By Jayan Koshy —
“Wow, Christianity is metal as f**k!” The text message from an old friend made me laugh so hard that my reply “LOL” actually reflected reality (not a given in my generation!).
In answer to a question about why I was going to church on a Thursday night, I had just finished a long-winded retelling of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The bare facts of the story were not new to this friend; he’d been raised in enough of a Christian milieu that he knew the general outline of the tale. But for some reason, this time he found it strikingly beautiful (“metal” was an aesthetic response, if you couldn’t tell).
I share this story not as an anecdote of evangelistic triumph—the exchange hardly had my friend running to find the nearest Episcopal Church—but because it points to a truth that we need to hold onto if we want to be able to give any sort of compelling account of our faith (1 Peter 3:15). Our faith—and I mean the substance of our faith, not just the trappings—is dazzlingly beautiful. And the healthy, non-coercive evangelism that we’re called to only happens when we communicate that beauty.
A couple weeks ago, Dr. Mark McInroy shared with us the final installment of his lecture series on theology and beauty, which I’d encourage you to go watch it in full. One of the themes he touched on was the role of aesthetics in apologetics and evangelism, especially in the work of Hans Urs von Balthasar. This is a deep and complicated field, but even without delving too far into it we can grasp a simple idea: the compelling power of our faith is first and most effectively conveyed through its beauty.
I think our discomfort with the “E word” in the Episcopal Church might actually stem part from seeing this dynamic in the negative. The word “evangelism” conjures images of fundamentalist, street-corner preachers bludgeoning passersby with prooftexts and (more or less) reasoned arguments. Not only is this “facts-first” approach largely ineffective at sparking love for God, but its futility inflicts grave violence along the way. It’s quite understandable that a practice with that much baggage would be suspect for Episcopalians, many of whom see open-mindedness and politeness as central to their identities.
But the facts aren’t what’s missing for people. The world doesn’t spurn the healing of the Gospel because it doesn’t know the story. At least in America, you’re still likely to find more people who know the rough sketch of Christianity than don’t. No, what’s missing is a reason to care, a reason to desire this medicine rather than the others on offer. We can argue facts and proofs until we’re blue in the face, but unless something about the Gospel sparks a desire to know God more, it’s foolish for us to think what we’re doing has anything to do with real evangelism. And it is beauty, not bare facts, that most powerfully kindles desire.
Earlier today, you shared with me pictures of dogs and gardens and lakeshores that fill you with gratitude, joy, and longing. Each one of those glimpses of beauty tugged at my heart making it want more. And it’s no different with God. The Psalms talk about love of God in terms of reveling in gold, silver, honey, and finery (Psalm 19). It is God’s beauty that draws the Psalmist into deeper relationship with him. And this is precisely what true evangelism is: rediscovering just how “metal” this beauty can be and learning to communicate that intensity to others.
The commission we received from Christ before he ascended isn’t to march out with our well-crafted arguments and clobber people into belief. Our call is to remember the beauty of what we have seen and learn how to share it, so that little by little, the world will want to come back for more.