Item description for No Place for Truth: Or, Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology by David Wells...
Overview Written expressly to encourage renewal in evangelical theology, this book explores the interface between Christian faith and the modern world in entirely new ways and with uncommon rigor.This sweeping analysis examines the collapse of theology in the church, the academy, and modern culture, raising profound questions about the future of conservative Protestant faith.
Publishers Description Has something indeed happened to evangelical theology and to evangelical churches? According to David Wells, the evidence indicates that evangelical pastors have abandoned their traditional role as ministers of the Word to become therapists and "managers of the small enterprises we call churches." Along with their parishioners, they have abandoned genuine Christianity and biblical truth in favor of the sort of inner-directed experiential religion that now pervades Western society.Specifically, Wells explores the wholesale disappearance of theology in the church, the academy, and modern culture. Western culture as a whole, argues Wells, has been transformed by modernity, and the church has simply gone with the flow. The new environment in which we live, with its huge cities, triumphant capitalism, invasive technology, and pervasive amusements, has vanquished and homogenized the entire world. While the modern world has produced astonishing abundance, it has also taken a toll on the human spirit, emptying it of enduring meaning and morality.Seeking respite from the acids of modernity, people today have increasingly turned to religions and therapies centered on the self. And, whether consciously or not, evangelicals have taken the same path, refashioning their faith into a religion of the self. They have been coopted by modernity, have sold their soul for a mess of pottage. According to Wells, they have lost the truth that God stands outside all human experience, that he still summons sinners to repentance and belief regardless of their self-image, and that he calls his church to stand fast in his truth against the blandishments of a godless world.The first of three volumes meant to encourage renewal in evangelical theology (the other two to be written by Cornelius Plantinga Jr. and Mark Noll), No Place for Truth is a contemporary jeremiad, a clarion call to all evangelicals to note well what a pass they have come to in capitulating to modernity, what a risk they are running by abandoning historic orthodoxy. It is provocative reading for scholars, ministers, seminary students, and all theologically concerned individuals.
Community Description Written expressly to encourage renewal in evangelical theology, No Place for Truth explores the interface between Christian faith and the modern world in entirely new ways and with uncommon rigor. David F. Well's sweeping analysis examines the collapse of theology in the church, the academy, and modern culture, raising profound questions about the future of conservative Protestant faith.
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Studio: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 1" Width: 6.2" Height: 9" Weight: 1 lbs.
Release Date Dec 20, 1994
Publisher WM. B. EERDMANS PUBLISHING CO.
ISBN 080280747X ISBN13 9780802807472
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More About David Wells
David Wells is Librarian, at Curtin University of Technology, Perth.
Reviews - What do customers think about NO PLACE FOR TRUTH?
A magisterial analysis! Sep 4, 2006
This is a provocative, demanding and rewarding book that attempts to grapple with some of the central challenges of Christian thought and life in a modern or post-modern world. Looking through this site and one or two other online sites, it is clear that many readers have also read Mark A. Noll's The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. I have too; and by way of introduction to David F. Wells' book, it is worth making brief reference to the other.
Both books touch on similar subjects, though with different emphases. Both are concerned with the decline of what Noll calls "the life of the mind" within American evangelicalism; and both are concerned with how authoritative Christian thought can be sustained in this modern or postmodern world. I suspect that Noll's book has proved the more popular, even if the only direct evidence for that is the number of customer reviews on this site: 29 for Noll; 12 for Wells. And both books were published a year apart -- Wells in 1993, and Noll the following year. With a title like that, Noll was always going to be onto a winner!
However, I suspect that one of the reasons for these differing figures is that Wells writes from a different perspective, one that ultimately makes more demands on the reader. Another might be that Wells' position is subtly yet noticeably more pessimistic. Noll is an historian who is eminently capable of working in theology; Wells is a theologian who is eminently capable of working in history. One only has to look at satellite television to realise which of these subjects is the more popular; and I hope that nobody reading this review imagines that Christian television has any connection with theology!
