Last year, I read a book by David Wells called, “The Courage to be Protestant.” That book was a culmination of years of research to define why the Evangelical movement has been weakening for the great part of a century, exacerbated by the moral revolutions in the 1960’s onward. “No Place for Truth” is the first book in the series, and is the first of the four books I will try to read this year.
Wells begins with a type of analogy of Wenham, Massachusetts and demonstrates how this little town turned from a small community unaffected by modernity to describe the process in which the Evangelical movement has shifted focus. For example, communities of this nature in the late 18th century were bound together by tradition, the church, and public accountability.
Next, Wells focuses on how the Western World took this shift from the old world to the new. He cites examples that are reminiscent of a book I read last year by Nancy Pearcey, “Total Truth“: He talks about how in these small communities, religion, and more specifically Christian faith, was an intrinsic part of their world. It was not taboo to talk openly about your faith and it most cases, it was encouraged. With the moral revolution however, the movement into modernity caused things like personal religious beliefs to be just that: personal. Notice how today our attitude towards religion is “you can practice your religion, but don’t you dare force it upon me.” This includes the morality that comes from Christianity as well. This privatization of religion in general and Christianity specifically would cast upon Western Culture the transformation from enlightenment to postmodernism (and as a side note, there is much more to this argument but for the sake of being brief, you will just have to get the book to understand how Western Civilization has made this shift).
Well’s ultimate end is to show how theology has become absent from Evangelicalism, but needed to show how Western Culture has made this shift as the exposition for his argument. One of the most brilliant points Well’s makes is about the clergy. In the most interesting chapter, Well’s describes how Pastors used to sign a binding contract to be the Pastor of a church for 25+ years. He says that today, that number has dropped to 3-5 years. The reason for this, he claims, is the professionalization of the clergy. In times past, the knowledge of a pastor used to be qualification enough to be in the ministry. Today, Pastors are hired not for their intellectual achievements or how well they teach, but what kind of leader they are and how they deal with finances etc. The primary role of the Pastor in days past was to teach: today, it emcompasses a wide variety of tasks. Well’s continues to talk about how Evangelical Pastors have ceased to preach a Christian message from the Bible that convicts to more appeasing sermons (that hardly resemble Christianity but rather some kind of “self help” seminar) that barely resemble Christian beliefs about sin and the Gospel. Pastors today are trying to get people in the doors and make them stay there through a message that appeals to the self rather than a righteous and holy God. It would only make sense that one gets people in the doors through any sort of method other than teaching the difficult portions of scripture for fear that it will drive people away. Therefore, theology takes a backseat to the self in modernity for fear of offending anyones personal beliefs.
In the last chapter, Well’s talks about the thought process of modernity. In a very scathing review, he begins the discussion with an overview of the pagan mind from ancient times. They were pluralists, had no moral absolutes, were driven not by history but by nature etc. He makes the point that the modern mind believes itself to be superior to these ancient pagans because we’ve progressed into a degree of maturity with our “politically correct” ways and higher sense of morality and being; we’ve rid our civilization of all the blights that the ancients dealt with such as slavery, bigotry, warfare, etc. But the real irony that Well’s points out is that when you take into consideration that the ancient Hebrews saw their religious beliefs about God as rooted in history, that God acted objectively and that we see this progression through that lens, then we come to an objective truth: the Bible. The pagans on the other hand, see the world and specifically religion, as a privatized experience through nature. What is so interesting then, is that the pagans of old define what the postmodernists believe today, coming full circle. How can one reason that we have reached a “higher civilization” when the last century was most likely the most bloody time period of human existence? We see today the environmentalists worship nature/the world and cover it up with a disguise of conservation.
Dr. Well’s articulates this much better than I can, so I encourage you to get the book. But his review on modern Evangelicalism is scathing and in some ways, quite frightening. Since I became a believer, I have often thought that theology has always been downplayed. Reading this book is all the more reason to continue to develop a mind that loves theology and to continue to study the queen of all sciences (as it was once called).
A couple of thoughts about the book itself: this is deep. I think I will have to read it again much slower. Perhaps next year ! You just need a little time to see Well’s develop the argument. Other than that, this is a really essential book to anyone considering going into the ministry. Also this is just the first book in the series, so it does not give many answers to how to fix these problems. So just anticipate that when you’re reading.