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Above All Earthly Pow'rs: Christ in a Postmodern World Paperback – September 15, 2005
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From the Back Cover
In our postmodern world, every view has a place at the table but none has the final say. How should the church confess Christ in today's cultural context?
"Above All Earthly Pow'rs," the fourth and final volume of the series that began in 1993 with "No Place for Truth," portrays the West in all its complexity, brilliance, and emptiness. As David F. Wells masterfully depicts it, the postmodern ethos of the West is relativistic, individualistic, therapeutic, and yet remarkably spiritual. Wells shows how this postmodern ethos has incorporated into itself the new religious and cultural relativism, the fear and confusion, that began with the last century's waves of immigration and have continued apace in recent decades.
Wells's book culminates in a critique of contemporary evangelicalism aimed at both unsettling and reinvigorating readers. Churches that market themselves as relevant and palatable to consumption-oriented postmoderns are indeed swelling in size. But they are doing so, Wells contends, at the expense of the truth of the gospel. By placing a premium on marketing rather than truth, the evangelical church is in danger of trading authentic engagement with culture for worldly success.
Welding extensive cultural analysis with serious theology, "Above All Earthly Pow'rs" issues a prophetic call that the evangelical church cannot afford to ignore.
About the Author
David F. Wells is the Andrew Mutch Distinguished Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. An ordained Congregationalist minister, he is also the author of more than a dozen previous books.
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Top customer reviews
I will focus on what I consider to be the hinge-point of the book (pg. 123). Wells states... "..the current evangelical disposition to shuck off its cognitive structures and minimize the practical place of revealed truth in the life of the Church means that it has brought itself to the edge of a precipice. It is a precipice precisely because as evangelical faith has chosen to minimize itself in these way ....it is losing what makes it distinctive from all of the other postmodern spiritualities."
There you have the complexity of thought, density of writing and insights which characterize the entire work. You also have the major premise. The post-modern world is a reversion to pagan spiritualities at the same time it is distancing itself from religion (you have to think about that). These spiritualities manifest themselves in an accumulating, individual, syncretic attitude toward life that is distant from any external authority. The Evangelical Church, in seeking to engage this culture, is too often joining it in a fundamental manner and by doing so, is in almost certain danger of losing the actual gospel that Jesus was so adamant to proclaim (the precipice).
This book needs to be widely read and digested by Christians throughout the world. It is only by recognizing the threat that it can be resisted and yet, all too often, Evangelical zeal has blindly charged on, perhaps, already, into the chasm. Give yourself time to read it and work on following the thought. It is worth the effort. In fact, it is perhaps absolutely necessary that it be done.
In the first section of his book, Wells seeks to provide an accurate description of our modern life and to show how these recent cultural movements affect us internally. Of course, a proper understanding of today's world must take into account the philosophies inherited from the Enlightenment - philosophies centered on freedom from the past, from God, and from external authority.
The development of society has paralleled the principles of the Enlightenment. Consumerism teaches us that consuming is essential to the nurture of self. Therefore, our purchases are often an attempt to buy reality, to find individuality in our style. We have traded the idea of unchanging virtues for the terminology of "values," which are not normative for all people.
Postmodernism represents a rebellion against the ideology of the Enlightenment. Aspects of this rebellion deserve to be celebrated.
But Wells differs from those who cheer the new postmodern turn in that he does not see a "clean breach with the modern world." Instead, he believes postmodernism merely reflects a different aspect of modern culture. The new philosophy is not faith triumphing over unbelief, but "unbelief taking revenge upon unbelief."
The Death of Meaning
Postmodernism is notoriously difficult to define, which leads Wells to point to the common denominator he sees in all postmodern outlooks: meaning has died.
In the wake of the Enlightenment's failed promises and stifled progress, postmodernism questions rationalism's basic assumptions. But this questioning leads to a skeptical view of human reason, which in turn leads to further fragmentation and further departure from the idea of a metanarrative (a totalizing worldview).
Wells believes that postmodernism's critique of modernism goes too far. He implicitly upholds the correspondence theory of truth, saying, "When we speak of truth, we are asking whether it is possible to have an understanding of reality which corresponds to what is there."
Wells recognizes that humans have certain biases and presuppositions. He understands that rationalism cannot build a tower that allows us to see the world in its fullness.
But in taking away any vantage point from which to judge between truth and error, postmodernism leaves us without a worldview, without truth, and without purpose.
An Age of Pluralism
New social developments now offer plausibility to the rise of religious pluralism. A new wave of immigration in the United States has made America the most religiously diverse nation in the world.
Immigration has led to a downplaying of religious identity. People see religion as institutional and organizational. Many prefer a generic "spirituality" that can be discovered and practiced outside the church. The appeal of the new spirituality is in the way it separates the private world from the public world, offering an experiential grounding of belief that does not have to correspond with outside reality.
Christ Against the Gnostics
Wells sees the postmodern spiritual yearning as a seeking after consciousness, an inward turning for authenticity. Reaching back to the patristic period, Wells compares this new movement to ancient Gnosticism.
The Gnostic worldview contradicted the Christian faith. It required confrontation, not adaptation. Wells finds this confrontation in historic Protestant theology that portrays God finding the sinner, not the sinner looking inward to find God within himself.
Wells calls upon Christians to respond to this new type of Gnosticism by insisting upon the historic understanding of human sinfulness. This understanding views human beings as fragmented and flawed, not morally innocent.
Furthermore, Wells reminds us that Christianity concerns public truth, not private spirituality. And despite the myriad of spiritualities on the market today, only Christianity provides the personal relationship for which postmodern people yearn. Only Christianity gives us a divine summons from a personal God.
In short, Christ is the answer to our empty spirituality, the answer to our meaningless existence, and the answer to our sense of being "de-centered."
Unfortunately, evangelicals are busy accommodating the postmodern mindset instead of confronting it. Evangelicals have deemphasized doctrine and religious identity and instead promoted values and principles for bettering life here and now. The church has been transformed into a place where the gospel can be marketed as a product to consumers.
Wells urges evangelicals to recapture the voice of "proclamation" of divine truth and not succumb to the consumerist temptation of secular society.
Most recent customer reviews
Wells is a philosopher so this is reasonably heavy reading, but well worth the effort.Read more