Ep. 061: Cultures Myths
This is Our Time: Everyday Myths in Light of the Gospel – That’s the title of Trevin Wax’s book, which dives into the subject of how we, as Christians, can faithfully respond to our culture’s myths with the gospel. Trevin graciously responded to our request to have him on the show, so we have the great privilege of chatting with him about his new book this week. In our conversation, Trevin reveals two myths that we can easily fall into and then explains how we, as Christians, have the great responsibility of showing the world that the gospel is a better story than anything they know.
*Below is an edited transcription of the audio.
Isaac: Well it’s great to be talking this week with Trevin Wax. Trevin is an author, pastor, Bible publisher and more I assume. I’m glad to have you with us today Trevin.
Trevin: Glad to be with you Isaac.
Isaac: Hey, before we jump into the general topic of Christianity and culture, being faithful in the midst of culture, and also you’re new book coming out called This is Out Time that gets into that in more detail, why don’t you just share with us briefly who you are as an individual, and then specifically, if you can, how you responded to Jesus calling you to Himself.
Trevin: Yes, my name is Trevin Wax. I am currently serving as the Bible publisher for B & H in the Nashville area in Tennessee. I am married to Karina – we have three kids that are 12, 8, and 3. My wife and I met in Romania actually. I did a lot of mission work there as a teenager and then moved there and lived there for several years when I was doing my undergraduate studies and also when I was involved in a lot of mission work in villages around the city that I lived in. We’ve been married for a while, had those kids.
For me, as far as my spiritual journey is concerned, I would say I was blessed to be raised in a Christian family. Church was an ever-present reality from the time I can remember. I never remember a time when I did not have a hunger for God’s Word. So I was very young when I first trusted in Christ in a way that I remember, constantly putting faith in Jesus. But then I was a little older when I was baptized, my parents waited and gave some time for that to show fruit. I’ve always had a hunger for God’s Word from the very time I can remember.
So, a lot of people think of testimonies, and they think about the grand before and after experience. For me, I have to think in terms more of trajectory, like, knowing my own sins and struggles and patterns of selfishness that are still in my life, I can kind of see where my life might have gone had God not rescued me at such a young age.
Isaac: Actually, it’s funny that you say that. I was just listening to some seminar that John Piper was doing, and he said he knew a friend that always says, “Yeah, the Lord saved me from drugs and alcohol when I was three.” And I was like, “I love that!” He knew his trajectory, he knew he was a sinner and depraved. The Lord saved him then. So that’s an awesome testimony, I think that’s powerful. My wife has a similar one.
Alright, Trevin you’ve written a lot. You just go on to your blog on The Gospel Coalition site and you just have article after article over various topics and that’s awesome, God obviously has gifted you with a passion to speak up and out and on all these different things. But you’ve also written books, but this year you have a book coming out called This is Our Time: Everyday Myths in Light of the Gospel. So, let’s just start super simply, what is this title about? If someone were seeing this on the bookshelf, what does this mean?
Trevin: Well there’s a bit of a double meaning there with the title, I think. At first I’m saying “This is our time,” right? So the book is going to offer some snapshots of our current cultural moment in 21st Century North America. What are the cultural developments, the trends, the things that we need to be aware of if we’re going to be good missionaries in the culture that God has placed us? So first I’m just saying that: Hey, this is our time, let’s take a good look at the time that we’re living in.” At the culture. Not just the ‘where’ of where we live, but the ‘when’ in which we’re living.
Let’s take a look at these generational trends and things that have happened philosophically and all throughout history and leading up to this moment where there’s a lot of things that are affecting our beliefs, our habits, our practices. And so, to start out the book, the title is saying, “Yeah, this is our time.” Then there’s another aspect too which is emphasizing the “Our.” This is “Our” time.
You know, I think a lot of times, I think Christians, especially when they feel besieged in the culture or they feel like society is more anti-Christian than ever before – we begin to lament and mourn past eras. And that nostalgia can actually lead us to not seeing those eras for what they were, the challenges that were actually there’s, some of the sins and flaws even in the Christians that have gone before us.
So, part of what I’m saying is, “Hey, this is ‘our’ time. Right now the curtain is up, we’re on the platform, the great cloud of witnesses is surrounding us, cheering us on. This is our time on the stage, or in the race,” if you want to switch metaphors. So, part of what I’m saying is that as well. Like, let’s take a look at culture, then let’s also just realize that we have the awesome privilege of calling, of being faithful to Christ in this time. That’s exciting, let’s get on with the mission.
Isaac: That’s so good. And obviously there’s that communal aspect as well, like, this is “Our,” the church’s time – let’s do this. That’s so good.
And then obviously “Everyday Myths in Light of the Gospel,” so, what is that part about?