One of the great strengths of this book is that it approaches its subject with the very breadth of thought that both authors find wanting in evangelicalism in general. While its focus is on North America, it spreads its net wide; and Wells is especially good at teasing out subtle relationships between culture and religious thought. It also manages to be at once highly opinionated, generous in spirit, full of subtle humour, and intensely passionate.
How's this for a start? When, in his Introduction Wells asserts his "disbelief in much that the modern world holds dear" (p. 10), he also says that while he feels he must use this pugnacious style, he intends "no disrespect either for the reader or for the modern world. After all, I work for the one and must live with the other. The pugnacity is only in the appearance, not in the intention. The problem is that even the mildest assertion of Christian truth today sounds like a thunderclap because the well-polished civility of our religious talk has kept us from hearing much of this kind of thing." He then draws on John Kenneth Galbraith and G.K. Chesterton, to demonstrate a point that has nothing of religion or theology in it -- at first. So when the theological point arrives, it has force: "Evangelicals are antimodern only across a narrow front; I write from a position that is antimodern across the entire front. It is only where assumptions in culture directly and obviously contradict articles of faith that most evangelicals become aroused and rise up to battle 'secular humanism'; aside from these specific matters, they tend to view culture as neutral and harmless. More than that, they often view culture as a partner amenable to being coopted in the cause of celebrating Christian truth. I cannot share that naivete; indeed, I consider it dangerous. Culture is laden with values, many of which work to rearrange the substance of faith, even when they are mediated to us through the benefits that the modern world also bestows upon us."
This epitomises Wells' ability to lay a profoundly humane groundwork for a theological starting-point, and then for an entire historical and theological argument; and that is one of the main reasons why this book is such a compelling indictment of contemporary evangelical theology. Or perhaps I should say non-theology; for that is what Wells finds everywhere -- though like Noll, he finds the malady less prevalent outside the USA.
Beavers who are over-eager might get impatient at Wells' methods. Indeed, I suspect that at the root of one or two of the more negative responses this book has received, there lies a typically modern impatience. But for those willing to take time, there are rewards a-plenty. For example, the opening chapter's title is "A Delicious Paradise Lost." The Eden-like innocence belongs to the town of Wenham, Massachusetts, in the two hundered of so years after the town's foundation in the 1630s by a group of puritans of English descent. Less than ten years later an English visitor described the place as "a delicious paradise" which he would choose "above all towns in America to dwell in." Via authoritative comparisons with contemporary towns in Britain and America (the book has plenty of informative footnotes and cross-references), Wells charts Wenham's growth, which was very slow. He embraces the role of the church as a building and as community of believers (and a community which included many who were nominal believers); he shows how, as people of differing religious backgrounds moved into the town, they interacted with the dominant puritan heritage; and he follows the lives of a number of prominent figures, notably the schoolteacher. This was a community defined partly by its strong sense of place, and partly by its awareness of how people lived together -- or how they should live together. Of course, it wasn't really Eden. But until well into the 19th century it was so utterly different from the modern world that we might imagine it to be such.
In a series of similar historically rooted pictures, Wells shows how those qualities disappeared, to be replaced by transience, by superficiality. In one of his many virtuoso analogies, he shows how Truman Capote (1924-84) was transformed by publicity "from an author of some initial repute into a personality. . . He bonded briefly with his devotees, but the bond was synthetic. In this new world, the statues are made of celluloid, not of stone; here the achievements are those of personality, seldom of character. . . This is experience without community. It is the experience of mankind in the mass, bereft of the forces that once drew it into centers of human fraternity and organization." Gloomy stuff! But it has precision and insight.
All this proves to be an essential preliminary for the theological discussion that makes up by far the larger part of this book. The theological discussion is fed from the ground up, by being rooted in the communities in which theology should, and at one time did, hold its discourse. The third chapter takes its title, "Things Fall Apart", from Yeats' poem The Second Coming (yet another example of the broad synthesis that characterises this book), and charts the decline of theology from its place as the "queen of sciences" to an irrelevance, even in the evangelical world to which Wells and most of those who will read his book belong.
