Wineskins Archive

December 19, 2013

When is Restoration Successful? (Jan-Feb 2010)

Filed under: — @ 11:11 am and

by Rubel Shelly
January – February, 2010

In this brief article, first published in Lovelines in June of 1993, Rubel Shelly articulates simply and powerfully the only principle of restoration which can succeed, using a metaphor of restoring classic art. You can also find it online at his site,

In the spring of 1990, it was my good fortune to visit Rome ever so briefly. While I was in the “city of seven hills,” work was going on to restore some priceless art.

The Sistine Chapel is one of Rome’s most familiar tourist attractions. It was built in the fifteenth century and serves as the private, official papal chapel. Conclaves for the election of popes are traditionally held there.

Although the walls are adorned by paintings from such artists as Botticelli and Rosselli, most of us associate Michelangelo’s name with the Sistine Chapel. Between 1508 and 1512, he frescoed the barrel-vaulted ceiling with scenes from the Book of Genesis. His depiction of the creation is among the most famous pieces of art in the world.

As the centuries passed, however, his ceiling frescoes and some other paintings he added later were nearly taken from view. Soot and grime collected on these valuable works until they were reduced to flat, inexplicit shadows. What had once been vibrant color became shades of gray. Fine details were utterly lost even to the most attentive eyes.

So scaffolding was built, and workers set about a deliberate, painstaking, and careful project. With brushes and special solvents in hand, they climbed and patiently applied a cleansing paste. It was allowed to dry. Then crews brushed away the powder.

They knew their plan had worked when the color and detail of the original art emerged. When I was in the chapel, its before-and-after sections were astonishing for their contrast. Seeing the work nearly complete but still in progress let me appreciate what had been done.

The historic goal of the American Restoration Movement will be realized only when the world sees a viable and faithful portrait of the Savior in the life of his church.

Hermeneutics, theology, and worship are merely scaffolding useful for the larger project. We must be careful lest we think that merely building the platform has accomplished the restorative task. What shortsightedness we would exhibit to confuse the tools with the real project!

Our restoration will be successful only when the vision of the Savior it offers is authentic and convincing.New Wineskins

Rubel ShellyRubel Shelly preached for the Family of God at Woodmont Hills in Nashville, Tennessee, from 1978-2005. During that time he also taught at Lipscomb University and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. He holds a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University, and is the author or co-author of many books, including The Jesus Community: A Theology of Relational Faith and The Second Incarnation. He presently lives in the Greater Detroit area where he teaches philosophy and religion at Rochester College and serves as her President.

While in Nashville, he was known as a community leader there, serving with such groups as the AIDS Education Committee of the American Red Cross, a medical relief project to an 1100-bed children’s hospital in Moscow called “From Nashville With Love,” and “Seeds of Kindness.”

He is the author of more than 20 books, including several which have been translated into languages such as Korean, Japanese, Portuguese, Italian, French, and Russian. He has published widely in religious journals. He was founding co-editor with Mike Cope of the magazine Wineskins, which became this e-zine. Shelly has lectured on Christian apologetics, ethics, and medical ethics on university campuses across America and in several foreign countries. He has done short-term mission work in such places as Kenya, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Bulgaria, and Russia. He was educated at Harding University (B.A.), Harding Graduate School of Religion (M.A., M. Th.), and Vanderbilt University (M.A., Ph.D.). He is married to the former Myra Shappley, and they are the parents of three children: Mrs. David (Michelle) Arms, Tim, and Tom. []

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