The Table Podcast

Truth, Beauty, and the Gospel

In this episode, Dr. Darrell L. Bock and John Dickson discuss the Gospel, focusing on its truth and beauty.

How did the Centre for Public Christianity begin?
Kant, aesthetics, and the existence of God
How can Christians juxtapose truth and beauty?
How do millennials tend to view truth and beauty?
How did Aristotle juxtapose truth and beauty?
The link between authenticity, truth, and beauty
How did Lewis juxtapose truth and beauty?
Beautiful, surprising moments in the midst of life
Dr. Darrell Bock
Welcome to The Table. We discuss issues of God and culture. I’m Darrell Bock, executive director for cultural engagement at the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary, and our guest is John Dickson, who is joining us via Skype from – are you in Cambridge or Oxford?
John Dickson
I’m in Oxford.
Dr. Darrell Bock
In Oxford, okay. I should have known, you’re on the theological side of that thing. Cambridge tends to be the Biblical studies guys, so anyway, that’s okay. And our topic today is truth and beauty. Now, John is a founding director, which means you go back to the beginning of the Centre for Public Christianity, and because I’m in the United States, I’ve gotta say this.

This is Centre spelled the Commonwealth way. So, if you google it as Center, it will probably google back to you, it’s searching for Centre, and you’ll be off and running. Tell us a little bit about the Centre first, before we dive into our topic, and what motivated you to be a founder?

John Dickson
The beauty of a Google search for us is you just have to write public Christianity from anywhere in the world, and we’re the top list.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Oh, wow.
John Dickson
You’ll find us, whether it’s Center or Centre. We won’t go down that way, because I know you’ll win that argument. Look, the Centre for Public Christianity, which we abbreviate as CPX, as you well know. And the X stands for a Greek chi, for Christianity. So, we don’t need to explain that.

So, CPX was the brainchild of a couple of scholar friends and I, many years ago, actually. We just lamented the way whenever church leaders got up in the media, it didn’t seem to cut through. They were faithful, and lovely, but there wasn’t a sort of creativity, there wasn’t quite the intellectual rigor, and we were just sort of embarrassed by church leaders in the public media.

And so, we had this dream, maybe 25 years ago was when we thought of it, and then almost thought nothing of it. Wouldn’t it be great, we thought, to have a group of scholar communicators who could step up into the public media, the mainstream media, and speak of the Christian faith, write for the mainstream opinion pieces, produce documentaries and so on.

And it was years later that we were offered a grant. I was about to accept a job here in the UK, actually, and a lovely Christian benefactor in Australia said, “England doesn’t need you. Tell me what you would want in your dream scenario.” And I described this Center for Public Christianity. This was 11 years ago.

And he said, “Give me 24 hours.” He rang back in about 12 hours with more than enough money, seed funding, to kick us off, and we got offices in the center of Sydney –

Dr. Darrell Bock
Lovely offices –
John Dickson
Yeah, and we were able to employ immediately, some other scholars and support crew, TV and radio specialists, and then we just arrived at work one day, and said, “OK. Let’s write an opinion piece. How do you write an opinion piece?” We thought. And we didn’t know if the mainstream media was gonna take it, and we just sat down, and we wrote about the kind of news of the day. I can’t even remember what the first thing was, but we wrote a classic, 700 word mainstream op-ed, and sent it to our very famous in Australia, Sydney Morning Herald, which is the equivalent of The New York Times, thinks of itself as intellectual, maybe a little bit lefty, and we just dropped in an op-ed, and they took it.

We just dropped in an op-ed and they took it. And we nearly fell off our seats. They thought we were grown-ups, and so we write more and more, and then the calls from the mainstream media came, and asked us to comment on stuff. We had already written books over the years, and I’d done one public documentary for national TV, but that gave us another platform to do more documentaries, write more books, continue to write for the media, and continue to appear in the radio and TV, as well.

And it’s gone beyond our wildest dreams, really, the relationships we have with the broadcasters in Australia is pretty good, and although Australia is not known for being really loving toward Christianity, they are interested in creative ways of thinking about the Christian faith, and that’s what we’re trying to offer them, from every angle imaginable.

We’re not just doing traditional apologetics, though in some ways, we look like we’re doing apologetics, we’re just trying to do what we call public Christianity.

