Doing Theology at the Chicago Auto Show

PRIORITIES

If there’s a Mecca for the automobile enthusiast in America, surely it’s the annual Chicago Auto Show. First staged in 1901, the CAS is the biggest such event in North America. The weeklong 2016 show drew more than 800,000 people to cavernous McCormick Place by the shores of Lake Michigan. Visitors typically spend nearly four hours apiece ogling the cars, taking them for a spin on the available indoor tracks, and rubbing shoulders with other devotees in this diverse but passionate community.

The CAS is a testament to American ingenuity, opulence, and excess—with long lines everywhere and covetousness and materialism strongly encouraged. Tony Campolo famously asserted that Jesus would not drive a BMW, so it’s safe to assume that Campolo’s Jesus wouldn’t be kicking any tires at the CAS. So what was I doing there this year?

Would you believe me if I said I was doing theology? Dutch statesman Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), who uttered, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry ‘Mine!’”, probably would.

Despite the obvious downsides that can accompany cars in a fallen world (such as greed, idolatry, pride, pollution, and poor stewardship of God-given resources), automobiles—whether BMWs or not—can be beautiful expressions not only of the divinely created impulse to make good things, but also of the loving concern our heavenly Father has for each one of us on the road of life. Cars may not be everything in God’s world, but they’re not nothing, either.

At the auto show you’ll quickly be confronted by all kinds of amazing technology, such as the carbon fiber monocoque chassis of the Alpha Romeo Spider or the available 650-horsepower 6.2-liter supercharged V8 with the Chevy Camaro. While all this might not be strictly “necessary” to get from Point A to Point B, I like to think such innovations are an answer to God’s command to humanity in Genesis 1:28: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

You’ll also see the beautiful craftsmanship of engineers who designed and built the Abarth Cabrio 3-position retractable top on the Fiat 500, capable of opening at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour. The nearly $100,000 Lexus LC 500, meanwhile, is “one of the boldest-looking cars on the planet, with an impossibly long and low hood, dramatic swoops and actual aerodynamic air intakes, and lighting design that looks straight out of the future.”

And God appreciates such careful attention to beauty and detail. When the Lord told Moses how to design the Tabernacle in the wilderness, He pointed to “Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah,” saying, “I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you” (Exod. 31:2b-6). When we see beautifully crafted work, we see something of the Master Craftsman who endowed us with such awesome gifts.

Each vehicle at the Chicago Auto Show, however garish or humble, has at least one unique selling feature—for one economy, for another utility, for another speed or power—or some pleasing combination thereof. Each attribute, in its own way, reflects something of our Creator and our creaturely existence on this earth.

They also point us in the direction of joy. Eric Liddell once said, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” If God made Eric Liddell fast and derived pleasure when he used this gift as God intended, is it so outlandish to suppose that, when we drive a machine that was lovingly and cunningly crafted by His image-bearers, both God and we will share in the divine pleasure, the sheer joy of appreciating what has been made?

Cars are also expressions of God’s amazing provision for His creatures. Many scientists believe that oil comes from the fossil remains of tiny organisms. God in His sovereign care knew that one day in the future people would build dynamic economies that run on petroleum. The resulting growth in living standards would produce longer lifespans, the eradication of many ancient diseases, and other incredible advances—including the automobile, which gives us the freedom to travel almost anywhere. And if God didn’t want us to drive cars, why did He put so much oil in the ground?

Yet such growth in our broken world is not limitless. For the most part, entropy, the scientific law that says that everything in the universe is running down, rules. Cars are an expression of that reality, too. Emissions are dirty. Keeping a car on the road is expensive. Engines must be tuned, rust removed, tires replaced.

As diligently as we work on our vehicles, we know, to our sorrow, that eventually they will end up on the scrap heap. Cars remind us that life is short, that our true destination is somewhere else, “where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matt. 6:20b).

Of course, I didn’t know all this two years ago when I replaced our rusting minivan with a gorgeous 2010 Mazda RX-8 in “liquid silver.” (In fact, up to that point I hadn’t even known the difference between a wheel and a tire!) What I knew was that my sons were into cars, and I wanted to share that part of life with them.

And while I’ll probably never match their knowledge of and enthusiasm for cars and for events such as the Chicago Auto Show, I’m trusting that our shared interest in this Christ-owned domain of human existence will turbocharge our love for one another—and especially for Him.

Image courtesy of needmore at Thinkstock by Getty Images.

Stan Guthrie, a licensed minister, is editor at large for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and for Christianity Today. Stan blogs at www.stanguthrie.com. His latest book is “God’s Story in 66 Verses: Understand the Entire Bible by Focusing on Just One Verse in Each Book.”


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  • MLipenk

    If men are not being creative… whether building houses, cars, sky-scrapers, landscapes, and all manner of other widgets… they are most likely being destructive. And the more creative and beautiful the thing being made is, the more it points to the Intelligent Designer who made us, since we are made in His image. When I see a Harley rumbling down the road, there is no doubt it was ‘fearfully and wonderfully’ made by an intelligent designer. How often is the analogy of a tornado moving through a junk-yard used to debunk life coming from nothing by random chance? Deep down we all know good design and good engineering requires an excellent DESIGNER and ENGINEER.

  • jason taylor

    Sometimes men are creative when being destructive. A Spitfire is truly fearfully and wonderfully made. It is wonderfully made to be fearful. Yet it is also wonderfully made to be hopeful for it represents something that stopped a vicious tyranny. What does all this point out? I don’t know, except that men are complex creatures and full of paradoxes and paradoxes of paradoxes.