Wells explains, with a magisterial grasp of history, culture and theology, how the decline of evangelical theology in the last two hundred is a direct result of the church's engagement with the world and its prevailing culture. It is a striking demonstration of the adage that the church rarely now turns the world upside (Acts 17:6); rather, the world has turned the church upside down. Hence the title: the church has been so concerned with accommodating itself to the world that it has forgotten how to sustain the mission God intended it to have to the world.
Wells shows how thought, including that of some greats of American theology, became gradually corrupted by this accommodation. Along the way the religious institutions have become corrupted too. One of his most devastating critiques is of the modern seminary. Great institutions like Princeton and Yale began with Christian values at their core, with subjects designed from a Christian perspective. But as these universities have become inexorably secularised, other institutions had to take over their role; and those in turn have been run off their feet to maintain recognition by the world. Many of the qualifications issued by modern Christian colleges, including doctorates, have very little real value: they merely provide a veneer of respectability so that being a pastor might appear to have the same worldly status as being a lawyer, an academic or a doctor. It is not just that there is little reflection: there is no time for it.
As for the corruption of the church's life . . . I'll leave you to read the examples Wells gives, which are shocking even to someone who knows something of what the God Channel and things of that kind spew out indiscriminately.
As I say, this is not an optimistic book. But it is honest. It offers few large-scale solutions. But it is a clarion call to those who read it, and who believe that we should indeed love the Lord our God with all our minds. If one follows Well's thesis through, it becomes clear that institutions are not readily amenable to reformation. But individuals are. Just as the Gospel began with individuals, so it will be with individuals that any reformation of theology will begin.
Makes You Think Nov 27, 2005
The following situations and beliefs are true in many Protestant/Evangelical churches today. - `Worship' is the pinnacle of the church service. Worship is considered successful based on the feelings of those involved. - Sermons are focused on self-gratitude and self-esteem rather than the Bible. - Theology is considered a bad word, just a few rungs higher than Hitler. - The Bible is used only to support a thought, belief or idea rather than our thoughts, beliefs and ideas being based on the Bible. - The `experience' of God is more foundational than the truth of God. - 53% of those claiming to be Bible-believing, conservative Christians claim there is no such thing as "absolute truth."
The title of this book summarizes it well. The author's main point is that Evangelical churches have been heavily influenced by the culture and have thus lost the conviction that truth is absolute and theology is important. With this as a premise for the book, the author writes (sometimes painstakingly) about the process by which our Western culture has morphed into what it is today. With detail, the author then traces the history of Protestantism that later spawned Evangelicalism. Weaving it all together, the author presents how Evangelicalism has succumbed to a relativistic culture. And ultimately how this led to the death of theology.
How has all of this happened? The stated purpose of David Well's book is "to explore why it is that theology is disappearing. (emphasis mine)" No claim is made for the content of theology, or even for the poor quality of theology. This is not the intention of the book. The book reads more like a culture-write-up that a missionary would study before entering a field of service with anthropological insights into the behaviors of the Evangelical Christian living in the contemporary world. The `Western Christian' culture is thoroughly analyzed, especially in its esteem toward truth, and namely theological truth.
David Wells' writing style is unique. Unlike many contemporary authors (Christian or secular), Wells writes in a way that forces you to think. In many ways this is a positive. The reader must read the book slowly and thoughtfully in order to grasp the language that the author uses. But, it can also make for painfully slow reading. Perhaps this irritation found in the book is a result of the desire of our society for the instantaneous and the undemanding. With that said, I personally found myself getting bogged down in the author's writing style. Constantly I was forced to check the dictionary, and sometimes the dictionary didn't even help. This particular peculiarity of our society drives Wells' crazy, but he should realize that the readers of his book are products of the society that he is criticizing. If these people are the `mission field,' then they need to be reached in their heart language. The author should not compromise his academic standards, but a clearer `dumbed-down' writing style may have more effectively reached the church of today.
