Important Books

(June/July 2010 – Volume 16, Issue 3)

The evangelical press is pouring out hundreds of new books every year, most are forgettable but a few leave a valuable imprint upon the Christian community.  Given the limited amount of time that even a serious student has to read it is important that attention is given to books that make a difference.  I would like to devote this edition of Think on These Things to a few recent volumes that have caught the attention of many today.  These are books that I am being asked about via e-mail or as I travel to conferences.  Some are most helpful, others are of a serious concern, and others are mixed bag.

Crazy Love
by Francis Chan

The basic thesis of Crazy Love is sound.  Since God loves us with a crazy, inexplicable love, our love for Him should be just as crazy and our resultant lifestyle should be radical in its sacrifice for Christ.  Chan has no patience for “lukewarm Christians” (pp.  22, 65-88, 97-98), who are chasing the American dream rather than passionately following Christ.  This is an important and needed message for many in the Western church today, which may explain the popularity of Crazy Love, especially among the youth, many of whom are not content with the status quo.

In attempting to stress his theme and persuade his audience Chan does well in pointing us to the greatness of God (pp. 30-38), telling us “frankly, you need to get over yourself…your part is to bring Him glory” (p. 44).  So far so good; sadly not much else is helpful in Crazy Love.

Crazy Love lacks balance, solid arguments and careful exegesis, draws bad conclusions, is poorly written and redundant, skips from topic to topic with little explanation, is inconsistent and contradictory, comes across arrogantly, motivates by fear and guilt, and offers outlandish and in some cases clearly unbelievable stories.  Chan apparently ministers among people who do not or cannot challenge his pronouncements (see his response to criticism on p. 136).  Too bad, for I sense that Chan truly loves Christ and wants others to have the same enthusiasm.  But his approach lacks grace, is too close to legalism and is frequently unbiblical.  Quite frankly, I don’t get it.  Are people so thirsty for someone to tell them they need to mean business with God that they will overlook the obvious errors, extremes and ranting to hear that message?  A little biblical discernment is in order.  Let’s examine some details:

  • Chan spends a great deal of time criticizing lukewarm Christians, calling them to step up and sell out to Christ (pp. 22, 65-81) only to ultimately declare that there is no such thing as lukewarm Christians (pp. 83-84).  Through poorly selected passages of Scripture he tells us that lukewarm Christians (who remember are not Christians at all) don’t attend church much, give little, choose what is popular, rarely share their faith, love Jesus who is only part of their lives, don’t love God or others as much as they love themselves, have limits on their use of time, money and energy, think about life on earth more than life in heaven and so forth.  In short they sound like all of us, including Chan as he occasionally admits.  But why would he expect anything more of the unregenerate?  And why later (pp. 97-98) does he speak to Christians and warn them not to grow lukewarm?  Chan is highly inconsistent throughout this discussion.
  • While he occasionally speaks of love Chan’s motivational tools are fear and guilt.  Much of the book reads like a diatribe hammering away at the “lukewarm” who do not define the Christian life as Chan does (pp. 81-97).
  • Chan believes we are to live as simply as possible in order to give more to the poor.  He wants to “start a movement of ‘giving’ churches.  In so doing, we can alleviate the suffering in the world and change the reputation of His bride in America ” (p. 21).  While Scripture certainly calls for Christians to be generous and care for the poor, could anyone show me where alleviating suffering of the world’s needy is given as a mandate to the church?  Nevertheless, one of Chan’s major themes is giving to the poor (pp. 33, 75, 78, 117-122, 140, 160-164, 181) and he is on the board of Children’s Hunger Fund.  We should also give careful consideration as to whether it is the goal of the Christian to change the reputation of Christ’s bride by such action.  Are not believers rather warned to expect misunderstanding and persecution (Matt 5:11-12; 1 Cor 1:18-25; 2 Tim 3:12)?  Chan has the wrong mandates and aspirations because he is drawing his cures from the culture rather than Scripture.
  • Chan uses guilt so heavily in his book that even he fears, halfway through, that he is evoking both fear and guilt (he is).  “[He] hopes [we] realize…that the answer is love” (p. 101), but there is little about love in this book (see pp. 145-148, 203).
  • Strangely Chan’s theology is only a small step away from a form of the prosperity gospel.  While Chan calls for simple and sacrificial living, it seems to be for the purpose of personal gain.  “By surrendering yourself totally to God’s purposes, He will bring you the most pleasure in this life and the next” (p. 21) (see further pp. 117-127, especially the story on p. 122).
  • He condemns turning saints into celebrities (p. 137), then turns around and does exactly that through some of the most extreme examples imaginable (pp. 150-164).
  • Chan claims he is not motivated by the fear or even the awe of God, but by love (p. 139).  This is too bad since the Scriptures are full of examples of being motivated by awe (cf. Isa 6:1-5, 2 Cor 5:11) and the clear teaching that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 1:7; 9:10).
  • Some of his stories/examples are beyond bizarre and frankly stretch credibility (pp. 150, 155-156, 159).

