The Air That We Breathe: Expressive Individualism, I, and Me

mirrorFew modern theologians have helped me think more clearly about culture than David Wells. His collection of works on modernity and postmodernity (listed below) address the many ways evangelicalism has been bent and broken by chasing the winds of culture. Considering the ways the modern world (with its penchant for technology, urbanization, consumerism, and mass communication) has refocused Christianity, and the way modern philosophies have turned religion towards the subject, he shows why so much modern Christianity mirrors the world, rather than prophetically modeling a different way of life.

For me, his observations have been a helpful corrective against the acids of culture that eat away at our soul. He has given me eyes to be a better cultural exegete, and his Reformed convictions, have pressed me back to the Bible to see what it says about any number of topics. Most recently, I picked up his Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision to consider in more detail the effects of individualism on the church.

What follows are a few quotes, observations, and insights on the topic of expressive individualism—a poisonous air wafting through so many American churches.  Continue reading

Exposing Abortion’s Allies (pt. 1): Expressive Individualism (Genesis 4:1–8)

rhythms-of-holiness

Abortion is a bloody evil that has taken the lives of almost sixty million children since 1973. Rightly, Christians (and non-Christians like Secular Pro-Life) have stood up against this modern-day holocaust. Through prayer vigils, sermons, information campaigns, legislation, and pro-life marches, much ground has been gained ground in the fight against abortion. But much ground remains.

In this year’s Sanctity of Life sermon, I addressed one issue related to the ongoing survival of abortion, and that is the rampant self-willed individualism that pervades our culture—and the church. In fact, the cocktail of personal autonomy, expressive individualism, isolated self-dependence, sexual immorality, and trust in technology has created a five-fold elixir that continues to fuel the abortion movement.  Therefore, I made the case that in addition to combatting the flames of abortion, we must aim to cut off abortion’s various fuel supplies.

Unable to tackle all of these allies to abortion, I focused on expressive individualism, something captured perfectly in LeCrae’s song, The Good, the Bad, the Ugly. In that song, Lecrae recalls the way his own self-will overcame his young Christian faith and led him to assist in the abortion of his child. It is a sobering song but also illuminating. Here’s what Lecrae rhymes,

I remember back in ’02/ I was in school and actin’ a fool
My soul got saved, my debt had been paid / But still I kept running off with my crew
Sex on my brain, and death in my veins / I had a main thing, we stayed up ‘til 2 (Smokin!)
Waking and baking we naked, my body was loving it / Soul was hating it,
And time and time after time, our bodies were close / The girl was so fine
We heard a heart beat that wasn’t hers or mine / The miracle of life had started inside
Ignored the warning signs / Suppressed that truth I felt inside
I was just having fun with this, I’m too young for this / I’m thinking me, myself, and I
Should I sacrifice this life to keep my vanity and live nice?
And she loves and trusts me so much that whatever I say, she’d probably oblige
But I was too selfish with my time / Scared my dreams were not gonna survive
So I dropped her off at that clinic / That day a part of us died

This song shows how self-will leads to and fuels abortion. It also reminds us that the God of resurrection and redemption is able to bring forgiveness and healing to all people, the same message that we find in Genesis 4. In truth, the only way we will make abortion unthinkable is to begin exposing and defeating the worldview beliefs that swirl around self. That’s what I sought to do yesterday, and I pray that God would help us to continue to take captive thoughts that lead to abortion and all forms of sin.

You can find the sermon online and the sermon notes here. Discussion questions and further resources are below. Continue reading

Seeing God’s Holiness in the Pentateuch

mosesOver the summer I took ten weeks to preach on the holiness of God in the Old Testament. Or, that’s what I intended to do.

Somewhere in Numbers, I realized that I needed to limit my Old Testament sojourning to the forty years Yahweh led Israel through the Wilderness. Even then, I didn’t have time to consider all that Numbers says about God’s dealings with Israel.

What I did preach and what I pray our church saw, however, was a God relentless in his pursuit of his holiness. Continue reading

Without Holiness . . .

bushSunday I will begin a series of sermons on the holiness of God, namely his kindness and severity evinced in the stories of Old Testament Israel. Since the history and example of Israel has been given to Christ’s church, it is vital that we labor to know those men and women who walked with God in the Wilderness, and more, we must know the Holy One of Israel, whose holy love impelled the Father to send the Son to die for sinners.

In truth, we in the modern church are not comfortable lingering with God and meditating on the fact that he is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29). We are much more accustomed to bite-size theology, ten minute devotionals, and casual worship. And yet, what the church needs most today is a fresh encounter with the holiness of God.

Or maybe I just speak for me. I continue to be struck by how much my faith is influenced by the weightlessness of modern evangelicalism. I am not surprised at how my ambient culture has impacted me; I am surprised by how little the God of the Bible has impacted modern Christians. This is why I will be preaching on the kindness and severity of God found throughout the Bible (cf. Rom 11:22).

Without Holiness . . .

Most recently, this thought about our need to ponder the holiness of God was stirred afresh by David Wells in his book God in the WastelandHis soul-searching, heart-pulverizing disclosure of God’s holiness indicates what happens to grace, sin, God, and the gospel when churches overlook the holiness of God. In his survey of Scripture and church culture, he explains what has happened to the modern church who by and large operates without a sense of holiness.

Consider his words, which I’ve bullet-pointed to draw attention to the idea of holiness’s absence (pp. 144–45). Continue reading

David Wells, World Vision, and the Need for Truth

wells

In No Place for Truth, David Wells demonstrates how the last two centuries, and especially the last fifty years, have witnessed the evacuation of theology in evangelical churches. He attributes the cause of this theological decline to a number of factors, but two in particular: modernity (with its denial of biblical authority and its elevation of individual autonomy) and modernization (with its increase in technology, urbanization, cliché cultures).

Wells shows the pernicious effect that modernity and modernization have had on the church, and how evangelicals (like the liberals before them) have opted for life over doctrine, and as a result have lost both. His book is a clarion call to return to the Scriptures and to care once again about sound doctrine. Though, this book is short on solutions, it rightly diagnoses so many problems in the church, and causes pastors and churches alike to reconsider what they are doing, or better, what they are believing.

Wells book is full of quotes and insights. Here are a number on the (diminishing) importance of theology among evangelicals. (In trying to get a handle on his thesis, I typed a number of these quotes. Here’s a selection, the rest can be found in this PDF). Continue reading

Divine Weightlessness: The Fundamental Problem in Evangelicalism

WellsThis 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

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 Wasteland30).

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