David Wells on Hybels:
Willow Creek Community Church recently announced plans to abandon some key tenets of its seeker-sensitive strategy. What is the theological significance of this development?
None. Bill Hybels has, I believe, the very best of motives, but he and his church are sailing rudderless in our cultural waters. Or, to change the image, he is like a CEO who shows up at the shareholders’ meeting with very poor bottom-line results. So, what does he do? Instead of carrying out a serious diagnosis of what has gone wrong, he simply rolls out a new business plan that, unfortunately, has many of the same inherent weaknesses in it. The bottom line outcome will be no different five years, or ten years from now, from what it is today.
The conference site had no wireless! And I wasn’t staying at a hotel. So the result is that the conference blog will be a recap that will last the next few days. I really enjoyed the time. The conference was life changing in many ways. I’ll highlight each of the sessions and put some audio up if I can. First, David Wells…
The first plenary session was kicked off with a great session from David Wells. He specifically addressed the Supremacy of Christ from the book of Hebrews. Wells established from the book of Hebrews the incomparable nature of Jesus Christ. The recipients of the book because of the threat of persecution were drawing back from their faith. The author of Hebrews works hard then to establish the Supremacy of Christ to what they wished to hold on to. In essence they were willing to trade “what was unique for what was not, what was completely glorious for what was not.” Wells then suggested we are in such a time. Instead of facing persecution we are facing the curse of the west. Wells said it this way: “We are so distracted by so many things that it is hard for us to sustain this focus on the supremacy of Christ on our work and our lives.” After establishing the supremacy of Christ Wells drew three conclusions. One, he insisted that Christianity is only about “this kind of Christ. Christ reigning supreme, unchallenge and unchallengable over all of life’s enemies. We do not have any message but this.” He continued to say if seekers are looking for something else, we have nothing else to give them. Not only that but he argued doctrine is what people are actually coming to church to receive. Two, Wells argued that we live in the “already but not yet” period of time. He argued that our stage is like a chess match that is already decided but has yet to be play out to its completion. In light of this we ought to always put our pain and perplexities in this bigger context. “These painful experiences that we go through, that sometimes consume us, none of these is the final word. ‘The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us.’” Finally, he said “It is God’s pleasure that his son should be acknowledged now for who he is.” We are anticipating the time when every knee will bow.
I have to say, the confenece is off to a great start.
What Amy was talking about…
What have been the eras of the Church’s greatest influence? What have been the moments of its most powerful impact on the world? Not the epochs of its visible might and splendor; not the age succeeding Constantine, when Christianity became imperialistic, and all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them seemed ready to bow beneath the scepter of Christ; not the days of the great medieval pontiffs, when Christ’s vicar in Rome wielded a sovereignty more absolute than that of any secular monarch on the earth; not the later nineteenth century, when the Church became infected with the prevailing humanistic optimism, which was quite sure that man was the architect of his own destinies, that a wonderful utopian kingdom of God was waiting him just round the corner, and that the very momentum of his progress was bound to carry him thither. Not in such times as these has the Church exercised its strongest leverage upon the soul and conscience of the world: but in days when it has been crucified with Christ, and has counted all things but loss for His sake; days when, smitten with a great contrition and repentance, it has cried out to God from the depths.
– James S. Stewart (cited in Above All Earthly Powers, by David Wells, pg. 310)
David Wells explains the problem with undiscerning adaptation.
Seeing how this spiritual search is both contemporary and ancient is really the key to understanding how to think about it from a Christian point of view. To put the matter succinctly: those who see only the contemporaneity of this spirituality — and who, typically, yearn to be seen as being contemporary — usually make tactical maneuvers to win a hearing for their Christian views; those who see its underlying worldview will not. Inevitably, those enamored by its contemporaneity will find that with each new tactical repositioning they are drawn irresistibly into the vortex of what they think is merely contemporary but what, in actual fact, also has the pwer to contaminate their faith. What they should be doing is thinking strategically, not tactically. To understand that beneath many contemporary styles, tastes, and habits there are also encountered rival worldviews. When rival worldviews are in play, it is not adaptation that is called for but confrontation: connitive kind which holds forth “the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).”
David Wells, Above All Earthly Powers (italics his, bold mine)
Zach, if you have time, I’d like your feedback on this one. In Chapter V of Above All Earthly Powers by David Wells, he mentions a metaphor he cites from Robert Wuthnow. Wuthnow is talking about postmodern spirituality and how it views its spiritual progress as a “journey” with no established end. He compares that to the metaphor of a home which he equates with enlightenment “religion.” David Wells explains Wuthnow’s metaphor this way:
A home is a fixed place with clear, unmistakable outer boundaries, and established internal routines, roles, and expectations. The spirituality of the home – what has here been called religion – is one that includes public worship, a set of doctrines, a fixed worldview in which God is unchanging, and in which truth and morality are unaltered by time and circumstance. Wuthnow saw this as a metaphor of an older kind of spirituality which, he believed, described what Christian faith was in the 1950s. What pertained then was ‘the clinging to safe, respectable houses of worship in which a domesticated God could be counted on to provide reassurance.’ Security was purchased at the price of depth. The truth is, of course, that the image of the house also captures some of the ideas essential to biblical faith, even though Wuthnow uses it only of times when that truth was superficially grasped.
David Wells, Above All Earthly Powers, pg. 120
David Wells goes on to explain why the metaphor of a journey is very appropriate. He points out that John Bunyan used this metaphor and discusses how in Bunyan’s book we see what many emergents miss, namely that regeneration is at the beginning of the journey and gives one the “right” to enter the “Gate,” and that the Christian journey rightly has a glorious end at the gates of this “Celestial City.”
It seems to me one of the weaknesses of the modern church is that people see the Christian life as a realization of their destination at salvation. People in our churches are largely content to remain in a position which avoids the “don’ts” of life as long as they are “secure.” Perhaps understanding the journey metaphor is a key to comabating this attitude? Clearly, the some emergents (maybe most?) are minimizing foundational doctrinal truths, but maybe postmodern thought can add to the church a healthy balance of humility and a recognition of its own ignorance and weakness?
What are your thoughts?
This from David Wells, Above All Earthly Powers. What do you think specifically of the part I’ve bolded.
There are, of course, two sides to this rejection of the Enlightenment outlook and the search for an alternative way of thinking to take its place. The collapse of the Enlightenment ideology is long overdue and the disappearance of its coercive humanism is no small boon. In science, for example, the embargo on mentioning God when discussing the origins of the universe has been lifted. The narrow humanistic confines in which Enlightenment reason chose to work have been overthrown and the world has been opened up to what is unpredictable and maybe even miraculous. In the Christian domain, this could well mean that the disintigrating Enlightenment will take down with it much of the critical apparatus that has been developed in biblical studies, which would open the way for more fruitful methodologies. The rejection of the idea of progress means that earlier developments in the Christian story, such as those of the patristic period, take on fresh currency since they can no longer be seen as intrinsically inferior to the present. There are new prospects for Christian thought.