Chan never goes to the extreme of demanding that every Christian follow the examples he gives that supposedly exemplify crazy love (e.g. sell your house, pull out all your teeth, live in your car and spend the taxpayers’ money on the homeless instead of getting a job).  Instead he asks us to listen to the Holy Spirit Who will tell us what to do (pp. 166-168, 172, 191-192, 198-199, 203).  This is perhaps the most dangerous part of the book, since Scripture does not tell us to listen to the subjective voice of the Holy Spirit to discern how to live but rather to the revealed Word of God.  This is a recipe for spiritual disaster.

In Crazy Love Francis Chan attempts to motivate Christians to action.  This is great but surely we are to be motivated by biblical instructions rather than random diatribes.  If you need a challenge I recommend David Well’s Dare to Be Protestant or Michael Horton’s The Gospel-Driven Life, and leave Crazy Love on the shelf.

 

The Gospel-Driven Life
by Michael Horton

This volume is a sequel to Christless Christianity in which Horton admonished the evangelical community for leaving Christ out of, or at least on the fringes of, its ministries and message.  In The Gospel-Driven Life Horton delivers on his promise to show us the way back—and forward.  It was written for those tired of the hype and chasing the latest fad (pp. 13, 17) who simply want “to reorient our faith and practice as Christians and churches toward the gospel: that is, the announcement of God’s victory over sin and death in His Son, Jesus Christ” (p. 11).

I believe Horton accomplished his stated goal, hammering home over and over from every conceivable angle that the essence of Christianity is the good news (p. 20).  The author persistently points the believer to the external facts of Christ and His redemptive work and away from an inner, subjective introspection.  He challenges pragmatism (pp. 24-25, 69, 72) including Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Life.  Rather than purpose-driven we should be promise-driven (p. 133).  Horton also takes on mysticism with its inward focus and works-based sanctification (pp. 20, 23, 26, 78, 146-149, 156-157).  In particular, he almost too graciously exposes Richard Foster and his stable of Roman Catholic mystics (pp. 146-155).  Concerning the enemies of gospel-centered living Horton summarized, “The greatest threat to Christians is never vigorous intellectual criticism but a creeping senility that transforms truths into feelings, public claims into private experiences, and facts into mere values.  Christianity is either true or false, but it is not irrational” (p. 262).

Of a positive nature, Horton exhorts churches to center their attention and energy on the gospel, the exposition of Scripture and the sacraments, rather than developing endless programs that aim to make us feel better, solve our problems, meet our felt-needs and offer Christians exactly what the world offers but in sanctified wrapping.   The church is to concentrate on giving what no one else can: the gospel, Christ and truth. “Satan does not care,” Horton claims, “if our churches are full, as long as people are not being clothed with Christ” (p. 198).

