Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World, by David F. Wells


Professor David Wells has written four books on the topic of Protestantism in the postmodern world:  No Place for Truth, God in the Wasteland, Losing our Virtue, and Above All Earthly Pow'rs.  This book is, in a sense, both a summary and an expansion of those books. 

Wells thinks well about the issues raised by the 'marketers' (those treating church as a business, aka mega-churches and seeker-oriented churches) and the 'emergents'.  He delves deeply into the theological issues raised by these movements and the way postmodernism has affected evangelicalism.  This book is not just a reactionary rant against anything that deviates from the 'norm' of the 1950 evangelical movement--Wells has a gift for incisive analysis and perception that enables him to get to the heart of what is really at stake.  He writes well, and assumes a largely objective tone.  He does not villify his opponents, but coolly and respectfully points out serious issues in their approaches.  His criticism is solidly grounded in the gospel, first and foremost, and he persistently and effectively ties each 'problem' back to the gospel.

I do think he over-relies on statistics from various Barna studies.  Polls are a difficult way to determine the spiritual state of the nation--so much depends on wording and context and people's self-perception.  Still, the trends he describes are well-documented, so the reliability of the Barna study does not affect the validity of his overall point.  The evangelical church is currently in flight from truth, self is the focus, and we see religion and faith as an increasingly individualistic experience.  I doubt very much that anyone needs a survey to tell them that.

Bottom line:  This is a fantastic book, and I very much look forward to reading his other works.  And I look forward to discussing postmodernism and emergent theology with their defenders--after all, Wells takes a clear position on the issues and may well suffer from bias.  Still, this book makes me feel much better equipped for such conversations.  Whether or not Wells wins every point in the long run, he does a great job of identifying the problem areas that must be addressed by any evangelical movement seeking to adapt to culture while maintaining gospel-focused orthodoxy.

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