Trevin: Yeah, so I’m looking at certain assumptions that we believe in the world that give shape to our lives. So when I talk about myths I’m not simply talking about faults. I’m using myth in that broader sense of stories/narratives that we adopt that actually give shape and meaning and significance to our lives.
And this happens not just with Christians, I mean, we are myth-making people. This is part of what we do. So when I’m speaking of myths, I’m not simply speaking of things that are untrue, I’m speaking of things that are in the world, stories that we believe and then I’m wanting to show what’s good and right and beautiful about some of the narratives that give shape to how people live in our lives, but then also, what’s wrong with some of these narratives. How do they fall short of the gospel’s story of our world, and then I want to bring the gospel to bare on these assumptions that we often don’t question.
Isaac: Right, exactly. And, you know, obviously you share throughout the book some of those myths. But just to give an example to our listeners, what is an example of a myth that maybe a lot us blindly fall into?
Trevin: That’s a good question. There are what I would say “big myths” and then “small myths.” So, a big overarching myth that a lot of people in our society would abide by without even really questioning or understanding it, would be something like the myth of progress. It’s the idea that as society goes forward, we advance technologically, we advance scientifically, and we shed this sort of silly, superstitious elements of religion in the past. Like, you go on any university, any secular university in just about any place in the United States or Canada, and that is the dominant myth of these universities. This is the trajectory.
So if you’re religious or you have this sort of religious face for morality or whatever, that’s a throwback. That’s back in the stone ages, it’s kind of behind. So that is a dominant myth that comes out in all sorts of beliefs and practices in college campuses across our continent. That would be one of the “big myths.” But there are smaller myths that get imbedded into our own habits, our own practices, even our own entertainment choices.
You know, consumerism, the way that we consume or that we shop or that we think that, you know, the way that we plot the trajectory of our life, or the way we would tell the story of our life, based on, for a lot of people, it’s based on, “Am I moving forward in my career? Am I moving forward in my income level? Have I taken a step back this year?” You see, this is a way of understanding your life that has that myth at its heart, rather than what the gospel would say, for example, that our progress or our regress is in terms of holiness – growing to become more like Christ, that we’re measuring steps forward and steps back. That’s the story of our lives, not income, career, or whatnot. So, just two examples there. One big myth and one small myth, both of them deeply affect the way we live.
Isaac: Yeah, that’s so good, and in your introduction I highlighted this sentence because I thought it was kind of scary but in a good way. You ask the question rhetorically, “What if we are living according to the myths in our culture without even questioning them?” And when I read that I was like, “Oh man, yeah that’s true! I do want this progress and I’m sort of counting my identity on that progress.”
But, what I think is interesting is that you line out, at least in the introduction, you line out the idea that to be a faithful Christian involves this understanding that there’s this deeper longing there – that when people are striving after the progression of culture and in their own individual lives, there’s something underneath there and we need to be able to understand what that longing is.
You also talk about the lie, and then obviously the light. Could you explain those three pieces?
Trevin: Yes, very important to hold all those together. Christians tend to fall into one of two traps when it comes to how we engage in culture and how we seek to be on mission for the kingdom of God in this day and age. One group immediately sees the faults in the midst of the world – I call them lie-detector Christians in the book. What this means is they can expose the lies right away, you know? “This is not true, I’m lining this up to the gospel and I can show you all the places where this myth or this understanding of the world is false.”
Isaac: And we all know those Christians in our lives!
Trevin: Yeah, well I mean it’s easy to think “Hey, that’s a really discerning Christian,” but I would actually say, “No, they’re not quite discerning enough.” Because it’s important to not just be able to point out lies but also to be able to go back to the deeper longings behind the myth. You got to ask the question “Why does someone want this to be true?” You know? “Why do so many people in our world want this to be the way that the world works or want this myth of understanding consumerism or entertainment or whatever it might be, to be true of the world?” And that goes back to “What’s the longing behind that?”
We’re created by God for God, right? Our hearts our restless until they find themselves in God as Augustine said.
So we have this restlessness for God, but because of sin it is totally misdirected in all sorts of rebellious and fully-depraved ways.
So, what happens when you bring those two truths together: we were created by God and for God. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, right? That’s what we were made for. And at the same time we’re going into all these polluted wells in order to satisfy that thirst. So it’s one thing to simply pull back and say, “Look, that fountain or that well is polluted,” but it’s another thing to also say “Hey, I’ve got the living water you really want! We actually have the light of the gospel that deep down inside you really want, yet you in your misdirected sinful state are pursuing this happiness that you want in all sorts of wrong ways.”
And so, the reason that we need to when we see the big myths of the world take into consideration both longing and the lie, is because the gospel does both of those things. It challenges faults, it exposes lies, but at the same time also fulfills the deeper longings that have led people to believe these lies in the first place.
