This is an important book. I begin by saying without any equivocation that it should be read by pastors, church leaders, and students. The chapters represent lectures given by six men, all well known pastor-theologians, at a 2006 conference sponsored by Desiring God. To quote one of the editors, Justin Taylor, “The speakers at that conference – and now the contributors to this volume – were David Wells, Voddie Baucham Jr., John Piper, D.A. Carson, Tim Keller, and Mark Driscoll. Whether addressing culture, truth, joy, love, the gospel, or the church, each seeks to sharpen our thinking and motivate our ministry by considering how each of these intersects with the truth of Christ in our contemporary world.”
While each chapter is power packed, thought provoking, insightful, and challenging, I will select only three of the six to mention but not at the expense of demeaning the other three. Space is the factor. Read it all!
David Wells writes the first chapter. He is no stranger to us as the author of many books, with Above all Earthly Powr’s: Christ in a Postmodern World as his latest. His emphasis reminds the reader that our theology must be missional because it must communicate with truth to the culture in which we find ourselves. Each of the writers is clear on the challenge we face to contextualize our theology, as well as the constant reminder that to be contextual one must have a strong grasp of biblical theology and a knowledge of the audience we intend to reach.
Wells focuses on two major themes that are definitely impacting our culture. The first theme is what he calls “the emergence of the postmodern ethos” and the second is the total diversity of western culture. How those two things express themselves fall out along the following lines: the emphasis is on spirituality, and that is used antithetically to religion. Growing out of that emphasis is what he suggests is the collapse of reality into “self.” His conclusion is that the way to respond to those two trends is to focus on the supremacy of Christ and biblical reality. Wells does not pull any punches. For example he says, “Evangelicalism,now much absorbed by the arts and tricks of marketing, is simply not very serious anymore.” Growing out of that light approach to truth and reality, “therapeutic spiritualities that are non-religious begin to look quite like an evangelical spirituality that is therapeutic and non-doctrinal.”
Wells reminds us that we are not the first audience to face these kinds of challenges; however, he makes it clear that we do not face them by caving in to them. Yes, learn what we can from them but do not fall into their postmodern traps lest we be tempted to pursue spirituality or religion or truth or reality within ourselves instead of the Sovereign Lord. This is evidence by the 56% of Americans who claim to look within themselves rather than to God when crisis arises. What we end up with, says Wells, can best be described as a pagan approach to spirituality. Paganism, Gnosticism, and anti-religious attitudes can only be addressed with the truth of the Gospel.
Keller focuses his lecture on how to get the gospel across in a postmodern world, which means we must be willing to rethink how we do ministry in a time of significant culture change. As he presents his six ways in which he thinks the church has to change, he asks,”if we might be insulting God with our small ambitions and low expectations for evangelism today.”
Keller uses Mark 9 as his point of departure. The disciples asked Jesus why they could not cast out the demons, and Jesus responded that they could be driven out only by prayer. “Ordinary methods did not work for ‘this kind.’” Like the other contributors, Keller challenges the church to realize that we are now on a mission field which requires us to be willing to do ministry differently. He lays out what he believes the church must do to accomplish its missions. For example, “Evangelism in a postmodern context must be much more thorough, progressive, and process-oriented.”
Using Jonah as an example, Keller says, “His people are neither to withdraw from [pagan culture] nor assimilate to it. They are to remain distinct but engaged.”
You will appreciate each chapter in special ways. I appreciated the chapter by Mark Driscoll, whose life and ministry has reflected an interesting journey from beginning with the emerging philosophy to a strong biblical message today. However, one of my favorite parts of the book was the interview with the authors and John Taylor. As one statement relates to Mark Driscoll, David Wells said, “Actually it was funny, as I was listening to Mark, because he sounded so far out, so testing the boundaries, pushing the envelope. Now when I say those very same things, I sound staid and tame. It’s not right-I want to be hip, man!” In reference to how our world has changed and what we must do, Wells said, “…where people in the pews understand less and less or bring less and less of a Christian worldview with them-it becomes more and more imperative for preachers to make sure that the truth they are preaching intersects with what is going on inside people’s minds.”
In that same question and answer, Keller pointed out in response to several questions that the emerging church represents a kind of post-conservatism, which is moving away from evangelical orthodoxy and has much in common with post-liberals. He says clearly that “the Emergent church is moving away from orthodoxy.”
Need more be said to convince you of the importance of this book and your reading and studying it? It deals with issues that are challenging biblical reality; issues that are characteristic of the postmodern paradigm the emerging church movement has seemingly embraced at the expense of biblical foundations and authority.