The Neglected Child and the Disappearance of Theology

In the early winter of 1997, I spent a few minutes in the office of theologian David Wells, picking his brain about the history of 20th-century evangelicalism. He graciously and patiently answered my questions then handed me a little booklet called The Bleeding of the Evangelical Church.

This booklet, and the books Wells wrote before and after it, argued that the decline of evangelicalism was due in large part to "the disappearance of theology":

It is not that theological beliefs are denied, but that they have little cash value. They don't matter. I likened the situation to that of a child who is in a home but who is ignored. It is not that the child has been abducted; the child is still there. The child is in the home, but has no legitimate place in the family. [1]

16 years later, I find that in the Calgary area and in Western Canada, the 'child' is still being ignored in churches and among Christians that call themselves evangelical. A friend shared recently how he tried to highlight the importance of the gospel for his church. They assumed that he must really be interested in evangelism. Now of course, my friend wishes to share the gospel with unbelievers, but that wasn't his point. His point was a theological one. He was trying to emphasize the need for his church to have the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ at the connected centre of everything they do, even their identity itself. He was trying to take notice of the 'child', but they wished to keep the 'child' seen but not heard in an out-of-the-way play area.

Obviously no church is going to admit to having lost their 'child.' But when you look at how they live their corporate lives, many churches treat the truth of God revealed in His Word and in His Son as marginal at best, absent at worst.

If we are to see a renewal and recovery of faithful Christian witness in Calgary and Western Canada, we must commit ourselves to holding onto theological beliefs that have, in Wells' phrase, 'cash value'. Our beliefs must matter, or else they will do us no good in the diagnosis, the downsizing or the disaster.

[1] David Wells, The Bleeding of the Evangelical Church (Banner of Truth) 1995. The booklet is available online at The Founders Journal website (