Beauty Will Save the World

Our modern world has given us more convenience, increased security and comfort, and greater prosperity. You could make a case that there has never been a better time to live than today. Despite all this progress, author Brian Zahnd wonders, “Where is the beauty?” In Beauty Will Save the World: Rediscovering the Allure and Mystery of Christianity (Charisma House: 2012), Zahnd argues that beauty, once viewed as a prime virtue along with truth and goodness, is vanishing in our modern world, and the consequences have been disastrous for Western culture and the church.

Beauty. Mystery. Wonder. These three, working in tandem, give us those experiences that make us feel fully alive, fully human. When we encounter something truly beautiful or mysterious, it fills us with a sense of wonder. It lifts our eyes upward and beyond. It leaves us speechless. It inspires reverent awe. Viewing the colossal expanse of the Grand Canyon. Cradling a newborn baby in your arms. A piece of music that moves you to tears. When we encounter beauty, heaven and earth meet, and we catch a glimpse of the sacred in the profane. 

We are all attracted to beauty. We desire it, we admire it, we recognize it when we see it. We have an innate instinct for beauty, even if the definition of what beauty actually is can be a bit unwieldy.

Those encounters with beauty are increasingly rare in our society — and in our churches — which are starved of beauty, mystery, and wonder. “A life stripped of beauty and mystery is a life barren of wonder, and a life without wonder is a kind of deep poverty.”

The American Script

Jesus called his church to be salt and light in the world (Matt. 5:13-16). The church was to be a beautiful light in a dark and ugly world for others to see a better way to live—the way of Jesus and his Apostles. Instead of providing a beautiful alternative, the church in America, according to Zahnd, faces the danger of being shaped more by American values such as pragmatism, individualism, consumerism, and materialism than those of the gospel.

To be born in America is to be handed a certain script. We are largely unconscious of the script, but we are “scripted” by it nevertheless. […] Over the last generation or so, evangelicalism has been more adept at endorsing the dominant script than challenging it. And in conforming too closely to the dominant script of Americanism, the Christianity of the American church has become disfigured and distorted and is in desperate need of recovering its true form and original beauty through a process of re-formation. We need to bear the form and beauty of the Jesus way and not merely provide a Christianized version of our cultural assumptions.

Enchanted by Beauty Once More

The good news is that all hope is not lost. God brought beauty into this world and established his church as a beacon of beauty and shelter from the storm in this harsh and violent world. As God’s people, we can recapture a sense of beauty and be enchanted by it as it is illuminated most clearly for us in Jesus Christ and his gospel. The beauty of Christ and his bride, the church, is truly the beauty that will save the world!

We are generally more accustomed to defend Christianity in terms of its truth and goodness. But beauty also belongs to the Christian faith. And beauty has a way of sneaking past our defenses and speaking to us in unique ways. To a generation suspicious of truth claims and unconvinced by moral assertions, beauty has a surprising allure. And everything about Jesus Christ is beautiful! His life, his miracles, his grace, his teaching—even his death, and certainly his resurrection—they are all inimitably beautiful. A Christianity enchanted by this beauty, formed by this beauty, and reflecting this beauty, has the opportunity to present to a skeptical and jaded world an aspect of the gospel that has been too rare for far too long. Where truth and goodness fail to win an audience, beauty may once again captivate and draw those it enchants into the kingdom of saving grace. It is possible to tell the Christian story in terms of beauty, because the story of Jesus Christ is breathtakingly beautiful!

When considering Christian faith and practice, we are used to asking, “Is it true?” but we also need to ask the question, “Is it beautiful?” […] Christianity should not only persuade with truth, but it should also attract with beauty. Along with Christian apologetics, we need Christian aesthetics. Christianity needs not only to be defended as true—it also needs to be presented as beautiful. Often where truth cannot convince, beauty can entice.

A Different Kind of Kingdom

Before he launched his ministry, Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness. During that time, Satan tempted him with three temptations: (1) satisfy your material needs, (2) prove your faith, and (3) establish God’s kingdom as the kingdoms of this world do. Jesus rejected these things as being directly opposed to the kingdom of God he came to establish. His kingdom would look very different than the kingdoms of this world. It would not be established by power and violence but by radical love and forgiveness. 

