The Holiness of God

No Place for Truth
David Wells

Divorced from the holiness of God, sin is merely self-defeating behavior or a breach in etiquette.  Divorced from the holiness of God, grace is merely empty rhetoric, pious window dressing for the modern technique by which sinners work out their own salvation.  Divorced from the holiness of God, our gospel becomes indistinguishable from any of a host of alternative self-help doctrines.  Divorced from the holiness of God, our public morality is reduced to little more than an accumulation of trade-offs between competing private interests.  Divorced from the holiness of God, our worship becomes mere entertainment.  The holiness of God is the very cornerstone of Christian faith, for it is the foundation of reality.  Sin is defiance of God’s holiness, the Cross is the outworking and victory of God’s holiness, and faith is the recognition of God’s holiness.  Knowing that God is holy is therefore the key to knowing life as it truly is, knowing Christ as he truly is, knowing why he came, and knowing how life will end.

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Managing God

No Place for Truth
David Wells

To the extent that [we] have thus attempted to manage God, we can be sure that [we] have been alienated from him.  God has never been managed and tamed, either by unbelievers or by believers.  God is always angular and will not be made smooth.  He is always sovereign over the Church and will not be subject to it or manipulated by it.

All That Remains is the Self

No Place for Truth
David Wells

The self is a canvas too narrow, too cramped, to contain the largeness of Christian truth. Where the self circumscribes the significance of Christian, good and evil are reduced to a sense of well-being or its absence, God’s place in the world is reduced to the domain of private consciousness, his external acts of redemption are trimmed to fit the experience of personal salvation, his providence in the world diminishes to whatever is necessary to ensure one’s having a good day, his Word becomes intuition, and conviction fades into evanescent opinion. Theology becomes therapy, and all the telltale symptoms of the therapeutic model of faith begin to surface. The biblical interest in righteousness is replaced by a search for happiness, holiness by wholeness, truth by feeling, ethics by feeling good about one’s self. The world shrinks to the range of personal circumstances; the community of faith shrinks to a circle of personal friends. The past recedes. The Church recedes. The world recedes.  All that remains is the self.

Insubstantial Selves

No Place for Truth
David Wells

Is not the self movement evidence of our collective unhappiness and insecurity?  It is only the hungry, after all, who are always thinking of food; those who are not deprived occupy themselves with other thoughts.  It is only the unhappy who are constantly preoccupied with happiness, only those crippled by a sense of their own insubstantial self who expend their lives in its pursuit.

No Place for Sacrifice

No Place for Truth
David Wells

Interpersonal relationships inevitable involve conflicts of interest that can be resolved only by compromise and sacrifice.  Self-fulfillers place a premium on such relationships, and yet their guiding concern for self-fulfillment, their devotion to self-interest, would seem almost to guarantee that they will not be successful in maintaining them.

This Inner Vacuum

No Place for Truth
David Wells

In a strange testimony to this inner vacuum, the profession of law has risen to such prominence in America that 70 percent of all the lawyers in the world practice here.  In the absence of moral obligation and a sense of what is right, disputes are extraordinarily difficult to resolve, and so the set of rules that has emerged under the law must take on duties that were once shouldered by a variety of other institutions – the family, the schools, the church.  Now we are left with only the lawyers.  It is a terrible thing, Solzhenitsyn said, to live in a society (such as that in the former Soviet Union) where there is no law; it is also a terrible thing to live in a society (such as that in America) where there are only lawyers.

Laughing and Crying Alone

No Place for Truth
David Wells

Given the increasing number of television sets in American homes and the divergent tastes of viewers, Americans more frequently watch their sets alone.  As television discloses its intimacies and drama to these viewers, inviting a response, they are left to sigh or laugh or shout or cry alone in the company of the nonresponsive machine.

Why does man feel so sad in the twentieth century?  Why does man feel so bad in the very age when, more than in any other age, he has succeeded in satisfying his needs and making the world over for his own use?

– Walker Percy

History > Inner Experience

No Place for Truth
David Wells

The resurrection of Christ had nothing to do with the religious imagination, nothing to do with parables of existence and symbols of inner experience; it had everything to do with an act of God that was public, external, and objective. And herein lies the difference between the pagan and the biblical minds. For the latter, as G. Ernest Wright argued in an earlier attempt to resuscitate the importance of the biblical narrative, it is “the objectivity of God’s historical acts which are the focus of attention”; for the former it is “the subjectivity of inner, emotional, diffuse and mystical experience.”

The Exodus was no religious symbol, no product of the religious imagination, and God’s deliverance of his people was objectively wrought and not at all dependent for its realization on internal discernment.

The early Christians did not preach their experience of Christ; that would have been to promote a form of religion like any other form of religion. Rather, they preached the Christ of that experience. They preached not what was internally interesting but what was externally true. God had raised him from the dead, and this was a matter of history, not simply of internal perception.

Where is the locus of God’s truth to be found? To the pagan who heard the voice of the gods within, who listened to the whisperings of intuition, and to the modern who similarly listens within for the voice of self, the answer is the same. For the Israelite it was different. The Bible is not a remarkable illustration of what we have already heard within ourselves; it is a remarkable discovery of what we have not and cannot hear within ourselves. Thus, our inward sense of God and our intuitions about meaning are irrelevant in any effort to differentiate biblical truth from pagan belief. It is how we apply ourselves to learn what God has disclosed of himself in a realm outside ourselves that is important.

And unless we steadfastly maintain this distinction in the face of the modern pressures to destroy it, we will soon find that we are using the Bible merely to corroborate the validity of what we have already found within our own religious consciousness – which is another way of saying that we are putting ourselves in the place of the Bible. It is another way of reasserting the old paganism. When that happens, theology is irredeemably reduced to autobiography, and preaching degenerates into mere storytelling.