Creative, Caring Faithfulness
Being discerning as Christians includes answering the question, “How can we talk about and live out the truth and reality of God’s word in a way that can be understood in our pluralistic world?” Our talking and our living are to demonstrate the creative, attractive, and radical vitality of the gospel. Neither is more important than the other; they are, rather, the two sides of biblical faithfulness.
We are called by God to live here, now, which means we must be eager to explore what faithfulness looks like in our world. Models of faithfulness which were developed in a much less pluralistic and a much more Judeo-Christian world were useful then, but this is now. Though the basic issues are unchanged, different questions are asked and different yearnings are expressed.
Living in Babylon rather than Jerusalem means that we must adopt the posture of a missionary. And that means we must determine to not merely repeat approaches developed in another time and place, but to faithfully listen, love, and engage the time and place to which they are called. Thankfully we are not alone, but are part of company of exiles in Babylon. Not only does this provide the opportunity for meaningful community, we can learn from one another and lean on one another’s gifts. God is faithful to raise up creative voices within the community of his people who can share their lives and stories in a way which helps us see our own more clearly in light of the Story revealed in Scripture. These voices are worth attending to with care, because they help us see the unchanging faith in new ways, and give permission to be creative about what it means to be faithful.
Two such voices for our time and place are Charlie Peacock and Andi Ashworth. This husband and wife are more than just partners in life, work, and ministry—though they are that in ways few couples get to enjoy in this fragmented world. For two decades they have worked side by side in their own recording studio and music production company. Together they remodeled an old clapboard church in Nashville, TN, turning it into The Art House—a refreshingly creative center for hospitality, art, and biblical study—which is also their home. It is there—and in their books—that they share their lives and help us see more clearly what Christian faithfulness can look like in this time and place.
A New Way
In New Way to Be Human, Charlie Peacock goes back to square one—to the gospel Story itself—and takes us through a creative and biblical exploration of what that Story means for the story of our lives. His thesis is so simple (and provocative) that it can be easily stated in a single question: Since the Story of Jesus is the most creative, attractive, and life-transforming one that’s ever been imagined, shouldn’t our lives and witness reflect that reality? His answer is Yes. As he lets us see his own life, in good times and bad, we catch glimmers of grace and the hope that we too can escape the weary cliches of a ghettoized Christianity.
Charlie begins by listening to a young Christian who is torn by the disconnect that exists between the claims of Christ and the reality of modern Christianity. He then poses a question that most evangelicals would be hesitant to consider. He points out that a non-Christian could expect to hear something similar to this if a Christian witnessed to them:
“All people are sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God. In order to get to heaven and enjoy eternal life, your sins must be forgiven. You can only be forgiven if you confess to God that you are a sinner and receive his free gift of salvation by accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. Jesus died on the cross for you and took upon himself the just punishment for your sins. He was buried and rose again on the third day. The grave could not hold him. Having conquered sin and death, he ascended to the right hand of the Father where he is now ever ready to intercede for you if you will accept him and receive him as your Lord and Savior.”
Those precise words may not always be used, but it would probably be the heart of the message.
We are used to critiquing such presentations by asking whether they are true, but Charlie realizes that this is only part of what is at stake. After all, witnessing is not just presenting a set of ideas but introducing someone to a Person. It is not just listing some propositions to which they should give assent, but telling a Story which will provide meaning and shape to the story of their life. So, Charlie asks, is this presentation “a truthful, comprehensive enough controlling story to define the life of someone who professes to be a student-follower of Jesus? The question isn’t whether it is true, but is it the whole truth and nothing but the truth? I don’t think it is.”
I assure you that Charlie is not wandering from the gospel, but calling us to embrace it with greater seriousness. He is not compromising the truth, but insisting that our view of truth is far narrower than that which is revealed in the Scriptures and in Christ. By standing against the modernist tendency to reduce the gospel to a formula, he reminds us that we have an attractive Story to tell. A Story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation. A Story of freedom and grace which captures the imagination, renews the mind, and brings redemption to every part of life and culture.
In New Way to be Human Charlie Peacock helps us to step back and relish anew the amazing Story which we have stepped into by grace. He shows how that Story shapes our own stories, brings healing into our relationships, and as we are faithful, can be demonstrated before a watching world. This is a book by an artist who has both read the Scriptures and listened to our postmodern world with imaginative care.
My only visit to The Art House began, actually, in orderly chaos, since I arrived from the airport in Nashville just in time for an advance showing of The Passion of the Christ. A crowd of artists and musicians were milling around, talking with Mel Gibson and each other, and finding seats in the main room, which had been transformed into a theater. Still, even then I noticed the beauty and restfulness of the place. Art is honored here, discussion is encouraged, and rest is seen as a good gift of God. Later when everyone had left and I was privileged to spend time with Andi and Charlie, my impression was confirmed. Not just their lives and ministry, but their home, a place where the beauty of ideas and community are nurtured, demonstrates grace. The hospitality was marked by loving care.
In Real Love for Real Life Andi Ashworth weaves the story of her own life into an exploration of the art and work of caring. Care-giving is much needed, because so many are so profoundly broken in this sad world. At the same time, it is seldom sought, since caring for others involves sacrifices that few are willing to embrace in a society which trumpets self-fulfillment as the essence of life. It takes courage to write on caring, because “care-giver” is a term that can be easily maligned, especially if it is pursued as an unpaid calling.
“The art of care-giving, as a lifestyle and a distinct vocation,” Andi says, “is nothing less than the art of God. As our minds are renewed through the Scriptures and the work of the Spirit to treasure what God treasures, we will, by design, show forth the heart of God. God loves what he has created. He loves beauty and has given us a world brimming over with creative details—the sweet face of a pansy, the stripes on a zebra, the delicate patterns of a butterfly wing. He loves the people he’s created, and he has shown us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the extravagant, costly ways of love.
“To recover the art of care-giving, we must set our hearts to love what God loves. With our feet planted firmly on the ground and our love rooted in the physical acts of care and nurture, we bear in mind the eternal value of our work. We are caring for people who have an eternal destination. Even the simplest gesture of giving a glass of water to a thirsty person has eternal meaning. When the tedium of care-giving weighs us down, this perspective brings refreshment and the strength to persevere. As we serve one person at a time in life-giving ways, beginning at home and moving out from there, we are simultaneously offering a personal service to Christ. This is an incomprehensible mystery, but it is true. Caring in this way is what it means to offer real love in the midst of real life.”
This is a creative, redemptive view of the ordinary things of life, and it is extraordinarily refreshing. Real Love for Real Life is made all the more real because Andi’s story tells how she hasn’t always embraced being a care-giver with eager passion. Nor is this a book “for women.” All followers of Christ are called to be care-givers, some as a primary calling and the rest of us as an essential part of faithfulness.
I have not reviewed these books together simply because Andi and Charlie are married, but because they fit together. Real Love for Real Life and New Way to be Human have a common narrative because they both share the story of their lives, but that doesn’t make them repetitive. Instead, it allows us a fuller understanding on how they have struggled over time to bring all their knowing and doing intentionally under Christ’s Lordship.
We recommend both books to you. (New Way to be Human includes discussion questions for each chapter.) None of us are called to reproduce their lives or ministry, but like them, we are called to live out and talk about the gospel in a way our postmodern, pluralistic, post-Christian world might be able to understand.