Isaac: Yeah, that’s so good. You say that Christians who shine the light of the gospel on the myths of our world do not simply say “This is right” and “This is wrong,” but, “This is better.” The gospel tells a better story. That’s a quote from your book. So what does that look like practically though? To be a Christian is not just, “This is right,” “This is wrong,” but to actually be able to live out that truth that “This is better, the gospel is better.”?
Trevin: Oh yeah, let me give you an example where I think this comes to play really strong. So, recent research by the Barna Group (I’ve got it listed in one of the chapters of the book) says 91% of North Americans say “To find yourself you look within yourself.” Around 80% of North Americans say, “The highest goal of life is enjoying yourself.” In other words, almost everyone’s a hedonist. Because that’s like the definition of hedonism. Another 80% say, “Find what you enjoy the most or what makes you happy and pursue it, that’s how you are happy.”
And then you look at the actual spread between that group and church-going Christians, like practicing Christians, those who actually attend church, and the spread of percentages is not as big as you’d expect it to be. It’s frightening to see that. A lot of church-going Christians are actually going to church because they think the church is going to help them live in that story, fulfill that narrative – help them pursue whatever version of them that may be.
So you take that understanding of, “Hey this is the world we live in. This is how people are living. This is what they’re pursuing with all their might,” and then you say, “Okay, well I can show from Scripture that that is wrong, right? I can say that this is right, the gospel is right, and that that is wrong.” And some preachers I think are going to want to just completely – they’re going to see those stats and be rightly frightened and then they’re going to be like, “I’m going to hit this head on,” right? “I’m going to show just how wrong this is.” But what I would want to say is, “Come along side and ask what the deeper longing is there,” how can you show that the gospel is better?
I think the way you do that in this case:
It is exhausting to try to find yourself and make sure that you are the one totally responsibly for your own happiness.
It is exhausting to be a millennial in this environment where basically your own satisfaction/happiness/success completely depends on you. Finding yourself, looking deep within yourself will make you feel Closter phobic, at some point.
The beautiful thing about the gospel is that you don’t look inside for salvation, you look up for salvation.
Salvation comes outside of ourselves, it breaks into the smallness of our own lives. And so, we have the opportunity to present the gospel, not just in the way that says, “Hey this way you see the world is wrong, look the gospel is right,” but to show, “This story is so much better that the idea that you must muster up salvation from within or you have to create meaning and significance for yourself or you have to- even trying to discover what makes you happy, like, how do you even know that?”
A lot of times what people think is going to make them happy, is not what makes them happy. Or, how do you explain to people that did achieve everything they ever dreamed of and all of their success, and at the end they’re like, “Still, there’s got to be something more,” you know? We have the answer to that.
So, to show that it’s better we need to be able to come along side and say “Hey, this story isn’t just untrue, it’s not as good as the true story that we have that comes from the gospel.”
Isaac: That’s so good. Trevin, as we wrap it up here, your book, just a pointed question, obviously you wrote this book for God’s glory, but, why are you writing this book right now in our culture?
Trevin: I had my lifegroup at church in mind when I wrote this book. I wanted to serve ordinary Christians who are out scattered throughout their world, in their different locations. I wrote this book to be as engaging and interesting as possible, to weave stories and examples and illustrations, because I wanted ordinary faithful Christians who have this longing to be faithful in this time and yet also feel this sense of inadequacy, I mean, just so many people I talk to they feel disoriented because of the rapid changes that we’re seeing in society. I wanted to equip them.
And so my goal for this book would be the edification of the church, the building up God’s people, the building up of confidence in the gospel, that we do have a better story, it isn’t just true, it’s also better. Helping them to share that more, to see some of the places that we may even be complicit with the fault worldviews in our society so that we can repent of that, but then also stand out and shine like stars in the crooked and depraved generation that we are living in – that we will be amazing testimonies to God’s grace.
Isaac: That’s so good, I love that. We obviously can’t get into everything, so that’s why we all need to read your book! But Trevin, if people want to learn more about you, what you do, or are interested in your book, what can they do? What’s the best thing they can do?
Trevin: So my website is trevinwax.com. My blog is hosted on The Gospel Coalition site which can be found through my main page. That’s where I’m writing most regularly. I’ve been writing quite a bit about the book, or about subjects that are talked about in the book the last couple of months. And I hope some of that will be of interest and of help to people as you’re seeking to be faithful to Christ in the fallen world we live in.
Isaac: And to our listeners, I’ll have all the links to everything that Trevin has just said on the episode podcast page. But anyways, Trevin, again thank you so much for taking some time out of your day to chat with me, and I just hope that the church is encouraged and convicted by this book and by your writing. Thank you so much.
Trevin: Thank you for the opportunity.