After listening to the lecture I pointed out yesterday from David Wells on preaching to postmodern people, I picked up my well-worn copy of his excellent book God in the Wasteland and read through some of my favorite sections. Reading God in the Wasteland while I was in college planted the seeds and laid the foundation for the thesis of Unfashionable. In the last chapter of Unfashionable, I write:
The seed for this book was planted in me fourteen years ago as I was sitting in an upstairs cubicle in my college library reading David Wells’s book God in the Wasteland. In it Wells meticulously shows that God rests too lightly, too inconsequentially, on the modern church: “His truth is too distant, his grace is too ordinary, his judgment is too benign, his Gospel is too easy, and his Christ is too common.” All the bells and whistles in the church have caused us to “forget” the God whose church it is. We’ve become entirely too comfortable with the ways and tastes of this world, and it has led to our increasing irrelevance—we’re failing to make a difference because we’re failing to be different.
I’ll never forget the morning I came to the end of God in the Wasteland and read the following paragraph. I don’t think it’s an overstatement for me to say that, outside the Bible, no paragraph ever written motivates me more or captures my hope better than this one from Wells. It has become my impassioned plea to young evangelicals:
I want the Evangelical church to be the church. I want it to embody a vibrant spirituality. I want the church to be an alternative to post-modern culture, not a mere echo of it. I want a church that is bold to be different and unafraid to be faithful . . . a church that reflects an integral and undiminished confidence in the power of God’s word, a church that can find in the midst of our present cultural breakdown the opportunity to be God’s people in a world that has abandoned God. To be the church in this way, it is also going to have to find in the coming generation, leaders who exemplify this hope for its future and who will devote themselves to seeing it realized. . . . They will have to decline to spend themselves in the building of their own private kingdoms and refuse to be intimidated into giving the church less and other than what it needs. . . . To succeed, they will have to be people of large vision, people of courage, people who have learned again what it means to live by the word of God, and, most importantly, what it means to live before the Holy God of that word.
To the degree that God becomes relevant once again in the life of the church, so that God’s truth and not social trends become the driving force behind everything we are and do, the church will become what the world needs it to be—a counter-culture for the common good.
And while that paragraph from God in the Wasteland still stands out as my favorite, I read another one yesterday that I had marked up many years ago which comes in a close second. Adressing the tendency of churches to provide band-aid solutions to cancerous problems, Wells writes:
It is one of the remarkable features of contemporary church life that so many are attempting to heal the church by tinkering with it’s structures, its services, its public face. This is clear evidence to me that modernity has successfully palmed off one of its great deceits on us, convincing us that God himself is secondary to organization and image, that the church’s health lies in its flow charts, its convenience, and its offerings rather than in its inner life, its spiritual authenticity, the toughness of its moral intentions, its understanding of what it means to have God’s Word in this world. Those who do not see this are out of touch with the deep realities of life, mistaking changes on the surface for changes in the deep waters that flow beneath. An inspired group of marketers might find a way of reviving a flagging business by modifying its image and offerings, but the maters of the heart, the matters of God, are not susceptible to such cosmetic alteration. The world’s business and God’s business are two different things.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to play around with my life. I want to “leave it all out on the field” for Christ’s sake. I don’t want to be a mile wide and an inch deep, spiritually. I want to possess the backbone to dig in and be unfashionable. I’m ashamed of those moments when I’m afraid to be a fool for Christ because the world might think I’m strange. I want to have a God-given, uncommon valor to follow God’s lead and do God’s will, regardless of how I might be perceived. I want to live my life, as the Puritans used to say, before “an audience of One.”
Christians who try to convince the world around them that they’re really no different at all, hoping they’ll be accepted on the world’s terms and on the world’s turf, even if they claim the motive of furthering the gospel, should be embarrassed. It’s time for Christians to embrace the fact that we’re peculiar people. Because true followers of Jesus have been given a new heart and mind, we’re to operate according to a different standard, with different goals and motivations. Everything about us—our perspective on possessions, lifestyle, and relationships—will be foundationally different from the world around us: “We worship what we cannot see, love what we cannot hold, and live for what we cannot own.” To the world around us, this will seem out of place, uncool, and odd; it’s high time followers of Jesus learn to embrace that fact.
May 2009 be the most unfashionable year of your life; the year of “the unfashionable church!”