Culture Friday: Orthodoxy and the Notre Dame fire

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Friday, the 19th of April, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up today, Culture Friday.

AUDIO: Notre Dame of Paris, the cathedral, is literally at the core, the center, of the city, I mean, the ancient city. It’s a loss also Christianity, to Catholicism, beside a civilizational or cultural dimension. For Catholics, it is a tremendous loss for us.

Professor Julio Bermudez, Catholic University School of Architecture, on the fire this week that devastated the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

He says the Cathedral is famous for many reasons, one of which is that it stands as the best example of the gothic style of architecture — a hinge point, he says, between antiquity and modernity. But also, very important for Catholics because it houses many iconic artifacts.

AUDIO: One of course a crown of thorn of Jesus Christ is a relic that once a year all the faithful come to Notre Dame to venerate. And the faithful believe that literally this is the crown the savior was put on his head.

The fire broke out about 6:20 p.m. Monday local time. About 20 minutes after that, the fire started to be visible to the public.

Just before 8:00 p.m., the spire was completely engulfed in flames.

AUDIO: My daughter told me the cathedral was burning, she saw that on internet. So I went down, behind, I was on the bridge, near the bridge behind the church, and I started seeing those flames and the roof was burning and then the spire.

This is eyewitness Dominique Bichon.

AUDIO: The spire started bending and curling and whoooosh, big smoke and flames and, and, people couldn’t believe it. Just, we could not just believe what we were seeing.

Trevin Wax joins us today for Culture Friday. Trevin’s a pastor, a blogger, and author. His books include This Is Our Time: Everyday Myths in Light of the Gospel.

Trevin, so very glad to have you today. Welcome back and good morning.

TREVIN WAX, GUEST: Great to be with you, Nick. Thanks for having me on!

EICHER: This Notre Dame fire, Trevin, the eyewitness I quoted a few seconds ago, he likened this to 9/11, the twin towers, and made the point clearly that it doesn’t compare because of the loss of life. But it did compare in this sense: that we all watched all over the world.

It’ll go down as a “flashbulb memory,” those things we remember — we think — so clearly. But with time they diminish and details get filled in and before long, the memory is very unreliable. So I think it’s worth capturing now: where were you, what were you doing, how’d you hear, and how do you remember feeling when you heard this news?

WAX: Well, I happened to be working from home on Monday and I noticed a tweet that there was some sort of a fire at Notre Dame at the cathedral. And my initial thought is, I mean, having been to Westminster Abbey, having seen some of these world famous cathedrals, my initial thought was these are massive structures and it’s possible for there to be some kind of problem in one area of a structure without necessarily thinking that’s going to be an earth-shattering kind of event. But about 20-25 minutes later I checked back, at that point the live stream had started. And, you know, there’s something very much, almost a collision of worlds, a collision of eras when you think about us watching the destruction by fire of one of the world’s oldest and most revered and most wonderous structures while we’re doing that on live stream, watching it together—people watching on their phones and on their tablets, on the computer, on the television.

What I felt was just this immense sadness and sense of loss. I called my father, actually. The first thing he said when he picked up the phone was, “It’s awful.” He knew I was calling about that. It raises all sorts of questions about the future of Christianity in Europe, Roman Catholicism in France, all sorts of other issues and questions come to the surface. But the initial feeling is a sense of loss for the world when you think of the priceless treasures and architectural wonders that went up in flames on Monday before our very eyes.

EICHER: Clearly, those of us on the Protestant side of the Reformation need to take care not to overdo this terrible story. But I’m reminded of something you wrote about a week ago, titled, “The Church Needs More Church History.”

Thankfully, fires can’t take away our history, but maybe there’s a metaphorical fire that has burned away the history from our own memories and practices.

WAX: Well, the history of Notre Dame is really interesting as a cathedral because, of course, it predates the Reformation and so to some extent Protestants, we trace our lineage back through the early church before the Reformation era, we can lay claim to aspects of this history as well. 

