Book Review: Above All Earthly Powers by Wells
Above All Earthly Pow’rs is the final book in David Wells' 4-volume series, which seeks to summarize all of the previously written material. In his introductory chapter, Wells immediately tells us the point of this final work: “[It is] to be able to say more exactly how Christ, in whom divine majesty and human frailty are joined in one person, is to be heard, and is to be preached, in a postmodern, multiethnic, multireligious society” (7-8). This is the theme that is eloquently and clearly woven throughout all 317 pages of his book.
In the initial stages of this book, Wells seeks to determine how the Enlightenment, the rise of ethnic groups in America and the increase of different religions in America have shaped the lens through which we see. Prior to these things occurring, religion, or more particularly, Christianity, was, in some sense, the norm. Many people throughout this nation attended church, as God was a normal part of their lives. As the Enlightenment influenced American thinking, however, God became distant and in many cases church was an afterthought. Wells notes, at the heart of the Enlightenment was “the demand for freedom from all external authority and the belief that it was reason which carried in itself the means of unlocking the riddles of life…” (58).
Wells expands this point by demonstrating how the various modes of communication (e.g., television, advertisements, internet, etc.) promote Enlightenment thinking. Wells next proves how this form of thinking is a religion in itself (95, 96, 109). Since many people do not want to associate themselves with organized religion, as Wells notes, this way of thinking is thus classified under the banner of “spirituality,” and unfortunately, it is this “spirituality” that is invading the church and corrupting orthodoxy. All of these elements set the stage for Wells’ conclusion, which strike at the heart of the matter, namely asking, how do we deal with these things?
The answer to this question is sprinkled throughout the latter third of his book. Wells believes that Christianity is not a consumer religion and therefore should not be presented as if it is one religion on the shelf of many equals. Indeed, there is only one way of salvation and that is through Jesus Christ. The Church must, despite all the temptations, stand firm on orthodoxy which has proven itself throughout the course of time. According to Wells, history demonstrates that as churches recline on the sofa of unorthodoxy, their people drift away and the churches eventually “go out of business” (301). The answer, therefore, is not in hip trends and fashionably dressed pastors, but in the preached and authoritative word of God.
Above all Earthly Pow’rs: Christ in a Postmodern World is well worth reading. This short review, in no way, does justice to the truths contained in this book. Once you read this, it will behoove you to trace your steps backward and read his previous works in this series.
Leon Brown, MDiv 2011