Dr. Darrell Bock
You’re engaging, you’re in cultural engagement.
John Dickson
Yeah, with whatever is the thought of the day. We’re just as happy talking about Bach, and we just recently employed a wonderful formal journalist who’s now on staff, who’s a classical music reviewer, and now he does beautiful reviews of concerts, and so on. We do movie reviews, but also, we do straight up stuff where we interview New Testament experts, like your good self about the Resurrection. We sometimes flip interviews that are, for us, at a time we don’t want to do to you as you may remember.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, we won’t get anyone in our country to speak to this. We’ll get that American to do this Christmas piece.
John Dickson
It was too early for us.
Dr. Darrell Bock
It’s 4:00 a.m. in the morning your time, or something like that? That was an experience.
John Dickson
So, that’s what we do, and it’s just wonderful. I’ve got a great bunch of colleagues, all of them really highly trained in their discipline, and yeah, so –
Dr. Darrell Bock
How big a group is it?
John Dickson
It’s not big, so we have ten staff, and some of that’s just academic what we call content providers, academics who are speakers, which is always the difficult thing, to find an academic who’s very comfortable in the media –
Dr. Darrell Bock
Who can communicate –
John Dickson
Yeah, exactly. But we found a few from quite a good range of disciplines, and then there are support staff, so the people who are behind the cameras, and can edit everything that we do, and keep us in order and on time.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, so headquartered in Sydney, Australia, of course, just Bocks from the Sydney Harbor, which is one of my favorite spots in all the world. And –
John Dickson
I walk past the Opera House every day to work. I park in the –
Dr. Darrell Bock
Don’t – don’t go there.
John Dickson
The sun is normally just coming up as I’m walking up from the Opera House. I’ll take a photo and send it to you –
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, thou shalt not covet. Well, great, well, our topic today is truth and beauty, and kind of the way I wanna go into this, and the reason why I wanted you to talk a little bit about the Centre before we did it is because you’ve really tried to orient what you do around a delivery of a perception of Christianity that gets into the area of what I’m gonna label – it might not be the best label.

But what I call aesthetics, in other words, really thinking through what does the packaging of Christianity look like, and sometimes, I think Christianity is portrayed as if it’s just kind of – on the one hand, it’s kind of this naysayer, whatever it is, we’re just gonna say, “No, don’t do that.” Or it’s combative, it’s – and it’s what we’re against, but actually, the backdrop of Christianity is about the orderliness and the beauty of the creation that God has placed us in and the preciousness of life, and those kinds of ideas.

And so, you all have talked about truth and beauty and adorning what you do, and how you do it with this kind of emphasis on truth and beauty that I think is a set of categories we don’t think enough about. So, talk a little bit about where that came from, and what motivated you to kinda go in that direction, and how you’re watching it play out, ’cause I think it crashes a stereotype, and I actually think one of the things that Christianity needs to do these days is kind of crash the stereotype that’s out there about it, whether the stereotype is true or not, the perception is there.

And so, you’ve got to deal with that reality. So, with that, it’s a very open-ended question, go wherever you want.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Well, what is beauty? And if we start with a kind of philosophical concept of beauty or aesthetics, the great philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote a lot about what he called aesthetics or beauty, and he gave a lovely description of the whole study of beauty, where he said seeing something beautiful is experiencing the harmony between the orderliness of the real objective world and the rational orderliness of our minds.

When our minds spot something real out there, objectively, that is orderly, there’s a resonance, a kind of feedback between objective orderliness, and rational orderliness that excites, that satisfies, that stimulates, that illuminates. That was his idea of beauty. I think it’s pretty good.

He actually thought it was a good point to the divine. Immanuel Kant is sometimes interpreted as a little bit skeptical, and he was skeptical, but he was pretty sure that aesthetics were one of the clearest paths to certainty about the divine, because how else could there be a match between the logical rationality of our minds and objective orderliness in the creation?

Now, he wasn’t working theologically at all, but as soon as I talk like that, you and I are probably thinking of Genesis I, where one of the main parts of Genesis I is that everything is good. God makes the light, and it’s good. The word there is tov, or in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of it, it’s not agape, it’s calos, which tends to have this more aesthetic quality. It’s good in the pleasant sense, is what it says.