I think many people in France see this as a part of French history connected or not to the church. The church being a peripheral aspect, but it really being a monument to French history. And so there’s a lot in a cathedral like this that is, of course, religious and then also historical and then also cultural. And I don’t think the significance of Notre Dame can be reduced to just one of those aspects.

But I do believe the church needs more church history, and one of the things that’s going to be important for the next generation is this understanding of our rootedness. The trees that stand strong during the fiercest storms and winds are those that have roots that go down deep, that are healthy because of that root system. And when I think of the cultural winds that are blowing, when I think about the kinds of things that we’ll be facing in the coming generation, I think the churches and the Christians that are the most likely to stand strong when it comes to issues of doctrine, when it comes to our core confession of faith, when it comes to issues of morality and sexuality, we will be the ones that have our roots that go down deep. Evangelicalism as a movement, has its own roots. We are a renewal movement within the church and we cross multiple denominations, but at the end of the day, that sense of rootedness in Scripture, that appeal to the core confessions that are agreed upon by all Christians, all of that is part of our heritage and will be important in the generations to come.

And, you know, we may not have cathedrals and buildings that are as old and esteemed as some of the Orthodox and Catholic churches may, but at the same time, we have a faith that stretches beyond the centuries and goes back to the time of the early church and beyond. And we share much of that heritage—that pre-Reformation heritage—with many other Christians, and there’s an appeal to that as we look to the future and as we hope to remain faithful.

EICHER: Several weeks ago, Trevin, I heard you give a talk at The Gospel Coalition on “the thrill of orthodoxy.” Given that this is Good Friday and we embrace an orthodox view of what happened on this day in history, I want to ask you to expand on an idea you brought up.

You know, we have this notion that orthodoxy is this narrow, constricted box and that unorthodoxy is open and creative and innovative. But you argue, basically, that the opposite is true.

Talk about that.

WAX: I think it’s important for us to recognize that heresy is always more narrow than orthodoxy. It’s always a simplification of the truth. Generally by taking one truth to the exclusion of other very important truths within Christianity and then wielding that one truth as a weapon against the other truths of Christianity.

So, when you think about it, the ancient heresies and debates over Christology, the nature, the person of Jesus Christ, it was orthodoxy that insisted that Jesus was 100 percent God and 100 percent man. That he was both God and man. It was the ancient heretics that said either on the one hand, well, he just appeared to be man but really was only God, or on the other hand he just appeared—or he was adopted as the greatest preacher but really he was an exalted man. It was the heretics that were narrowing the Christian truth whereas orthodoxy has this explosive combination of truths that leads to this exciting way of seeing how the world really works and how the truth that has been revealed to us actually fits together.

So my point of that talk was to say if we’re going to be inoculated against some of the appeal of doctrinal innovation or fads and fashions that come along that sort of sweep people up in their enthusiasm and their initial excitement, we can do that simply by standing on the sidelines and chiding people for going astray or we can seek to combat that temptation by showing that the excitement really is in orthodoxy. It’s a narrowing of the truth that leads to heresy and ultimately to boredom and it is the thrill of orthodoxy that is where all the excitement and all the power is. 

I think every generation has to discover that anew, and I’m hoping that our generation will be the next in line to fall in love with the God who has given us this glorious revelation in the gospel that we celebrate on a weekend like this—the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

EICHER: Trevin Wax is Director for Bibles and Reference at LifeWay Christian Resources and a visiting professor at Wheaton College. He is the general editor of The Gospel Project, and serves as a teaching pastor in Middle Tennessee.

John Stonestreet’ll be back next week. It’s Culture Friday. Trevin Wax, thanks so much for being with us today.

WAX: Thank you, Nick.

(AP Photo/Vanessa Pena) This photo taken on Monday April 15, 2019 shows Notre Dame cathedral burning in Paris. Firefighters declared success Tuesday April 16, 2019 morning in an over 12-hour battle to extinguish an inferno engulfing Paris’ iconic Notre Dame cathedral that claimed its spire and roof, but spared its bell towers. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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