Horton’s Covenantal Theology shows up on occasion, even to the point of at least bordering on sacramentalism.  He speaks of believers continuing to pray for salvation (p. 106), the Law serving as our guide in the Christian life (p. 139), baptism making us beneficiaries of God’s commitment (p. 201), Christ giving Himself to us as our food and drink at the Lord’s Table (pp. 202-3), and children of believers being in the covenant (pp. 206-208).  He implies that such children are already regenerate when he writes, “The children of believers are often treated in the church as non-Christians who need to ‘get saved’” (p. 206), and other similar statements (cf. pp 206-208).  Such an understanding does not flow from Scripture, but from the Covenantal Theological system.

Overall The Gospel-Driven Life is a powerful reminder of the centrality of the gospel and of our need to be shaped by the finished work of Christ.  It is the gospel that we are to live and proclaim.

 

Living at the Crossroads: and Introduction to Christian Worldview
by Michael W. Goheen and Craig G. Bartholomew. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 224 pp., paper, $19.99

Professor Jay Wegter, in his review* of this book, was impressed by the amount of cultural analysis and worldview information packed into little more than 200 pages.  The authors’ purpose is “to seek to carry on in the worldview-conscious tradition of James Orr and Abraham Kuyper, whose aim was simply to shine the brightest possible light on the Christian church’s mission in the public life of culture” (p. XIII).  While this may have been the aim of the authors I believe their understanding of worldview and missions is actually shaped far more by Lesslie Newbigin, the former officer of the World Council of Churches and missionary to India.  Newbigin is mentioned on at least 18 pages and is footnoted 31 times.  Given Newbigin’s associations and influence on the emerging church this should send up red flags to anyone reading this volume.  This does not immediately imply that the authors’ or Newbigin’s views are wrong, but that that there is a particular understanding of Christianity that must be realized if one is to discern what is being said.

On a positive note, Wegter rightly observes:

The book contains a valuable section on the meaning of worldview as well as a convincing explanation of how fully our worldview shapes our decisions and conditions our entire interpretation of life (pp. 12-30).  The authors give a caution along with their endorsement of the value of biblical worldview—but of all places, the caution comes from Roman Catholic mystic Thomas Merton (Contemplative Prayer).  [Still] the portions on the foundations of biblical worldview were very helpful.  Christ as Lord of all and central to our biblical worldview were persuasively written (pp. 32-33).  In addition, the material on God as Author of the creational order and Structurer of reality were very useful as well.

The authors offer “four signs of the times:” 1) The rise of postmodernity, 2) consumerism and globalization, 3) the renascence of Christianity in the southern hemisphere, and 4) the resurgence of Islam (pp. 105-126).  Much of this material is helpful but I found it incredible that the authors lump all branches of Christendom into the same pool and declare “Christianity” dominates in the southern hemispheres and even more incredible that they view these Christians (which are largely composed of Roman Catholic and various branches of Pentecostalism, including prosperity gospel proponents) as “predominantly an orthodox, conservative Christianity with a high view of the Bible” (p. 120).  This is an indefensible position by any standard.

This raises questions as to how the authors understand the gospel. They write, “The gospel is the message of the kingdom… The good news that Jesus announces and enacts, and that the church is commissioned to embody and make known, is the gospel of the kingdom.  We make a grave mistake if we ignore this, the central image of Jesus’ proclamation and ministry” (p. 2)… [The gospel] is God’s message about how He is at work to restore His world and all of human life (p. 4)…  “[S]alvation is restorative: God’s saving work is about reclaiming His lost creation, putting it back the way it was meant  to be” (p. 51).

I agree with Wegter who in his review laments the absence of penal substitution in the authors’ gospel message,

I can appreciate the stress upon ultimate restoration and kingdom living as a needed corrective to private, pietistic Christianity; but what is disconcerting is the absence of substitutionary atonement in this model of gospel proclamation… The authors go on to say, “It certainly is true that Jesus’ death is for us, but this is too narrow a version of the truth.  In the biblical drama Jesus dies for the whole world, for every part of human life, for the whole nonhuman creation.  The cross is an event whereby the course of cosmic history is settled” (p. 56).  “The mission of the church is to make known a comprehensive restoration” (p. 57).  Admittedly, the cosmic effects of Christ’s work are often neglected in evangelicalism.  But, this reviewer would not want to see propitiation as the heart of the gospel of Christ de-emphasized and the gospel of restoration as the new gospel center.

