Today, as we continue our series on No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology, we finally come to the place where Dr. Wells begins to lay out the core of his argument. And while one might expect him to begin with evangelical concerns such as the loss of biblical literacy or the degradation of personal piety, he actually begins with a far more insidious problem that he identifies as the “world cliché culture.”
“Lying between the middle of the nineteenth century and the middle of our own century is a historical divide. On the one side is the Age of the West and on the other is an Age yet to be named. We know it already, however, for it is Our Time. On the other side of the divide, Europe was at the world’s center politically and economically. On our side of the divide, the center is America. On the other side of the divide, Judeo-Christian values were central to Western culture, even if they were not always believed personally. On our side of the divide, such values have been dislodged and replaced with a loose set of psychological attitudes that we now know as modernity.”
So if, according to Wells, Our Time is defined as the Age of Modernity or as the World Cliché Culture, what is it about Our Time that is so sinister and corrupting? In the second chapter of his book, Wells identifies three characteristics of this Age that are the primary source of the concern.
First, there is the issue of progress. While most of us do not consciously live with the belief that we are progressing towards an earthly utopia, scientific advancements in our own daily lives lead many of us to experience the world in such a way as to unconsciously live as if things must inevitably keep getting better. It as if is our ability to make better phones, better computers and better medicines has somehow ingrained in us a subtle belief that we can make better people through better social engineering and better societies. But the leap of faith that is required to make this jump is not sustained by a study of history. For if the 20th century has taught us anything, it is that better technology in the hands of corrupted humanity simply leads to a greater capacity for widespread violence.
The second problem identified by Wells is the problem of globalization. If progress in the field of transportation and communication have lead to anything, they have lead to a “shrunken world,” in which the particularities of individual cultures are slowly being degraded and eventually eradicated as market forces bring the same homogenous products to every nation around the globe. Thus, in the end, modernity brings forth a world culture that belongs to everyone, while belonging to no one at the same time.
Finally, there is the issue of mass communication. Wells says it best when he says this:
“What began as a physical conquest of the world, the annihilation of its space and time, the control of its forces, and the exploitation of its resources has now become a profoundly psychological reality. The benefits of technology bless its beneficiaries but also curse them, because the benefits all come packaged in values that are naturalistic and materialistic. These values fill the air twenty four hours a day now; and they compose the conscious world in which we live.”
In other words, the “progressive” products that are stripped of local, indigenous values and marketed to the global audience may improve the quality of life for some, but, at the same time, these products produce a overly-consumptive society in which people are constantly on the look out for the next, great, material widget that will “improve” their lives.
So what does all of this have to do with the loss of evangelical theology? Well, that remains to be explored in future chapters. But what is clear at this point is that Wells locates the source of the problem amidst deeply cherished beliefs held by many within the American culture at large. And he believes that the Christian mind in the midst of this culture “is like the proverbial frog in the pot beneath which a fire has been kindled. Because the temperature rises slowly, the frog remains unaware of the danger until it is too late.”
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