We will not naturally seek the gospel but therapy. Not Biblical truth, David F. Wells explains, but encouraging maxims. His book, The Courage to Be Protestant is an indictment of the disease at the core of our culture and the core of evangelicalism.
Two reasons exist why we desire therapy. Of singular importance is our rejection of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The second reason is more complex.
Reinhold Niebuhr correctly observed that identity comes from family, community and craft, or work. These three have taken a huge hit, and so we now struggle with a lack of identity. No identity; no meaning. Therefore, we have a deficit of happiness.
Family, community and work are the primary means whereby tradition is passed down; destroy these and you erode tradition, creating a vicious cycle. In short, tradition is vital to identity. This is why some now wish to say that identity is a matter of choice, not inheritance. We choose our gender identity, it cannot be dictate chronologically prior to my choosing.
Individualism is the cause of this break down in society. Specifically, an individualism born out of the Enlightenment’s rejection of tradition, history, and church. Wells explains:
Earlier forms of individualism were built around two central ideas. First, they believed in the worth of the individual. Second, they believed the individual was more important than society, and so anything that would interfere from the outside with our right to think for ourselves, our right to make decisions for ourselves, and our ability to live in ways that we ourselves had chosen was viewed as morally repugnant. These ideas were worked out differently in different forms of individualism. In our contemporary moment, though, we are especially concerned with expressive individualism, to use Robert Bellah’s term from Habits of the Heart.
Scripture teaches a right and healthy kind of individualism, one that does not mutate into an unhealthy collectivism. Abraham Kuyper seems to concur. The doctrines that came out of the Enlightenment gave birth to the terrors of the French Revolution. It was then and there that we see the righteous union of the collective and the individual, balanced in the family, conflagrate.
Gene Edward Veith explains the confusion of the postmodern mind generally; David F. Wells diagnoses the paranoia of the (post)modern mind specifically:
What happens in a world where we can, in a way, make our own reality unhindered by a God or a truth that is external to us? One way to think of this is to see what has happened already in the West. Western cultures have all been held together by three sinews: tradition, authority, and power. Of these, only the third survived.
This is what agitates so many postmoderns. They have come to think that everything in life, every word spoken, every action done, every posture, every word written, is either an overt or covert attempt at hegemony, to use the going lingo. Everything is about power. Everything is about control, manipulation, domination, using or being used for someone else’s purposes. While this has gone hand in hand with much cynicism, with suspicion about everyone’s motives, with doubt about everything’s that is said, it is not illogical.
Looking at the Western psychosis, we are reminded of Proverbs 28:1, “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.”
Daniel MasonSee More Essays
Daniel Mason studied theology in his undergrad, and currently pursuing graduate studies, with a particular interest in the Dutch statesman, Groen van Prinsterer. Daniel Mason is the co-founder of The Reformed Conservative.