This year, I am reading through David Wells six works on the role of theology in American Evangelicalism (disambiguation: David Wells the South African-born theologian, not the former MLB pitcher). In years past, I’ve read selected chapters from his books, but this year I am taking the plunge and diving into his whole corpus.
For those who are not familiar with Wells, you should be. His six works include
- No Place for Truth: Or, What Ever Happened to Evangelical Theology? (1993)
- God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (1994)
- Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision (1998)
- Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ in a Postmodern World (2005)
- The Courage to be Protestant: Truth-Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Post-Modern World (2008)
- God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-Love of God Reorients Our World (2014)
Right now, I’m in the beginning of God in the Wasteland, the sequel to No Place for Truth. In this volume, Wells is trying to answer some of the problems and objections raised in his first volume. In both books, he argues that modernity (a hyper-rational way of thinking about the world) and modernization (e.g., urbanization, technology, consumerism, globalization, etc.) have effectively displaced truth from the church and left it with pragmatism and therapeutic psychology.
Synthesizing those issues, he makes this statement regarding the fundamental problem in evangelicalism:
The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is not inadequate technique, insufficient organization, or antiquated music, and those who want to squander the church’s resources bandaging these scratches will do nothing stanch the flow of blood spilling from its true wound. The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is that God rests too inconsequentially upon the church. His truth is too distant, his grace is to ordinary, his judgment is too benign, his gospel too easy, and his Christ too common. (God in the Wasteland, 30).
Wells assessment was true in 1994 and it remains true today. In most American churches, God is weightless. Churches offer Christianity lite and evangelicals speak of God in worn-out, glib cliches. God’s glory (originally defined in the Hebrew as his kavod, his heaviness) is lacking in churches. As a result, Christians have little ballast to hold them in place, and little grace and truth to see how much culture has shaped their lives and how little Christ has.
What the church needs more than anything today is a vision of a holy and loving God, sovereign over all life and infinitely gracious to send his Son to die for wicked sinners. Going into a century that increasingly marginalizes and ostracizes Christ and his church, we need to recapture the of glory of God, or better we need to be captured by God’s glory.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss