This is the third part of our team book review & forum based on The Courage To Be Protestant by David F. Wells. (series index here) It was written by Terry Delaney, an M. Div. student at Southern Seminary who writes here, and at Going To Seminary and in his Diary.
The classic definition of truth is, “the correspondence between an object and our knowledge of it” (72). However, we live in a post-modern world where truth has no absolutes. Because we live in a post-modern world, we should not be surprised that the erosion of absolute truth has found its way into the church. In chapter three, Dr. Wells looks to answer five questions:
- What in the culture has led us to such a jaundiced view of truth?
- Why do so many Americans believe neither in truth nor in morality that is absolute?
- How should we think about truth?
- What is the biblical teaching on truth?
- Why is the church that professes this truth (question 4) so untouched by it?
Wells contends that our understanding about the self is the thread that connects the Age of Enlightenment to today’s post-modern age. This thread of how we understand the self also impacts every chapter that follows in this book.
Unfortunately, with the decline of the community, we have lost the ability to transmit important ethics and values from generation to generation. The past, our heritage and tradition, has no value to much of the population today. It is in this context that truth has become less important and more suspect. It is in this context that we see a clash of worldviews on a daily basis that can easily lead one to a relativistic understanding of truth. After all, we coexist with those who have completely opposite beliefs than we do. Therefore, not only is truth relative, but there is no need for an absolute truth claim. It is no longer needed.
Perhaps the most glaring problem in the church that is founded upon the loss of truth is the struggle for power. Wells contends that today, “everything is about power. Everything is about control, manipulation, domination, using or being used for someone else’s purposes” (71). Post modern (as well as the emergent church) speech is intentionally confusing. Even though most people want to deny absolute truth, they still live in a world where they expect a proper correspondence between what is said and what is. By that, I mean that the truth corresponds with reality.
Although the church seems to espouse this low standard of truth, the Bible does not. I must include this paragraph simply because Dr. Wells says it so well.
In the biblical view, we know the truth and not just arbitrary rules and approcimations. This knowledge of what is “there” includes the truth about Christ (1 John 5:20), about God (2:13-14), his character (3:16), his redemptive purposes (3:5), our own nature (1:6, 8-11), and the (postmodern) “world” we inhabit that is filled with “the deisres of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions” and is also “passing away along with its desires” (2:16-17). On all these matters we have God’s truth, and for the truth to be shy about saying “We know…We know…We know” is an act of self betrayal.
In keeping with the theme of the correspondence of truth, the Bible is unapologetic in declaring Jesus “the way, the truth, and the life.” The emergent truth cannot say this because they desire to put the world before the church and therefore call into question the validity of their Christianity.
Dr. Wells concludes this chapter with a discussion of the parable of the sower (Mt. 13:3-8; Mk. 4:3-8, 14-20; Lk. 8:5-8, 11-15) as well as a challenge to look at missionaries who go into foreign lands and adapt to a culture without accepting that culture’s worldview. The church must remember two points: “Christianity is about truth…and those who say they are Christians must model this truth by their integrity” (92).
Dr. Wells assessment of the erosion of the assimilation of the culture into the church is dead on. I would agree that the church seeks too much to be relevant to the world–how many churches cancel regularly scheduled services for holidays and/or special events (see Super Bowl Sunday)? By trying to be so relevant, the church loses not only its relevance but its credibility as well.
We, as Christians, must be unashamed of the Truth we claim to believe. Because of passages like Romans 1:18, it is safe to assume that everyone accepts absolute truth at some level and that the Bible is the only book that is able to answer all of their questions about life. There is an oft-quoted cliche that very much applies to Christianity today: If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything. It seems to me that the church must once again take a stand for truth and do so unashamedly.
We must be willing to engage the emergent church at the foundational truths that are essential to Christianity. We must also be able to engage the likes of N.T. Wright at the elitist level of scholarship. It is at both of these levels (low and high) that we must take our stand all the while preaching the Scriptures faithfully and relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to change the lives of your hearers.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
- Do you think we as evangelical Protestants spend more time trying to convince our hearers that absolute truth does exist and that it is found in the Word of God rather than just preaching the Truth and trusting in the Holy Spirit to change the lives of your hearers? Do you? How would you go about changing the focus of arguing for truth to preaching the truth?
- In this age of post-modern Christianity, how does one go about deciding what is and what is not Christian? Are essential (foundational) truths necessary?
- On page 88, Wells says, “The church is, to put it charitably, very distracted right now.” How would you help the church regain its focus? What would/should be its focus?
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