Courageous Protestants!

This book by David Wells is the most helpful I’ve read on the contemporary church scene in years. Wells writes with objectivity and a passion for the church to return to sola scriptura (as opposed to sola cultura) as its modus operandi. My thanks to Tony Reinke for this excellent review:

Remaining faithfully protestant is no hobby for the spineless, David Wells argues in his new book, The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Eerdmans, 2008). Remaining faithfully protestant—simultaneously faithful to scripture and and firmly rooted historically—requires vigilant steadfastness.

“The key to the future,” Wells writes, “is not the capitulation that we see in both the marketers and the emergents. It is courage. The courage to be faithful to what Christianity in its biblical forms has always stood for across the ages” (p. 21).

The book title alone inspires me to tattoo Luther on my forearm (restrained by the bruising vanity of such an image when I’m old.)

Here’s why I like the title.

In these few words Wells is calling us to:

(1) Defend protestant Christianity, not just our little denominational sub-branch. What’s at stake is really protestant-wide reaching the broad limits of catholicity. The implications of these new movements are as big as is “protestant” is wide.

(2) Be courageous, not spineless. Don’t fall for the soft-sell marketing and neo-orthodox liberalism offered to our culture’s “perpetual squishitude” (DeYoung + Kluck). Enduring the relentless shifts in theology is not for the fainthearted.

(3) Love the truth of God’s word, don’t sacrifice it. The church’s hope rests in what is unseen, rooted in preaching of ‘the age to come.’ No matter the cultural drifts and currents, keep faithful to the preaching of the gospel. And love it! Don’t just be a truth-defender, be a truth-lover.

Wells–himself a monument of courage–reminds us that the hope the church offers the world flows from the freshwater spring of gospel proclamation.

Wells writes,


“Christian hope is not about wishing things will get better. It is not about hoping that emptiness will go away, meaning return, and life will be stripped of its uncertainties, aches, and anxieties. Nor does it have anything to do with techniques for improving fallen human life, be those therapeutic, spiritual, or even religious. Hope has to do with the knowledge of ‘the age to come.’ This redemption is already penetrating ‘this age.’ The sin, death, and meaninglessness of the one age are being transformed by the righteousness, life, and meaning of the other. What has emptied out life, what has scarred and blackened it, is being displaced by what is rejuvenating and transforming it. More than that, hope is hope because it knows it has become part of a realm, a kingdom, that endures. It knows that evil is doomed, that it will be banished. This kind of hope has left behind it the ship of ‘this age,’ which is sinking. And if this other realm, this place where Christ is even now ruling, did not exist, Christians would be ‘of all people most to be pitied’ (1 Cor. 15:19). Their hope would be groundless and they would have lived out an illusion (cf. Ps. 73:4-14).

Vast, mysterious, and mostly unknown as the universe is, we are neither aliens nor strangers in it. It is our alienation from God that makes us see the world as if we were aliens. It is our estrangement from him that leaves us with this haunting sense that we are alone, strangers in a cold and indifferent universe. So it is that life comes to seem like only a ‘chance collocation of atoms’ destined to disappear beneath the rubble of a universe in ruins, as Bertrand Russell put it. It can all seem so meaningless, so ephemeral, so pointless. And it is meaningless, a vanity of vanities, until we see that fallen life yields up no meaning higher or deeper than its own fallenness. And that is only as high as the spirituality from below can ever ascend.

The only future there actually is, is the one established by God in Christ, the one wrought in time at the cross that alone reached into eternity. But we must receive entry into this future. We cannot seize it. It is not there to be had on our own terms. This is not our self-constructed future. It is God’s. It comes from above, not from below.

This is why those churches that have banished pulpits or are ‘getting beyond’ the truth question are going beyond Christianity itself. The proclamation of the New Testament is about truth, about the truth that Christ who was with the Father from all eternity entered our own time. As such he lived within it, his life, like ours, marked by days and weeks and years. He lived in virtue of his unity with the Father, living for him, living as the representative of his own people before the Father, his very words becoming the means of divine judgment and of divine grace. But in the cross and resurrection the entire spiritual order was upended, his victory reached into and across the universe, and saving grace is now personalized in him. The world with all its pleasures, power, and comforts is fading away. The pall of divine judgment hangs over it. A new order has arisen in Christ. Only in this new order can be found meaning, hope, and acceptance with God. It was truth, not private spirituality, that apostolic Christianity was about. It was Christ, not the self, who offered access into the sacred. It was Christ, with all his painful demands of obedience, not comfortable country clubs, that early Christianity was about. What God had done in space and time when the world was stood on its head was Christianity’s preoccupation, not the multiplication of programs, strobe lights, and slick drama. Images we may want, entertainment we may desire, but it is the proclamation of Christ crucified and risen that is the church’s truth to tell.”

–David F. Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Eerdmans, 2008), pp. 203-204.


Wells’s new book is excellent and may tempt you to get inked. Buy it, read it, and—as best as feeble sinners can—seek to walk humbly, faithfully cross-centered, and courageously protestant.

Peter serves as a pastor-teacher, at home and abroad, resourcing gospel-centred communities.

3 thoughts on “Courageous Protestants!

  1. Peter,
    Great review — this book is a must read for me. Also, I really like the little soldier atop the book in your blog photo! Is this your doing, or another’s? It’s fun — makes one smile.
    take care,
    david bissett
    upstate NY, usa

  2. Hi Dave,
    No, it’s not my doing! But this book is a must read. I’ve been really challenged and blessed through it. It has also helped me to see another side of prophetic ministry, i.e. understanding and addressing our times/cultural context with the application of God’s timeless and transcendent word. Dave, it was a real privilege to spend time with you at T4G. Every encouragement in your ministry. And keep the comments coming. I’ll try and reciprocate on your blog.

  3. I liked the little Lego guy too! I think my son has him.

    Anyway, looks like a good book to add to my list. It is such a touchy subject between “traditional” churches and “contemporary” churches. Integrity will guide.. Prov. 11:3 Keep praying for True unity amongst the Church.

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