At just 33 years old, Trevin Wax has written four books, including a novel. Not only that, he writes Kingdom People, one of the most popular Christian blogs in the English-speaking world; he is a sought-after public speaker, and he is the managing editor of The Gospel Project, a small group curriculum for all ages.
In Trevin’s book, Holy Subversion, he talks about how the church “should be spreading [Christ’s] influence into our world by taking up our crosses, denying ourselves, and showing that there is a different way to live: a way that subverts the Caesars of our world and exalts our risen Savior, and a way that provides a foretaste of the life to come, that is part of new creation spilling out, in, and over the old world that is passing away.”
In Holy Subversion and on his blog, Trevin regularly addresses ways the church is called to address the culture of the world, as well as its own culture, so we thought it would be interesting to get into the nitty gritty with Trevin of how that works itself out with racial division, pro-life advocacy, conservative politics, rock star pastors, and denominational identity.
1. It’s 2014, and it’s still exceedingly common to walk into evangelical churches on Sunday morning and see all-white or all-black congregations. What’s it going to take to bring Sunday morning racial segregation to an end?
The quick answer is intentionality, of course, but this is almost so common sense that it becomes a non-answer. There are no easy answers to this question. Certainly the key is preaching the Gospel in a way that levels us all at the foot of the cross, breaks down the wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2:11-22), and sets us on God’s mission to bless all peoples of the earth. The truth is, there is more than color that separates many of our churches. Because of our segregationist past, different cultures of worship and preaching have grown up in white and black churches. We’re seeing positive movement in many urban settings — churches moving past black versus white and becoming multi-cultural communities. I am hoping we will see barriers come down, not only with regard to race and ethnicity, but also socio-economic classes. A real issue among many declining churches in the U.S. is that the congregation no longer looks like the surrounding community, and race is only half the story there.
2. You’re an ardent pro-life advocate. Pro-choice advocates argue that if you were to ban abortion altogether, there would be a dramatic spike in illegal and dangerous abortions. Assuming they’re right, what’s your response to that?
They may be right. But if you believe in human rights for all human beings, not just the developed and powerful ones, then it doesn’t make sense to make the killing of vulnerable human beings “safer.” Centering the debate on the plight of the person wanting the abortion conveniently shifts attention away from the plight of the victim of a barbaric act of violence. Abortions are always dangerous for the unborn; it stops their hearts from beating. The issue here is a question about human life. Should we value all human life, or should we not?
Back in the days when the lives of African-Americans were seen as less valuable than their white counterparts, someone might have said, “If we ban slavery, there may be a dramatic spike in violence toward freed blacks.” If the Jim Crow era is any indication, they were right. But it still doesn’t change the fundamental rightness of the Emancipation Proclamation and our movement toward seeing all human life as valuable and worthy of protection. Human life is precious, regardless of race, social status, and physical development.
3. I recently heard an acquaintance joke that conservative evangelicals are pro-life “from conception to birth,” because evangelicals will fight to get a baby into the world, but then they support policies that curb government assistance programs for the least among us. Is that a fair assessment of conservative evangelicals?
Not at all. Perhaps that was true a generation ago, although I think that’s up for debate. The truth is, evangelicals are on the front lines of caring for women in difficult circumstances. There are many more crisis pregnancy centers across the nation than abortion clinics. It’s true that many conservatives believe that the government shouldn’t be the main supplier of assistance; that’s why there are churches, nonprofits and charities filling the gap. So part of that critique falls apart when you see the difference between conservative and liberal views of government’s role. Recent statistics show that the highest giving percentage of income in the USA is in 16 states — all of which voted Republican in the 2012 election.
4. Again and again, we see churches that raise up a celebrity pastor, and then they flounder when he dies or goes off the deep end. Is it OK to have a rock star pastor as long as you’ve got one who has his head on straight?
I don’t like the term “rock star pastor,” and I don’t think any pastor worth his salt would be OK with that description. The problem is not that churches raise up celebrity pastors, but that the evangelical movement as a whole is often more dependent on personalities over substance. It’s the broader evangelical movement that invests many talented pastors with significance beyond their wisdom and experience. That’s the result of living in a culture that celebrates celebrity and fame for just being a celebrity or famous, not necessarily due to accomplishing anything of great value. We need to make sure we are setting up structures of accountability, transition and succession that keep churches from being dependent upon one particular personality. Not always easy, but it is essential. Follow Jesus, praise Him for the good gifted pastors He raises up, and make sure you have your eyes on Him so that you’re not disillusioned if a preacher you admire falls into sin or fails you in some way.
5. In an age in which a lot of Southern Baptist churches quietly distance themselves from their denominational identity, you’ve embraced it. Do you ever fear that your identity as a Southern Baptist creates a barrier for people — particularly people who aren’t Christians — to receive from you?
Because the cultural Christianity of Christendom is crumbling, people are less likely to understand what denominational labels represent. All that to say, I don’t think you’re better off or worse off when you say you’re a Baptist, a Methodist, an Anglican or a Presbyterian. People are likely to see you as a “Christian” first and not really worry about what kind of Christian you are. The reason I don’t hesitate to write about my church heritage is because I believe evangelicalism is only as strong as its churches. We are better evangelicals when we are church people, committed to our congregations and willing to give credit to the church traditions that have shaped us. I don’t think this hurts my ability to be received by others because (1) most blogs or books are shared either through social media or word of mouth, and (2) rarely is denominational affiliation one of the key reasons why people choose to share or not share something.
We really appreciate Trevin taking the time to share his thoughts with us on these tough issues. If you’re interested in hearing more from him, you can check out his blog, or you can follow him @TrevinWax.