Wednesday, October 04, 2006

David Wells: The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World

David Wells' book Above All Earthly Powers was the driving force behind the conferene theme. Wells is a brilliant scholar and has an insightful, provocative knowledge of western culture. His message on the opening night of the conference was tremendously effective in setting the stage for the overall theme of the conference. Wells is a professor of historical and systematic theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and an ordained Congregational minister.

Highlights from his message:

Interesting facts and figures...
In 1793 (when William Carey sailed for India to preach Christ), 98% of Protestants lived in the West. At the turn of the 20th century, 90% of Protestants lived in the West. However,
today Christianity is moving south into Central and South America and East into Asia. There
are probably more Christians in China today than the West. The point is this: today there is
more Christian believing taking place outside the West than inside the West. This is evidence
Western culture has become a 21st century mission field.

In the United States, 45% of people claim to be born again. However, only 9% have any
concept about what that means and can explain their claim biblically.

The main question Wells' sermon asked and answered...
Since Western culture is cleary rooted in Judeo-Christian values, and since Western culture
was once populated only 110 years ago with 90% of Protestant believers, why are people
leaving what is unique and glorious, namely Jesus Christ?

The main texts for the message were Heb 2:8-9, 10:12-13, and a broad reference to chapter
11. In the book of Hebrews, the audience had converted to faith in Jesus from their historical
Jewish roots. As they were beginning to face Roman opposition and persecution, many were
tempted to abandon their confession of faith in Jesus. Like the Israelites at Kadesh (Psalm
95; Heb 3-4), they were struggling to see that God would be sufficient for the challenges they
were facing. Faced with opposition in their world for their faith, they were forced to confront
their unbelief, which is precisely the reason Israel failed to receive what was promised at
Kadesh. So why do people draw back? It is always a matter of faith.

In the West we do not fear for our safety because of our faith in Jesus. However, we are
distracted by many things, and thus we find it difficult, often impossible, to maintain
unwavering focus on Jesus. Along with the benefits and comfort of living in the West, where
we have seemingly limitless opportunities and abundance, come costs and shadows.

If you go to Africa the most pressing needs are physical. People are hungry. They lack
sanitary living conditions and shelter. But in the West the challenge of faith is much more
psychological. Competing worldviews, lifestyles and religions make faith in Jesus hard to
sustain. There is an intrusiveness about Western values and culture that color our innermost
workings. We are preoccupied with how to survive in this world. How do we secure
promotion at work? Are we saving enough for college and retirement? Am I educated enough
to earn sufficient income? How do I maximize the pleasures of life for the enjoyment of my
family? There are many things assaulting our souls in the West that compress society. This
compressed, busy society of technology, hedonism, materialism and communication clamor
for our affections and focus.

This is precisely what people bring into Christian worship in the West. This is why people
seek such "practical" ministry, settle for being entertained, and are enamored with easy-
believism and self-help psychology in our pulpits. Tragically, the benefits of the "practical"
ministries we offer people in the Western church are lost without the supremacy and
centrality of Jesus (which is precisely the point of the book of Hebrews).

The texts (Heb 2:8-9; 10:11-13)...
There is a two-sidednes to life. Reality is that we do not have the world outside or inside of us
in control. What we do have is Jesus. Post-fall the world is off-track. The world is in chaos and
humanity lives in rebellion and treason against God's authority. But in Christ God is putting
creation and us back on track (the cosmic implications of the Gospel). The priesthood of Jesus
is superior because His work is finished on the cross (which is why He is seated) and soon His
enemies will become Jesus' footstool.

The point is this: though there seems to be great uncertainty in this world, the outcome of
what will eventually transpire in this world is no longer in doubt because of Jesus. His priestly
work is His sovereign triumph over all enemies. The uncertainties and tragedies of this world
are the last futile moves of the enemy; but the outcome is not in doubt.

Implications for a Postmodern World...
  1. Christianity is only about a supreme, sovereign Christ. He is unique, central, indispensable and supreme. This is all we have to offer the world. The questions aren't about Jesus; they are only about how we help people see this kind of glorious Christ.
  2. We live in a period of "already...not yet". We are redeemed in full but know ourselves to be not yet fully perfected (2Cor 4:16-18). This should help us make sense of things in life that confront our faith and may tempt us to waver in unbelief.
  3. It is God's pleasure that His Son be acknowledged now - at this appointed time in history - for who He is. How faithful is the church in proclaiming the Jesus of the bible?


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