Friday, June 6, 2008


The movie Apollo 13 tells the inspiring story of a lunar landing mission that turns into a dangerous survival mission. Toward the end of the movie, as the three astronauts head back to earth, they find themselves straying off course. They have to perform a tricky burn to realign their trajectory. With their navigation system already destroyed, they must rely entirely on their quick reflexes and the naked eye. Their only reference is a portion of the surface of the earth. If the astronauts lose sight of that reference point, they will shoot off into space and face certain death. In a similar way, David Wells says in the fourth chapter of The Courage to Be Protestant that most Americans have lost their point of reference and are suffering the tragic results.

To many people today, life is nothing more than a series of random, chaotic, and often cruel events. Why? Because we have lost sight of our center. Wells explains that rather than acknowledging God and ordering our lives around Him, "we start our life's journey on the alternative premise that he is not there, or that he has not spoken, or that he does not care. We do not reckon on his providential and moral presence. We begin as if life were empty and without a center and as if we were empowered by our choices to make of life what we will. And so we create our own center, we create our own rules, and we make our own meaning. All of this springs from an alternative center in the universe. It is ourselves" (pp. 99-100).

This means that the language of "evil" has largely vanished, and that "sin" and "guilt" have been eliminated altogether (pp. 100-101). Meaning and morality are no longer fixed and universal, but have now become private and subjective, based almost entirely upon "feelings" (p. 107). And people are now crumbling under a pressure they were never intended to bear. "The self that has been made to bear the weight of being the center of all reality, the source of all meaning, mystery, and morality, finds that it has become empty and fragile. When God dies to us, we die in ourselves" (p. 112).

Wells sets this modern, self-centered perspective in sharp contrast with a biblical, God-centered perspective. "Biblical writers, by contrast, declare that the only reason there is life and hope is that there is a center. It is in the triune God, the maker and sustainer of all things and the one in whom we find reconciliation through the Son. When we know him, life fits back into a meaningful pattern and we are filled with hope about its end" (p. 98).

Our world only makes sense if we have a right understanding of both the "Inside God" and the "Outside God." The "Inside God" refers to His nearness, His daily involvement in creation, or what theologians call His "immanence." This God is not found inside ourselves, but rather is a Person we can know deeply through His Word. The "Outside God" refers to
His loftiness, His otherness, or what theologians call His "transcendence." These attributes of God are also essential to His nature and cannot be removed without creating a different god altogether.

Wells concludes by showing why it is so important to center our worldview around God: First, it is only through God's moral purity that we have any standard of moral law (p. 127). Second, is it only through God's holiness that "sin" has any meaning or culpability, and that we can properly diagnose our problem. Third, the cross only has meaning in light of God's holiness. Fourth and finally, it is only because of God's holiness that He is able to deal with evil in the world.

I finished this chapter having a greater appreciation for the holiness and justice of God. These doctrines are largely ignored in the church, but Wells has shown how our understanding of sin, salvation, eternity, and the universe itself hinge upon our understanding of a just and holy God. May more churches be faithful in preaching and living out these fundamental doctrines.

This review has gone long already, but I can't resist sharing one more quote which I found so good:

We have enough Bibles for every household in America a couple of times over. We have churches galore; religious organizations; educational institutions; religious presses that never stop pouring forth books, Sunday school materials, and religious curricula; and unparalleled financial resources. What don't we have? All too often we don't have what the Old Testament people didn't have. A due and weighty sense of the greatness and holiness of God, a sense that will reach into our lives, wrench them around, lift our vision, fill our hearts, make us courageous for what is right, and over time leave behind its beautiful residue of Christlike character" (pp. 132-33).
Amen! That's what we need in the modern evangelical church. For those of you reading along, please take a moment to click on the "Comments" link below and share a favorite quote or insight from chapter four. For next week, we will be reading chapter five on "Self."


Jerry said...