This understanding of the gospel is rooted in the so-called cultural mandate (pp.16, 41, 44-45, 65-66), which is the belief that the church has not only been given the Great Commission, but also retains the mandate given to Adam in the Garden to subdue and rule over the earth (Gen 1:26-28).  No discussion is given about whether the cultural mandate, which is never repeated after the Fall, is still a God-ordained agenda for mankind.  I maintain that it is not.  But much of Living at the Crossroads is contingent upon this idea coupled with the belief that Jesus’ message was that the kingdom of God was initiated at the coming of Christ and our task now is to work with God to restore His rule over all of life (pp. IX, 1, 32, 52-59, 63, 107, 127, 133, 135). No interaction with the New Testaments texts in which Jesus says the kingdom is near, not here, is ever given.  Nor is there any mention of Acts 1:1-8 where it is abundantly clear that upon Christ’s ascension the kingdom was not yet on earth.  The authors assume throughout that salvation is the restoration of the original created order, but no discussion is offered concerning passages such as 2 Peter 3 and Revelation 21 which seem to indicate not a restoration but a complete destruction of the existing physical universal and a new creation.

Wegter observes that the authors believe, “Engaging culture (redeeming culture) is described as “highly contextual” and best carried out by means of “perspectives on public life” (pp. 139, 146).  These perspectives on public life are as follows: business, politics, art, sports, scholarship, psychology, economics, and education.  The implicit message is that culture will be redeemed as Christians make a faithful contribution to and impact on each of these disciplines.”   The authors clarify their position when they state that the church cannot build or usher in God’s kingdom, but can make it visible by its actions (p. 60, cf. pp. 142-143, 176-177).

Wegter is concerned, as I am, that,

If an unbeliever were to read the book, it might leave him with the impression that by adopting God’s creational plan for every area of life, he would be a true Christian.  Without a strong emphasis on the condition of the sinner, the need of regeneration, and the finished work of Christ, by default we are left with a social gospel—even if that is not the intent of the book.  The final 50 pages would have been so much stronger if the power of God in the gospel were put on display and expressed as the means by which sinners are changed.  Without the message of the cross being central and the sinner’s necessary response of faith and repentance, the cultural mandate can easily regress into social reform.  The church is called to proclaim Christ crucified and risen for helpless and rebellious sinners.  Our gospel has penal substitution at its core.  In our efforts to engage our culture, let us never forget that culture is redeemed by the conversion of sinners—one at a time by the blood of Christ.

The authors are at their best when it comes to explaining the development of worldviews historically and connecting the dots between what we believe today and the philosophies of the past.  And I believe they are on target when they identify consumerism as the dominate worldview of our day (p. 118).  As such, I believe this book can be of value to critical thinkers who have a firm grasp of Scripture but need a refresher in worldview issues and the use of worldview as a framework for evangelism.  But the concerns mentioned above should be evaluated seriously.

 

A New Kind of Christianity
by Brian D. McLaren

McLaren continues to redefine the Christian faith in this latest effort, which follows up his book Everything Must Change.  Under McLaren’s pen Christianity as defined in the Bible is now totally unrecognizable.  Without question McLaren has walked away from biblical Christianity, so much so that even Scott McKnight writes a semi-negative review in Christianity Today (March, 2010).

A New Kind of Christianity is structured around ten questions that the author constantly fields at his lectures (pp. 18-23) leading to the proposal of a new thesis (the 96th, tacking on to Luther’s 95 theses):

It is time for a new question, a quest across denominations around the world, a quest for new ways to believe and new ways to live and serve faithfully in the way of Jesus, a quest for a new kind of Christian faith.

