Southern Seminary student shares faith through comic books

Chad Nuss, a doctoral candidate at Southern Seminary, writes and illustrates his comic book "The Silence," inspired by the late Francis Schaeffer. (Emil Handke/SBTS)Though he didn't have a personal faith in God, Chad Nuss was incredulous as his father stood firm in atheism before dying from lung complications in 1996.

Nuss experienced an existential crisis, sensing that family and friends were wrong when they said that his father was "in a better place." Not having grown up in church, Nuss said his knowledge of God extended only to what he perceived in creation, alluding to Romans 1 in the New Testament.

"Look at the stars. How can you say that there's not a God?" Nuss had asked his father.

Now, 20 years later, the artistically-inclined Nuss is the creator of a planned 12-volume worldview comic book series, "The Silence," and a doctor of philosophy candidate in Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry. He's also a full-time culinary manager and father of four.

Determined to help others navigate life's most pressing questions and inspired by the works of the late apologist Francis Schaeffer, Nuss combines art and evangelism in the popular storytelling medium to explore the silence of naturalistic worldviews and the centrality of God's 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."

Nuss 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 of 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."

When Nuss moved back to his native Canada for art school, he and Rose exchanged letters to continue their Gospel conversations. Rose knew of Nuss' artistic abilities and 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 already had begun exploring various philosophies and world religions in his search for truth and found Rose's correspondence to be crucial in leading him to an understanding and belief in the Christian faith.

Rose, who would later earn a doctor of ministry degree from Southern Seminary, baptized Nuss when he returned from art school in 2000.

"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.

At one point, 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 Baptist Church 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 Nuss had abandoned his artistic pursuits for more than a decade, he said it was difficult to resist the urge to create. In 2013, friends from 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 said 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.

Countercultural storytelling

Chad Nuss pencils, inks, letters and writes each panel of 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 his epic worldview adventure "The Silence." He launched the first issue in June 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 said comprises the fundamental aspects of worldview—knowledge of God and of man. Creating flawed heroes, Nuss said, yields 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 are 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 said 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 how 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 said he wants to tell a profound and sophisticated story by taking his story to a different world with issues parallel to our own, hoping readers return challenged in their worldview assumptions and influenced to think about the Gospel.

In the November issue of the seminary's newsmagazine Towers, Nuss wrote in a feature essay on comic books and the Gospel that the longing for escape provided in superhero stories represents "securing justice, offering redemption, defending truth, ushering in a better world—the very things Christians hope for in the person and work of Jesus Christ."

Timothy K. Beougher, Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth and Nuss' doctoral adviser, said 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."

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."

For more information on Nuss' work, visit thesilencecomics.com.

S. Craig Sanders is director of news and information at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Adapted from the fall 2016 issue of Southern Seminary Magazine.

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