I’m almost tempted to call it beautiful, if you were to translate Genesis I, and God saw that it was beautiful, because this is part of the scent of that word. Anyway, it’s as you know, repeated seven times, and the seventh time, in Genesis I, it says, “Very good.” That’s just for the dummies, who missed it the first six times.

You gotta say what is the author doing there by this repetition of this notion of good or pleasantness or beauty? It’s clearly at one level contrasting what ancient Pagans thought about the Cosmos, ’cause they were a bit scared of the Cosmos. It was capricious, unpredictable. Who knows what lay behind that tree or that rock?

Everything had to be placated, randomness ruled, which doesn’t sound far off what Richard Dawkins thinks about the universe, actually. The kind of meaninglessness, and lack of order in the universe that he claims. But anyway, so, we believe from Genesis 1 on that there is orderliness, real, objective orderliness, real into the artwork of creation that we ought to be able to recognize.

God sees it, obviously, it must be there objectively, and we’re made in the image of God, and there’s a sense in which what Kant said about beauty and aesthetics is highly theological, is our minds, which are given to us by the creator, are able to see in creation in a variety of ways, whether it’s art, music, beautiful ideas, beautiful arguments, beautiful relationships, we’re able to see and experience the harmony between the objective orderliness of creation, and the rational order of our minds.

So, that’s the kind of theoretical starting point to me, how I think about what beauty is. You only have to go to the last chapters of the Bible to see that beauty is everywhere in Genesis, Revelation 21, 22, isn’t it? The description of jewels and streets, and the dimensions of the city, and all of this so clearly saying it’s good again.

Dr. Darrell Bock
That’s right, we got it back.
John Dickson
We got it back. Not that it was completely gone, but now – so in a sense, you could almost say – I hope I’m not pushing the boundaries too much. You could almost say, the Bible begins with beauty and ends with beauty. And so, God’s people ought to be on about beauty, correctly understood.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yes, and let me attach another idea to this that is something that’s become a more important word for me theologically in the last five years or so than it ever was. In fact, it wasn’t even on my radar screen before, and that’s the word, “Stewardship.” We’ve been called to steward this orderliness, this garden, this beauty that God originally created in creation, this very intricate mechanism that sustains us in some ways, and to manage it, and to be creative ourselves.

I tell people, when you think of the image of God, and you think about what God does, He creates, He sustains, He provides and He relates. That’s what He does. And when we do those things we reflect the character and person of God, and part of that is wrapped up in this stewarding that we do with the creation around us, and that brings in the second term that we wanna discuss, which is not just beauty, but truth.

And truth is related to – if I can say it – a proper orderliness of what it is that God has created, a way of seeing and engaging it that fits with the way God has designed things. So, talk about how you juxtapose truth and beauty.

John Dickson
If beauty is the instinctive mental response or the instinctive harmony between the orderliness in creation and the rational order of our minds, truth is perhaps the correct expression of that reality, so when we speak a true statement, it’s a statement that is an articulation of what is real about the world, to give you the most basic definition of truth.

And so, the best truths ought to be beautiful, and I love the way someone like Albert Einstein would talk about the beauty of mathematics, because he found it stunning that he could write a little mass thing that I wouldn’t understand, and say, “This is beautiful,” precisely because it’s a true statement in pithy form about what is real out there in the Cosmos.

And so, that’s not a bad analogy for truth, per se, statements that describe what is objectively real in the world, and so of course, there’s a sense in which as the Centre for Public Christianity, or just an individual speaker, I’m trying to do truth and beauty at the same time.

And so, I’m using, God willing, true statements about the world that as people understand the true statements about the world, cause them to experience this harmony that Immanuel Kant talked about where there’s a resonance between what’s true out there, and what’s true in here.

And so, the truth statements of the Gospel, of any portion of the Bible that I’m seeking to preach, will excite beauty, even those statements that are kind of scary, so you think of statements about judgment. They’re true statements, but not everyone’s gonna love them, but there’s a way of thinking about it that is beautiful, because everyone longs for justice to come in the world.

And so, the Biblical idea is that God is coming not as the angry schoolmaster, with a big stick to punish children. He’s coming as the justice commissioner to sort out the mess of the world, and sure, you don’t want to be on the wrong side of that, but I think anyone can step back and go, “You know what? I want God to come and sort the mess out.”

