stories about God’s character that illuminate and reveal the beauty of our unchanging Father?
  • How many times have I dealt with heavy issues of suffering and pain purely from an intellectual standpoint, not allowing the beauty of Christ’s willingness to suffer on the cross to inform my presentation?

On Trinity Sunday this year, I prepared a lesson for my Sunday morning class of 20-somethings about why we believe in the Trinity. At first, my goal was to arm them with Scripture so that they could debate a Jehovah’s Witness or a Oneness Pentecostal into the corner with Bible verses proving the Trinity.

But as I came to the end of my preparation, I felt something was missing. I could present the biblical proofs for the doctrine of the Trinity, but I felt I also needed to show why God’s Triune nature is beautiful.

The Trinity is more than a bare doctrine we can prove with a few Scripture verses. The Trinity is beautiful truth about God. The Trinity satisfies the yearning that we have for knowing God personally. We believe that the three Persons of the Trinity continuously pour out love to one another and receive love in return. The only way that “God is love” can be true is if God existed as a perfect community of self-giving love long before God had a creation to shower his love upon.

My lesson on the Trinity did indeed focus on the Bible passages that inform the doctrine of God. But I packaged those Bible truths within the awe-inspiring picture of the three Persons of the Trinity pouring out continuous love from eternity past.

The knowledge of God’s truth makes me want to know more about the Trinity; the beauty of God’s truth causes me to want to know the Trinity more personally and more deeply.

Do you ever wonder why stories often have a greater impact than debating the theological minutia of Bible interpretation?

C.S. Lewis could have written a fine theological treatise on what the world would have been like had Adam and Eve never sinned. But Perelandra worked much better. Lewis could have (and sometimes did) describe in colorful theological language the nature of the atonement, but Aslan sacrificing his life for rebellious Edmund fired up our imaginations. In his advice to aspiring writers, Lewis reminded them to describe truths vividly – not merely multiplying adjectives, but working hard to help people feel the beauty of the truths presented.

When I consider the phenomenal success of The Shack, the seminarian in me rises up and wants to make a detailed list of the book’s many theological aberrations. But perhaps the greater challenge for someone like me is to recognize the power of a good story and then to take a bestseller like The Shack as an incentive to write better stories.

Those of us who are decidedly in the Un-Emergent camp should not be smug in what we believe is theological accuracy. Getting our doctrines right is good. Systematic theologies are a terrific way to express those doctrines with precision. Debating the intricacies of Christian theology has its place (and I gladly take part in such discussions at times!).

But we need to make sure that our presentation of God’s truth is as beautiful as the truth itself. The Christian story is beautiful precisely because it is true.

True information without any inspiration leads to dead orthodoxy.

Inspiration without true information leads to heresy.

I hope to always be one who proclaims the truth beautifully.

Truth that is biblical.

Truth that is beautiful.

Truth that inspires.

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14 thoughts on “Truth is Beautiful”

  1. m slater says:

    “Truth is beautiful. And if truth is beautiful in and of itself, then surely our presentation of truth should be beautiful as well.”

    Well stated Trevin,
    I wish that the way we do theology more often reflected such sentiment. Though emergent has many issues, especially in certain strains of it, the focus on the beauty and mystery of God and narrative should be one which all Christian take more seriously.

    I had a professor who embodied this for me. In his teaching, and in his guidance, he always emphasized that if we are going to study theology, and really believe what we say about it, than our writing and speaking of theology ought to be thoughtful, articulate, and something that moves the heart as well as the mind. That has really stuck with me and I hope this is something more theologians embrace as we move forward.

  2. Chuck says:

    Very Good!!!!!

  3. Weston says:

    Awesome stuff Trevin

  4. Eric Peterson says:

    I attended a Wheaton College roundtable on communcating and comprehending the Gospel with Imagination. Your post reminds me of our April discussion. One salient point is that often theologians disdain the imagination as fallen. True, but the intellect is also fallen. We would do well to engage the imaginations of those we are trying to reach. Good preaching does this. Good writing does this. Was Handel a theologian? In a way, yes. What about other artists like Bono? In rejecting the wrong thinking of art with our fine enlightened intellect, let us not throw the baby out with the bath water. After all, God created our imaginations as well. And who more imaginatively communicated truth than Jesus?

