David Wells is a reasonable person...

(Tim, w/thanks to Jake) Day after tomorrow, my former prof, David Wells, will give a chapel lecture at TEDS titled, “How, Then, Should We Preach to Postmodern Persons?”

As a teaser question to get people interested, Dr. Wells was asked, "What is a postmodern person?"

He responded:

“Postmodern is how we are speaking about our current cultural mood.  While in some ways we become more and more modern—more technological advances, more information, more medical breakthroughs, and more things—in terms of a world-and-life view, we are adrift. The old Enlightenment paradigm with its belief in unaided, naturalistic reason, human potential, and the prospect of progress have all collapsed.  In the way we think about our lives, we are not modern but postmodern because we think about ourselves differently from what was true up though the 1960’s.”

Leaving everything else aside, did you notice the one absolutely glaring thing about Wells' lecture?


Like the rest of us, Wells has uncriticially succumbed to that one-thing-necessary without which a man will be excoriated by all reasonable men today. His language no longer is formed by the Word of God with regard to naming our race.

God Himself named us "adam" or "man," but to David Wells we're now "persons."

You think I'm nitpicking?

Trust me--I'm not.


Thank you for this post. It has become far too easy to succumb to the thought police in our language.

Perhaps he just wanted to be alliterative?

skulking away . . .



Not wanting to nitpick back - but postmoderns are persons. There are really no postmodern men or women, because that would require them to be conscious of their sex.

Postmoderns are one amorphous mass of humanity. Quick - can anyone name a manly submergent type?

Agree with Fred; and David was also answering the question he was asked.

Perhaps the real quirk with David was his giving a rational answer about a culture which has long abandoned rationality, in terms of the ultimate answers anyway (Francis Schaeffer was saying this forty years ago).

Is that post a joke?

I love to pick nits! Here's another one ...

The "modernism" Wells speaks about isn't the right way to refer to everything "up to the 1960s."

Whether you date the birth of "modernism" at the so-called Enlightenment, or the hang-over from the Enlightenment (which dates from the Industrial Revolution) there was a time before modernism (in the West, at any rate) when Man, the Navel-gazer was NOT the center of the universe.

A key feature of modernism is to repudiate, reject, scorn, and discount the past. THAT feature of modernism still lives in post-modernism.

This isn't to your point Tim, but there is another idea afoot here that bugs me even more (though it is related). I don't see why the message of Christ Crucified for sinners should be preached any different now than it was 2000 years ago (it's debatable that people are that different anyway). Is there another Law, another final judgment and another gospel for "postmoderns"? While the lies people believe take different forms, the Word of God will continue to penetrate it because of its very nature of proceeding from the Godhead. It does not return void. There is an undercurrent of his having little faith in God's spoken Word and more faith in his ability to woo sinful man with words of wisdom rather than the foolish cross.

Sin is sin, judgment is judgment and Christ's bloody atonement continues to save His people. If we don't speak the words of Law and Gospel, how will they hear without a preacher?

Perhaps another thing "glaring" at me is the idea that the modern age was one of unaided, naturalistic reason. I don't believe that I can accuse Edwards, Wesley, or Spurgeon of that--or any number of others, for that matter. It seems to me that too many people slide through Philosophy 101 with the irresistible urge to shoehorn great thinkers into the boxes their professors gave them, no matter how much evidence there is that people just don't fit that box.

And now, even worse, it appears that we've got professors of theology falling into the same error. How sad.

Yes, Dr. Wells could be making a sophisticated point by his title, and the first exhibit of his "lecture" could be that his title was carefully crafted to point out pomos are neither male nor female, but androgynous "persons."

I'm thinking not.

Regardless, I've noticed even the most biblical Christians of my acquaintance have stopped saying "man" and "men."

Bike Bubba,

That's because the teaching of philosophy in our evangelical institutions is ordered towards packing things into neat little logic boxes rather than being ordered towards that which philosophy should always be reaching - wisdom.


Dear Justin,

If, being the son of a lifelong author, editor, and publisher taught David and me anything, it's that words matter. A great deal

Christians can't allow the world to change our words at such a key breach in the wall, then complain when men reject, for instance, the doctrine of Adam's federal headship. And make no mistake about it--federal headship is carried all through Scripture by the naming of the race with the name of the one in whom we all died.

It's not biblical in the sense of the plenary verbal inspiration of Scripture to say, "As in the first person we all died, so in the second person we all will be made alive."

I'm not saying we must always use 'man' every time we refer to the race, but it is a confessional issue that we do say it, and not infrequently.

Warmly in Christ,

PS: It might be helpful to read this post:


Dear Tim:

The key might be that he gave the lecture at TEDS.

Something in the back of my mind tells me that they have some kind of inclusive language policy.

Dear Tim:

On the TEDs web site, I was able to find this from the Extension Handbook, under guidelines for writing papers. Guideline #2 says:

"As with any normal term paper, the paper shall follow any acceptable style manual such as the TIU Style and Format Guide (available at: http://tiunet.tiu.edu/teds/). The paper should include a complete bibliography of all sources relevant to the topic which influence the formation of the integrative concepts. Students should seek to avoid any unwarranted usage of gender exclusive language and strive to use gender neutral or inclusive language. Before submission, students may consider asking a friend or relative with a good grasp of language to proof-read

your paper for final revisions and corrections."

