Book Review - The Courage to be Protestant

Sometimes you hear a speaker or read an author who's saying all the things you've always believed, but they're stating things so well that your whole heart just screams "yes!" the whole time. Such was my experience reading this curiously titled book by David Wells. If anyone ever wanted to know how I believe church should be done or gain insight into my philosophy of ministry as a pastor, this book effectively states it all.

In the first part of the book Wells succinctly describes how the evangelical movement began back in the 1930s with a simplified dual commitment to Biblical inerrancy and the cross of Christ. This simple core had advantages, like allowing Christians from different traditions (such as charismatics and non-charismatics) to join the movement. But it had two key weaknesses: the importance of doctrine was diminished, as was the role of the church. This lead to a fracture in evangelicalism - a trend that very quickly became all the rage in the 1980s and 1990s, which Wells calls the Marketing trend.

I've blogged about the Marketing trend before, but in a nutshell it is this: following the lead of the Willow Creeks and Saddlebacks of the world, evangelical leaders began approaching the task of the church the same way a business approaches the sale of a product. The gospel is the product, the unchurched are the target demographic, and the question is "how do you get them to buy?" Employing all the latest know-how from the world of marketing, these churches started looking less and less like churches and more and more like bookstores, coffee shops, concerts, and other successful retail operations. The original weaknesses became glaring: both the role of church as an authentically spiritual and other-worldly community and the prominent role of doctrine in the life of the church became virtually nonexistent.

This Marketing trend gave rise to another major fracture: the Emergent trend (which I also blogged about before). Emergents recognize many of the shallow faults of Marketing evangelicalism, but their corrective measures often fall far short improvement because they're too wed to postmodern thinking. The role of the church as an authoritative community in the life of the believer is lost in the postmodern malaise of "journey" and "conversation." And doctrine? Few things are met with more disdain in postmodern thinking than doctrine, with all its arrogant self-assurance about being right.

In both cases the heart of what the church is, and what it believes, are lost. Marketing churches often put all this is the "back room" so to speak where few find it, whereas Emergent churches dismiss it altogether and replace it with a vague, self-oriented spirituality that's more about journey than destination.

So here we are, with evangelicalism fragmented into three major camps (with lots of nuance and detail in between, of course). Wells proceeds to accurately diagnose and expound why these current trends are missing the core of Biblical Protestant Christianity - information I think every Christian, and especially every church leader, needs to know.

Where do we go from here? Wells wisely recognizes that evangelicalism cannot be "un-fractured." Humpty Dumpty will never be put together again. However, and this is where my heart really resonates with this book, he urges us to move forward with the core of what Biblical Christianity has always been at the forefront of our minds. Whatever the details of church life end up looking like, he urges us to forge them out of the truths that have always defined Biblical Protestantism. He challenges us to have the courage of our convictions, the courage to buck the tides of our surrounding postmodern culture and adhere to Christian orthodoxy as taught in the Bible. In other words, as he puts it in the book's title, The Courage to Be Protestant.

I do not think Wells could be much more right than he is in this book. And I think every Christian will find his descriptions of current church trends eye-opening and extremely helpful. I highly recommend this book, and it's the first book in over a year that I've added to my blog's Bookshelf as a book I think every Christian should read. I'm that high on it. And if you consider Harvest your church home, I'm all the more asking you to make some time soon to read and digest Wells' message, because it's at the heart of where we're going as a church body.


Darrel said...

I think it would be good to figure out where Harvest is at currently (in addition to having a goal for where we are going).

In reading a book like this I think we may all apply it to our church in different ways. One mans "market driven" is anothers "truth seeking".
It seems like sometimes things are left vague enough that we think we agree until we really start talking.

I'd like to know how our leadership sees our current ministries fitting in to Well's book.

I know we have done some things in the past that seem to have been on the market driven side of things (like the purpose driven 40 days).

I understand we don't want to offend our family, and be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit, and change should be given time to occur.

I think I just want more clarity on how our leadership wants Harvest to change. And it would be wonderful if it was based on the Bible.

Randolph Koch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Roy said...

Lets read the book and bring our observations to the table and get together to talk about it.

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