Truth, Goodness, Beauty: Cultivating a Christian Voice

Posted by on Sep 18, 2022 in Blog | 0 comments

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I recently spoke at the Christian Media and Arts Australia conference on “Truth, Goodness, Beauty: With What Voice Should we Speak in Today’s Culture?” It’s a genuinely important question, and AVENIR, the Leadership Institute I now lead, was closely involved in the program design and presentations. It was a real privilege and I think it was a very significant conference.

Given that the voice of Christian media is heard by several million Australians every week (and there were representatives from other countries as well) – it is obviously important that those involved in this sector think deeply about how their voice comes across and how effectively it represents the Christian faith. However, at a time when many are rejecting the Christian faith because they consider its voice to be aggressive, overly political, shrill, compromised, dishonest, manipulative, self interested, silly and irrelevant, all those who follow Jesus would do well to think about their voice and the way it represents the faith Jesus founded. After all, Jesus said “You will be my witnesses”, not as a suggestion, but as a statement of fact. If we are known to be Jesus’ followers our life and words are a witness to the difference that Jesus does or doesn’t make to our life and to those around us. We need to think about the tone and timber of our voice and ask if it is a winsome representation of the radical love of God which reaches out to all.

Interestingly the conference organisers accepted our suggestion to develop the concept of a voice shaped by truth, goodness and beauty – interesting simply because this trio of virtues does not owe its origin to Christianity but forms the Transcendentals of Greek philosophy championed, amongst others, by Aristotle and Plato. However, this was actually the point. Missional people don’t run from the best values of the wider society, but interact with them from the vantage of what the conference described as “resurrection hope” – the quiet confidence that God has the last word, and that resurrection triumphs over every force of evil and darkness. Hope makes it possible to be more daring in our pursuit of truth , goodness and beauty. Put differently, resurrection hope reminds us that God wins, and therefore we need never be unduly stressed no matter how discouraging the present scenario might be. It is the quiet confidence of a Julian of Norwich who in the light of the resurrection was able to say: “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.” Or we could put it slightly differently and ask what changes in the trio of truth, goodness and beauty when they are seen in the light of Jesus.

Truth, for example, can’t be seen outside of Jesus’ statement in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth and the life.” It’s a reminder that truth is discovered in relationship. “I am” truth. It’s linked to the person of Jesus and found in relationship with him. Mandy Smith brought the point home brilliantly at the conference when speaking from her book Unfettered and its discussion of the disciples on the Emmaus Rd. Do you remember that they spoke with Jesus for a full day – but only realised who he was when they broke bread together? It was in sharing the meal that their eyes were opened and truth became accessible. There is a lot in that… I’ve observed so many arguments where both parties have attempted to use truth as a blunt instrument. It usually finishes with blood on the carpet and no relationship. But if we cultivate a voice which discovers the deepest of truths because of the deepest of relationships, we will speak well to our time, and have something profound to say.

Goodness has been part of the Christian faith since the earliest years – perhaps more in the early years than in later years. It has produced an enormous social dividend for society, for Christianity should be credited with stopping infanticide, major strides towards the abolition of slavery, championing the rights of women, the birth of the labour movement, the ushering in of many democracies… and the list goes on and on. Of course there has also been a shadow side – there are the crusades, the inquisition, and an uncritical embrace of colonisation, while loyalty to ones nation has sometimes been confused with loyalty to God. To say there has been a shadow side should not be seen to say the one offsets the other. The overall goodness that has flowed from the Christian faith has been overwhelming, and continues to bless billions – including some of the most strident critics of Christianity. However, all this is of historic interest. Today’s pressing question is if Christianity has reached its use by date. What goodness will we continue to pour into the world, and how will we do this well, without being patronising, arrogant or thoughtless, for not all that looks good at a quick glance turns out to be so in the longer term. More fundamentally, how will we win trust back again? It is abundantly clear that the relentless revelations of moral failures – be they sexual, financial or abuses of power – now sees us speak in a context where it is assumed Christians are not good, and that our voice is not worth hearing. The way to overcome this is through genuine goodness… day in, day out, year in, year out – how it was always supposed to be.

Beauty might seem an unlikely candidate for a trio of voice shaping virtues, largely because when beauty lacks imagination and is defined too narrowly it excludes most people, leaving a toxic harvest of depression, insecurity, and at times, self loathing. Jesus gives us the eyes to see beauty differently. He sees it in a Zacchaeus who under Jesus’s perceptive gaze is able to morph from cheating tax collector to generous benefactor. Jesus calmly announces that the first will be last and the last first. He spots upside down beauty, and champions it. In announcing his mission Jesus quotes from Isaiah 61. Verse 3 promises that when the Messiah comes he will replace ashes with beauty. When we think of beauty in the light of Jesus, endless new possibilities emerge. We spot what we previously overlooked, and start to tell the stories we otherwise might have dismissed.

Perhaps this gives you a sense of some of the creative discussions at the conference. But as I said earlier, the question of tone and voice is not just for those in media. It is for each of us to ask. Why not explore the way you interact with God’s world in the light of truth, goodness and beauty – all seen through the lens of resurrection hope. Many things might change if we did…

As always, nice chatting…

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

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