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By Michael Vincent Paddy Student I.D. 22282275
Presented to Dr. Malcolm Hester In partial fulfillment of the requirements of Systematic Theology I THEO 525
Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary Lynchburg, VA October 9, 2010
Table of Contents Introduction «««««««««««««««««««««««««««««««« 3 Brief Summary ««««««««««««««««««««««««««««««... 4 Attempt at a Striking Influence «««««««««««««««««««««««« 6 Modernity and modernization «««««««««««««««««««««.. 6 God ««««««««««««««««««««««««««««««««.. 7 Conclusion: The Evangelical Church Becoming the Church «««««««««««« 9 References ««««««««««««««««««««««««««««««««. 11
Introduction A prophetic enunciation or helpful exhortation nudging a church bound up in a period of modernity? That is the question to be asked when reading Wells¶ volume on the church and its interaction with today¶s culture. Is this book merely a warning shot across the bow or a strong commentary that shouts loudly to the Christian masses telling them of the downward spiral and effect of a modern relevance that is infiltrating our faith? An evangelicalism that tries to become so relevant it is neutered in its attempt to be a spiritually dynamic. What effect is there in the lives of those redeemed people who call themselves Christian and belong to the local and universal church founded on the blood of Jesus Christ who dabble and/or immerse themselves in this significant trend of the late twentieth and now early twenty-first century?
Brief Summary Unlike the saying, many things CAN be learned about a book by its cover and its back page with its summaries and endorsements. God in the Wasteland is such a book. Wasteland is called ³a stinging indictment of evangelicalism¶s theological corruption´1 and ³The bomb that exploded on the playground of the evangelicals´2. Lastly this statement from a learned reformer, ³Must reading for understanding what it means to be a Christian in a pagan society.´3 Ouch! Who could call a modern technologically savvy society, pagan? That is what Wells seems to say about the modernity of our western culture and society and its impact on the evangelical church today. Though today is 16 years ago at the time of his writing, none of the issues brought up in their context and citing references are out of date. On the contrary, it would seem that the book is most relevant now than it was first published and sad to say has been ignored by the most visible and prominent evangelicals of our time right now in the twenty-first century. The author says it is the second volume of a now published four volume set. It was written to give answers and remedies to the cultural factors mentioned in the first book that has ³diminished the place and importance of theology in the church.´4 Starting with the present state of the evangelical church, Wells works through a treatise that looks at the present state of God in the church and those church leaders who create the cause
Time Magazine, quoted in David F. Wells, God of the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams, (Grand Rapids MI: William Eerdmans¶ Publishing Company, 1994), Back page.
2 3 4
R. Albert Mohler, Ibid. R.C. Sproul, Ibid. Wells, ix. 4
for concern for the state of a church influenced and affected by modernity. It resonates with the question, ³Who is in charge´ when asking the question of spiritual direction and leadership within evangelical society. The next portion of the book is quite surprising. Instead of a dry, theologically weighted look and description of God, Wells centers on the highly spiritual nature of God. Wells describes a transcendent God who is to be honored and worshipped, yet within the grasp of understanding of those who call themselves Christian evangelical. With it the author lets us know the dangers present and enmeshed in evangelicalism¶s desire to be relevant, making God seem partner-like and in the process making evangelicals seem theistic, rather than Christian. Relevancy becomes the buzz word used by those affected by modernity to excuse the blatancy of seeker-friendly, contemporary, and meaningful to the worshiper at the expense of the One to be worshipped. The book concludes with a look at those who attend higher learning institutions and the effect modernity has on them. Wells makes sure to qualify his thoughts by saying there is a possibility that the seminaries of today have had an effect on the changes in evangelicalism¶s move toward self-focused, self-absorbed, and therapeutically driven state. More data would be needed to make it a declarative statement.5 Wells ends his book talking about from where his information came and referencing the data used to formulate the statements and truth written in this volume. It is extensive and for anyone who likes analysis, it is quite informative and detailed.
Wells, 188. 5
Attempt at a Striking Influence6 Even though 16 years have passed since its writing, it is remarkable how prophetic Wasteland is to the critical reader. A slow and steady downward spiral has taken place that was written in these pages. Modernity and modernization One is immediately drawn to Wells¶ hypothesis that evangelicalism is drawn into a modern world flux. Wells writes, ³The public sphere, dominated as it is by the omnipresence of bureaucracy, systems of manufacturing, the machinery of capitalism, and the audible confetti spewing out of countless radios and televisions, makes it virtually impossible to think that in this world God has any meaningful place.´7 His argument would be that these modern conveniences have created a master rather than a servant by which the church might benefit greatly if kept in perspective. This is nothing new according to Scripture which says, ³They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator²who is forever praised. Amen.´8 This seems agreeable to others that modernization and modernity has become more than a tool, it has taken the place of seemingly unconnected archaic stories of old that describe a people outside the modern world as backwards, attaching their system of faith as backwards also. Buchanan supports this when he writes, ³But we live in a time and place in which we feel that
Term was used in my Introduction to Pastoral Counseling Class and pertains to writing not so much with a critical eye, but attempting to cause the reader to think about and to be influenced by the subject matter because of your writing.
