The Courage To Be Protestant: Truth-Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World, David Wells (Eerdmans, 2008)
Reviewed by Walt Mueller
Over the years I’ve made a mental list of the books youth workers should read, but most likely never will. If you’re like most youth workers, your reading time is spent consuming books that deal with your craft (I thought you’d like to think of yourself as performing a craft!), or books that have gained popularity and momentum among your peers and that effective communication tool known as “the youth ministry grapevine.” Okay, so you do read other stuff. But it’s highly likely that most of books you’ve read fall into one of these two other categories. Because I spent a large portion of my life reading that way, I’ve consciously tried to expand my horizons, especially looking to read books that will stretch me out of the comfort zone where I tend to live. I want to encourage you to do the same.
Over the course of the last ten years I’ve spent a good deal of time immersed in a series of these most-likely-never-read books from a most-likely-never-heard-of author, David Wells (at least I think he’s largely unknown in our youth ministry circles). Wells is a brilliant theologian who thinks and writes from the perspective of a wonderfully responsible combination of theology, history, sociology, anthropology, ethnology, and some “ology’s” I’m not even aware of! All that to say, Wells offers a well-reasoned, highly informed, and intensely challenging perspective on things that will either 1) tick most youth workers off, or 2) leave youth workers rattled (in a good way) and saying, “Wow, I never thought of it that way.” And from where I sit as a youth ministry vet and culture-watcher, we need to be challenged.
I first met Wells when I was a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary back in the 1980s. My appreciation for the man and his critique of who we are as the American church has steadily grown ever since. Now he’s written and released a book all youth workers should read. His latest, The Courage To Be Protestant: Truth-Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World, will rock you to the core. I was reading the book on a flight a couple of weeks ago. A South American gentleman sitting across the aisle saw the title and asked me what the book was about. I assumed he was being a defensive Catholic. My questioning revealed that he was. I assured him that Wells hadn’t written an anti-Catholic tome. Rather, Wells critique targets you and me and our understanding of what it means to follow and worship Christ as evangelicals in the 21st century. Wells doesn’t hold back in his examination of the seeker-sensitive movement, and the response of emergents to a seeker-sensitive movement that left a horrible taste in their mouths.
I’ve learned that every now and then we need to pause, look in the mirror, and evaluate who we are, how we got here, and if this is really the place God wants us to be. The Courage To Be Protestant will put you right in front of the mirror. Wells is a deep thinker. Still the book is accessible. Be ready, however, to bite off small chunks that will take some time to digest. But by all means, think, think, think about Wells’ critique. Don’t be defensive. Instead, continually ask yourself if what Wells writes is true and then ponder what you’re going to do about it.
Learn more about David Wells
Other titles by David Wells in this series