I am reading a book by David F. Wells –No Place for Truth (Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology). 1. Still in circulation, it was written more than 20 years ago. Wells premises the book with a wonderful prologue devoted to the bucolic town of Wenham, Massachusetts. Here he recounts its history as a historical reference point for the changes of our culture, society and certainly, very significantly, the Church.
From this vantage point, it becomes easier to appreciate the vast differences of our present generations and those of 150 and 200 years ago. Yes, to be sure, that sounds like a long time ago and it is. We expect some measure of change over a period of time that long. But in terms of deep theological, spiritual and sociological terms, Wenham provides, for Wells at least, a right place for a chronological analysis as to why we have arrived where we are today and how the church was at the center of moral and relational cohesion but is no longer to any serious degree at all. In other words, the change is very profound, particularly from the perspective Wenham provides.
No Place for Truth is a book that describes the loss of cohesion and the increasing descent into theological incoherence for the world of the Christian. It will attempt to explain how, when and why doctrinal ambiguity began to cloud our understanding of Biblical precepts and perhaps more importantly, the why of Biblical precepts.
If we consider how our own lives are being lived, we must assume several givens, notably: a loss of community, permanence, connectedness and ultimately purpose. Wenham, like many of the townships in the late 18th and 19th centuries had at its center, the church. The church was the central force for not only worship, celebration and solemnity, but it was also the center for news, counsel and instruction. Wenham is remarkable, or at least it was at the time of No Place for Truth’s publication, for forestalling the otherwise typical trend for modernism and the supremacy of secularism at the sacrifice of truth and tranquility. Many things haven’t changed all that much in Wenham at least when compared with even the towns and cities that surround it.
I believe that chief among the casualties of the loss of the Church as the center of the community is community itself. Consider the degree of effort required to really know who each of us are and what we really believe – even when we regularly assemble at church. Typically, most of us worship corporately but once a week. We arrive to find our usual place in the sanctuary or worship hall and we experience essentially the same almost liturgical habits as the week before. Understand, I have no quarrel with that. But regardless of the order of worship, the sermon should be why we congregate. We come to church to receive the Word as revealed by God to men called by God to deliver to a people called by His name. Central to this is the Word, the Truth, and it is where we may be inspired, instructed, and convicted. We expect this from our church attendance and worship. We revere this tradition and we defend it as essential to our experience of worship. But is what we preach resonating with our people today? Are we and they becoming equipped, informed and educated about the issues and the ills that America discusses every day so that we may participate as Christians in the public forum? Are Christians capable of elucidating a well-defined, thoughtful world view? Is the Church remaining resolute in the traditions and doctrines of Scripture or is she being subsumed by the very culture to which she is mandated to minister?
Why then has the church left the center of the community? Why has Church community left the center of our lives? And why do we think this is not disastrous? Is it because we have become spiritually complacent? scriptural infirm and prayer avoidant?
Recently I read a compelling essay by Dr. Albert Mohler. It is worth sharing. In Biblical Theology and the Sexuality Crisis , a September 16th blog post, he writes, “As the church responds to this revolution, (the current moral and sexual revolution) we must remember that current debates on sexuality present to the church a crisis that is irreducibly and inescapably theological. This crisis is tantamount to the type of theological crisis that Gnosticism presented to the early church or that Pelagianism presented to the church in the time of Augustine. In other words, the crisis of sexuality challenges the church’s understanding of the gospel, sin, salvation, and sanctification. Advocates of the new sexuality demand a complete rewriting of Scripture’s metanarrative, a complete reordering of theology, and a fundamental change to how we think about the church’s ministry.”
Do you wonder how Wenham and the sexuality crisis are related? It’s because, like Wenham of yesterday, within the towns and cities of today, the Church must be at the center of the community in order to reveal the efficacy of truth. The church must be instructing, inspiring the instillation of the superior position of moral and spiritual living. We must not concede this to anyone or any force. Often, the best definition of community is the community of the first Church – The Church of Acts and the addressees of Paul’s letters. This church lived expectantly for Christ, received instruction, sinned but was challenged to repent, restore, and to thrive in the mission of the Church: To reveal the Truth. The Truth is why God revealed Himself to us. It is why He walked among us. “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” John 18:37
My observation is simply this: too many people identifying themselves as believers do not have a firm grip on theology! The metanarrative of the Bible has been overtaken by the tendency to rely on proof-texting in addressing the invasive and corrosive issues of our day. This is understandable as Mohler observes, but isn’t really all that effective. Our culture today is very sophisticated worldly and yet terribly naive about the revealed truth of the Bible and its overarching teachings that address the social ills and failures we are mired in.
This is our mandate. It always has been and must always be. The Church cannot tolerate homosexuality within the Body as normative. The Church cannot accept abortion on nearly any arguable grounds. The Church cannot accept infidelity, divorce, gossip or any number of sins God has defined for us. I do not say these things so as to invite rebuke on the grounds of being judgmental. (By the way, I like what I read from Jason Staples concerning this verse: Matthew 7:1-2) I say these things because I finally learned how valuable a compass they are to my life, my family and my community.
Increasingly The Church is wandering from absolute truth – including The revealed Truth. Here then is the question we must face today: Are we willing to repent of merely accepting almost anything and strive more toward the dynamic force of salt and light we were told we must be? I remind you of a previous post concerning the Barna survey of how too many pastors and leaders today regard the worldly metrics most valued for success.
I believe the opposite of tolerance is love. We give our testimony to the truth – no matter if the community says it is intolerant. That can change if the message of judging sin for what it is – and give it in loving truth.