Here’s an example where there is a way of thinking of a true statement that might be seen as awkward or repelling that is viewed from another angle, beautiful, because it says there’s gonna be harmony in a world where there’s breakdown, there’s gonna be justice where there’s injustice. There’s gonna be peace where there is violence.

And so, there’s a match between the truth of God’s word, and the beauty that we all long for.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Now, I just came from a meeting with a group on a conference call, actually, that was connecting people from really all around the country was businessmen, we were talking about cultural engagement, and I gotta ask this question, he says – we were talking about politics, which of course, everyone agrees on, and –
John Dickson
Especially over there –
Dr. Darrell Bock
Exactly right, don’t even go there. And so, the question that I got is why do I think millennials are so different when it comes to thinking about truth than our generation, and obviously, they were looking at me, and going, “I’m pretty gray, I’ve been around a while.”

Which I actually think is a pretty interesting question, and what had triggered the question was the idea of how globally linked we are today vs. the way it used to be when we could get away with being for lack of a better word, parochial. People used to live in a very tight bubble, and very few people do that now.

In fact, I remember a story, this goes back to my time in Scotland, in which one of our closest friends in a little village that we lived in, we lived in a little village called Torphins, it was 800 people, it was 20 kilometers from Aberdeen in Scotland, so it was rural. And our closest friend there told the story of his father who was 70-something years old, and had lived one night away from his house his entire life, and that was by accident.

He got stuck in a fog in Edinburgh and couldn’t get home, but otherwise, every night of his life had been spent in the same space, and I went, “That’s not just a different world, that’s a different planet from the way I live.” And so, people’s lives were in a very tight, generally speaking, we were in a very tight confine. It was the exception, whereas, today, everybody is immediately linked to worlds, cultures that are vastly different than our own.

My explanation was that the reason young people struggle with truth is because their world is much less parochial than ours was growing up, even though we had some of that. I allude it back to – I remember in the 1960s when the Telstar satellite connected Europe with the United States for the first time, and that was a national broadcast that we were gonna actually see this link happen, and we were gonna listen to someone from Europe live.

And look at what we’re doing now, here you and I are linked on a very basis, and those kind of communications happen regularly all the time. That is an utterly completely different way of experiencing life that has had profound impact.

John Dickson
Well, you’re right to identify a major issue with millennials, it seems to me, not being one. But observing and interacting. There are so many options available to them, they can find any opinion they like on any topic they like, just with a Google search, and this massive expansion of possible truth has left millennials suspicious that there can be any truth. If so many people on the internet can’t even agree on the most basic thing, did Jesus live, then anyone claiming anything is really just an option.

There’s a sense in which our access to the multiplicity of ideas and the vast range of information out there has paralyzed us with ever hoping, even, to arrive at truth. So, there’s a profound cynicism about truth claims from anyone. And so, people often say that what millennials are really looking for is authenticity.

Authenticity’s the buzzword, they don’t want people just to make truth claims, they just want authenticity, it’s gotta seem real, and so on. Of course, authenticity by its very nature, it’s really what they’re looking for is truth embodied.

Dr. Darrell Bock
That’s right.
John Dickson
That’s really what authenticity is, truth, something that’s embodied, so it isn’t actually that they’re cynical about truth. They’re cynical about truth claims, they are longing for authenticity, which is truth embodied. And so, here’s my one word answer.
Dr. Darrell Bock
That’s what I call a setup.
John Dickson
Here it comes. Church. I genuinely believe the most powerful, in theory, we can talk about woeful history of the church, which is all I’ve been thinking about for two years, because of the CPX documentary. But in theory, the most fascinating and compelling home for truth embodied, authenticity, is Christian community, living out the beauty of Christ.

Where their statements match their words, where it isn’t just random claim objectified, disembodied on the Internet, it’s someone living and breathing the Gospel of Christ, and that is utterly compelling. That’s where you find truth and beauty combined, it’s authenticity.

I genuinely think that what millennials don’t know that they really want is a genuine church. It’s the reason why I spend, as you know, part of my time as a pastor of a local church. So, I try and, in theory, half and half, I try and balance CPX and the local church. But I’m committed to the local church, precisely for this reason.

