Thursday, December 4, 2008

David Wells on The Courage To Be Protestant

The Courage To Be Protestant: Truth-Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World, David Wells (Eerdmans, 2008)

David F. Wells (DW) is the Andrew Mutch Distinguished Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

CPYU: What motivated you to write The Courage to be Protestant?

DW: What I tried to do was to make the substance of my four previous books more accessible to people. So, this is a summary of what I have been writing about for the last two decades. The bottom line to this is that Christianity is having a hard time sustaining itself on contexts like our own which are highly modernized—urbanized, linked by technology, consumer-oriented. Statistically speaking, Christianity is leaving the West. This is less evident here in the U.S. and much more evident in Europe, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. So, what’s the problem? Why is biblical Christian faith now so weakened and confused? I travel quite a lot outside the U.S. Christians in other parts of the world all see this but it is hard for those of us living in the U.S. to see ourselves as others are seeing us.

CPYU: In the book, you write about the "inside God" and the "outside God." What is the distinction between the two? And what is the end result of embracing each?

DW: This distinction is simply my way of trying to make a point that is crucial to understand. What happens in contexts like our own—though the reasons for this are quite complex—is that people are living only within their own self and only see the world from within that self. They process all of reality in psychological ways. They therefore look for therapeutic benefits from Christian faith. This is not unnatural because living in our culture today is extraordinarily difficult and stressful and so many know the consequences such as broken homes and marriages. Nevertheless, God is not simply there to make up for what I don’t have in myself. He is not a fix for me. He is not there to be accessed on my terms, when I want, in my own way, as if I were a consumer and he a product. On the contrary, he stands over against us. He is not a part of our self, not an extension of it, but separate from it and, as such, in his character of total goodness and purity, he calls us to come before him on his terms and in his way.

CPYU: You equate "bottom-up spirituality" with paganism. What can parents and youth workers do to battle this trend while fostering a top-down Christian spirituality?

DW: Yes, the bottom-up spirituality—the spirituality I am here describing—is indeed what paganism was about. It was about sensing meaning inwardly. We miss this today because the way this kind of spirituality works is the way consuming works… and we are all consumers! In Christian faith, however, we cannot come before God as consumers! Why not? Because consumers all define their own needs and choose their own solutions. Before God, we do neither. He defines our need and only he can provide the solution. We come empty-handed to receive it.

CPYU: You tend to be critical of the seeker sensitive and emergent strains of Christianity that are so quickly embraced in today's world. Why is that?

DW: The market-driven churches—like Willow Creek—are now imploding. Hybels’ own study, “Reveal,” itself demonstrated that this approach had failed and, in fact, it could never have succeeded. It took the model of consuming and put Christian faith into that: the gospel is a product, the pastor is the sales person, the people in the audience are the consumers. The whole approach undercut biblical truth, however unintentionally. The emergents have recognized the failure of marketed faith but they are thinking that instead of casting Christian faith in consumer terms, they will do so more in generational terms, specifically Gen. X and the Millenials. Both approaches are producing a kind of cultural Christianity which really is the explanation as to why biblical faith is not sustaining itself in the West.

CPYU: If you were to address a room full of youth workers and you had the opportunity to communicate one message to them, what one message would you communicate?

DW: It is time to get brave. Let’s stop the pandering. Kids see right through it. Let’s give them the real thing. They are looking for it. No one has demanded anything of them; let us tell them that if they come to Christ, he bids them die. No one has told them that they can know truth as something other than their own private perspectives; let us tell them there is Truth and those who know it, lose their lives. No one has told them that there is a different way of life. What many churches have done has been to run after the kids fearing that they will be lost irretrievably to MTV, rock, sex, and drugs. So, better to give them small, undemanding doses of Christianity that won’t interfere too much with their lives and which they will be willing to accept, than none at all, we think to ourselves. Wrong! If we tell them that they can have Christ on their own terms, we are selling them down the river. They instinctively know that. So, let us not make fools of ourselves anymore.

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Nick said...

Amen! In too many of our youth ministries we imitate the culture rather than preach boldly the Word of God. Contextualization should aid conviction not syncretism.

"Dootz" said...

Great interview. I agree with Wells's points, and I am convicted by his final answer. As I raise three boys (9, 8, and 5), and as I try to infuse the gospel into their lives, I need to remember the call to die to self. This is a hard father-son message, and yet so needed in general and in specific in our consumer culture.