Our Time (part 8)

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).

Worldliness, as we have seen, is that set of practices in a society, its values and ways of looking at life, that make sin look normal and righteousness look strange. It is the view of the world that puts the sinner at its center and relegates God to the periphery (86).

Technique is being substituted for truth, marketing action for thought, the satisfaction of the individual for the health of the church, a therapeutic vision of the world for a doctrinal vision, the unmanageable by the manageable, organism by organization, those who can preach the Word of God by those who can manage an organization, the spiritual by the material. At the center of these substitutions is an individualism fired by a shallow, self-centered consumerism (86-87).

It is one of the defining marks of Our Time that God is now weightless. I do not mean by this that he is ethereal but rather that he has become unimportant. He rests upon the world so inconsequentially as not to be noticeable. He has lost his saliency for human life. Those who assure the pollsters of their belief in God’s existence may nonetheless consider him less interesting than television, his commands less authoritative than their appetites for affluence and influence, his judgment no more awe-inspiring than the evening news, and his truth less compelling than the advertisers’ sweet fog of flattery and lies. That is weightlessness. It is a condition we have assigned him after having nudged him out to the periphery of our secularized life. His truth is no longer welcome in our public discourse (88-89).

When God becomes weightless, as I believe he is so often today, we lose the doctrinal signals that might otherwise warn us that some profound change has taken place—the sorts of signals that once warned of the threat of heresy. Too often in Our Time, there is only peace and quiet. The traditional doctrine of God remains entirely intact while its saliency vanishes. The doctrine is believed, defended, affirmed liturgically, and in every other way held to be inviolable—but it no longer has the power to shape and to summon that it has had in previous ages (89).

God has not disappeared in the sense that he has been abducted or overwhelmed. He is not like a child snatched away while its parents were momentarily distracted. No, God is more like a child that has been abandoned within a family, still accorded a place in the house, but not in the home (89-90).

Much of what should be understood as transcendent is either disappearing or is now being relocated to what is immanent, and what is immanent is then being filtered through the sieve of modern experience. The upshot of all this is that what was once objective in God’s being, what once stood over against the sinner, is either being lost or transformed into something we discover first and foremost in ourselves in such a way that God’s immanence is typically psychologized. These changes say a lot about our internal landscape and our worldliness, for a God who has thus lost weight is no longer the God of biblical faith or classical Christianity. A God with whom we are on such easy terms and whose reality is little different from our own—a God who is merely there to satisfy our needs—has no real authority to compel and will soon begin to bore us. This is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is scarcely even the God of the philosophers, and certainly not the God of Jesus Christ (92-93).

What do you think? More to come.

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