David Wells recently gave an excellent address sponsored by the (Carl F. H.) Henry Center on preaching to postmoderns. He spoke in the ATO chapel at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Wells made a few comments about (American Protestant) Fundamentalism toward the end of the Q&A session. I’ll include the positives and the negatives to be fair, but I do think the positives are striking:
Those of us who have developed a few gray hairs look at this new [evangelical] monasticism with a certain bemusement, remembering the fundamentalist decades. There for a long time it was fashionable to mock the fundamentalists as being little-minded, bigoted, narrow. They withdrew from the mainline denominations, they set up their own school system, they developed their own radio, their own communities; they had their own yellow pages—they were monasteries!
And we who were first “New-Evangelicals” and then a little bit later on “evangelicals”—we said, “No, no, no, no… That withdrawing from the world is hopeless, because you withdraw all your Christian influence from it and what happens? The salt is taken away from the meat and the meat rots. So, of course we’ve got to get back into the mainline denominations, back into the educational system, we [unintelligible] gotta get doctorates.”
So we got back into the culture and we became a part of it. So now what’s happened? Well, now what we’re hearing is that we’ve got to become monastics, indeed even recovering, retrieving, some of the Catholic monastic forms because this is the only way that we will survive and preserve the Christian faith….
I’m not convinced that the fundamentalist solution was a good one, although I can say to their credit tht they did preserve the Word of God. And they did in their missionaries do some extraordinary social relief, though it was not in America; it was in far away countries—and here we battle the social gospel instead. There were good things to the fundamentalists but there were real defects. And those real defects, I think, remain any time we try to resurrect any form of monasticism.