Book Reviews

The Courage to Be Protestant

Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World

David F. Wells Grand Rapids 2008-04-01

Wells’s thesis in this book is that evangelicalism has more than reached a crisis state of precipitous decline; it is in a tragic free fall to oblivion, though there is hope. That hope is found in a return to theology as the center of the Christian message, the heritage of the Reformation. In this sense the author’s plea is that the evangelical church needs to dare to be Protestant once more.

However, one might ask, What has happened to the evangelical movement, since it still shows signs of numerical vitality? Wells’s answer is that the evangelical renaissance that emerged in the 1940s and 1950s under the labors of Harold John Ockenga, Carl F. H. Henry, Billy Graham, and others has fallen apart.

Built on a collection of historic Protestant affirmations, the unofficial coalition fractured in the 1980s and 1990s. The core of theological affirmation has lost cohesive force; the quest for success has brought the commodity of social analysis into ever-increasing prominence; the faith is marketed as a competing self-help serum to cure social ills; and the “old faith” has been disfigured by theological abhorrence and the constant quest for mere contemporary relevance. Comparisons of the liberal movement of the early portion of the previous century with evangelicalism in this new century are attractive. Liberals denigrated the role of theology in the life of the church, mistaking social relevancy for timeless truth, and promised numeric strength through concession. Today evangelicals, called “emergents,” are walking down the same dangerous path by downplaying the role of theology in the churches, without which there is little that is identifiably Protestant, according to Wells.

The book is fascinating and alarming. One can hope that what he has chronicled over the last several years is not true. If it is true, his warning should be taken seriously by all thinking Protestants. The greatest danger in today’s world is not the potential of inflicting damage to the body but damage to the soul.

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John D. Hannah
Dr. John D. Hannah is a frequent and popular speaker at home and abroad. His teaching interests include the general history of the Christian church, with particular interest in the works of  Jonathan Edwards and John Owen. Among his published works are a history of DTS and a general history of the Christian church.
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