Review: The Courage to Be Protestant

David Wells, Eerdmans, 2008, 253 pages, 5 of 5 stars

screen-shot-2017-03-06-at-10-47-47-amThe Courage to Be Protestant condenses the central points of the author’s previous four volumes (No Place for TruthGod in the Wasteland, Losing Our Virtueand Above All Earthly Powers) and emphasizes the same five themes: Truth, God, Self, Christ, and Church.  Wells argues it takes no courage to call oneself a Protestant but much of it to live Protestant truths. This book is a damning and unfettered critique of modern-day evangelicalism.

Overview

In chapter one, Wells divides evangelicalism into three teams so the reader knows who Wells is scoring against. The first group he calls “classical”, the deeds and creeds of fundamentalism/Neo-evangelicalism that held tightly to sola Scriptura and penal substitution but lost its way by discarding secondary doctrines (viz. Christianity Today) and minimizing the local church. Second are the marketers comprising the fashionable world of Hybles, Warren and George Barna. Third are the emergents (i.e. doctrinal minimalists). Wells asserts that all three of these groups in American Evangelicalism–now more ubiquitous than ever–are in differing degrees more interested in sola cultura than sola Scriptura. 

Chapter two critiques the corporate, lighthearted, customer-first mindset of evangelicalism that failed to recognize what church members really wanted all along is not whiz-bang technology but something totally different from their everyday world–serious doctrine.

Chapter three on “Truth” is the best in the book. Wells surveys those who mock biblical authority, such as those who compare the Bible’s flexibility to the springs of a trampoline and those who preach fluffy sermons of the “how to get along with my mother-in-law” variety. This chapter really was a joy to read aloud. Each sentence was like a lawnmower, keeping cadence with well-turned English while cutting off the burned-off blades of sappy evangelicalism.

Chapter four on “God” reminds the church that Scripture ought to guide her. Chapter five on “Self” was the second most insightful chapter and hammers the narcissism in the church. Chapter six on “Christ” warns believers of secularism’s push to make all religion private, while chapter seven on “Church” highlights the few demands the local assembly makes on today’s members.

Conclusion

Wells is refreshingly unguarded, focused, and politically incorrect, criticizing cultural norms like health clubs and hip-hop just as easily as overt doctrinal errors in the church. It was pleasurable to read an author so clearly light-years beyond me in his insight of today’s culture. His discernment is astounding, almost intimidating, but attractive enough to pull me to the next page. Fathers, husbands and pastors ought to read aloud the best portions of chapter three and five to those for whom they care.

Excerpts:

  1. “When the evangelical world became Willow Creek-ized, the sun began to set on Willow Creek. Its cachet went down the tubes.” (15)
  2. “In virtually all church-marketing literature, non-Christians are no longer unconverted, or unsaved…they are simply the un-churched.” (45)
  3. “We can have everything in the world that we want…but the far, far larger payment we must make comes, not through the mail, but in our spirits. We are being consumed in the very moment when we are consuming.” (67)
  4. “Truth, in the (post) modern view…is as shapeless as a wad of bubble gum–and as elastic.” (79)
  5. “The self movement is all about feeling good about ourselves, not about being good.” (170)
  6. “If the church is to be truly successful, it must be unlike anything else we find in life.” (224)
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