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Saturday, April 15, 2017

"This is Our Time" (Trevin Wax)

TITLE: This Is Our Time: Everyday Myths in Light of the Gospel
AUTHOR: Trevin Wax
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2017, (240 pages).

One of the most common questions asked by Church-goers is about how they can live out their Christian witness in the world. How can they engage culture? How can they convey Christian hope to the world? What can they do about the modern challenges that culture presents? Answer: Now.

Now means seeing challenges as springboards of opportunities to let the gospel be the difference. It means knowing the difference between the gospel story and the world stories. It means recognizing our heart's deepest longing for truth. It means telling the difference between the lie and the light. Even as we do that, we need to be careful of two extremes. The first is the over-zealous 'lie-detector Christians' who focus all their energies on exposing lies and forgetting about the longing in the hearts of people. The second is the 'complimentary Christians' who simply play nice without appropriate confrontation against falsehood. Trevin Wax aims for the middle ground and shows us with eight examples on how to avoid being judgmental and too liberal.

He looks at the modern cellphone as a cultural symbol and notices people's need for affirmation and recognition. They want to be at the center of attention. They think that the Internet is full of information that are true. They assume that what they need to know are all available on search engines and multiple websites. Underlying this desire is the thirst for knowledge, which is a good thing, but they are searching the Internet for truth, they will eventually come to a dead end. Through the cellphone, we are urged to recognize the myth of knowledge as a cover for one to be known. On Hollywood, there is the myth of fame and fortune. By telling stories, Hollywood is a formidable preaching engine of the entertainment world. Rather than condemning everything from the entertainment world, we are encouraged to see the way Hollywood reflect life as it is now, and the opportunity for us is not only to uncover lies but to shine truth in the hearts of hearers. On the pursuit of happiness, Wax uses the story of the USS Jeannette to show us the importance of maps and how depending on a faulty map can be fatal. On shopping, Wax points out the habits behind our insatiable desire to buy and accumulate stuff. We keep buying and remain unsatisfied. Materialism maintains its grip on our search for happiness. He laments the way we exchange the significance of holy days into days of consumerism. We need to expose the lies of the American Dream and exchange it for the truth of the Kingdom Dream. On the City of Man, we learn about the temptation of people treating this earth as if it is our eternal home. We must avoid falling for that trap. Instead, we can live a life of love in this world while we still can, and to prepare ourselves; to fortify our faith; and to endure the sufferings even as we demonstrate the love of God in this cruel world. Wax highlights the two aspects of living in this present world. The first is as sojourners where we are journeying through life. The second is as exiles where we will be mistreated and bullied by the world. The former gives us a sense of direction. The latter gives us a sense of long-term purpose even as we are struggling through short-term pains. Wax also talks about marriage, from arranged marriages to multiple choices. The myth is that the ideal soulmate is out there when the more immediate concern ought to be becoming the best person we could be first. Marriage is more than just an expression of intense romantic love. It is about being accountable to each other in love and service. It is about being broken together. Other myths include the subject of sex that points us to something more than the physical act: our need for intimacy.

The author is able to identify the pressing cultural pressures of this age and to bring forth the myths in a powerful and convincing way. He addresses the two biggest needs today: The need to expose the lies, and the need to tell the truth. Both have to be done carefully and wisely. In the area of exposing the lies, we are urged not to be distracted by the superficial labels of the world, to the point that we disengage. Instead, we need to recognize the underlying search for truth, and to see the real need beyond the perceived needs. Wax gives us ample evidence of this in the eight key symbols of culture. People have a need to be known and understood. They are being influenced by the stories coming out of Hollywood, which in turn is a reflection of culture. Both are dead end tales in themselves and we need to let the gospel show us the way. The world views sex in a liberal way and often ridicules Christians for their conservative views. Sex is not simply the act but the expression of a human need for intimacy. I believe Wax has identified our problem really well. Far too many Christians have reacted to the negativity of the world toward the Church by doing the same against the world at large. In condemning the cultural elements, they may have missed the opportunity to see from the eyes of redemption. Let me offer three thoughts with regard to this book.

First, the myths pointed out are more real than we imagined. Most people see themselves as well-intentioned good people. They see from their own perspectives of what it means to be fair, to be just, and to be good in this world. At the same time, they fail to see the blind spots of their own lives and the flaws on the world around them. Over time, people get indoctrinated by the values of the world and truth becomes falsified, and this falsification takes on a life of its own, to convince people about their version of truth. Wax arrests our attention by starting with the ubiquitous cell-phone, a symbol of culture today. I know of some members from the older generation who refuse to use cell-phones and disconnect themselves from anything the younger generation like. This is most unfortunate because they fail to understand the myth behind the cell phone. In the same way, if we just reject all the worldly symbols, we would miss the opportunity for conversational moments and bridges of communications to enable the gospel to flow from us to them. The way forward is to understand the culture and the corresponding myths, to exegete them, and to fairly point out the inadequacies of their promises. Second, the Christian must always see things from the redemptive mindset. This is where the author excels. He shares the redemptive power of the gospel in a very personal manner, using his father-in-law's transformation from atheism to a person of faith. The gospel liberates us and shows us the way toward truth. Whether it is marriage or sex, Hollywood or shopping, world economies or city living, the promises of this world will never be larger than the true promise of God. The world may promise us a lot of things but it is God who not only promised us eternal life, He will usher in the Kingdom that is to come. Join the party! Third, this book gives us a practical framework that we can use for other aspects of culture as well. We could apply it to the world of sports, of competitiveness in the marketplace, and of the struggle to be first, as myths of significance. We prize all the glory and accolades because we have bought into the world systems of ranking and honour system. The gospel turns these things on their heads by showing us the different set of kingdom values. The world may seem to be different but underlying the various symbols is the same thing: Glory. The way of the world leads to idolatry, which is the glory of anything other than God. The way of God leads to the glory of Jesus. This is indeed our time. Readers of this book might also be familiar with the title of another book by another popular author "It's Your Time." The difference between the two is stark. While Osteen aims to give a good-feel inspiring effect by motivating the individual to do more, to believe more, and to live more, Wax prefers to approach from the angle of wisdom. This is perhaps the single biggest difference between the two books.

Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at Lifeway Christian Resources and managing editor of the Gospel Project. He is also the teaching pastor at Third Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, TN.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of B and H Publishing and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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