  5. Eric Peterson says:

    Buechner’s “Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale” was one of key books for this Wheaton class. As was The Great Divorce, by Lewis. Your Buechner quote from a few days ago was an example of good art (literature/writing) in communicating.

  6. Yes, He is beautiful.

    Grace and Peace,

  7. e4unity says:

    Perhaps there is a much deeper lesson God is trying to teach us all- especially those who have been trained in the culture of “right doctrine” christianity. We all agree that the God who has revealed himself in Scripture and finally and completely for this age, in His Word that became flesh, is altogether lovely, magnificent, and immensely satisfying to those with the new heart and the Spirit of Christ.

    But think about this very simple question: Where do we encounter this self-revelation of the Godhead? If someone were to say to you that in the most foundational thing about Christianity as revealed truth, “nothing that has happened or been experienced or even written, since the closing of the cannon, matters in the first order of things”, because it is not apart of that revelation,would you be able to accept that without feeling the urge to modify it or qualify it? I think studying theology is one of the greatest callings a child of God can ever dedicate himself to; but I also believe it must be kept in its place because of the inherent danger alluded to in this post: that of taking the primal place of Scripture alone in our teaching and preaching and in our churches.

  8. Richard W. Wilson says:

    As e4unity just suggested, we need to keep scripture first as we move on to theologizing, as well as to gospel story-telling. This is, of course, not as simple as we pray it would be in our lives and thought, but we all come at it from our different perspectives and presuppositions, necessitating a continual retreat from all we’ve been told to the certainties of God’s word, then advancing again with renewed clarity of what God has revealed to us of his truth embodied in scriptural tradition. Two of the questions Trevin asked here are essential:

    # How many times have I taught about the attributes of God without telling stories about God’s character that illuminate and reveal the beauty of our unchanging Father?
    # How many times have I dealt with heavy issues of suffering and pain purely from an intellectual standpoint, not allowing the beauty of Christ’s willingness to suffer on the cross to inform my presentation?

    I would suggest that these are questions often raised and answered in emergent conversations and story-telling, and point to aspects of the emerging church movement with answers that respond much in agreement with Trevin’s contribution here. In fact I think there may be as many in the emergent movement prone to camp out in the midst of the traditional theological trees as in the post-traditional forest, so I don’t think being “Un-Emergent” is particularly helpful. Certainly Marc Driscoll, Acts 29 and associates are not a minor stream in the movement. As C. Michael Patton’s analysis of the movement suggests (“Would the Real Merger Please Stand Up?”, it may be helpful to distinguish between the Emergent Church and the Emerging Church streams of the movement, since the liberal to conservative, progressive to traditional spectrum runs pretty much the same gamut as the wider church traditions do. The altogether orthodox end of the spectrum he calls Emerging and the more liberal camp as Emergent.

    On a somewhat different note, I think rather than focus on questions of doctrinal truth and/or inspirational story, we need to focus more on the one who is true and beautiful and the true and beautiful narratives regarding his person and work in creation and redemption as specifically seen in scripture alone. We all perhaps try to do that in our own way, but discerning between theological “truths” of tradition and those of scripture is never as simple as we would wish. For instance, Trevin says that ‘the only way that “God is love” can be true is if God existed as a perfect community of self-giving love long before God had a creation to shower his love upon.’ But is this a biblical doctrine because it expresses a truth from scripture, or is it from tradition? Where in scripture do we find this pre-time, “eternal triune relationship of love” described? Is it true because it is beautiful? Is this an argument from the Apostles or from human tradition? The idea of an eternal relationship of “timeless” and “unchanging” love leaves me as cold as that of a deist’s deity who has left us to our own devices, mostly because it is not inherent in the narratives or doctrines of scripture.

    In any case, it may be that being decidedly “Un-Emergent” just means one is a part of a movement that has already “Emerged,” being committed to standing still in contemporary orthodoxy rather than either moving forward into greater clarity from scripture or back to the original clarity of the Apostles’ teaching.
    I pray this is helpful to someone out there.
    Yours in and for Christ,
    Richard W. Wilson; St. Louis, MO, USA

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Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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