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I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord; “plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

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Beautiful Orthodoxy – Interview with Mark Galli

December 8, 2018



Christianity Today is the worldwide frontrunner in Christian journalism. Founded by Billy Graham in 1956, it champions the cause of truth and fairness in journalism from a Christian worldview and has been a bastion of intelligent reflection for thinking Christians for the past 62 years. Expanding their vision to become a globally focused reporting organization, Christianity Today is ushering in a bold era of giving voice to the stories of Christians around our world in all their beauty, struggle, faith, and need. The growing global perspective and the original commitment to reaching and supporting leaders are important parts of why my husband and I are regular donors and honoured to support the work being done by Christianity Today. 

The deepest and most compelling reason for my support and affiliation with Christianity Today, however, rests in their foundational values. Always rooted in sound theology, several years ago Christianity Today introduced a profound response to the increasing ugliness in public dialog and the mounting negative voice of Christians in the public arena.  Mark Galli coined the phrase, but the concept is ancient. Beautiful OrthodoxyThis simply means to remain anchored in the acknowledged essentials of the Christian faith, and to present the Gospel through our whole lives in ways that are – good, true, and beautiful. What Beautiful Orthodoxy brings with it is not only a way to graciously and beautifully live out the reality of the Gospel, but also a way to redeem the reputation of what it means to be evangelical. 

The cause of Beautiful Orthodoxy is not for Christianity Today alone to carry and defend.  The foundational values of Goodness, Truth and Beauty are the very same ones upon which Cultivating is itself based. The call is for each of us to champion this cause of living out the beautiful gospel of Jesus Christ and how He loves us – broken and yet of incalculable worth. 

In a desperate world starving for the presence of what is good, true, and beautiful, Christianity Today has pioneered the way for communicating the gospel with intelligence, grace, and love.

Their faithful work in journalism makes a clearer path with our audiences for those of us who write, teach, create, pastor, and lead. Christianity Today has prepared the soil, so to speak, with their work, to make the work of others (including Cultivating) in sowing seeds, watering, tending, more fruitful. 

I think of Christianity Today as an older (and much bigger) brother working in the same field as we are here at Cultivating. Taking the time to learn who Christianity Today is, what their values are, and what their vision is for going forward allows us to knowingly enter into a greater community of believers. To understand and align ourselves with the work being faithfully done by others helps us to see that we are not in this labour alone. That helps to break the too-frequent grip of isolation and put us more squarely where we are: in the company and fellowship of others working together toward the same great good, now and in the Kingdom coming. We may feel small in our own efforts and that our voices will not carry far, but in the company of others, we can find hope and courage to also faithfully carry on. 

Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing Mark Galli, Christianity Today’s Editor-in-Chief and share that interview with you here.  



 

LES: Mark, you have given one of the most beautiful descriptions I have ever read of orthodoxy itself in your book Beautiful Orthodoxy.

“Orthodoxy is a way of life grounded in truth, and truth that expresses itself in all of life. To be orthodox is to know the truths that set one free (the classic doctrines of the Christian faith) and to live out that freedom in daily life, with the values that have stood the test of time (classic Christian ethics).”

What then, in a nutshell, what is “Beautiful Orthodoxy” as you have coined the term?

MG: It’s a phrase that reminds us that the gospel, as the church has traditionally understood it, is not only true but also attractive.

LES: What are the core driving passions and focus of CT as an organization? Do you think the original calling of CT has changed as you take a more global approach to journalism, or does your core purpose that remain true to your beginnings?

MG: We still are focused on our original passion, although now we have more vehicles to express it.  CT is a magazine/website for Christians leaders, both North America and abroad. We want to equip them to understand the world and church in which they minister by offering news, commentary, and reviews of crucial events and people in the church and culture.  This is CT, the flagship magazine. We also have a practical bent as we offer concrete advice on how to pastor, preach, and administer in church and parachurch settings. This is done by CT Pastors, Preaching Today, SmallGroups.com, and Church Law and Tax, to name a few of our ministry brands.

LES: A key parallel between Christianity Today (CT) and Cultivating is the foundational importance to our organizations of the three great transcendentals – Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. Why must these three elements be found and practiced together rather than placing a higher value on one or two over another?

MG: Because ultimately that cannot be separated.  The good happens to be true, and what is true is good.  And when something is true and good, it is almost by definition beautiful.

LES: For some Christians, the term ‘Good, True, and Beautiful’ is simply an avoidance of naming the Triune God, and possibly even a gateway to denial of faith. Is there a conflict of validity for us as Christians when we use the term “Goodness, Truth, and Beauty” or “Good, True, and Beautiful” given that it originated in Greek philosophy and that the phrase is not specifically based on Scripture?