We must never forget that Jesus ushered in his kingdom by refusing to oppose Caesar on Caesar’s terms. Jesus didn’t fight political power with political power. Thus Jesus submitted to the injustice of a state-sponsored execution by telling Pilate, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting.” (John 18:36) Think about that. It is part of the mystery and beauty of Christianity that the kingdom of God comes, not by the sword of political power but by the cross of self-sacrificing love. Jesus didn’t smash his foes with the sword of “righteous” political power; instead, he absorbed the blow of injustice and committed his fate to the hands of God. In this, we find an undeniable truth: we cannot fight for the kingdom of Christ in the same manner that the nations of the world fight, for the moment we do, we are no longer the kingdom of Christ but the kingdom of the world!

Jesus presented an “alternative society of the kingdom of God arranged around the cross as an axis of love.” His kingdom is the alternative to all other kingdoms that achieve dominance through violent and oppressive means. The pages of human history are blighted with reminders that we lost paradise and continue to wander east of Eden, far from God and far from one another. But the story of Christianity gives us hope of reconciliation and restoration, not only in us but in all creation. 

Happily Ever After

The beauty of the Christian story is that “happily ever after” isn’t just for fairy tales. It is where history is headed for believers. Here’s how Tim Keller explains it.

Fairy tales speak to us of several deep human longings that we are almost afraid to admit and that we can never discard. We long to survey the depths of time and space. We long to get outside of time altogether and escape death. We long to hold communion with other living things, like angels. We long to find a love which perfectly heals and from which we can never depart. And we long to triumph over evil finally and totally. When you are in the middle of a great fairy tale, the fairy tale lets you live even briefly with the dream of love without parting, escape from death, and triumph over evil. That’s why the stories stir us so deeply and why we will go on reading and writing them no matter what the critics may say. 

But the gospel is better. For the truth of Jesus is this—the gospel’s message is that, through Jesus Christ, every single one of these things that the fairy tales talk about is true and will come to pass. We will hang out with angels. We will have loves from which we are never parted. We will see an absolute triumph over evil. There is a beauty who will kiss you in all your beastliness and transform you. There is a prince who will save us forever. The reality [of this] leaves me breathless and astonished!

A Prophetic Witness

How are we to respond to the beauty of the Christian story? What does living with the hope of “happily ever after” look like today? According to Zahnd, we do this by living with the belief that God’s process of reconciliation and restoration has already begun. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the principalities and powers of this age have been overthrown by a new and better king.

Responding to the gospel is not a matter of obtaining a ticket to enter the kingdom of heaven when you die but of acknowledging that the kingdom of heaven has already come through Jesus Christ and of living according to his righteous government here and now! This is why in the first gospel sermon in the Book of Acts (the sermon Peter gave on the Day of Pentecost) the “invitation” was not, “Be saved from hell,” but, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” (Acts 2:40) In other words, Peter was calling people to stop living under the dominion of the principalities and powers of this age that are corrupting the world, and begin to live under the dominion of the world’s new and rightful king—the Lord Jesus Christ.

Today, “the church bears prophetic witness to the world: by being a preview of what is to come.” As believers, we know the end of the story. We know that God wins, and every knee will bow before Christ the King and Lord over all creation. We are a voice from the future calling out today and proclaiming that Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords today and forever more.

In a world devoid of imagination and dominated by the way it’s always been, we are to be a prophetic witness to otherness and holy imagination. We reject the pretentious claims of the principalities and powers that the way the world is presently arranged is the way it has to be. The principalities and powers committed to the status quo say that poverty is inevitable, that war is unavoidable, and the exploitation of the weak by the strong is inescapable. But we refuse to acquiesce to all of that. […] We are persuaded that the future belongs to beauty. Beauty will save the world. The beauty of Christ will save the world from the ugliness of greed, violence, domination, idolatry, and immorality. We believe this. So we seek to “behold the beauty of the Lord” (Psalm 27:4) and reflect that beauty back into our broken world. We do this in the hope that broken humanity will catch a glimpse of the beauty that is to be, believe in that beauty, and call upon our beautiful Savior.

The gospel is the greatest story ever told. It is also the most beautiful. As Christ’s bride, we are called to live out his beautiful story in word and deed. In a society still living east of Eden, the church can be the beauty that beckons and allures others back to God. Churches in our city can be the beauty God uses to redeem our city. In a harsh and violent world, we can be that shelter from the storms of modern life for insiders and outsiders to behold Christ’s beauty in acts of love, sacrifice, and forgiveness. We can be that prophetic voice proclaiming the arrival of God’s kingdom and inviting others to enter into it and into new life and hope. In every day and in every way, our churches can be a foretaste of the glorious and hope-filled future to come for God’s people. We, the church, can be the beauty God uses to save the world!

You can purchase Beauty Will Save The World on and

Chris Loux, Communications Director – CityChurch Network

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