I am sharing some thoughts from God in the Wasteland (Eerdmans, 1994) by David Wells. According to Wells, this book deals with how “cultural factors influenced the evangelical church and what steps need “to be taken to reverse the situation” (ix).
Why does God’s holiness weigh so lightly upon us? I see three main reasons. First, it should be remembered that God in general, under the conditions of modernity, weighs lightly on everyone, that he has been so marginalized that his character and revealed will make few real intersections with the stuff of everyday life. Second, the learning of virtue is so painful and haphazard an affair, attended by such a wild profusion of good intentions, grievous falls, unrequited hopes, gnawing regrets, shame, and embarrassment that we are often of two minds about the matter (133-134). Third, Christians in Our Time sometimes act as though they were the first to recognize that God is a God of love (135).
Faced with an epidemic of lying, theft, abuse, rape, and general depravity, we are more inclined to attribute the problems to the criminal’s bad self-image than to bad character (134).
The people of Our Time are strongly inclined to trace all internal confusion, pain, disappointment, or lost advantage back to someone else’s door (135).
This spiral into pervasive victimhood, now epidemic on college campuses and in other strongholds of the politically correct, marks a corresponding erosion of personal responsibility, and suggests that genuine moral discourse about what is right and wrong, irrespective of private interests, is increasingly less possible. Contemporary culture has so diminished our moral capacity, so robbed us of a concern to act responsibly, that we tend to resent moral demands from without or simply to dismiss them out of hand. To the extent that the church’s garments have been soiled by this aspect of modernity, it will be that much less inclined to dwell on the holiness of God (135).
If God’s holiness is his utter purity, his incomparable goodness, the measure of all that is true and right, the final line of resistance to all that is wrong, dark, and malignant, then love must be a part of this. If love is virtuous and right, it must be an expression of divine holiness, the essence of which is truth and right. God’s love is inescapably a manifestation of his holiness, as are his goodness, righteousness, mercy, and compassion. Holiness is what defines God’s character most fundamentally, and a vision of this holiness should inspire his people and evoke their worship, sustain their character, fuel their passion for truth, and encourage persistence in efforts to do his will and call on his name in petitionary prayer (136).
He is rarely perceived as the God of the outside who, in his awesome greatness, summons his people to worship, to hear that Word of truth that they cannot find within themselves or their world, to become agents of righteousness in a world that scorns this righteousness as alien and contrary. Robbed of such a God, worship loses its awe, the truth of his Word loses its ability to compel, obedience loses its virtue, and the church loses its moral authority (136).
God’s love seems less burdensome than his holiness. The church has succumbed to the seductions of our therapeutic culture, and in that context it seems quite natural to favor the relational dimension over the moral dimension, mysticism over cognitive conviction, self-fulfillment over personal surrender, self-image over character, pluralistic religious equality over the uniqueness of the Christian faith (136).
What do you think? More to come.