10 Questions with David Wells
In this interview David Wells discusses John Stott, evangelicalism, and growing up in the African bush. Wells is Senior Distinguished Research Professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is the author of numerous books, including Above All Earthly Powers, No Place for Truth, God in the Wasteland, Losing Our Virtue, The Courage to be Protestant, and Reformed Theology in America.
You are a veteran professor at Gordon-Conwell Seminary. What part of teaching do you enjoy the most?
Teaching is a craft and it is about communication and I enjoy both aspects about equally. I spend a great deal of time getting my lectures ready and I work on them just as cabinet-makers once did on their pieces. But it is also about drawing one’s listeners into the world of which you have been speaking so that, as they enter it, they make it their own and become excited about it.
You were born in Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). How long did you live there and how has this upbringing impacted your life and ministry?
I stayed until I had finished my first degree which was in architecture but since all building had ceased because of the political difficulties, I had to emigrate and went to London. I grew up in the bush without electricity, TV, or any of the other aspects of modern life. The benefit today of this beginning, I think, is that I can still stand outside of this modern world and look at it as an outsider.
Many may not know that you are on the board of the Rafiki Foundation and that you travel to Africa to work with orphans. Tell us about this ministry and how you got involved.
Rafiki is in ten African countries where it is rescuing and educating some of the orphans left behind by AIDS and sometimes by civil wars. What has happened in Africa is a tragedy of colossal proportions and Rosemary Jensen, a friend, who started Rafiki, saw that what was needed was for someone to come in, pick up these kids, and do what can be done to enable them to become leaders who will know God and serve him in good ways.
Is postmodernism on the way out or is it still thriving?
The postmodern mood is constantly morphing into new shapes and moving off in new directions. It is not inevitable that those of us who live in highly modernized contexts like our own will look at life in a postmodern way; but our context of affluence, technology, and our knowledge of the whole world, will always incline us to do so. I think it will always be part and parcel of the modernized world which also means that as the non-Western world moves in this direction we will see fresh varieties of this mood springing up. The answer is a Christian orthodoxy that is robust but which also has cultural discernment.
You are somewhat of a prophet when it comes to evangelicalism. What concerns you most about where evangelicals are headed in the next ten years?
We are in the late evening of the boom in evangelical believing that began in the early post-War years. As I argued in “Courage to be Protestant,” two of evangelicalism’s three main constituencies—the church marketers and the emergent—are now disintegrating and what remains is the third constituency –the heirs of traditional orthodoxy. Can this be reinvigorated and where will the next generation of leadership come from? These are my questions and concerns.
To many leading evangelicals, you are a father figure in many ways. But when you first entered the teaching ministry who did you look up to the most?
I was deeply shaped by Martyn Lloyd-Jones, whose church I attended twice a week in London, by Schaeffer with whom my wife and I worked, by John Stott with whom I lived for five years, and I always had the highest regard for Carl Henry. I never found him incomprehensible as others said they did but, on the contrary, he was for me a model of what theologians should be doing. I always wished that Karl Barth’s immense talent and majestic vision had been worked out a little differently but I always appreciated reading him even when I had to argue with him.
One of your books was in tribute to John Stott. How well did you know him?
I was a radical student at the University of Cape Town and went to hear him when he visited to do a university mission. I was converted a little later though I actually walked out of his address. When I went to London, alone and a bit bereft, he took me in and I stayed in the All Souls rectory until I married. I served on the John Stott board for twenty-five years. He was a dear friend and I miss him a lot.
What do you think Stott’s greatest legacy was on evangelicalism?
His doctrinal clarity in which he made historic orthodoxy so appealing; his utter personal integrity; his resurrection of expository preaching when it was all but lost; his balance between belief and practice. In all of this, he was more like a (moderate) Puritan born out of due time.
Is it true that your five volumes with Eerdmans on Evangelicalism are now being turned into a film project?
It is true that I am working on this and am hopeful that it will come about. I want to do what I can to bring the things I have learned into the churches in a way that is accessible to more people than the books are. However, the economic climate has not been friendly to projects like this.
Please don’t tell us you are a New England Patriots fan, are you?
Regrettably, an avid Pats and Red Sox fan. But don’t hold that against me when the Pats head to the Super Bowl at the end of this season. Just remember that all of the joys that go with that are more than offset by all of the dismay that attends Red Sox fan!
This interview was taken from the January issue of Credo Magazine, “In Christ Alone.” Read other interviews and articles like it today!
To view the magazine as a PDF Click Here
The January issue argues for the exclusivity of the gospel, especially in light of the movement known as inclusivism. This issue will seek to answer questions like: Can those who have never heard the gospel of Christ be saved? Will everyone be saved in the end or will some spend an eternity in hell? Must someone have explicit faith in Christ to be saved? Contributors include David Wells, Robert Peterson, Michael Horton, Gerald Bray, Todd Miles, Todd Borger, Ardel Caneday, Nathan Finn, Trevin Wax, Michael Reeves, and many others.