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The Church in Crisis: A Postmodern Reader

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The evangelical church is in a crisis today. Some see it as teetering on a precipice, its demise merely decades away unless severe counter-measures are taken. The overt pragmatism, separation of “religious truth” from “real truth,” and marginalization of the Lordship of Christ and the authority of scripture are a large part of the reason for this crisis. At bottom, the church has moved to the back of the intellectual bus by elevating personal experience as the ultimate measure of truth. All of this is playing into the hands of the god of this world. A growing number of evangelical (and even non-evangelical and non-Christian) voices are being raised against such cultural forces, asking us to return to a worldview that is more balanced. Too many Christians are either unaware of their assimiliation into culture or else do not have ready access to viewpoints that sufficiently counter it. This all-too-brief reading list is offered as a partial corrective, in hopes that some in the church today will begin to read—and in hopes that some believers who have material wealth may see the great need to help fund large projects that cultivate the life of the mind.

The following annotated bibliography addresses issues related to postmodernism. Some of the works are more general, pointing to the larger issues of epistemology (how we know), common sense vs. political correctness, the life of the mind, and the authority of scripture in guiding our lives. But all of these books address a common theme: culture and its adverse impact today. This is not to say that culture has only a negative impact (although one or two of the authors seem to think this!), but it is to say that much of culture has a negative impact and that the Church, more than any other group, should be wary of such. As Paul told the Romans long ago, “Do not become conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2). The ten books are listed in recommended reading order.

(1) Moreland, J. P. Love Your God with All Your Mind. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997.

Moreland is professor of philosophy at Talbot Seminary. In this book he gives biblical, theological, historical, and philosophical reasons why Christians need to begin to think again. Two quotations at the beginning of the book (p. 19) summarize well what it’s about:

R. C. Sproul: “We live in what may be the most anti-intellectual period in the history of Western civilization. . . . We must have passion—indeed hearts on fire for the things of God. But that passion must resist with intensity the anti-intellectual spirit of the world.”

1980 Gallup Poll on Religion: “We are having a revival of feelings but not of the knowledge of God. The church today is more guided by feelings than by convictions. We value enthusiasm more than informed commitment.”

(2) Packer, J. I. Truth and Power: The Place of Scripture in the Christian Life. Wheaton: Shaw, 1996.

Although the lightest reading in this list, Packer’s insights, synthesis, and compelling wit argue that the Word of God needs to have a higher role in the Church than it has been having of late.

(3) Noll, Mark. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994.

Noll is an evangelical historian who has done a blistering critique of the evangelical mind. He traces how the evangelical mind has gone to seed in the last two hundred years. “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind” (p. 3). This is must reading for those who need a vision of where to give of their financial resources.

(4) Wells, David. No Place for Truth (Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993.

Rather than describe the book, allow me to quote Os Guinness in his appraisal of it:

“Wells’s trenchant analysis is a devastating CAT scan of American evangelicalism. Unless it is responded to as well as read, the diagnosis might as well be a postmortem, for evangelicalism has no future if this condition is not remedied. Evangelicalism can only remain evangelical if it is passionately serious about truth and theology.”

(5) Wells, David. God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994.

This book is the counterpart to No Place for Truth (a book that Albert Moehler called the “bomb that exploded on the playground of evangelicals”). In the former book, Wells reveals the sickness of soul that is modern evangelicalism. In this book, he offers his solution.

(6) Bloom, Allan. The Closing of the American Mind. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987.

The insightful polemic against the soul of the American university today by a premiere political science professor at the University of Chicago. Although Bloom covers several topics, a large portion is dedicated to the “liberal” agenda of political correctness (“liberal” is in quotation marks because a true liberal is far more open-minded than today’s liberal is). This is an important book if for no other reason than to show us what culture is switftly becoming.

(7) Carson, D. A. The Gagging of God. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.

A 640-page tome from Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, this book offers a strong biblical and logical critique of pluralism, with its basic tenet of relativism. Carson argues that Christ is the only way that one can come to a saving knowledge of God—a case that needs increasingly to be made today.

(8) Hirsch, Jr., E. D. Cultural Literacy. New York: Vintage, 1988.

Like Allan Bloom, Hirsch has been a necessary thorn in the side of American academia for several decades now. In this book he takes on Dewey’s educational philosophy that has become the ruin of real learning in this century. Dewey, the father of American education, essentially applied Darwinian evolution to education; he assumed the basic goodness of mankind as well as its inevitable progression. Though not a Christian, Hirsch is one of the chief advocates today of laying a cognitive foundation if real learning is to take place. This is decidedly against today’s norm of heightened individuality, process as supplanting content, and right-brain creativity as vital while left-brain logic and cognitive skills are marginalized. (If I may add a personal note: Christian education, as taught in our seminaries, is largely Deweyistic without being self-conscious of it [after all, those who teach CE typically earn their doctorates at secular universities—doctorates that are strong in educational implementation and weak in the philosophy that drives such]. Thus, ironically, the Church is helping to promote its own destruction at the hands of relativistic tolerance and expression.)

(9) Armstrong, John, editor. The Coming Evangelical Crisis: Current Challenges to the Authority of Scripture and the Gospel. Chicago: Moody, 1996.

This is a collection of essays that pinpoints several key issues facing the evangelical church today. In many respects, it is a call to return to the core values of the Reformers. Although overdone in parts, its battle cry of sola scriptura is one that again needs heeding, for the evangelical church is quickly slipping from this strong anchor.

(10) Ingraffia, Brian D. Postmodern Theory and Biblical Theology: Vanquishing God’s Shadow. Cambridge: University Press, 1995.

Clearly the most scholarly of the books on this list (being Ingraffia’s doctoral dissertation), this book is not for the light of heart! The author shows that some of the catalysts of postmodernism are found in writers such as Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Derrida. “He demonstrates how any attempted reconciliation between contemporary critical theory and biblical theology is radically misguided” (from the preface). Though a Christian (he’s a professor at Biola University), Ingraffia’s work has sufficiently compelling force and wide enough appeal to be published by Cambridge University Press.

Related Topics: Apologetics, Introduction to Theology, Library and Resources