MG: It’s not an avoidance of naming the Triune God as much as a way of grasping the nature of God—he is indeed good, true, and beautiful in the deepest and most profound sense.  It’s not an accident that these descriptors mimic the Trinity in that they are three but also one (that is, they cannot really be separated, as I just noted). The fact that the phrase originates in Greek philosophy is neither here nor there.  The language of the Nicene Creed is also ground Greek thinking in a lot of ways. It happens to be the language and intellectual culture that God, in his providence, used to help us come to grips with the divinity of Jesus, the Trinity, and the profound nature of the atonement.

LES: Mark, this statement runs on the sidebar of the CT | Beautiful Orthodoxy page.

“Expand the message of Beautiful Orthodoxy to the church.”

In an interview with Harold Smith, CT’s retiring President and CEO, he says, “In a world in desperate need of truth, goodness, and beauty, Christianity Today leads the church by richly communicating the breadth of the true, good, and beautiful gospel.” 

Would you open that up for us? Why is CT called to take the message of Beautiful Orthodoxy to the church and not the other way around?

MG: We live in a world in which it is very easy to become discouraged and cynical, and to move into the dark regions of despair.  The church is on the front lines of ministry in this world, and it is a challenging ministry indeed.  We see ourselves as a servant of the church, to help the church do the work God has called it to.  We are not the source of that call, but only a reminder to the church of its unique call.  

LES: I have loved the creative and visual story-telling efforts by CT over the years, especially the This is Our City short film series. I love how those films illuminate the beautiful and good work going on every day in cities that we do not hear about in regular media. Are there projects, Mark, currently at CT that you are especially proud of reflecting Beautiful Orthodoxy?

MG: Right now one project that reflects Beautiful Orthodoxy is our weekly podcast Quick to Listen.”  We take a news story from the previous week and explore it at a deeper level, doing so to mines it for deeper truth and in a way that points to the attractiveness of the gospel. We don’t explicitly point to the phrase “beautiful orthodoxy,” but we are trying to practice it week by week in this setting.

LES: One of the issues I see many people struggle with is a sense of futility in their labor, whatever the nature of their professional craft. The recognition that their work won’t be enough to change the conditions of the world long-term becomes a real obstacle to overcome. I see this to be especially true with people who sincerely long to leave a meaningful legacy of good. More than once I’ve been asked, “What is the point of doing good if we cannot really overcome the darkness around us?” What are your thoughts on that?

MG: The old phrase still stands:

We are called not to be successful but faithful.  It’s not our job to change the world. That’s God job, and he’ll do it in his way and in his time. Our job is to be faithful in the calling he has given each of us. 

That’s more than enough responsibility!  And what’s amazing is that even when we fail in our callings, God has been known to pick up the slack and get his work done in spite of us.

LES: The Arts and Faith movement – meaning the communities dedicated to bringing Christ-rooted art and literature into culture – is a wellspring of goodness, truth, and beauty made visible and accessible on an extraordinary level. Along with Cultivating, other Arts and Faith organizations like the Anselm Society, The Rabbit Room, the C.S. Lewis Foundation, the Studio for Art, Faith, and History, and Makoto Fujimura’s International Arts Movement, are each working to build courage and capacity in our readers. That labor is not so very different from CT’s work with your constituency. Given the premise of Beautiful Orthodoxy and the call to a beautiful gospel, what do you see as the relationship between CT and the Faith and Arts movement?  

MG: This is an extraordinary community that CT deeply supports.  We do so editorially and with the occasional feature that highlights work of Christian artists.  We also support it implicitly by designing the magazine so it reflects the best in magazine design today.

LES: What then is the role of the Christian writer or artist for bringing Beautiful Orthodoxy into wider recognition and practice? How might The Cultivating Project and other organizations in the Faith and Arts movement help advance the cause that CT continues to serve?

MG: By doing well—reaching for the highest artistic standards one is capable of.  As has been said by many, the Christian shoemaker is called to make great shoes, not shoes with crosses on them!  Excellence reflects implicitly, if subtly, the excellence of all creation and, of course, our Creator.

LES: What do you most look forward to in the next few years for growth in CT and in yourself as you lead it?

MG:  Although international reporting and commentary has been a part of our mission from the beginning (in 1956), we’re making a big push called CT Global.  We want to engage Christians in other lands and cultures across the world. We want this to be a mutually edifying enterprise.  What it will look like exactly, and how extensive it will become—those are things we are very interested in seeing what God will do!



I offer my thanks to Mark Galli for this interview and for championing the cause of Beautiful Orthodoxy.

The opening image is (c) of Neely Wang of Light Stock.

Three related pieces I commend to you for further reading: 

Mark Galli’s book Beautiful Orthodoxy

The World is Yearning for Beautiful Orthodoxy

Christianity Today’s Beautiful Orthodoxy



 

Lancia E. Smith

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