It has been a long time since I posted part one of this summary and review, but I want to finish what I started, so here is part two and part three will soon follow.
Wells does a great job chronicling the effects of immigration on the American religious scene. For the first century and half of our nations existence, most immigrants came from Europe and shared a common Judeo-Christian heritage. However, in the second half of the 20th century this trend changed and America became a more pluralistic nation.
Alongside the multiplication of religions available on the buffet, a ‘new spirituality’ has developed. This new spirituality is individualistic, non institutional, therapeutic at its core. This personalized and customizable spritualities have had a tremendous and unfortunate impact on the evangelical church in the last decades. This is especially the case in seeker churches which have exploited this heightened spirituality in our culture. Wells observes, “[The spiritual climate] makes it easy to gain a hearing for what is spiritual but hard to maintain a genuinely biblical posture because that is what becomes a part of ‘religion'” (119).
While the new spiritual openness of our culture is an opportunity of immense proportions, it would be a mistake to think the new spirituality is a friend of evangelical faith. Again, Wells correctly asserts, “It is this spirituality that threatens to rumble through evangelical faith in a way more detrimental to it than any Christian engagement with no Christian religions” (126). This new spirituality is in fact, as Wells aptly demonstrates, not that new, but a combination of ancient paganism and ancient gnosticism. This new spirituality is to be confronted, not courted.
Chapter Five of Wells’ book is one of the most helpful I’ve read recently, helpful knowing how to engage with those who have adopted the postmodern understanding of truth (that there is no universal absolute truth) and are left with a meaningless world. So many I have read on this topic give me the impression that everyone in the postmodern world is morose and depressed, wallowing in meaningless and aimlessness. Wells explains the difference between how postmodern nihilism has expressed itself in Europeans, who he sees as more given to melancholy, and Americans, who he explains are more optomistic, cheerful and upbeat. Instead of brooding, Americans have become banal. We have lost the ability (or willingness) to be serious about anything and do everyting with a smirk and a ‘shallow snicker’ (188). This I see, this I recognize, but not until now did I see it as a defense mechanism – a way of avioding the true meaningless of a wordl without truth.
The next post, part three of this series, I’ll share and evaluate Wells’ thoughts about how Christ and his church meet the challenges of our postmodern world.