Hot on the heels of his much-anticipated scholarly work The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright, comes this latest John Piper volume, a year in the making following the Desiring God national conference of autumn 2006. Reading like an all-star roster of missional reformed theologians, the table of contents whets the reader's appetite: Piper, D.A. Carson, Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll, Voddie Baucham and David Wells (the theologian, not the pitcher) one by one address the issue of the Church's engagement with postmodernism.
Following the text's dedication to the venerable and newly-retired John Stott, Justin Taylor begins by providing a helpful overview of each chapter and releases the reader to plunge into the text at will, unbound by sequential chapter distinctions. Spurred on by Taylor's encouragement, I immediately delved into dangerous territory: the essay entitled "The Church and the Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World" by Mark Driscoll. Only having ever listened to Driscoll for a total of ten seconds once upon a time, and never having cracked a single one of his books, I found myself pleasantly surprised by his writing style and for the most part impressed by his content (I'm not one for gritty, unvarnished sermon illustrations, nor for approbation of Ultimate Fighting from the pulpit). Driscoll begins with a whirlwind tour of incarnational thinking, outlining some of the reasons why the Emergent movement draws so many young Christians into its camp. While he never condones the movement, Driscoll claims the Emergent vision of Christ's humanity is something to learn from. He then balances the deity and humanity of Christ in postmodern outreach: "as Christians enter into their local culture and subcultures, we must also remember that it is Jesus (not us) who is sovereign, and it is Jesus (not the church) who rules over all. We come in the authority of the exalted Jesus, but also in the example of the humble incarnated Jesus...Once we have the incarnation and exaltation clear in our Christology, we are then sufficiently reader to contend for the truth of the gospel and contextualize it rightly for various culture and subcultures of people, as Jesus did and commands us to do." Driscoll then goes on to discuss the ins and outs of contending for certain inalienable gospel truths and contextualizing them - without compromising them - for the culture. Contextualization, Driscoll contends, is a gospel issue. He rounds out his essay in a surprising way by narrating the cross-cultural reality of Calvin's Geneva, which should once and for all lay to rest the assertion that Calvinism is evangelistically bankrupt.
Backtracking one chapter, Keller's essay was the next on deck: "The Gospel and the Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World." While trumpeting the same contextualization message as Driscoll, Keller begins by debunking older evangelism methods that more or less fail to bear fruit in the twenty-first century. In postmodern society, Keller argues that every time we speak, "we have to get to the core of things, the gospel." He goes on to define this gospel: "The gospel of a glorious, other-oriented triune God giving himself in love to his people in creation and redemption and re-creation." In the rest of the chapter he uses the experience of Jonah as an object lesson to highlight six ways in which the Church must change if it is to adequately and triumphantly reach out to postmodern culture.
After Driscoll and Keller successfully roused me from my evangelistic slumber, I took the first four addresses in sequence, beginning with David Wells' chapter lifted from his dense and heady work, Above All Earthly Pow'rs. In it, Wells lays out the historical, theoretical and theological foundations of the postmodern climate. Although largely abstract and sweeping, Wells successfully locates postmodernism as an ugly hybrid of ancient Gnosticism and paganism. After identifying many features of these times in which we find ourselves, Wells echoes Hamlet, declaring reality to be "out of joint with itself."
In a methodological but pastoral way, Voddie Baucham Jr. follows up David Wells' cultural analysis with a clear and careful explication of how postmodernism and biblical Christianity seek to answer life's ultimate questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What is wrong with the world? How can what is wrong be made right? Christian theism, as he calls it, offers answers, whereas postmodernism cannot.
Batting in the heart of the order are Piper and Carson, who tease out the themes of Joy and Love in light of postmodern hopelessness and meaningless. True to form, Piper builds logical proposition on logical proposition in order to arrive at his main point: that our joy is rooted in the supremacy of God in Christ. Like Piper, Carson also roots his argument in Jesus' revelations of himself in John's gospel, characteristically paying attention to the nuances of the text and making connections not apparent on first reading. It is a treat to read consecutive treatments of similar texts at the hands of such gifted and diverse expositors.
Like last year's Desiring God national conference compilation, Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, this book contains two question and answer periods moderated by Justin Taylor. Since the questions posed and the answers provided vary so widely, a summary would be unhelpful. Suffice to say the conversations serve to give the reader personal insight into the hearts of these evangelical church leaders.
It would be quite unfair, in final analysis, to compare these essays with one another. They are apples and oranges: each sets out to do something different and each accomplishes its goal in its own way. Of course each reader will have their favorites, but enormous profit waits for those who take in the entirety of this little book. You may even find yourself wanting to read some more Mark Driscoll.