“Truth” A review and discussion of The Courage To Be Protestant, chapter 3

This is the third part of our team book review & forum based on The Courage To Be Protestant by David F. Wells. (series index here) It was written by Terry Delaney, an M. Div. student at Southern Seminary who writes here, and at Going To Seminary and in his Diary.

The Courage To Be Protestant


The classic definition of truth is, “the correspondence between an object and our knowledge of it” (72). However, we live in a post-modern world where truth has no absolutes. Because we live in a post-modern world, we should not be surprised that the erosion of absolute truth has found its way into the church. In chapter three, Dr. Wells looks to answer five questions:

  1. What in the culture has led us to such a jaundiced view of truth?
  2. Why do so many Americans believe neither in truth nor in morality that is absolute?
  3. How should we think about truth?
  4. What is the biblical teaching on truth?
  5. Why is the church that professes this truth (question 4) so untouched by it?

Wells contends that our understanding about the self is the thread that connects the Age of Enlightenment to today’s post-modern age. This thread of how we understand the self also impacts every chapter that follows in this book.

Unfortunately, with the decline of the community, we have lost the ability to transmit important ethics and values from generation to generation. The past, our heritage and tradition, has no value to much of the population today. It is in this context that truth has become less important and more suspect. It is in this context that we see a clash of worldviews on a daily basis that can easily lead one to a relativistic understanding of truth. After all, we coexist with those who have completely opposite beliefs than we do. Therefore, not only is truth relative, but there is no need for an absolute truth claim. It is no longer needed.

Perhaps the most glaring problem in the church that is founded upon the loss of truth is the struggle for power. Wells contends that today, “everything is about power. Everything is about control, manipulation, domination, using or being used for someone else’s purposes” (71). Post modern (as well as the emergent church) speech is intentionally confusing. Even though most people want to deny absolute truth, they still live in a world where they expect a proper correspondence between what is said and what is. By that, I mean that the truth corresponds with reality.

Although the church seems to espouse this low standard of truth, the Bible does not. I must include this paragraph simply because Dr. Wells says it so well.

In the biblical view, we know the truth and not just arbitrary rules and approcimations. This knowledge of what is “there” includes the truth about Christ (1 John 5:20), about God (2:13-14), his character (3:16), his redemptive purposes (3:5), our own nature (1:6, 8-11), and the (postmodern) “world” we inhabit that is filled with “the deisres of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions” and is also “passing away along with its desires” (2:16-17). On all these matters we have God’s truth, and for the truth to be shy about saying “We know…We know…We know” is an act of self betrayal.

In keeping with the theme of the correspondence of truth, the Bible is unapologetic in declaring Jesus “the way, the truth, and the life.” The emergent truth cannot say this because they desire to put the world before the church and therefore call into question the validity of their Christianity.

Dr. Wells concludes this chapter with a discussion of the parable of the sower (Mt. 13:3-8; Mk. 4:3-8, 14-20; Lk. 8:5-8, 11-15) as well as a challenge to look at missionaries who go into foreign lands and adapt to a culture without accepting that culture’s worldview. The church must remember two points: “Christianity is about truth…and those who say they are Christians must model this truth by their integrity” (92).


Dr. Wells assessment of the erosion of the assimilation of the culture into the church is dead on. I would agree that the church seeks too much to be relevant to the world–how many churches cancel regularly scheduled services for holidays and/or special events (see Super Bowl Sunday)? By trying to be so relevant, the church loses not only its relevance but its credibility as well.

We, as Christians, must be unashamed of the Truth we claim to believe. Because of passages like Romans 1:18, it is safe to assume that everyone accepts absolute truth at some level and that the Bible is the only book that is able to answer all of their questions about life. There is an oft-quoted cliche that very much applies to Christianity today: If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything. It seems to me that the church must once again take a stand for truth and do so unashamedly.

We must be willing to engage the emergent church at the foundational truths that are essential to Christianity. We must also be able to engage the likes of N.T. Wright at the elitist level of scholarship. It is at both of these levels (low and high) that we must take our stand all the while preaching the Scriptures faithfully and relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to change the lives of your hearers.


