I just finished this hearty workout by David Wells: The Courage to be Protestant (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008). He sets the evangelical American church on the table poking it, prodding it, and pondering why it is in the sad shape it finds itself in today: a doctrinal vacuum where people want a spiritual fix their way, right away.
The structure of the book is like this: First, he discusses the lay of the evangelical land, from old-school evangelicals to post-postmodern Emergents. Second, Wells shows how the American church is catering to the customer and explains in part (third) how truth is weakened and internalized so the product can sell. He goes on (in parts four and five) to talk about the American fixation of self, which results in an internalized God. Hence people reach in to find their potential (you’d be amazed how many “vision statements” of churches reflect this!). Sections six and seven cover the topics of Christ and church, and how America is amazingly spiritual but pagan at the same time. Furthermore, in many churches, Christ is domesticated and the visible, assembled church is not so much needed in a market where the inner rules over the outer. Of course Wells says it much clearer – this is but a quick summary.
Here’s a small bit from Wells, where he explains how the truth is not sexy in today’s church venue.
“The success they [mainline churches] achieve is had by being ‘religious’ as little as possible. Religious words have, as a result, more or less disappeared in these churches, words like ‘justification,’ ‘atonement,’ ‘judgment,’ ‘holiness,’ ‘incarnation,’ ‘sanctification,’ and ‘glorification.’ If the words have gone, so too have the doctrines of which the words were a part and by which the doctrines were taught. It is the benefits of believing that can be marketed, not the truth form which these benefits derive. So market the one and forget the other! Here is the pragmatism that has been a hallmark of American evangelicalism. Here is an antidoctrinal mood that cannot be squared with a biblical mind-set” (p. 53-4).
Because this book is in some ways a summary of his four volume set (some of which you can find here and here) which details these things in a greater way, the book, Courage to be Protestant, is pretty dense. By “dense” I mean he puts a lot between the covers – it is easy to read, but there is much info. So much that you’ll need to mark it up and re-read sections later in your studies. In summary, I strongly recommend getting this book – and give one to your pastor and/or elders, or to a dear friend who goes to a church that has gone the way of the American market.