It doesn’t matter how beautiful or intellectually stimulating an article I might write for the mainstream press, or it doesn’t matter how compelling and beautifully shot the documentary that we’re producing, is going to be, in the end, the most compelling, apologetic for Christianity is a local church.

Someone may or may not be convinced by an article I write, or a book you write, or by a podcast that they listen to, but when they come with their complaints, and their cynicism face to face with a group of 100 normal human beings who look like they believe this, who live like they believe this, who open their doors to anyone, whether or not they believe it, that is the best argument. That undoes all of the cynicism about truth, and all of the fear that Christianity has only raped and pillaged through history.

There’s only so much argument you can make against that, but it’s the Christian life embodied in Christian community, i.e. the church, that seems to me the answer.

Dr. Darrell Bock
That means that if you really are a good neighbor, if I can say it that way, and of course, what people are longing for in authenticity, that’s a very relational category. You said truth embodied, but it’s really a relational category. It means I sense from you something that’s real in the most profound sense of that term.
John Dickson
Doesn’t it come from authentos, genuine?
Dr. Darrell Bock
You’re getting too linguistic on me now. But yeah, and so, I think there’s something that transcends that. If you listen to most people’s testimonies that come to the faith out of the skepticism, it usually is out of a relationship that they have that got them started by saying that’s a way of living I’m not familiar with, and it certainly looks appealing, attractive, how about beautiful.
John Dickson
Yeah. See, the Christian life lived is beautiful, and I love how Paul – is it Titus 2:10, he says, to Christian slaves that you’re to live the honest, beautiful life, not to talk back, to be truthful, and so on, and then he says, “So that you may take the teaching about God, our savior, attractive.” And it’s the cosmeto verb there, from which we got cosmetics, but it actually meant to adorn something, to beautify something.

And I’ve always thought – my first reaction when I listened to that passage was how can you make the Gospel beautiful? It’s beautiful on its own. The doctrine of Christ self-giving on the cross and resurrection for us is beautiful. You can’t make it beautifuller, but of course, the point that Paul’s making is that the life of the Gospel lived out does beautify the truth, so there’s a match between the life of the Gospel, and the truth of the Gospel, and that’s what people are looking for, this authentic, the genuine article.

And it ties into something, I’m sure we’ve talked about before, offline, Aristotle’s famous tripartheid understanding of how people come to believe and hold up to certain convictions. He said there are three dimensions, there’s the logos, there’s the pathos, and there’s the ethos. Logos is the intellectual dimension. We are rational beings, and we like to think our arguments and our beliefs are based on something.

But he said, “It’s a fool who thinks that’s how everyone comes to their viewpoint, they don’t. They’re also influenced by the pathos,” which is a kind of more like the aesthetic dimension. It’s where a truth resonates with our soul. It’s where a speaker is able to convey the beauty of an argument, or make an audience laugh. He had a range of ways of thinking about pathos.

But he said, ethos is the most important factor, in persuasion. He says this toward the beginning in Book 1 in his book on rhetoric. He says, “Ethos, the third dimension, is the most important part of persuasion,” and he defined ithos as the character of the persuader, that conveys integrity to those listening.

And he said, “We believe far more readily those we trust on all subjects, but especially subjects where there’s room for debate. We believe those we already trust whose character we find compelling.” And I think Aristotle is absolutely right in this, we do like naked truth, logos, we do like mere aesthetics, and the pathos, but actually, we want authenticity, we want ethos. We want to know the character of the persuader, which is a long-winded way of saying – the way to say it is absolutely true, and it seems to me Aristotle nailed this, but of course, the New Testament teaches it, that the life of Christ lived in community, is the ultimate ethos, the ultimate character that shows people the truth that we hold to.

There’s a huge burden that we bear, as individuals, sure, but as a Christian community, to think what ethos we are conveying to a world that’s skeptical about any logos.

Dr. Darrell Bock
Which is why hypocrisy is so dangerous, because the moment you sever what you say from who you are, you lose all credibility, and undercut the very utterance that you say you represent. And so, I’ve got about four different ways I wanna go, but let me try and do it this way.

What I hear you saying is that the way for people to actually draw people to the Christian message is not only by what they say, which is the logos, but how they say it, which may get into the pathos, but then how they live it, which shows that it actually means something for them.