The content, or main message of the book is excellent. Christianity in the past 100 years can be compared to the frog in the boiling pot of water. Unknown to the church, just recently have we started to boil. There definitely is a problem but unless fixed, the church faces certain demise. The evangelical church today is a large, potentially powerful organization that has the ability to turn the world upside-down. Yet it remains largely ineffective and instead, the church has been turned upside-down by the world.
The manner in which Wells traces the history of both Western culture and Protestant culture is interesting and revealing. The book accomplishes its stated goal in explaining why these problems have come about in the Evangelical church of today. Personally, the book has produced an awareness in me regarding the direction and follies of today's church. And as a church planting missionary, I need to be careful in not carrying over these problems into churches in the Philippines. Lastly, I believe there is a small danger in culture bashing. A large part of the book is dedicated to exposing the folly of today's society. While this is important (as reflected in Wells' second aspect of theology- reflection), it has its limits. The Bible is clear that the world is foolishness and that we should find our trust in the spirit and His words (see 1Cor. 2). Though the culture needs to be evaluated in light of Scripture, we should not expect the culture to change apart from the wisdom that the Spirit gives. The culture needs the reflection that Wells calls for, but it also needs to be reached. A reoccurring frustration with Fundamentalism (the assumed camp that David Wells is a part of) is that it does not reach out into the culture in which it exists. Because of their fear of contamination, effective reaching out is rarely done. Admittedly, reaching out is like playing with fire (which the church has clearly been burnt by). But this reaching out is necessary.
In conclusion, this is a good book. The author does an excellent job of exposing the weaknesses in churches today, and he also does an excellent job of tracing the influences that weakened the church. Church leaders would do themselves well to read this book and take appropriate action in their churches and ministries.
Popular evangelism May 16, 2005
People have a legal right to worship as they choose. It is human nature to make this decision based on Utility. The term utility is not used in David F. Wells' book titled No Place for Truth . In Microeconomics, utility is term to describe value. An individual chooses one item or activity over another because it brings a greater utility. Utility is an abstract concept of measure. It is a concept to explain how people make rational decisions based on cost (alternative product or activities one abstains from to get another product or activity. A unit of measure for enjoyment, security, friendship, belonging, comfort, and feeling of competence? People make a choice between churches based on what they can get out of it. This book tells why more and more people choose to attend churches that do not teach a comprehensive theology.
David Wells goes into great length to describe the limited choices people had a couple hundred years ago. He uses Winah Massachusetts for illustrative purposes. Church shopping did not exist. No one had the temptation to stay to watch football or This Week with George Stephanopolis. People tended to go to bed earlier on Saturday night, so less temptation to sleep in . Less distraction made for a more consistent church going public. Pastor did not have the pressure to alter their message for the fear that the parishioners would leave his church. The church building was the focal point of the town. The Pastor of a church was well respected in the town. David Wells goes nostalgic for the first hundred pages in this book. It seemed to go on and on how different society was.
How society has changed and in turn changed the character of the preached word in the Evangelical church? As transportation and communication became faster & dependable, the individual heard and saw more alternatives. The individual has had more ideas thrown at him and had a greater ease to attend other places of worship. When more people acted upon their new found alternatives, ministers altered their message to retain and attract new members. Slowly evangelical theology becomes something else; it no longer is the truth as told in the Bible.
What it means to be a Christian has changed. Christianity as taught by the Apostles after Pentecost. The time when the church became into being through the preaching of those who followed Jesus earthly walk. To be a believer meant to accept the teachings of Jesus. How did Jesus teach from the Old Testament? How did Jesus life on earth, death on a cross, and His resurrection bring the fulfillment of scripture? Theology came from the mouth of God . A confession is an exposition of God. This type of exposition includes how God acts in this world, how God influences the human race, the character of God, and the Will of God. Knowing God and obedience to God comes through theological understanding of God. One does not know truth unless one knows God. The Word of God is absolute truth. Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven. David Wells argues that there is no supposition in scripture that other religions have cloudy form of truth or attributes of God. Everything is not relative.
