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Books: A pot of message

Books | Evangelicals have lost their moorings and must recover their moral and theological foundations

Issue: "Pilgrims' progress," Nov. 28, 1998

Yes, Virginia, our culture is kaput. The current state of society, with or without the buzzword postmodern, may be more comfortable, but its Christian memory is gone. To check the symptoms, look no further than David Wells's latest books. His most recent catalog of the ongoing meltdown is Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision. Those who read the other two books in his trilogy, No Place for Truth and God in the Wasteland, will find much that is familiar. Quoting lesbian gadfly Camille Paglia, he notes that we are seeing "an eruption of the never-defeated paganism of the West." Of course, this has filtered down to the church, which sold its birthright for a pot of message: mysticism, therapeutics, and managerial pragmatism that obscures biblical truth. "We do not resort to tradition or to a formal magisterium, as do Catholics," says Mr. Wells, "but to business know-how and psychology." The church has followed the world in throwing incense on the fire of self-worship. This is nothing new, only more blatant. Mr. Wells spends page after page on what he calls "the playground of desire" that defines our age, quoting a host of thinkers from John Murray to Christopher Lasch. Even while people today are willfully ignorant of many things, like sin, evil, and the soul, a moral sense survives that points toward God. "Gone is the understanding, though not the experience, that we are all made to be moral actors by creation," he writes. What to do? Mr. Wells says we Christians should tear down our altars to ourselves, then take our wills to the cross and our eyes to biblical truth. While Mr. Wells provides no blueprint, Michael Horton in We Believe: Recovering the Essentials of the Apostles' Creed shows the baseline of renewal in the very doctrines often taken for granted and ignored. That means the church should stop repeating recycled popular notions and get back to its roots. "By trying to win the 'cultured despisers,'" he writes, "she has often kept her richest treasures in the vaults." Instead of emphasizing the privately practical, we should emphasize God's works in history to a world that is willfully blind to him. "As the ocean is to the fish and the skies to birds," Mr. Horton explains, "God's sovereignty is the environment that creates meaningful history for us." In a short space, he digs into many basic issues-like God's attributes, the virgin birth, and the resurrection-that are popularly played down. He chastises both liberals and self-styled evangelicals who backtrack from the essentials. Without these articles of the faith, one simply can't call himself a Christian. Mr. Horton is at his best later in the book, where he dips into topics like the sacraments and church government that are often ignored by today's evangelicals. We live in an age when the church is more financially prosperous, yet spends time wandering in the same cultural haze as the rest of the world (or a Christianized version of it). Only when Christians start rediscovering the basics of the faith will this change.

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