At Christ and Pop Culture, we want to offer thoughtful, high-quality, approachable cultural criticism that interests those inside and outside of evangelicalism. This requires us to be fluent in our surrounding culture, but it also requires us to be fluent in Christian thought and bringing Christ into thoughtful contact with the common knowledge of our age. For too many, culture is big and God is small. It’s important that we have a picture of God’s character that orients our cultural criticism. David Well’s recent release, God in The Whirlwind: How the Holy-Love of God Reorients Our World, is book aimed at providing just that, and thanks to Crossway, it is currently available for free for members of our site.
David Wells is a distinguished senior research professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, as well as the academic dean of the Charlotte campus. Just over 25 years ago, he received a research grant from Pew Charitable Trusts to answer the question, “What is it that accounts for the loss of the church’s theological character?” (13) Wells was assigned the cultural component of the issue, and two other authors took up the intellectual and existential components respectively. The result was Well’s No Place For Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? as well as Mark Noll’s The Scandal of The Evangelical Mind and Cornelius Plantinga’s Not The Way It’s Supposed to Be.
Wells recognized that his initial volume only helped explain the cultural factors that diminished the place and importance of theology, but offered no suggestions for a remedy. The following volume, God in The Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams began by outlining the first step Wells believed was needed to reverse the course detailed in No Place For Truth. This book was followed by Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision, and then Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ in a Postmodern World. The project was concluded with a summary volume The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World which aimed to make the conclusions of the previous four more accessible.
Now in God in The Whirlwind Wells explains, “these volumes were a sustained cultural analysis, and some critics have complained that they contain no answers to the church’s current parlous state” (13). The present book seeks to remedy that situation by making more explicit the solution Wells thinks best treats the problems he outlined. As he says,
The more I have been engaged with what has happened in Western culture, the clearer has become my understanding of what has been principally lost in the evangelical church. It is our understanding of God’s character but an understanding in which that character has “weight.” We now need to return, as God’s people have done so often in the past, to find again what has been lost. Faith lives along this line between Christ and culture. It is a line filled with dangers and hidden land mines. It is one where seductive and alluring voices are heard. It is also here, though, if sight is clear, that our faith gains its sinews and strength by engaging with this world. At least it has been so for me. And now, in this volume, I have shifted my focus. No longer am I so preoccupied with the culture part of the equation. Now I am looking out on life from the other side of things, what is symbolized by “Christ” in the Christ-and-culture juxtaposition of things. This volume reflects on what we have so often lost in our work of framing Christ-and-culture. It is the holy-love of God. (14)
The overall sense I gather from reading this book, as well as No Place For Truth and God in The Wasteland is that Wells would see pop culture as part of the problem, or at least an extension of the pressures of modernization (something he focuses heavily on in No Place For Truth). He’s not a big fan of TV shows, that much is for sure. Wells is not directly attacking or condemning pop culture, and his book serves as a great resource for thoughtful Christians wanting to engage and interact with pop culture in light of the holy-love of God. Wells gives readers a big vision of a big God and helps to orient us to what we most desperately need. Having been brought into the presence of this God of holy-love, we are more readily able to love our neighbor as well as our culture in a Christ-centered and saturated way.