I totally agree with Wells when he says families have been dispersed like confetti in the wind, pg.33.I believe this is true like he states we experience loneliness and so little sense of belonging. I think that when you attend or even become a member of a mega church or a large church that you lose the intimacy of a small church. I don't agree with Wells back on pg.12 where he states that the church in itself is gone. Maybe I misunderstood what he was saying there, but I do not think that home fellowships and all that entails has taken the place of the church. I think that home bible studies are great as long as you have somebody there that is knowledgeable enough to lead the study or any other kind of group gathering. I also agree with Wells when he says people want to have smaller groups to attend no matter what kind they are, the environment or culture is driving people this way, especially in big chruches or even big business. How can you feel totally committed to or part of or even one of a thousand people or them committed to you. I think people would rather be in a small group where they know they can fully commit them selves to a group or what ever that small environment is. Like Wells said you have to feel needed and have that sense of belonging. I would rather be in a church that if I wanted to I could get up and walk around and shake hands with every single person and not have to stand up in the midst and wave my hand or yell hello over a crowd of a thousand people.

I believe that if what Barna said is true and I don't have any reason not to, that fifty one percent of born again evangelicals that are doctrinally sound or knowledgeable said that their beliefs trumped all other considerations when making decisions in life. To me that is mind boggling, how can andybody that has their thought proscess and heart always cross-centered not use the word of God in making any decision small or great. Even in the beginning when you prayed the sinners prayer or when you asked the Almighty Savior to forgive your sins at that time you made a poweful decision and also at that time you asked the Lord Jesus Christ to make a decision to accept you, so why would you not use Him in any decision. I have a hard time believing that these evangelicals could be doctrinally sound; I think they might want to invest in a book by Daniel M.
Doriani-Putting The Truth To Work (The theory and practice of biblical application), on pg. 228 he says (Doriani) that as he encountered over the years of more and more difficulties in men's life's he began to turn away from rules that solve problems and to look to God's work and person as the first source of direction. To me if you don't do this it is like a slap in the face of our Lord and Savior.

Talking about truth in Wells section of Biblical Heartbeat pg.80, he states that biblical authors clearly assume that despite capacities for misreading our own desires into this truth seeing only what we want to see, refusing to see what is actually there, we can still know the truth. I don't know, but maybe I do not understand what he is saying here, but first if you are a biblical author how can you assume any thing, and if you are misreading and inserting your own opinions and seeing only what we want to see of the real actual truth, then we are misleading ourselves. I pray that I don't fall int this category.

Stephen Jones said...

Hi Jerry,

Thanks for adding a comment. You have some very keen insights. Here are a few responses:

- It is definitely harder for a large church to retain that sense of family intimacy and personal discipleship. There are ways to overcome this, but it becomes much more difficult.

- I think on p. 12 Wells is saying that in some cases home fellowship has replaced the church. If core elements of worship like doctrinal teaching, ordinances, discipline, etc. are absent, then the home fellowship falls short of God's purpose for the church. He is cautious, however, not to lump all home fellowships together into one category and make sweeping criticisms of them.

- It is hard to imagine that such a large percentage of professing "born-again believers" put personal feelings and beliefs above the authority of Scripture. This is partly a reflection of our culture and partly a failure of pastors who fail to teach and preach God's Word and connect it to life.

- On p. 80, Wells is contrasting postmodern "truth" (which is considered arbitrary and relative) with biblical "truth" (which is eternal and unchanging). He is saying that even though we do have shortcomings, there is still an expectation that we are capable of knowing the truth. Sadly, some emergent church leaders feel it is "arrogant" to claim to know truth with any degree of certainty. For example, on the website "Emergent Village," they write, "We believe in God, beauty, future, and hope – but you won’t find a traditional statement of faith here. We don’t have a problem with faith, but with statements... Whereas statements of faith and doctrine have a tendency to stifle friendships, we hope to further conversation and action around the things of God." The rationale is that statements of faith are arrogant and divisive. Emergents says Christianity to be all about the ongoing conversation and discovery of truth, though they will never claim to arrive at it.