Book review for David F. Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant: Reformation Faith in Today’s World, 2nd edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 2017.
Summary: Last Shepherds’ Conference (2020) I picked this book up on my way out the bookstore. I figured I’d give it a read and I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to read it. The book addresses reformed theology in Western society’s current climate.
First, Wells analyzes the current status of the evangelical world. He traces the changes in the church in recent history (~50 years or so). He addresses the shift away from doctrine and towards marketing/business. Then, the eventual shift into the emergent church (1990s–2000s) and eventually to where the church is at today (2017 was the time this 2nd edition was published). Then, the first chapter ends by showing the similarities and differences we have today with the world of the reformers.
Second, Wells analyzes the place for truth in our current society. He examines how the modern world has shifted the way we think about truth. Society’s shift to a more urban/modern world has really changed the way we view family and values.
Third, Wells analyzes cultures view of God. There is an emphasis on how we live in a needy self-centered world. This world has led to humanity seeking for answers even though they have access to incredible amounts of information and data through our modernized world. He argues that, in our world, humanity has made themselves their own god. This has led to the massive emptiness human beings are experiencing.
Fourth, Wells analyzes how society’s turn inward has ruined some basic biblical truths. Shifting God outside the center of life and replacing Him with man has led to lost and ruined people. We no longer see the need for God and reconciliation. He points out the irony that the more we dethrone God and make ourselves the center of our own fulfillment, the more we feel empty and the more we need God.
Fifth, Wells analyzes how our emptiness is only fulfilled in Christ. Our answers do not come from earth, but they come from the incarnation of Christ walking among us and providing salvation for us.
Sixth, Wells analyzes the church. Society’s individualistic emphasis has left the church outside of the priority of many Christian’s lives. This is harmful since God has designed the church to be the place where the gospel goes out and Christians are nurtured. He rehashes the reformation principles that mark the church (the right preaching of the word, the right practice of the ordinances, and church discipline).
Thoughts: Overall, the book is a thorough and sober-minded reflection of our current society. Wells did a great job laying a biblical pattern over all that we see happening in our society. As a protestant, I found the book encouraging because it showed that we really do have a lot to offer to a broken world. The gospel, and the hope that it offers, is extremely relevant for life today. It gave me confidence as a Christian to live faithfully in this world. While trials will come, Christians have a sure foundation that keeps us safe from being tossed to and fro by what we’re seeing in the world.
I would have appreciated more footnotes that lead to primary reformation sources. Since the book was about current protestantism, it’d be helpful if he pointed to the primary historical sources tying us today with the reformers of the past, but I guess that is just nitpicking.
Recommendation: I would recommend Christians living in America to read this book. The book would seem most helpful for people living in large cities where some of these progressive thoughts are more evident. I also think this would a great read for Christians who are entering colleges/universities. They will face a lot of what is addressed in this book and having a protestant foundation would be helpful.