Theology has a confessional element. Statements that assert truths about God. One should reflect on these truths. Relate how one part of scripture pertains to or is made clear through another part of scripture. One should ponder how truth presented in the Bible corresponds to what is normative is society. Does what learns as common in society conflict with what the Bible teaches; compare what one confesses to what the World claims to true. David Wells argues today's Christians must not find much conflict if surveys are to be understood as accurate.
I get upset over details in my life. Yes I worry and get confused by the smallest problems that come my way. Yes I want to act calmer, feel more in control, and feel better about myself. Should I seek a church that makes me feel more competent, talented, and a person of value? Should a church be a place to elevate my self perception? Should I choose a church based on what it can do for me? Every individual wants to feel healthy and competent. For the most part people choose activities, clothing and food that makes them feel better about themselves. I eat chocolate;it brings a sensation of contentment. I enjoy the moment. Does one attend a specific church because that is where God wants him? Some go for a sense of belonging, others to network, and others for euphoria of the worship service. David Wells argues people choose what is exciting over what is true. The ultimate aim to know God, to be forgiven for ones sins, and to become Christ like are not sought by church attendees. Someone may want to become close to God, but yet not want to know the truth about God. No longer do people constuct their understanding of the World based on the Truth proclaim in God's Word.
Urbanization, technology, and mass media have effected how society and the individual perceive God. The Christian Faith is found margenalized. Paul Tillich's theology: "every person has objects and interests that are of ultimate concern. God or one's thoughts about God are to be manipulated. One chooses how one wants to understand the World and finds a god that fits into that philosophy. People choose not to believe in the transedent, a sovereign God nor the absolute word of the Bible. So call evangelicals do not want a god that intrudes into their life, a god that demands obedience, that has control over one's destiny, and bring down evil ultimately. Many want a god to be used for one's own convience. Such evangelical structure is not consistent with the Bible.
A book that demands repentance Dec 30, 2004
Wells' penetrating analysis of the state of the church in evangelical America is beyond refutation. He is a true scholar -- as well as one who truly seeks for a day when God is honored by those called by His name. Pastors and leaders caught up in the New Evangelical mess need to read and repent.
Wells Contra Mundum May 26, 2004
In a separate lecture elsewhere, Wells reported to his wife that when this book is published, he will receive a lot of criticism from the EVANGELICAL flank of the church. As some of the reviews below have shown, he was excatcly right.
Wells's thesis can be summarized thus: "Since the church has adopted all the vestiges of modernity, it has become irrelevant to God, and as such can no longer deliver the demands of God to a dying people. This is so because the church views reality in light of a modernistic (and postmodernistic, although that thought is not developed thoroughly) framework. It cannot make itself better because any attempt at SELF-reform will only re-inforce modernity's grip on the church. The Church's only hope is for "prophets" to call the church back to its focal point: the Holiness of God, without which life is meaningless."
However, the book is not perfect for several reasons. 1)At times it was too technical; had it become more personal for pastors and theologians it would have fared better. 2)It did not deal adequately enough with postmodernism, although with all fairness to Wells, pomo did not have the cultural influence in the early 90's as it does now.
Its strengths, however, really show themselves in the last few chapters. In fact, pages 298-301 are worth the price of the book. Here are a few excerpts: "Christian faith is only Christian to the extent that it has been constituted by the Word of God, the Word that God has made powerful and effective in the reconstituting of sinful life" (298). And: "The habits of the modern world, now so ubiquitous in the evangelical world, need to be put to death, not given new life" (301).
Finally to one reviewer who gave it 1 star and accused it of being puritanical dribble, Mr Rivers. I gather the impression that he did not read past the first chapter. Wells uses one puritan village as a microcosm (and an accurate one) of theology in practice before Modernity. Furthermore, Wells did not come up with this idea; he documents Cambridge historian Paul Johnson's book, OUR TIME. It appears Mr Rivers not only read past the first chapter, he did not even read the footnotes in the chapter. Even assuming that he read the book, he is still not interactin with Wells's arguments. He is merely restating them and then saying he does not like them. While he said this shut the door for more research, I personally cannot wait to read Wells's other books in this genre.