The following is a summary of notes that I took as I listened to David Wells’ address titled “Preaching the Truth of the Cross for the Modern Age”. You may listen to this message here.
The following are four shifts or signposts point to a movement in our culture and among the people of our culture away from a moral understanding of the world as it comes from God. We are, as it were, exiting the moral world.
Signpost #1: We have moved from thinking about virtue to thinking about values.
Virtues are aspects of the good that are enduringly right, across all people, places, and times. Virtues exist because the character of God never changes. In our world today, virtues are lost and are replaced by values. Values are the things that are important to the individual. They are what I hold to be important. Values differ with each person, place, and time.
Because of this, we have come to believe that a person’s competence is more important than their character, that is, what a person can do or achieve is more significant than who they are and their character. Examples: Bill Clinton, Anthony Weiner, etc.
One telling sign of this shift is that fact that in 1928 the word “values” was not to be found in the Oxford English Dictionary.
Signpost #2: We have moved from thinking about character to thinking about personalities.
Character relates to morals, manners, and duty. Personality relates to how we come off or appear to other people. The shift to a focus on personality means that we are always staging ourselves or marketing ourselves. The appearance of success is paramount. We must be ever selling ourselves.
“In this business you must be sincere, and if you can fake that, then you really have it made.”
Signpost #3: We have moved form thinking about nature to thinking about self.
In thinking about nature we come to see that humans possess an innate awareness that animals do not. In addition, all humans share this distinction from animals. All people are of equal values because of this, and not because of any surface qualities such as ethnicity, gender, age, disability, etc.
In thinking about self, we come to define who we are by our knowledge, experiences, values, etc. These define who I am and are unique to me. These values must be accepted by everyone else and I must be given liberty to express them.
The great problem then is lack of self esteem.
Signpost #4: We have moved from thinking about guilt to thinking about shame.
Guilt deals with how our actions relate to God, His character, and His word. Shame deals with how our actions relate to others. In our world today shame has come to be defined as a bad emotion. It is something that we must be liberated from. In our world, the ultimate freedom is to be without shame (shame-less).
Can the moral world really be exited?
While we can exit the moral world in our minds, the reality is that it is impossible to leave behind the moral world. God remains sovereign. Our conscience accuses us. No matter what we think, we remain moral beings.
How can we as Christians proclaim the Good News of the Cross into such a world?
Our task today is to tell people who no longer know what sin is, who no longer have the categories to understand sin, who no longer think they are sinful, and who no longer inhabit a moral universe, that Christ died for what they apparently think they are not guilty of.
One way forward: Remember that God did not start with John 3:16, but with Genesis 1:1. The Old Testament and the law is there to be a teacher to us. We must do the slow and very relational work of teaching these categories to those who have lost them.