Within the World
Let me start with a personal testimony. David Wells’ first book in what might roughly be called this series is entitled No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? Say what you will about that volume (and it has its critics), but for me it was transformative. When I try to remember exactly why it hit me as it did, I conclude that it certainly had a great deal to do with my own personal confusion, questions, and dissatisfactions with the evangelical church culture of which I was a part. But what I most appreciated – and, since then, have most fed upon – was that his diagnosis of the problem was centered around an essentially theological critique. In all sorts of ways, our understanding of God had lost its weightiness: God had become weightless in our eyes, with disastrous consequences for our understanding of the place of the church and the importance of holiness.
Wells expanded on this basic concept in many fruitful ways in the books that followed, including in his latest, God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy Love of God Reorients our World. In the introduction (and, I believe, in much of the marketing material) Wells positions this book as one more in that same series, with perhaps slightly more focus on how the truths about God should influence our personal lives within the world.
I would happily recommend this book without qualification, though it must be said that it is both less and more than simply a sequel to those other four. It is less in that it provides less rigorous cultural analysis and criticism. It will be less satisfying to scholars and academic theologians.
On the other hand, it is also more than the other books, in that it seems to distill the essence of the other volumes in a way that makes it both easily understandable and manifestly applicable. What is so helpful is the way in which Wells suggests that the doctrine of God can and must be the center around which Christian praxis orbits. The idea of God’s “Holy-love” captures both God’s essential mystery and his self-revelation in scripture.
Which brings me to another feature of the book which I found so helpful: Wells’ appeal to biblical exegesis and biblical theology to both ground and illustrate his contentions about God’s person. The concept of God’s “Holy-love” is not an abstraction arrived at merely by an appeal to Christian tradition, but one which is found quite clearly demonstrated on the pages of scripture. Its fullest display comes only in the cross of Jesus Christ, where God is shown to be both just and the justifier of those who have faith in Christ. God’s righteousness is displayed in the fact that Jesus’ death is a propitiating work: God’s justice is satisfied, and his love is made manifest in salvation.
In short, I see this book less as the capstone of Wells’ earlier volumes than as the introduction to their major theses. Its original formulations (particularly the “Holy-love” designation) serve to crystalize those earlier themes. And, despite some of the criticism Wells’ has received for these volumes (much of which amounts to saying that he didn’t write exactly the book his critics would have written), his analyses and warnings are ones which evangelical churches ignore only at their own peril.