Our Time (part 9)

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).

Our generation is rapidly growing deaf to the summons of the external God. He has been so internalized, so tamed by the needs of religious commerce, so submerged beneath the traffic of modern psychological need that he has almost completely disappeared. All too often, he now leans weakly on the church, a passive bystander, a co-conspirator in the effort to dismantle two thousand years of Christian thought about God and what he has declared himself to be. That is to say, God has become weightless. The church continues its business of satisfying the needs of the self—needs defined by the individual—and God, who is himself viewed and marketed as a product, becomes powerless to change the definition of that need or to prescribe the means by which it might be satisfied. When the consumer is sovereign, the product (in this case God himself) must be subservient God (101).

In a psychologized culture such as ours, there is deep affinity for what is relational but a dis-ease with what is moral. This carries over into the church as an infatuation with the love of God and an embarrassment at his holiness (114).

We imagine that the great purposes of life are psychological rather than moral. We imagine that the great purposes of life are realized in the improvement of our own private inner disposition. We imagine that for those who love God and are called according to his purpose, all things work together for their satisfaction and the inner tranquillity of their lives (114-115).

The fact is, of course, that the New Testament never promises anyone a life of psychological wholeness or offers a guarantee of the consumer’s satisfaction with Christ. To the contrary, it offers the prospect of indignities, loss, damage, disease, and pain. The faithful in Scripture were scorned, beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked, and executed. The gospel offers no promises that contemporary believers will be spared these experiences, that they will be able to settle down to the sanitized comfort of an inner life freed of stresses, pains, and ambiguities; it simply promises that through Christ, God will walk with us in all the dark places of life, that he has the power and the will to invest his promises with reality, and that even the shadows are made to serve his glory and our best interests. A therapeutic culture will be inclined to view such promises as something of a disappointment; those who understand that reality is at heart moral because God is centrally holy will be satisfied that this is all they need to know (115).

We will not be able to recover the vision and understanding of God’s grandeur until we recover an understanding of ourselves as creatures who have been made to know such grandeur. This must begin with the recovery of the idea that as beings made in God’s image, we are fundamentally moral beings, not consumers, that the satisfaction of our psychological needs pales in significance when compared with the enduring value of doing what is right. Religious consumers want to have a spirituality for the same reason that they want to drive a stylish and expensive auto. Costly obedience is as foreign to them in matters spiritual as self-denial is in matters material. In a culture filled with such people, restoring weight to God is going to involve much more than simply getting some doctrine straight; it’s going to entail a complete reconstruction of the modern self-absorbed pastiche personality. The cost of accomplishing this may well be deep, sustained repentance (115).

What do you think? More to come.

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