Tuesday, May 27, 2008

David Wells, Truth, & Treason

I had a very relaxing and nourishing day off yesterday. I finished reading 2 Samuel, I finished reading John MacArthur's book The Gospel According to Jesus (which I highly recommend by the way), and I started reading David Well's book The Courage to be Protestant (Eerdmans, 2008). The title may or may not flip your switch, but if you are at all interested in the slide away from truth and toward "what works" in evangelicalism today then you must read this book. It is one of the most incisive, and yet readable, critiques of the church growth and emergent movements that I have read to date.

This morning I read his chapter on truth and I was quite moved by what he said on pages 91-92. He has been talking about the different kinds of "soil" in the church as they relate to truth, and he's been lamenting the fact that evangelical leaders of the past several decades have most likely caused this phenomenon where most people in our churches don't even believe in absolute truth (according to Barna, 68% of self-identified "born-agains" do not believe in absolute truth). Then he pens these stinging, and hopefully repentance-inducing words:

"Does the church not bear considerable responsibility for this situation? I believe it does. The church has been like the shortsighted business CEO who goes for the quick profit and puts off the long-term considerations of these business decisions. The quick gains yield a good write-up in the Wall Street Jounal, good PR, a good bonus, and the stockholders are held at bay. Then the chickens come home to roost. The quick gains, it turns out, happened at the cost of the longer-range health of the enterprise. Soon the business is wheezing and struggling for breath. Its strength sapped, it cannot withstand competitors. It succumbs. The investors, quick to perceive their potential losses, move on to brighter prospects, the CEO takes his or her reward, the business closes its doors, and the employees are put out onto the street.

"So it is in American evangelicalism today. Far too many leaders and churches are out for the quick kill, the instant success, the enviable limelight, the flattering numbers, the bulging auditoria, the numbers to be boasted about--'my church went from ten to ten thousand once I arrived!'--the filled parking lots, the success story all dolled up for the pages of Christianity Today or Leadership. All of this is about the short-term interest of the pastor(s), not the long-term health of the church. In Christianity, cut-rate products bring a cut-rate failure."

Wow! His solution? A simple return to biblical truth at all levels of the life of the church, and a corresponding abandonment of the allure of the world.

The reason I entitled this entry, "David Wells, Truth, & Treason," is because this abandonment of truth for the sake of the quick sell is tantamount to treason. It's what A. W. Tozer calls "promoting self under the guise of promoting Christ," and I don't know what else you'd call that but treason. In fact, in my estimation it's infinitely high treason.

I do grieve for the traitors, because I think many of them have simply been lured away by our enemy, the devil, and have fallen into one of his traps. I pray for them--that the Lord would show them mercy, that they would see the error of their ways, that they would make restitution wherever possible, that they would repent and live and teach and lead in a different way.

But what grieves me most about all of this is the effects it has already had and will continue to have on the broader body of Christ. High treason comes at a high price, and that price is paid not only by the perpetrator but by the followers as well. I fear to think about the future of the American church because of this, and yet I take comfort--great comfort--in this:

Jesus Christ is the head of the true church, and he rules over all things, and no one will snatch his people out of his hands. He has always sustained the church, and he always will sustain the church. In this I rest and hope.

And yet, this doesn't mean we are all free to sit back and do or say nothing about the current crises. No, one of the means Jesus has always used, and will use, to sustain his church is the humble and yet bold proclamation of biblical truth.

Just as Paul wrote nearly two-millennia ago in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6: "For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete."

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