Please Don’t Call Me Outdated!

There’s nothing worse than being called “outdated”. Actually, I can think of a lot of things that are worse, such as having to get a tetanus shot, or needing to have dental work of any sort done. But in our fast, modern, connected culture, it’s a pretty bad thing to be called “outdated”. The Walkman is outdated. Sleeveless denim shirts are outdated. America thrives on progress, and over the past 300 years we’ve made major progress in many areas, such as women’s rights, civil rights, technology, healthy living, and medicine. Progress is good. Most of the time.

I think we need to be very careful however, when we start jabbering about progress in our ideas of God. A few months back Rob Bell released a book called Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Many people embraced the book, saying that it was time we moved past our old, tribal, outdated ideas about a fiery God who pours out wrath on sin and sends people to Hell. This argument of “moving past” old ideas has been repeated in regards to many other ideas about God and the Bible, such as sexuality, marriage, and the creation debate.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for reexamining our commonly held beliefs and making sure that they really are from the Bible. But I think we need to do slowly and very, very carefully. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, do we really think that we are somehow spiritually superior to those who went before us? Do we really think that all the Christian men and women who went before us and held to a particular idea were spiritual morons who didn’t know what God was really like? That spiritual giants like Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Edwards, Spurgeon, and Lloyd-Jones somehow missed it when it came to their ideas about Hell, or sexuality, or the church, or the family, or creation? It’s not like God has changed since the times of these men. He’s still the same, and the men and women who went before us wrestled with the same Bible that we do. So let’s not be arrogant punks and think that somehow we’ve moved past the ideas of those before us.

Second, we’re just as much products of our culture as those who came before us. The argument usually goes something like this: Augustine (or Calvin, Luther, Edwards, etc.) was deeply embedded in a patriarchal (or misogynistic, medieval, Enlightenment, rationalistic, etc.), and therefore all his ideas were shaped by that culture. We are part of a superior culture that has moved past all those old ideas, and therefore our ideas are better. But that’s just a boatload of bologna. Our ideas are shaped by our post-modern culture just as much, if not more than those who went before us. Our ideas aren’t inherently better than earlier ideas.

Finally, the Bible talks about guarding the truth of Jesus Christ and not letting it be changed. For example, in 2 Timothy 1:13-14, it says, “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” We are primarily called to guard the faith entrusted to us. Not mess with it or change it or improve it. In light of this, we should be hesitant to dismiss ideas that have traditionally been held within the church.

We should always evaluate what we believe and what has traditionally been believed in light of scripture. The Reformation was built on the idea that everything must filter through scripture. My concern, however, is that in our modern culture we will be too quick to abandon ideas that have traditionally been held. That can be just as dangerous as holding on to “outdated” ideas. Maybe more dangerous.

Comments

  1. Ajay Grayson says

    Great post! So desperately needed in this day where the mentality of “Christianity must change or die” is growing.

  2. Arline Erven says

    Reminds me of Lewis' idea of "chronological snobbery." Just because we're newer, doesn't necessarily mean that we're smarter.

  3. lisa says

    Great post, Stephen.
    One point: I wouldn't say that all who question the beliefs of men of the past necessarily think that they were "spiritual morons" anymore than I am guilty of "hate crimes" because I declare that the bible teaches that homosexuality is sin. I'm pretty sure that at least some of those men embraced slavery, so I would definitely disagree with them on that point, but would not write off everything else they said as moronic, to be sure! I just want to be careful that we don't imply the same type of assumptions that are often assumed about us. But I do agree with you that it is a very dangerous trend to be quick to jettison beliefs long-held as orthodox by the majority of the church, before carefully and humbly investigating. It certainly can, and often is, a sign of arrogance to do that. Thanks for writing this!

    • says

      I agree Lisa. I think the point you're making is the necessary counter balance to my post. After all, Martin Luther questioned much of the Catholic church teaching, which is what led to the Reformation. I get concerned with my generation though, because we love to attack authority.

      • lisa says

        And of course, Luther wasn't crying out for "moving on" from the truths of scripture but RETURNING to them. Big difference. I share your concern with your generation as well. That whole it's-hip-to-question thing is troubling to me, as well as the "we're the young generation, and we've got something to say" attitude that seems to be prevalent (to quote the Monkees). Interesting that when Paul told Timothy not to let anyone look down on his youthfulness, he didn't tell him to do that by questioning everything and getting up in the faces of authority, but to set an example for the believers in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity. (1 Tim. 4:12) Grateful for all of you "kids" who are doing that!!!! :-) Thanks again for a great, thought-provoking post.

  4. photini says

    "Second, we’re just as much products of our culture as those who came before us. The argument usually goes something like this: Augustine (or Calvin, Luther, Edwards, etc.) was deeply embedded in a patriarchal (or misogynistic, medieval, Enlightenment, rationalistic, etc.), and therefore all his ideas were shaped by that culture. … Our ideas are shaped by our post-modern culture just as much, if not more than those who went before us. "

    AMEN.

    Which is another reason to go back to the early church fathers and see what they said. Back to those closest to Jesus and the disciples. Polycarp was a disciple of John. Ignatius heard John speak. Clement was ordained by Peter. If these men and their students don't know what Jesus meant, there is no hope for any of us!

    If the Bible were as easy to understand as some want to believe it is, there would be no need for teachers. The Ethiopian would not have needed to talk to Philip. There would be no need for a Christian bookstore that sold anything other than the Bible. Every person who reads the Bible brings a set of presuppostitions and their own biases. That is true of us today and it was true of the Reformers. The only way to know that you are reading the Bible correctly is to be certain that you are in line with the historic teachings of the church, sometimes called "tradition." I know that is an awful word for Protestants, but that's what it boils down to. What are the traditional teachings of the Church? If you've come up with something that doesn't line up with those teachings, you've gone wrong somewhere.

    Sadly this is one place where the Radical Reformation, although well intentioned, went astray. The doctrine of sola scriptura led to throwing out beliefs that had always been a part of Christianity. The belief that the bread and wine changed into the Body and Blood of Christ was a part of historic Christianity. And Jesus clearly states that (This is my Body… This is my Blood). They claimed to be rejecting and old tradition, but really only replaced it with a new one. If sola scriptura is true, why do people who read the same passage disagree? How does one know which one is right? I would say, "Look to the early church, not the Reformation, and see what was taught."

Trackbacks

  1. […] Another great post on “The Blazing Center,” Mark and Stephen Altrogge: proprietors. The post talks about being careful not to reject wonderful theological insight just because it’s “old.” C.S. Lewis cautioned against the “tyranny of the novel (read: new)” – the tendency we have to think anything current or new is inherently better than anything anyone said in the past. What a silly idea, but an idea that makes sense to our prideful, sinful selves. The writers of every generation often think their ideas are the best. Every generation seems to struggle with this outworking of pride, and it takes a certain amount of humility to accept that we have much to learn from the voices from the past. […]

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