John Dickson
Yeah, that is exactly what I’m saying. That’s truth, beauty, and authenticity all wrapped up in one bundle, and Aristotle said that that’s how persuasion works. I think he’s right, but I think our New Testament says it even better, and we should also mention the power of the Spirit, Dudemas.

Aristotle wouldn’t have known that, so we can forgive him for not including it. But I think that what the Spirit does is He empowers us to live lives of the intellectual truth, the aesthetic beauty, but also the authenticity of ethic. This is the most compelling thing, and when you hear – what prompted me to go into that little Aristotelian rant was when you said – when you hear Christians give their testimony, they will often say that it was a sort of combination of hearing maybe a message of the Gospel, and then seeing the beautiful life of the Christian, and the whole package drew them toward the truth.

But often of course, skeptical friends don’t admit that their belief formation or their skepticism is just as much a combination of all three factors as anyone who’s a believer. They claim that it’s all about the logos, “If there were more evidence for Jesus, I’d believe.”

No, you wouldn’t. You’re a human being, and human beings will arrive at their positions through this messy range of things.

Dr. Darrell Bock
The other place I was thinking about going, which I will go briefly is the whole language of adornment that you get out of Scripture, the idea of the picture of what it is that we present, the portrait that we paint of who Christ is, the fact that we are made in his image, the fact that the church is called Christ’s body, I like to say, “Why is the church called Christ’s body?” It’s the representation of his presence through individuals in a world in which he is seemingly absent.

So, you can think about the church in that kind of a way. The other adornment word, I don’t know if it’s an adornment word, but the other idea that came to me while you were talking about adornment was the idea of being a pleasant, sweet aroma. If you have an aroma that’s pleasing to God, something that wafts out, and people catch it.

That image, which is maybe there is a theology to be had in words that are descriptive of the reflection that we give of God in the world.

John Dickson
And glory is another word –
Dr. Darrell Bock
Exactly –
John Dickson
Very much has this sense of the shining brilliance of the thing.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Exactly, lion in the midst of darkness, radiance might be a word that we would use as a synonym. All very important things. There’s one other area I wanna make sure we touch on before we wrap up, because you’ve mentioned to me that you think C.S. Lewis speaks into this space very nicely.

And so, I wanted to give you a chance to kind of lay that out for us. If in the second segment we go to Aristotle to C.S. Lewis, that’s probably a nice move. So, why don’t you put out on the table what you have in mind when you talk about how Lewis addressed this.

John Dickson
Of course, Lewis is famous for his intellectually robust argument. Any of the sort of intellectual fans of Lewis will point to his Mere Christianity or The Problem of Pain, or God in the Dark, or his massive collection of essays, which I have in audiobook, and listen to on rotation, hundreds of essays, some of which were never published in books, anyway.

It’s quite clear that C.S. Lewis believed in intellectual argument, of course, but at some point in his journey as an apologist, a word he accepted very cautiously, at some point, he felt that what he ought to be doing was helping people want Christianity to be true. So that they were in a position to see that it was true.

But he felt that so many people couldn’t even see the beautiful ideas of the Christian faith. They couldn’t see the beauty of it, or the beauty of concepts, or questions that Christianity answers. And so, this is why he started to write the fantasy literature, and those beautiful allegories. I don’t know if we call them allegories, the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the Narnia series, and all this other stuff.

He was absolutely driven by this idea that if people could see in another story just how beautiful it is to face the darkness head on, and to long for a savior that was good, but not tame. If people could feel that, resonate with the beauty of it, then they’d be in a position to see the Gospel.

If they found themselves wishing such a thing were true in principle, he was better placed to then say, “Actually, the Christian message is the answer to your deepest longings.”

Dr. Darrell Bock
The interesting thing about that, there’s an irony in that, and that is he’s actually saying, “If you can adorn these ideas in a certain way that comes at people from a fresh angle, where they don’t expect it, and boom, there it is, and they attach to the idea, they might become open to the way in which that idea has been expressed in the Christian faith.”

And he’s building a bridge, and the bridge is the adornment.

John Dickson
Yeah, he even believed that the Pagan myths – this is controversial for some Christians – he actually believed the Pagan myths were in a sense God’s preparation of Greek culture, to resonate with the beauty of truths that would one day be revealed.

