I know it’s been a while since I updated my David Wells lecture notes. Sorry to those of you who were interested. Here is part two:
The culture has woven a false view of reality so heavily forced upon us that it becomes a global network of fabricated understanding – a “Matrix” of sorts. It belongs to everyone and therefore no one. It invades life as we are distracted by its inanity from the infinitely crucial and cuts us off from a morality-centered life.
The Postmodern culture has spread its influence to the Western church, as well. Why is it that Christianity cannot be sustained in the West today – though it is here that the church finds its greatest protection?
- Triviality: The church at large has simply become preoccupied with the negligible. When the church is desired only for the benefits of faith without faith itself, whatever faith exists becomes meaningless. To illustrate, a recent statistic shows that while 45% of the American population claim to be “born again,” only about 7-9% maintain even a minimal understanding of basic Biblical doctrine. Once the popular church loses substance with faith, the people of the church lose their identity as the people of God – and the church has officially given itself over to the trivial. Along with the trivial rides the culture. With the culture comes the exultation of self. The church now serves only to channel to the congregation the illusion of substance that the culture brings. Church is now about me. Good and evil lose status. God becomes weightless.
- Uncertainty, or lack of conviction: Our conviction is tied to our sense of God’s righteousness and the knowledge that He demands righteousness from us. But there can no longer be righteousness when “right” ceases to be a valid quality. Lose this standard of absolute morality and you lose conviction. Lose conviction and the church loses the boldness that comes from certainty in absolutes. Doctrine becomes irrelevant, sin a simple weakness, and belief mere opinion.
- Complacency: Those within the church remain hesitant to grasp firmly onto anything, for in a world without truth nothing can be capable of supporting belief. The ultimate faces only indifference. What is good is no longer to be desired above what is evil. This is the church of the most prominent division of Christianity in the West today – the “Apatheists” – which has abandoned truth, righteousness, justice, and faith in the absolute. In short, these millions of “Christians” have rejected the God of the Bible altogether.
This is the American Paradox: never have we had so much outside ourselves, yet within there is so little. Therefore, many turn to God as compensation for what is not found in ourselves. But in the empty churches of today, so few are satisfied.
Wisdom is the knowledge of God shaping our perception of everything else. However, the majority today desires for the knowledge of God to be reduced to what is therapeutic. Here we find some poignant examples: one bestselling book by “America’s Pastor” calls for Christians to develop a “God-informed self-image, discover their innate strengths and abilities; and advance down the road toward health, abundance, significance, and success.” Another by the same author uses “quotations from spiritual and secular sources” to “help you press forward, develop good relationships, form better habits, embrace yourself, develop your inner life, and stay passionate.” Or what about the “updated bestseller” that “gives you a proven strategy for breaking free of Satan’s stronghold?” Want to “tap into the power of fasting?” There’s a book for that, as well!
Do you see what is happening? God, if recognized at all, has become a tool to build our way to… What? Certainly not the greater glory of God through His image in us. No, instead He is a means for us to advance the only thing that truly matters – Self and its promotion. Here is no brokenness before holiness. Here is no longing to know God for who He is. Here is no thought to what He might require of us.
The preacher sees the church as the product and the congregation as consumers as he attempts to sell Christianity. However, the analogy is deeply flawed. No other “product” asks lifelong commitment. Christianity requires the devotion of a life. Without devotion, the church offers nothing that the world does not. This is why we see the disillusioned multitudes leaving empty churches in their wake.
The predicament needs to be reversed on the preacher. The only flourishing churches are those that speak Christianity from God’s own words. Our attention must be centered back on the Triune God of all existence. Problems must be framed in light of eternity. Reality must be seen as it is, not as it is presented to us. We must be content with understanding God not from our own level, but from what He has revealed to us. Every church should strive to be the outcropping of a countercultural reality – the only ultimate reality. If the world looks at the church and sees only the reflection of its own values the church bears no witness. Only light can be seen in the dark.
Modern thought may be at a turning point, but one thing is certain: man continues, and will continue, to forsake God in favor of self.