Friday, July 4, 2008


Happy Independence Day!

This week we come to chapter six in The Courage to Be Protestant. I thought this chapter was outstanding. This is David Wells at his best, brimming with fresh cultural insights and exalting the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. This chapter alone is worth the cost of the book.

Early in the chapter, Wells shares some very interesting statistics. In America, "78 percent of people say they are spiritual. [But] When solving life's dilemmas, 56 percent say they are more likely to rely on themselves than on an outside power like the God of the Bible. And 40 percent claim specifically to be spiritual but not religious...There clearly has been a surge in spiritual appetite that is either hostile to religion or, at least, has lost confidence in institutionalized religion" (p. 179).

Haven't you noticed this? People seem increasingly fascinated by spiritual things. Prayer and meditation are now respectable activities. Faith is a central topic in this presidential election. More and more spiritual books are hitting the New York Times bestseller list. Even Jesus has become "cool" in the eyes of pop culture. Yet at the same time, many churches and denominations are languishing.

What's going on here? Why is there a turning away from the church and organized religion? And what's the difference between calling yourself "spiritual" versus "religious"? Wells explains there are two basic families of "spirituality" in life - two options in how our spiritual beliefs are shaped.

The first kind of spirituality is "from below." It involves the sinner reaching upward (or inward) for spiritual meaning. It starts in human consciousness and tries to reach above to make connections into the divine. It is self-initiated and self-sufficient. And it is pagan. Today, this spirituality "from below" involves "a private search for meaning, a search for connection to something larger than the self. It is in fact a self-constructed spirituality" (p. 179).

It's 'truth' is private, not public. It is individualistic, not absolute. It is about what I perceive, about what works for me, not about what anyone else should believe. And this 'truth' is verified psychologically and therapeutically. The test of its truthfulness is simply pragmatic. Those who are on this spiritual journey - and that is the most popular metaphor - have no destination in mind...There are no doctrines to be believed, no rules to be obeyed, and no practices to be followed. There is no worldview to which seekers must commit themselves. Nothing is fixed in eternity or by eternity, but all is in motion, everything is provisional, all is subject to ongoing experimental confirmation, all is adaptable to our internal needs (pp. 183-84).
The alternative (and correct) kind of spirituality is "from above." It is initiated from above and moves downward. It sees God reaching down in grace to communicate with and save sinners. For we must recognize that "God hides himself from us, that he cannot be had on our terms, and that he cannot be accessed from 'below' through natural revelation" (p. 190). The fullest expression of this spirituality "from above" is found in Jesus Christ, who emptied himself of divine glory, took the form of a man, came down to earth, obeyed God's law, inaugurated a new kingdom, died for our sins, was raised up, and has returned to heaven.

Wells concludes,
"The only future there actually is, is the one established by God in Christ, the one wrought in time at the cross that alone reached into eternity. But we must receive entry into this future. This is not our self-constructed future. It is God's. It comes from above, not from below...Only in this new order can be found meaning, hope, and acceptance with God. It was truth, not private spirituality, that apostolic Christianity was about. It was Christ, not the self, who offered access into the sacred. it was Christ, with all his painful demands of obedience, not comfortable country clubs, that early Christianity was about...Images we may want, entertainment we may desire, but it is the proclamation of Christ crucified and risen that is the church's truth to tell" (p. 207).
We are approaching the end of this book; there's only one more chapter to go. The final chapter is on the church, and I expect Wells will take us full-circle to show how marketers, emergents, and classic evangelicals must show the courage to speak and live the Protestant truth in this postmodern age.

Please leave a comment on chapter six below. No, really, PLEASE leave a comment. This is supposed to be a book club, but I'm hardly getting any comments out there! :) I really do enjoy your input.


Tonyhas said...

Hi Pastor Stephen!

I know I'm not part of this book club but I thought I would comment on the entry for this week.
I have noticed that people are spiritually hungry but religiously turned off. I can't help but think that we as the church are partly to blame. When you look at divorce rates, porn addiction, and adultery the church (the place people associate organized religion)organized religion is less than appealing. We as Christians have not done our best at setting ourselves apart as being holy.
Also, I think that Well's description of spirituality "from above" comes at a price that some people don't feel they are willing to pay. Serving Christ means dying to self on a daily basis and holding yourself to a higher standard than you ever knew. Serving self allows you to dictate who and what you will serve when.
Reading about people's hunger for spirituality and purpose always brings me to the first couple of chapters in Romans where Paul is stating that we were created to crave a relationship with our heavenly Father. His sovereignty is written on our hearts and in all of creation.
I think that we are living in a society that is deeply craving a relationship with their Heavenly Father. They long to cry out "Abba" to Him. They need Him. It is up to us, as the church, to set ourselves apart and allow God to use us to reach them in only the ways God knows how.
I hope that is a decent comment.
Let me know what you read next. I think I'd like to join you all!
God Bless! Tonya Hassell

Stephen Jones said...

Tonya, great insights. Thanks for sharing! I agree that people (who were created in God's image and still have His law written on their hearts) yearn for more, much more, than the world can ever offer. I pray that many, like the prodigal son, will be willing to give up their lives in the pig sty and run to their Father who is ready to forgive them and lavish His love upon them.

I am saddened by the perception the world has of the church, and agree some of it is our own fault.
I've also been challenged recently that this hostility is nothing new. For example, in Acts 24, Paul was called a "ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes." Not the most flattering title! Even in that day, the church was viewed by many as a fundamentalist sect or cult.