The book is filled with McLaren’s trademarks: extreme and bizarre straw men (pp. 6-7, 212), distorting Scripture beyond recognition (e.g. pp. 48-52, 57, 88-106), advancing a liberal social/political agenda (pp. 67-77, 106, 135), proclaiming that the kingdom of God is the gospel and justification by faith is a misunderstanding of Scripture (pp. 135-142), stating that Scripture is not the final authority but a springboard to conversation and a higher ethic in the future (pp. 105,111,115), accepting homosexuality (pp. 180, 276), setting forth an eschatology that denies the Second Coming and places the future in our hands (pp. 193-198), redefining inclusiveism so that it borders on universalism (pp. 203-216), and recommending missional living that amounts to saving the planet (pp. 216-226).

These and other diatribes are mere rehashing of McLaren’s earlier works.  What is crystallized in this volume is why a new Christianity is necessary.  It is McLaren’s contention that every 500 years or so the Christian faith has a “rummage sale” in which it dumps the old ways and adopts new ones.  At this particular “rummage sale” the Age of Belief is being replaced with the Age of the Spirit (pp. 11-12—see the 96th thesis, p. 18).  The reason this deep-shift in Christian thought is necessary is because theologians over the past 2000 years have made five fundamental mistakes:

  • They have interpreted the Bible through the lens of a Greco-Roman narrative via Plato (pp. 34-45, 263).  Thus, the God of Christianity is the Greek Theos rather than the Hebrew Elohim (pp. 42-47).  In other words, Christians have not been worshiping the God of the Bible, but the god of Greek philosophy.
  • They have interpreted the Bible as a legal constitution rather than a library of culture and community (pp. 78-83).
  • They have read the biblical narratives too literally resulting in an opinion that God is violent instead of seeing these stories as the evolving and maturing understanding of humans concerning God (pp. 99-106).
  • They have a flattened view of Jesus (p. 161).
  • They have a domesticated understanding of the gospel (pp. 161, 216-226).

Of these five accusations the first is foundational.  McLaren’s hypothesis stands or falls on the premise that believers have misunderstood Jesus, Paul and all of Christianity since virtually the beginning because they adopted a Greco-Roman approach to Scripture.  Yet McLaren’s theory is so reductionistic as to be laughable, and he admits that even Platonian scholars differ widely on what he taught (p. 263).  Based, therefore, on one shaky and highly subjective premise McLaren seeks to prove that Christianity, as we know it, is fatally flawed and must be replaced by his new and improved version.

So much more could be said but I refer you to an excellent and more thorough review by Kevin DeYoung, co-author of Why We’re Not Emergent: by Two Guys Who Should Be at http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2010/02/19/christianity-and-mclarenism-pdf/.

 

Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands
by Paul David Tripp

It was suggested to me recently that Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands was the most valuable book for those interested in biblical counseling.  Having read numerous books on the subject I was somewhat skeptical of that assessment; having now read the book I would have to agree.

If there is a complete volume on biblical counseling this is it.  Tripp writes well, is faithful to Scripture (with a couple of exceptions), provides much biblical insight, offers case studies, gives practical tools and develops an overall framework for counseling those in need.  Tripp’s premise is that our problems flow from our hearts.  If we are to help people live to the glory of God and handle their troubles properly we must address the heart.  We must expose what is in the heart, analyze what is found in light of Scripture, and call for a biblical response.

This emphasis on the heart is welcomed for, if we are not careful, biblical counseling can be reduced to behavior modification—expose a problem, find appropriate Scripture, call for obedience and behavior change.  But if the heart is not addressed lasting and deep change will not take place and the one in need may be transformed into a legalist rather than the person God wants them to be.

The book is not useful to Christian counselors only, but to anyone desiring to grow in Christ and help others do the same.  I highly recommend this title.