  1. Do you think we as evangelical Protestants spend more time trying to convince our hearers that absolute truth does exist and that it is found in the Word of God rather than just preaching the Truth and trusting in the Holy Spirit to change the lives of your hearers? Do you? How would you go about changing the focus of arguing for truth to preaching the truth?
  2. In this age of post-modern Christianity, how does one go about deciding what is and what is not Christian? Are essential (foundational) truths necessary?
  3. On page 88, Wells says, “The church is, to put it charitably, very distracted right now.” How would you help the church regain its focus? What would/should be its focus?


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6 Responses to “Truth” A review and discussion of The Courage To Be Protestant, chapter 3

  1. Pingback: Group Book Review: The Courage To Be Protestant by David Wells | Said at Southern Seminary

  2. John Mark Inman says:

    David Fitch has a brief review/introduction/analysis of Well’s book. http://www.reclaimingthemission.com/2008/06/why-neo-radical-young-and-restless.html

    The money quote: “In summary, as the atrophy of traditional evangelicalism spreads across N. America, I have my doubts as to whether the young, the restless, the Reformed, can lead us to a place of new faithfulness without eventually leading us to more of the same that got us here in the first place.”

  3. Jason M. says:

    Thanks for your review of chapter three. My comments are a little late because last week (SBC Convention and VBS) consumed all my extra time.

    Question 1: I believe both can coexist in preaching. We do need to preach the word of God and let the Spirit of God work. But we also can preach apologetically. Here I mean that we can anticipate questions and objections to what the word of God is saying and apologetically answer them with sound Biblical wisdom. It seems to me that Paul did this especially in the letter to the Romans.

    Preaching apologetically can be useful for both the regenerate and unregenerate audience. Mark Dever practices this method in just about every sermon he preaches at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. I have found this approach helpful.

    Question 3: I believe overcoming the distraction will be very difficult humanly speaking. I find in the church that I pastor that many are confused about what Christian discipleship entails. I hope through consistent Biblical Preaching week after week and consistent practice and application of the preaching we are all coming to a better understanding of the church’s priorities.

    The state of many churches filled with unregenerate members makes this change more difficult as well. Church discipline needs to be recovered and practiced to remedy this issue. It could be that many in my generation (age 30) will have to do the hard work of “cleaning up” local churches while the next generation, hopefully inheriting healthier churches than we, will see revival. Of course, I hope the cleaning process goes quicker than it is going now so that we too might see revival.

    The focus, in my estimation, is the gospel, its proclamation, and being obedient to all its implications.

    Matthew 19:26
    “… with God all things are possible.”

    Jason M.s last blog post..Tuesday is for Hymns

  4. Jason,

    I agree whole-heartedly with your comment about preaching apologetics. I am very intentional about doing this where it is applicable to a message. I am convinced that most Christians are not aware of how their faith is substantiated by cold, hard, tangible facts.

    I guess what you are saying is that you would use apologetics to undergird the truth of the Bible and the Truth of the gospel. If that is what you are saying, then a follow-up question would be where do you draw the line? How much apologetic information could/should you use in a message on the crucifixion of Christ? What about the authenticity of the Bible? How often do/should you use apologetics in this important area of our faith? I admit that I struggle quite often with trying to prove, through the use of apologetics, the Truth of our faith.

    You said, “I hope through consistent Biblical Preaching week after week and consistent practice and application of the preaching.”

    I think that is exactly what we should be doing! I am becoming more and more convinced that it is our generation of pastors (45 and under) that will need to see to the discipleship and mentoring of the next generation moreso than what the previous generation has done. I do not mean anything negative by that comment, but the one complaint I hear over and over is that there is a lack of this very thing in the local church. My prayer is that we who are called to pastor will remember our frustration and use it in a way that brings glory and honor to God by intentionally mentoring another young man.

    Thank you again for your remarks. I found them very insightful.

    Terry Delaneys last blog post..I Hope This is Not the Standard for the Week!

  5. Jason M. says:


    I think we are on the same page concerning preaching apologetically. In the end though, it will be the Spirit enlightening the mind and heart of an unbeliever in order that he or she be convinced of the truths preached.

    “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:18,23-24).”

    Jason M.s last blog post..Tuesday is for Hymns

  6. Amen, brother.

    Terry Delaneys last blog post..Thank You Jesus for Dirty Socks

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