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  • God in the Wasteland The Reality of Truth

    in a World of Fading Dreams

    David F. Wells

    William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan

    Inter-Varsity Press Leicester, England

  • v

    Contents

    Preface ix

    PROLOGUE

    I. An Accident in History 3 The Accidental Revolution 6

    World Cliche Culture 7 Costs and Benefits 12

    Flight from the Center 13

    II. An Accident of Faith 17 From the Inside Out 19 From the Outside In 23

    STRANGERS AND ALIENS

    III. The Alternative to God 35 The Scarecrow World 37

    In the World . . . 37 . . . but Not of It 39 The Human Center 44 In a Post-modern Framework 46 Godlets and Godding 50

    Manufactured in America 56

  • IV. Clerics Anonymous 60 The Religious Economy 63 On Growing the Church 68 Ecclesiastical Barnacles 72

    The New Vision 72 Big Business 72 Workshops of Recovery 77

    Engineering the Spiritual 84

    V. The Weightlessness of God 88 Designer Religion 93

    Uprooted from the World 95 Pastiche Personalities 97

    Intellectuals 101 The Breath of the Night Wind 101 The Conquest of Reality 102 From Kant to Rorty 104 The Insurrection in Theology 107 The Therapy of Pride 111

    The Saliency of God 113 The Caging of God 114 The Danger in God 115

    VI. The Outside God 118 God Who Is Above 122

    Biblical Texts 122 Historical Development 125

    Boundaries 130 God the Holy 133

    The Irrelevance of Holiness 133 The Stranger in Our World 137

    God the Knower 145 The Crisis of Authority 145 The Centrality of Truth 149

    VII. God on the Inside 152 The Sacred Canopy 153

    A Peeling Canvass 154

    vi CONTENTS

  • The Tragic 159 The Death of Progress 160

    The View from Outside 163 Christ the Interpreter 163 The Big Picture 166 God’s Hand in History 167 Curing the World’s Ills 170

    The View from Inside 174 Bartering for the Real 174 The Evangelical Version 176 What God Is Doing 181

    VIII. The Coming Generation 186 An Extended Family 188 The Vision of Theology 191 Ships in the Night 194 The Enchanted World 196 The World in a Lens 203 The Maze of Modernity 205 The Sum of It All 210

    IX. Speaking with a Different Voice 214 An Embarrassment of Being 216

    Post-modern Pomp 216 The Disguise of Faith 220

    A Strange Confidence 223

    Appendix 228 Bibliography 257 Index 271

    Contents vii

  • Preface

    In 1989, I was the recipient of a significant grant from the Pew Chari- table Trusts that enabled me to write No Place for Truth; or, Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? This book produced only half the picture I wanted to present, however. It offers an explanation of the cultural factors that have diminished the place and importance of theology in the church, but it offers no suggestions for a remedy of the problem. I am grateful, therefore, for the opportunity afforded me through a sabbatical to begin developing the other half of the picture in this book. Here I outline the first step that I believe needs to be taken to reverse the situation I described in the first book.

    My absence from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary during this time has meant that some of my colleagues have had to assume some of my responsibilities, and I am grateful to them for their help and the generous spirit with which they have provided it.

    Chapter 8 of this book reports on and utilizes important research that was done for me by Rodger Rice, director of the Social Research Center at Calvin College. In an effort to measure the saliency of belief among seminarians, we asked seven seminaries for their assistance in producing a representative sampling of evangelical students. I wish to express my deep appreciation to the presidents of these seminaries for their willing cooperation as well as to those who worked so hard to make sure that the surveys were carried out effectively: Leslie Andrews (Asbury Theological Seminary), Kathleen Ericson (Bethel Theological Seminary), Keith Tanis (Calvin Theological Seminary), Lynda Bradley (Denver Conservative Baptist Seminary), Sandee Masuda-Hunt (Fuller Theological Seminary), Margaret Manning (Gordon-Conwell Theolog-

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  • ical Seminary), and Dennis Gaines (Talbot School of Theology). It has been a pleasure to work with Rodger Rice on this project, and I am much in debt to him for his considerable sociological expertise.

