Our Time (part 2)

In part one of “Our Time,” I shared with you some information concerning the Reformation theologian David Wells and his multivolume critique of American Evangelicalism. I also shared some quotations from Wells’ book No Place for Truth, Or, Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? (Eerdmans, 1993). The following excerpts are also from No Place for Truth and page numbers are in parenthesis.

That Our Time is characterized by (and has become a distinct period because of) mass wars, mass consumption, mass education, and mass knowledge is hardly debatable. The question is what all of this means (76).

And discrimination against minorities is hardly uniquely American; it is known in probably every other country in the world. What is new is that the vision of forging a center strong enough to support this cultural diversity is now being challenged. Only time will tell whether the American character, with its unique blend of individualism and conformity, will be able to hold, whether it will be able to hold within itself these new social impulses with their strident ethnicity (140).

In a secularized age, with its low cognitive ceilings and lost moorings, we have turned in on ourselves. We now seek our access to reality only through the self, having decided that neither God nor his revelation is any longer pertinent. This is to say that when we emptied our world of God and of the absolutes that had directed human life, we did not thereby open up large holes in the architecture of our inner life; rather, we rearranged things to accommodate for these losses. We compensated for all we lost by turning within ourselves (154).

The quest for the self is now undoing both private and public life, and this undoing is evident even in our schools, one of the purposes of which has always been to induct children into this external culture. Our schools now decline to educate students regarding matters of right and wrong, preferring instead to preserve and explore human relations. As Gerald Grant has observed, a teacher is less likely to insist that cheating is wrong than to ask why a cheater cheats. Moral questions thus disappear into psychological speculation, and, in the process, consideration of one’s responsibility to others gives way to concern for one’s responsibility to oneself. Returning to the example of the cheater, the assumption seems to be that the problem can be resolved if the individual is detached from responsibility to the community—but that is precisely the opposite of what the moral wisdom of the West has known to be true for centuries. What has happened, of course, is that all the external demands have collapsed, leaving only the self, and then, in a surprising and painful turn of events, the self has proceeded to disintegrate. Perhaps, writes Richard Weaver, “the most painful experience of modern consciousness is the loss of center; yet, this is the inevitable result of centuries of insistence that society yield its form” (168).

What do you think? More to come.

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