DAVID F. WELLS
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 253 Pages, Hardcover, $25.00
Fundamental Baptists generally don’t consider themselves Protestants. That label is left for groups that “protested” and came out of the Roman Catholic Church. Through the centuries prior to the Protestant Reformation, “baptistic” groups already held to the truth of the Bible as we do, though they didn’t necessarily call themselves Baptists. These believers often faced persecution and were in hiding.
The Courage to Be Protestant is a significant, hard-hitting book by one of evangelicalism’s significant writers today and should be taken seriously. Even if Baptists are not Protestants per se, we need to apply what we can, besides being aware of what takes place outside our own circles. The book basically equates Protestantism with evangelicalism. Wells starts by tracing the beginnings of evangelicalism as it took shape after World War II. The movement, which came out of fundamentalism, started with good intentions and an emphasis on scholarship and doctrine. But as time went on, as Wells notes, “this doctrinal vision began to contract. The goal that diversity in secondary matters would be welcomed quite soon passed over into an attitude that evangelicalism could in fact be reduced simply to its core principles of Scripture and Christ. In hindsight, it is now rather clear that the toleration of diversity slowly became an indifference toward much of the fabric of belief that makes up Christian faith.” Wells believes the only answer to evangelicalism’s dilemma today as a “sick soul” is to get back to doctrine and genuine spirituality.
Consider a few remarks by Wells that demonstrate the message he tries to convey:
“Christian Century has . . . retained its intellectual integrity, despite the sagging fortunes of its liberal constituency. It has been bloodied over the last couple of decades, but it remains unbowed in its liberal persuasion. Christianity Today, by contrast, and despite the swelling ranks of evangelicals it serves, has been far less steadfast. Its role, in one sense, has never been easier. But it has found its direction in recent years, not by theological conviction, but by testing which winds are prevailing. As for the NAE, it is now a shadow of its former self. Actually, even a truly viable organization, which the NAE is not, would have difficulty representing the sprawling evangelical empire today. Like many things Christian, after a while the vision of the original evangelical leaders faded.”
“. . . Holiness is slipping from the grasp of American born-againers today! The evangelical movement is simply at sea when it comes to matters of holiness.”
“. . . We do not need to be rethinking the visible church. Today, prodigious amounts of energy are being poured into this effort. Everything about the church must be rethought! . . . The church is not our creation. It is not our business. We are not called upon to manage it. It is not there for us to advance our careers in it. It is not there for our own success. It is not a business. The church, in fact, was never our idea in the first place. . . . What we need to do, then, first and foremost, is to think God’s thoughts after him, think about the church in a way that replicates his thoughts about it.” Occasionally we fundamentalists would wince over a few places in the book. Wells refers to sacraments rather than ordinances, as an example. But it is indeed refreshing to find a book that so correctly addresses various religious compromises of this day, including the emerging church, the marketing crowd, and the postmodernists.