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Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision Paperback – February 1, 1999
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From Publishers Weekly
Noted evangelical theologian Wells (God in the Wasteland) weighs in on the perpetual problem of whether the church can retain its moral integrity and still play a vital role in today's culture. Wells argues that, in the postmodern world, the church is in danger of losing its moral character by compromising its teachings about virtue, including doctrines of sin and guilt, by making too many concessions to cultural teachings on virtue. Wells addresses his concerns by examining two kinds of spirituality that, he says, characterize the church. On the one hand, he says, classical or Reformation spirituality is the hallmark of Christianity, and he uses this spirituality to represent a general understanding of the doctrines, devotional habits and moral character of the Christian life. On the other hand, postmodern spirituality, Wells says, is forged in the interaction between biblical truth and the intuitions or instincts of the contemporary world. According to Wells, postmodern spirituality is more concerned with shame (falling short of what others expect of us) rather than sin (falling short of what God expects of us). Wells urges the church to return to classical spirituality and not to allow the message of that spirituality to be diminished by the cultural habits of the modern world. This argument is one that has recurred throughout history, but Wells makes it in plain language accompanied by a straightforward critique of the ways in which, he believes, secular culture's notions of virtue fall short of Christianity's.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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
Prophetic in its intensity (though similar arguments were voiced by Francis Schaeffer long before Wells), "Losing Our Virtue" discusses how the combination of deconstructionist theology and psychology at the nascence of the 20th century brought us to the point that we call black white and white black. He outlines the rise of self at the expense of traditional Christian views of God, sin, and the cross of Christ, showing how modern culture now exists in a moral vacuum that has in its brazenness supposedly killed God and therefore any guilt that may arise from acknowledging that He transcends us. With self now ensconced as the moral center, absolute truth and morality are jettisoned in favor of each person being his own moral center. That this can only breed relativism and the eventual destruction of all things moral, is a point well covered in the book.
In some ways, perhaps too well covered. The first few chapters and the last chapter are brilliant. At the cost of a star, though, the middle sags as Wells builds his arguments. The problem lies in beating the points along his path to his conclusion to death. This book probably could have been cut down to 120 pages and would have made its point more efficiently. Metaphorically, you can kill the vampire with an effective stake through the heart. You don't have to then stuff it with garlic, douse it in "holy water", and bury it in a silver coffin lined with crucifixes under a running stream.
The section on the differences between "Guilt" and "Shame" was also confusing since Wells mixed conflicting viewpoints and counterpoints together, making it hard to tell exactly what his point was until the very end of the section. Again, a bit better editing would have made the book a smoother read.
This is an intellectually challenging book that demands close attention. And despite the author's attempt to end on a more upbeat note, it is hard to close this book and think any other outcome than the utter corruption of the entire world and most of Christendom is a foregone conclusion. Hopefully, readers will come away with a burning desire to make a difference rather than conceding that all is lost.
Sum his advice up by this quotation: "Does the Church have the courage to become relevant by becoming biblical?"
Great read; thorough and provoking.
Classical spirituality, which Wells' defines by its doctrinal basis, its devotional habits, its moral character, and its responsibilities in Church and Society"  is the backdrop against which the a-theological spirituality of postmodernism is viewed. Wells demonstrates that talk about virtues has given way to clarification of values, that emphasis on character has shifted to a focus on personality, that theology has been displaced by psychology, and that feelings of guilt, which are God-centered in their moral orientation, have degenerated into the emotions of man-centered shame.
Wells gets at his diagnosis of the moral state of the Church and culture in several ways. In chapter one, "A Tale of Two Spiritualities," Wells contrasts the hymnody of the historic Church with the contemporary praise and worship songs of today. The results of his research are somewhat alarming, whatever one's taste in music happens to be. Another chapter, "The Playground of Desire," draws more from a study of sociology, zooming especially on what Wells calls "the competition between law and freedom," the relevance of which to the political realm he unfolds with penetrating insight. In yet another place, Wells examines the ideology of Robert Schuller, Senior Pastor of the Crystal Cathedral. Schuller's view of sin "is really nothing more than poor self-image, and salvation is its reversal," says Wells . But, "where sin has lost its moral weight, the Cross will lose its centrality, Christ will lose his uniqueness, and his Father will no longer be the God of the Bible" .
One of Wells most astute observations is that "much of the Church today, especially that part of it which is evangelical, is in captivity to [the] idolatry of the self. This is a form of corruption far more profound than the lists of infractions that typically pop into our minds when we hear the word sin. We are trying to hold at bay the gnats of small sins while swallowing the camel of self" [203-204]. As can be seen, Wells operates with a sharp surgical scalpel. But let no one think that he is a knife-happy physician, for he not only diagnoses the disease and cuts away the cancer, he also prescribes the medicine that will heal the Church. That cure is nothing less than a recovery of the Gospel, with its high view of God's transcendent holiness.
This is a must read for Christians who are serious about engaging the culture on a philosophical or theological level. And those who are not interested in such an engagement may need this book most of all.