Ibid. 10. Romans 1:25. 6
we are or ought to be on our own«we are technologically so far removed from Bible times that whatever went on in that world, however true it might have been, seems totally remote.´9 Making a distinct divide in definition between modernization, forcing changes in the outer fabric of our life; and modernity, that which evolves out of modernization changing the values and meanings of our lives with perceived neutral effect, says no, used incorrectly, they create what Wells calls a ³global cliché culture´10 which makes a universal cultural standard embraced by all who immerse themselves in the modern issues of our lifestyle. Wells is recognizing the dangers of an extreme or radical need, desire and function of modern society so as to not have them; one could not function properly and would in effect be out of place even weird by society standards. It would seem that the modernization of society creating a modernity of belief within a culture would make that people group more intuitive and sensitive to created communities the modernization could bring, but on the contrary. Wells states that it actually cuts our connections to each other which is true. Society pays a heavy cost in adapting to a modern society.11 God Wells says that the place of God in this great new modern society is nil. He calls God weightless, having no importance in a society driven by the modern world.12 Speaking almost hyper-dogmatically concerning God¶s irrelevancy to the world cliché culture, seeing the evolution of evangelicalism since the writing of this book it would seem that no one could argue. Eugene Peterson, Foreword, in Your God is Too Safe, (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2001), 7.
10 11 9
Philip Sampson, Vinay Samuel, & Chris Snyder, Eds., Faith and Modernity, ( Milton Keynes, UK: Regnum Books International, 1994), 15.
Wells, 88. 7
Some might think it benign as long as the major doctrines and tenets are upheld, inerrancy of Scripture, Divine nature of the trinity, redemption and salvation through grace«but what happens is how we define and live out such a faith if we are consumed with the trappings of the modern society, ³this world.´13 It is insightful and courageous for Wells to speak so, especially in 1994 when the 90¶s were filled with a cry from evangelicalism for change in traditional church form to meet the supposed, ever growing needs of the contemporary church. The idea that the church has become needs oriented even to go as far to say psychologically driven is not an understatement as we view the healing, hope, and recovery orientation people look for in their faith.14 This secondary almost absent role of God ironically establishes a God-centered faith rather than the Christ-centered faith of the New Testament.15 Believers drift from a belief and faith in Christ to a perceived inclusive belief in God which is alright as long as one recognizes some form and/or existence of God.16 Then Wells balances a need for understanding transcendence when it comes to God by showing the need for God on the inside.17 The flow of Wells¶ arguments and prophetic claims causes the reader to stop and think of how this is now becoming a reality in our churches. Relevancy and form over substance and truth.18
R.C. Sproul, Getting the Gospel Right: The Tie That Binds Evangelicals Together, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 29. Wells, 131. Ibid. 132. Ibid. 152. Ibid. 149. 8
Conclusion: The Evangelical Church Becoming the Church Quoting David Jones, Wells¶ subliminal message gets through; his desire is not to condemn but to awaken, to hope for evangelicals to become the church that is built on Christ.19 This is where I wrote the most notes. Up until this point and in this critique speaking from a third person observational view, I now turn to the implications of a church unchanged, an evangelicalism misdirected and how that affects both me and my ministry. I read this book three times. The first time weeks before the class, dismissing Wells as hyper-vigilant, not understanding the need for the church to move forward in an incarnational way to those who are consumers in most of their lives. The second time was a couple of weeks into the class, having heard a few weeks of lectures, read other books in my library which up until now were read not so much for truth but for knowledge, with the underlying message ignored. And I read it a third time making notes, scribbling like a mad man wanting to find out if I am the one who Wells is talking about? If so what can he tell me to help me transform the way I view the church and evangelicalism itself. That is where the final chapter came to play. Speaking with a different voice, Wells writes, ³the church is going to have to get much more serious about itself«and become«a force of countercultural spirituality that draws from the interconnected lives of its members and is expressed through love, service, worship, understanding, and proclamation.´20 How do you write a conclusion to a book that at first was uninteresting and JATB, (just another text book)? The only critical thing I can find in my disagreement in the writing of this book is that it took me so long to find it and read it. Did I agree with everything, maybe not but the disagreements were so insignificant I could not waste my time on the things that were trivial
Ibid. 214. Ibid. 215. 9
for the things I did end up writing about that needed to be said and written with a positive reference. I have ordered the other volumes in this series. I can whole=heartedly say that these words were and are prophetic in nature, a warning to the church. My only hope as Wells¶ is that I hope it¶s not too late.21
Ibid. 214. 10
References Wells, David F. 1994. God of the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams. Grand Rapids MI: William Eerdmans¶ Publishing Company. Buchanan, Mark. 2001. Your God is Too Safe. Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers. Sampson, Philip, Vinay Samuel, & Chris Snyder, Eds. 1994. Faith and Modernity. Milton Keynes, UK: Regnum Books International. Sproul, R. C. 1999. Getting the Gospel Right: The Tie That Binds Evangelicals Together. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.