 

Simple Church
by Thom S. Rainer & Eric Geiger

I began reading Simple Church with high expectations.  I like the basic concept, as I understand it, and even “borrowed” the name to entitle a sermon I recently preached on Acts 2:43 which identified the essential ministries of the local church (evangelism, prayer, study of Scripture, fellowship and the ordinances).  To me this defines what the church should be—the simple church.  Unfortunately, what I read in Simple Church did not take the reader back to the New Testament for its paradigm but to extensive research mostly within the Southern Baptist Convention.  The result was a mixed bag, and this should be expected given the authors’ premise that “research seeks to discover truth” (p. 197).  This is clearly a flawed statement.  At best research reveals facts, more likely trends.  Only the Word of God can give us truth.  By looking to research instead of Scripture for “truth” we must expect the end result to be highly subjective—and it is.

That is not to say there is no value to be found in Simple Church—I think there is.  But before Christian leaders embrace the latest fad in church growth methodology it would be wise to filter everything through the Scriptures.  It should be admitted that while the authors do not base their system on Scripture, they do make a few references to a number of passages.  Sadly, most attempts at exegesis are out of context, misinterpreted and misapplied (see pp. 137, 232-236).  As stated above the simple church program is based on research—in essence, what works, not the Word of God.

What is research telling our authors?  That “simple is in, complex is out” (p. 8).  Simple Church seems as much a backlash to the multi-layered programming of the market driven church movement as anything else.  The seeker model taught that you will grow a church and disciples if you will create numerous programs and plug people into those programs.  Recently Willow Creek, based on their “research,” determined that while large churches could indeed be built on the backs of programs this approach nevertheless did not produce disciples.  I see the simple church approach as a welcomed alternative.  It offers a needed correction from a focus on programs to a focus on people and how to disciple them.

The simple church philosophy is wrapped around four words:

  • Clarity—the ability of the process to be communicated and understood by the people (pp. 70, 109-134).
  • Movement—the sequential steps in the process that cause people to move to greater areas of commitment (pp. 135-163).
  • Alignment—the arrangement of all ministries and staff around the same simple process (pp. 165-195).
  • Focus—the commitment to abandon everything that falls outside of the simple ministry process (pp. 197-226).

This is a philosophy well worth considering.

The simple methodology is to bring people into the church through weekend worship services, involve them in small groups and move them to a ministry (pp. 40-44).  Another way of saying this is ”love God, love others, and serve the world” (p. 41).  As a method this may be a good one, however the authors are skimpy on details.  One example of a simple church is Andy Stanley and his mega-mega church Northpoint Community Church.  Northpoint attracts 20,000 or so people every week to the weekend worship services.    Stanley’s church has no regular adult Sunday school classes, midweek services, men’s or women’s ministries.  Discipleship is supposed to take place in small groups, but no information is given on what these small groups do, how they function, how they are formed or what they teach.  While Northpoint may be simple we must ask what the people are actually being taught.  Stanley has gone on record in opposition to expository preaching and so we know the worship service is not dedicated to the systematic teaching of the Word, and my personal “research” into small groups in other (and my own) churches reveals that their value is totally dependent on the leadership of each group.  Some might be based on Scripture and produce true disciples.  Others are merely places to hang out with friends.  Because a church has a large number of people in worship and small groups does not tell us anything about the church itself.

This brings us to a major flaw in the simple church system.  When the dust has settled this is merely another church growth program.  The authors’ research demonstrates that “vibrant” churches (what Simple Church wants to produce) are much simpler than comparison churches (p. 13).  By vibrant churches they mean churches that have grown at least 5% per year over the last three years—and less than 2% of all churches in America are doing that (pp. 65, 67, 87, 127, 214, 245, 250).  Such a criterion for healthy churches is never found in the New Testament and is not really a measure of anything but the ability to attract people.  By this definition Joel Osteen’s church is vibrant and healthy but John MacArthur’s is not.  Even on a pragmatic level, the research should be examined carefully since some vibrant churches are simple, yet many are not.  For example, while 37% of vibrant churches agree or strongly agree that they set up their programs sequentially, but that left 63% which did not.  Plugging your church into this program is not a guarantee of results (p. 249) but the stated implication is that either churches change to simple or they will die (p. 229).

