“Look at the stars. How can you say that there’s not a God?”
Chad Nuss didn’t have a personal faith in God, but he was incredulous as his father stood firm in atheism. When his father passed away from lung complications later that year in 1996, Nuss refused to accept the well wishes of family and friends who said his dad was “in a better place.”
Twenty years later, Nuss is a Doctor of Philosophy candidate in Southern Seminary’s Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry, determined to help others navigate life’s most pressing questions. Inspired by the works of apologist Francis Schaeffer, Nuss combines art and evangelism in a popular storytelling medium to envision a new set of stars, inviting readers to explore the silence of naturalistic worldviews and the necessity of God’s special revelation in Jesus Christ.
“I came to the conclusion that all the other religions and philosophies were teaching me how to get to God, but Christianity teaches that God comes down to us,” Nuss said of his profession of faith in 2000 in an interview with Southern Seminary Magazine. “All the other religions were telling me to make myself a better person, but I realized that I’m the problem and I can’t fix myself, that Christ came down and died for me.”
WORLDVIEW AND EVANGELISM
After his father’s death, Nuss experienced an existential crisis. He knew the glib responses of family and friends were wrong, that his non-religious father who denied God’s existence simply couldn’t be better off. But Nuss had not grown up in church and says his knowledge of God extended only to what he perceived in creation, alluding to Romans 1.
He met Kentucky pastor Tony Rose while playing street hockey. Rose, senior pastor of LaGrange Baptist Church since 1993, said Nuss was a high school senior determined to find honest answers to his deep questions about God.
“God had put in Chad’s heart a seriousness about life that could not be satisfied with silly, ungrounded, fairy-tale answers,” Rose said about his early encounters with Nuss. “I think his questions were so intense and serious that Christian kids were frightened away from him. No wonder Chad has had such an interest in apologetics, missions, and reaching people with the real gospel in their real culture.”
“Theology should always drive you to love God more, and the arts help you to do that because it brings together the aesthetics with deep philosophical ideas. Beauty is a very important part of theology.”
When Nuss moved back to his native Canada for art school, he and Rose exchanged letters to continue their gospel conversations. Rose, who knew of Nuss’ artistic abilities, sent him a copy of Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live? in which the apologist examines the effects of humanistic worldviews on art and society throughout Western history. Nuss had already begun exploring various philosophies and world religions in his search for truth and says Rose’s correspondence was crucial in leading him to an understanding and belief in the Christian faith.
Rose, who would later earn his Doctor of Ministry degree from Southern Seminary, baptized Nuss when he returned from art school in 2000. Nuss learned of the seminary through interactions with members Thomas J. Nettles and Gregory A. Wills, who were both professors at the time; Wills is now dean of the School of Theology.
“I had no clue what Southern Seminary was, but I knew when I met the Lord I was called into some form of ministry,” Nuss said. He first enrolled as a Master of Divinity student in 2002, but because he was still new to the faith and had no background in the church, Nuss took a decidedly slower pace in his studies and soon began to work at Romano’s Macaroni Grill, where he met his wife, Elizabeth.
Nuss had given up his artwork when he decided to pursue ministry, saying now that he was finding his identity in his art rather than in Christ. But Nuss noticed himself becoming legalistic and overly confrontational with unbelievers in his workplace, and credits his relationship with Elizabeth — whom he married in 2004 — and studies at Southern with teaching him about grace and evangelism.
“Learning about worldview really helped me articulate the gospel in a way that’s compelling and confrontational with tact, being gracious and truthful at the same time,” Nuss said. “I’ve got to show them the holes in their worldview and how Christ is the better answer.”
As he explored vocational ministry, Nuss served as an assistant to SBTS alumnus Lisle Drury at LaGrange before leading a church plant in his home for several years. He and his family are now members at Sojourn Community Church J-Town, where Drury is the pastor.
Although he had abandoned his artistic pursuits for more than a decade, Nuss said it was difficult to resist the urge to create. In 2013, friends from his church encouraged Nuss to recognize his giftedness as an artist and steward it toward his calling as an evangelist. Reflecting on the importance of that redirection, Nuss says creating “art that deals with beauty, excellence, joy, thoughtfulness, and transcendence” helps him build bridges in gospel conversations with unbelievers.
“I want artwork that makes people think about God and who he is, which naturally then I can use to point to the gospel,” Nuss said.
Late at night in his kitchen — or whenever the father of four can spare a moment between full-time employment and doctoral studies — Nuss is sketching, weaving an epic worldview adventure he named The Silence. He recently launched the first issue of the planned 12-volume series in June 2016 after a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for publishing and distribution.
Set in the fictional Prolegomenon System — consisting of 12 planets that each manifest specific worldviews like existentialism, nihilism, and dualism — The Silence follows two characters, Naomi and Lazarus, as they explore the universe. Beset with physical weaknesses, Naomi is angry at God for her blindness and Lazarus is angry at mankind for his lung condition, which Nuss says comprises the fundamental aspects of worldview — knowledge of God and of man. Creating flawed heroes allows Nuss to tell a complex, redemptive narrative featuring “relatable people who are wrestling with questions that everyone asks.”
“These characters are trying to find answers about God and about life and they keep looking into creation but they can’t find it,” Nuss said. “What I’m trying to do in the book is show why these worldviews don’t work, like what Francis Schaeffer did — drawing them out to their logical conclusions.”
For those who remain skeptical of comic book storytelling, Nuss points to the pervasive and growing influence of the industry in mainstream culture. In the past five years, the comic book industry has seen a dramatic resurgence, with its print and digital market value last estimated at $1.03 billion in 2015, and yet with virtually no Christian influence. And now that popular titles have inspired billions more dollars in movie and television properties, most notably the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Nuss says skepticism of Christian engagement with comic books hinders gospel witness.
“The Christian story is countercultural, so you have this huge opportunity to use that popular medium for influence,” said Nuss, noting that classic titles from the 1980s like Watchmen and V for Vendetta popularized a once-countercultural postmodern nihilism that is a mainstream philosophy today.
Similar to John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress or C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, Nuss says he wants to tell a profound and sophisticated story through a popular medium. By taking his story to a different world with issues parallel to our own, he hopes readers return challenged by their worldview assumptions and influenced to think about the gospel.
Timothy K. Beougher, Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth and Nuss’ doctoral advisor, says his student has “hit on a groove” by reaching a segment of society ripe for this type of worldview engagement. Beougher said Nuss’ careful approach to his storytelling resembles his tone in personal evangelism, describing Nuss as a “very good listener” who “can relate to anybody.”
Listen to Chad Nuss’ lecture, “The Relationship Between Comic Books, Christianity, Philosophy and Culture.“
While Nuss supports his wife and four children, two of whom have special needs, through his full-time employment as culinary manager at Macaroni Grill, he also recently launched a regular column on comic books and culture for the digital magazine Scenes. And as he tours comic conventions and shares the gospel through conversations about his work with fans and other creators, Nuss has recognized the value of placing his gift in service to his calling as an evangelist.
“Theology should always drive you to love God more, and the arts help you to do that because it brings together the aesthetics with deep philosophical ideas,” Nuss said. “Beauty is a very important part of theology.”
Nuss will continue to self-publish The Silence as he writes his doctoral dissertation in Evangelism and Church Growth. For more information on his work, visit thesilencecomics.com.
S. Craig Sanders is the executive editor of Southern Seminary Magazine.