So, so many of the great myths, he felt did come to their conclusion in the historical fact of Christ that answers so many of the Greek longings. I think it’s a beautiful way of thinking about it, and he’s got this essay that he gave at the Socratic Club here in Oxford in the ’40s, and the paper that he gave, it’s been published in various places, but it was originally just a paper he gave in a debate context, called “Is theology poetry?”

And he’s really answering the question, “Is it mere poetry that is just beautiful statements that have no reality?” But he ends up saying, “It’s poetry in the profound sense of truth that connects you with what is objectively real about the universe, and will make your heart sing, and will bring clarity to the whole world.”

And the essay finishes with that very famous line of C.S. Lewis, where he says – I won’t get it exactly right – where he says, “I believe in Christianity as I believe in the sun, not only because I can see it, but because by it, I see everything else.”

He believed a proper understanding of Christianity lit up the entire world, the world of the arts, the world of warfare, the world of heroism, of altruism. He felt that the Christian faith was the great spotlight on the truth of the world, by it, I see everything else, was kind of – I think is sort of motto in apologetics.

Dr. Darrell Bock
That’s what beauty does, doesn’t it? When you account for something that’s beautiful, and I like to say it causes you to stop. I just came back from Vancouver teaching at Regent College, and I was – I had this little ten minute walk every morning from the place they had me staying to the classroom.

And walking down this very dumpy street, there’s construction like crazy going on off to my right, and there was this little stack. I guess they were blue bonnets. I’m not quite sure exactly what kind of flower they were, but they were bright, bright blue. And I would find myself going by, and going, “What a beautiful spot of the walk.”

If I hadn’t been on a schedule, I would say, “I just want to sit here and stop and look at this beautiful surprise in the midst of every day urban life that is grabbing my attention as I walk on to the affairs of the day.” And I think that’s what beauty does. It causes you to stop, it grabs you, and there’s something compelling about it.

And when Christianity is adorned with beauty, it causes people to stop, and maybe – especially if it surprises them. It causes them to stop, and you go, “I’m just so grateful that in the midst of this boring 10-minute walk, which I’m crossing streets, and dodging construction, and I’m not even on a sidewalk – I’m walking on a sidewalk that’s been made by feet, because they’re using the sidewalk on the other side, this little spot of oasis has hit me.”

And so, Christians are this authentic life of truth and beauty and appreciation of truth and beauty hits us. There’s one idea I want to try and sneak in here. We’re really tight for time. I want to come back to the myths idea. I think the myths idea, and this is what I tell people about how to interact with culture.

The culture, grasps, and groans for truth. It’s got all kinds of stuff mixed in it, but there are longings in culture that you see that align with the Bible. And one of the great tricks of engagement is finding those spots of longing and connecting to them, and pulling people towards the Gospel through them.

John Dickson
Yes, that is my life’s ambition, and I know it is yours. And CPX, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do, we’re trying to find – one of the longings, and we try and do this from everything, from the arts, to food, to science, history, what are the longings people have, and how can we show them that those longings are fulfilled in Christ? Absolutely.
Dr. Darrell Bock
There is a – it really is a reconnecting of people to the creation and the orderliness and the beauty that God is given so that when He creates, at the very end, He’s able at the very end to say, “This was very good,” or as you said, “This was beautiful. This is very beautiful.” And that truth resonates from the creative hands of a good and creative God.

John, I want to thank you for taking time to have us meditate on truth and beauty, and creation, and engagement. There are a combination of things that I think people don’t normally think about, as they think about whatever mission and task God has given them. I think you’ve helped us to think about in a much more inviting and healthy way, so I thank you for being a part of this.

John Dickson
Thanks so much.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And we thank you for being a part of The Table, and we look forward to seeing you again soon.
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Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than forty books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
John Dickson
John Dickson is a writer, speaker, historian of religion (focusing on early Christianity and Judaism), Anglican minister, and director the Centre for Public Christianity in Australia. With an honours degree in theology from Moore Theological College Sydney, and a PhD in history from Macquarie University, John is also an Honorary Fellow of the Department of Ancient History (Macquarie), and teaches a course on the Historical Jesus at the University of Sydney (Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies).
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