    The report that resulted from this survey was, unfortunately, too long to be used in toto. Moreover, it was also written in a form that had to be adapted a little to meet the needs of the intended audience of this book. I felt, however, that the results were so significant (this may be the most extensive and searching analysis ever made of the views of evangelical seminarians) that I have included the statistical tables in an appendix. This will at least make this work available for those who may wish to use it or build on it without burdening those for whom the material is of less interest.

    While the work was being done on this survey, I was able to obtain from James Hunter the raw data from a survey he made of seminarians in 1982. This proved most valuable to us because it enabled us to run a series of comparisons. I am most grateful to him for his willingness to make this material available to us.

    I sent out much of the material in this book to various friends and colleagues for evaluation. Naturally, they are to be exonerated from all blame for what follows, but I do wish to thank Greg Beale, Jack Davis, David Gordon, Os Guinness, Scott Hafemann, Walter Kaiser, and John Seel for their careful and conscientious responses. I am also grateful to Margaret Manning, my student assistant, who helped me in checking parts of the manuscript.

    The very day that the manuscript of this book was being sent off to the publisher, I received a copy of Colin Gunton’s The One, the Three, and the Many: God, Creation and the Culture of Modernity, which I had ordered. It was, of course, too late to profit from his book, which contains the Bampton Lectures of 1992. He traverses much the same territory as I have here, though he does so from a more philosophical angle. Nevertheless, we appear to share many views, and I regret that I was unable to read his work before the completion of my own.

    Finally, I wish to express my appreciation for those who are still serious readers in America. Without them, I and many others would be silenced. The time and attention they give to their reading flies in the face of the habits that modernity inculcates so insiduously. And so, I wish to salute their stubborn resistance to modernity! Against all the odds, may their number increase, and may the church, in consequence, once again become a place where life is given its most serious and searching analysis.

    x GOD IN THE WASTELAND

  • PROLOGUE

  • CHAPTER 1

    An Accident in History

    Modern man is afflicted with a permanent identity crisis, a condi- tion conducive to considerable nervousness.

    Peter Berger

    The modern world artfully simplifies, sometimes inadvertently. I was reminded of this yesterday when I unexpectedly encountered the theme of this book in bold, simple letters, right before my eyes.

    I was driving down a quiet lane not far from my house. The beauty of the setting was striking. The tall, leafy trees reached over the road, forming a natural cathedral. So thick and luscious was this summer finery that only the thinnest slivers of light were able to pierce through the overhead canopy. A few horses were out romping in a field the grassy mounds of which, bright with sunshine, eventually sloped down to a river. The quietness and magnificence of this pastoral scene was broken only by some crows in irritated contention over the remnants of a small animal that had, in the night, fallen prey to a passing motorist.

    Without warning, a white pickup truck suddenly pulled out into the road ahead of me. I had to brake hard to avoid a collision. Now, Boston drivers never take an affront like that lightly, because they have learned from long experience that these infringements on decency and order are never inadvertent. In other places they may be accidental — perhaps they often are — but in Boston they are all calculated insults. The only question that remains is what to do about them.

    As this old truck jerked into motion ahead of me, I noticed the

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  • two messages on its rear bumper. The one on the left declared for McGuire, a local politician, in bold letters, and the one on the right declared for Jesus in equally bold letters. But there were additional letters, much smaller, above and below both these names. I was more than a little interested to know exactly what message this kind of driver would sport, so I accelerated to get within reading distance of the truck. My intention, I assure you, was completely innocent. But this driver, no doubt hardened by the routine combat of manners and vehicles that passes for traffic in and around Boston, looked alarmed, and, perhaps suspecting some form of retaliation, spurted forward. A dark cloud of smoke belched from the truck, signaling the driver’s move to make a getaway. Not to be outdone, I accelerated with him. He pushed on even faster, a sense of imminent retribution no doubt inspiring his flight. By now we were both well above the speed limit — by no means without risk on this lane, since the local gendarmes are notorious for being entirely without compassion. I could see his darting glances in the rear view mirror as I matched each forward lurch of his truck with a spurt of my ow