The third sentence is the key. Maybe Gordon-Conwell has a similar policy and so he is used to it.

That anyone would use such tortured wording says something about the inroads of feminism. "Men, let us..." No, wait: "Persons, let us"...

I say "you guys" all the time in mixed company and no one ever complains. There's something effeminate and too-precious about using "persons" in this context, and when things are too pretentious it usually means that the iron fist of enforced political correctness is lurking nearby.

I say "you guys" all the time in mixed company and no one ever complains.

Isn't feminism all about being “one of the guys”?

“Guys” already has a gender-neutral connotation, anyway. I try to avoid it. How about trying the more traditional “guys and gals,” and see if they still don't complain. That retains the original distinction.

If guys can be called “guys,” then gals should be able to be called “gals.”

David's comments about gender-language guidelines for written papers at TEDS alarmed me. He noted,

<"Students should seek to avoid any unwarranted usage of gender exclusive language and strive to use gender neutral or inclusive language.">

There are, of course, multiple problems with such suggested restrictions on free speech, but one important one shouldn't be overlooked. Scripture itself doesn't follow such rules. Consequently such man-made guidelines invite a simple question. Why should seminary students or faculty members for that matter be bound by a regulation clearly foreign to the Word of God.

Dear Steve:


Warm regards,

re: the writing policy:

Did anyone catch the last sentence's use of "your" instead of "his?"

BTW, I hate being referred to as "guys" (one of my chief pet peeves in restaurants, especially if I am seated only with other women).

That's why going with the Southern "y'all" is always preferable to "you guys."

Yeah, it beats the Hoosier "youin's" all to pieces!

Hey fellows ,did it ever ocurr to you that Wells was simply playing upon a sermonic practise of having the title flow around a paricular letter-in this case 'P'? Duane Liftin's piece which appeared some time back in the pages of CT was another example -" The Perils of Persuasive Preaching"- remember that?. I suppose Wells could have used 'People' but the word 'Person' had a nice fit. Besides it is a perfectly good word ( theological doctrines like the Trinity and Christology have long used the term). Are you sure you want to fall on your sword on this particular hill? Wells has been one of the most reliable and sound theologians of our times. Why start throwing vegetables at him of all people?

>Are you sure you want to fall on your sword on this particular hill?

No one's falling on his sword.

But back to the subject. Maybe the use of 'person' was not his usual habit, but he did it to point out the loss of Biblical language in our world today. Maybe it was his effort to conform to the style rules at TEDS. Maybe it was just alliteration.

It would be interesting to listen to the talk to find out if he talks about his title, pointing out that trading in 'men' for 'persons' is to lose one more place to confess our faith in the pomo world.

As to Dr. Wells' credentials as a warrior for the faith, that's precisely why it struck me and I wrote about it. It's not news when anyone else does it.

Yes, by all means listen to what he has to say -but since you decided to shoot first and ask questions later its kind of a moot point now.

If somebody dresses up as a bank robber and goes into a Bank in order to make some kind of point about how bad robbing banks is he shouldn't be surprised if the cop responsible to protect the Bank shoots him.

Nah, "guys" it is. "Guys and gals" is too tortured.

I personally like Tim's shoot first and ask questions later mentality, it saves time.

Correction to my first post:

"It seems to me that too many MEN slide through Philosophy 101 with the irresistible urge to shoehorn great thinkers into the boxes their professors gave them, no matter how much evidence there is that MEN just don't fit that box."

I'll be workin' on it, gracious host. :^)

If he'd used "postmodern people," we wouldn't be having this discussion. It's the awkward "persons" that says, "Look here! I'm not saying 'men'!" Given TEDS's policy, it is quite possible that the lecture title was changed by the school. Even if not, I think we owe a man like David Wells a pass on a single incident of this sort of thing. If we see a pattern, sure, address it, but yeah, this does seem nitpicky.

Esteemed Valerie and brothers,

I've seen the pattern, and it's prominent among the most conservative Reformed men in our country. A couple years ago, I had to fight to keep the inclusive use of 'man' in a chapter I wrote for Crossway. Their editor of the volume had taken it out in a number of places, so in a phone conversation I forced him to put it back in. And that editor is one of the most prominent anti-feminism theologians in the conservative Reformed world. Thing is, what he did he did privately.

David Wells is representative of those men and the expressions of displeasure I've received from you, good readers, have convinced me it was good to point it out to you guys/persons/people/dudes/brothers/men/people. Particularly if it was a matter of TEDS style guidelines for papers and public talks.

When he preached at Willow Creek years ago, Dad was on the receiving end of such PC browbeating and he told them he wouldn't change. I expect nothing less from us today.

Of course, we're still left with the simple fact that we have a public title using 'persons' in an awkward construction that calls attention to itself. That's all. We don't know when, where, or immediately why. But we do know when, where, and why cosmically.

So, dear brothers and sisters, confess your faith with the words you use. That's where I started this post, and where the comments will end.

With love,