Simple Church can play a role in the strategy of church leadership if they think through, and perhaps implement, some of the ideas presented on how to declutter a church and focus on making disciples.  It is a detriment if leaders accept the idea that a church can be measured by numerical growth alone and that plugging these ideas into their church will result in such growth.  Far more importantly, and not dealt with in the book, is how to make and measure disciples.  The simple idea of moving people from the fringes to involvement with people to service has merit.  But nothing in Simple Church helps us create disciples or explains how to know if they have been created.

 

The Courage to Be Protestant
by David F. Wells.

Grand Rapids: William B. Erdmann, 2008. 253 pp. $26.00 (hardback).

David F. Wells, the Andrew Mutch Distinguished Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, is one prolific writer.  For some forty years he has addressed some of the thorniest subjects in theology with a sincere pastoral heart for the church. Wells could well be considered the one Christian writer who over the past 20 years best articulates the pulse of evangelicalism in this world. Whether or not one agrees with Wells, one thing is for sure, he will make you think.

The current book under review, The Courage to Be Protestant, is a volume which builds on four previous books by Wells: No Place for Truth (1993); God in the Wasteland (1994); Losing Our Virtue (1999); and Above All Earthly Pow’rs (2005). In No Place for Truth Wells provides a keen study of evangelicalism in the 1990’s. Then in God in the Wasteland the author rightly portrays the church within the “wasteland” of Western culture as having lost its sense of God’s holiness and sovereignty. Wells issues a call for real change. Five years0 later in Losing Our Virtue Wells continues his cultural analysis of the late 20th century by explaining how the church has been shaped by an immoral culture. More recently Wells penned All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ in a Postmodern World in which he rightly mourns for the church’s loss of the sense of the transcendent glory of God. Instead, the church has become too much like the post-modern culture in which it is planted.

Well’s, rightly says of our culture today, “The constant cultural bombardment of individualism, in the absence of a robust theology, meant that faith that had rightly been understood as personal now easily became faith that was individualistic, self-focused, and consumer oriented.”  Today we have the emergence of the Emergents. Well’s says that the Emergents are “doctrinal minimalists”.  He says further, “They are ecclesiastical free spirits who flit around a much small doctrinal center…”

Well’s divides The Courage to Be Protestant into seven chapters. Chapter one, “The Lay of The Evangelical Land,” Well’s breaks the evangelical world into three constituencies: Classical Evangelicals, Marketers, and Emergents. The later two groups are, historically speaking, new. In chapter two, entitled “Christianity for Sale,” Well’s rightly accuses much of th modern church of marketing the gospel. The church today exists only to give the “customer” what he wants! In chapters three through seven Well’s touches on five key concepts which modern day Christianity has corrupted: Chapter Three: “Truth,” Chapter Four: “God,” Chapter Five: “Self,” Chapter Six: “Christ,” and Chapter Seven: “Church.”  Well’s explains that while our American culture is very “spiritual”—it is, however, a truthless spirituality. God, in this culture, has been “privatized.”  Truth is sacrificed on the altar of what the consumer wants. Bible preaching has fallen on hard times since the average postmodern person distrust what comes through anyone else and therefore the “self” is the sole arbiter of truth.  Well’s describes how this culture has made God an “inside God” and not an “outside God”.  He no longer is the transcendent and glorious Creator but very personalized to every individual’s own concoction. He rightly says of today’s culture, “What is sacred is within and indistinguishable from the self.”  “Self” is really the object of one’s pursuit, not God. “Christ’s” work on the cross is really of no consequence to today’s postmodern. He wants what he wants and not what God has provided in the finished work of Christ. Since “faith” has been much privatized, the local church has little significance. Why join or participate in a local church?

In this reviewer’s opinion, The Courage to Be Protestant is mandatory reading for anyone interested in obtaining a clearer understanding of today’s American spiritual culture. Knowing our cultural mindset, as Well’s has articulated it, will enable us to deal more effectively with people in the 21st century.

Reviewed by David J.  Georgeff, Missionary/Pastor with Biblical Ministries Worldwide