I have appreciated Trevin Wax’s writing from afar, but after getting to know Trevin as a friend and as my pastor, I appreciate the heart behind his writing even more.
His latest book, This Is Our Time, was written, in part, as an outgrowth of him leading a small group at our church. The book comes from a heart to see ordinary believers apply biblical wisdom to their everyday lives.
It’s deeply practical, but simultaneously extremely insightful. Trevin examines modern Western culture, highlights aspects that were hiding in plain sight, and explores how they point to our deeper longings, but yet never fully satisfy us.
Read this book. Then read it again with a pen and paper to take notes on how you can apply its wisdom to your life, family and church.
Here’s part of a Q&A I did with Trevin on This Is Our Time. In this section, we focus on whether Christians should read those with which they disagree and how we should engage with stories in our culture.
In This Is Our Time, you counsel people to read things with which they disagree. Why should engage with ideas we believe are wrong?
Trevin: You need to realize how the sources of news and information you consult are forming you. When you consistently and primarily go to websites or news channels where you are confident you already agree, you’re often looking not only for information but also affirmation. You want something to reaffirm your own understanding and perspective of the world.
The reason you need to look for sources of news and information and even editorials and articles that come from a different perspective is so you can learn to understand the best of the view with which you disagree.
The danger of only visiting websites or authors that you agree with is that whenever they present an opposing perspective they don’t always present that point of view its very best. People will present the opposing view in the way that’s easiest to knock down.
When that happens, you begin to think, “Well clearly, people that don’t agree with me must be either stupid because it’s so obvious they’re wrong or they must be evil because they know their perspective makes no sense and yet they cling to it anyway. It really shuts down conversation in the United States and causes us assume the worst of the people that are on the opposite side of the political aisle from us.
When we refuse to engage with others and constantly feel affirmed in our own rightness that leads to the shrinking of our souls. It leads to a diminished dialogue. We may feel better about ourselves and our own perspective, but we’ve lost the ability to actually understand the point of view of someone else.
Not that we’ll necessarily come to agree with them; that’s not the point. The point is to better understand where someone’s coming from. Sometimes there’s middle ground, sometimes there’s not. But still you will be more persuasive if you actually have wrestled with someone at their best rather than a different position that’s worse.
And when you avoid interacting with the best arguments from different perspectives, it reinforces the myth that you’re right all the time.
What do Christians miss about stories—books, movies, TV shows—when we only focus on its morality or the worldview?
Trevin: The big miss there is that Christians sometimes don’t pay enough attention to the way in which a story is told. The message of a story doesn’t come down to just a worldview that you can put into a sentence or two, it’s also expressed in the very way that the film is made, the way the character is developed.
The form of storytelling shapes the way we are formed as we watch or listen to a story. And I think sometimes Christians tend to reduce a film or a book to its message or simply “Are there any moral things that I find objectionable?” without understanding that the deeper questions. What is the overall picture of beauty and the good life, sin, redemption that is in the film?
It doesn’t mean that the message or the morality of the film is not important, it is. But that’s not all that’s going on in a film. There might be a PG-13 rated film that is more honest about sin and redemption than a G rated film that has nothing morally objectionable in it.
It’s not that there are no moral standards when watching a film. It’s that there is more going on than those moral standards. We can’t only evaluate the moral choices presented.
We have to ask deeper questions about how stories form and even in the way they’re told not just in the message to which we reduce them.
Do you think the way that we read or partake in stories flows from or is connected to the shallow way we read Scripture? We often merely look to it for rules or guidelines and miss the broader story of it.
Trevin: Absolutely. So many people go to Scripture the same way. Instead of looking at a story as something to be formed even by the way that the Bible tells the story, we sometimes tend to reduce the Scriptures to morality tales.
Or we want to can reduce a parable to a sentence-long message in a sentence. You may be able to do that, but there’s a reason Jesus told the parable. He could have given the point in one sentence, but that defeats the purpose of the type of teaching He was using. He felt like you entering into this story would be more formative than Him just giving you the point.
Look at the way that Scripture unfolds in different genres. God has given us narratives, wisdom literature, poetry and others. God inspired Scripture in all these different forms because we are to be well rounded people who are formed by the way Scripture is given to us.
It’s very different to read the Bible versus the Koran, for example. The Koran is not a narrative. There are a couple of places the genre may shift, but it’s very similar all throughout. So there’s only one way of presenting truth in the Muslim worldview, whereas in Scripture its multi-faceted. We lose that when we always want to boil things down to a sentence-long point.