Tuesday, April 04, 2006


The test of time

One of the advantages I enjoy as a lover of vintage music, movies, art, books, etc., is that I don't have to work all that hard to distinguish between the good and the bad. It's not that everything that was made in the past was good, or that everything that's being created today is bad. Rather, the best of the old has had time to rise to the top, whereas the best of the new has not yet been in existence long enough to have passed the test of time. Thus, when I go shopping for CDs or DVDs, the percentage of dross amongst the new releases is much higher than that of the reissues of old classics.

Although I am rather lonely in this opinion today, I should point out that the wise men and women of past ages have been like-minded on this point: it often takes time for the good, right, beautiful, and wise to be proven in value. In this present generation, I fear that many lack either patience or inclination to let time perform its wonders. Instead of prizing the tried-and-true, our generation is entranced with what is new and fresh. In fact, the best of the past is often despised on account of its age. Many folks won't think of watching a movie unless it's in color or listening to music if it's in mono, and the writings of the wise sages of bygone days are rejected on account of their quaint old way with words.

Looking back on the history of the Christian church, we can see that the men who have had the greatest Gospel impact have shared a deep respect for the works of those who have gone before them. The Reformers such as Luther and Calvin owed a great deal to Augustine and other early church fathers, and in the 19th Century Spurgeon was in no way ashamed of the debt he owed to the Puritans. In our day, the growing revival of interest in Reformed theology has been accompanied by a renewed respect for the works of the great Christian teachers and preachers of the past.

What a different picture we see in much of modern Evangelicalism! Aside from the Bible itself, it is getting increasingly difficult to find any books that were written more than forty years ago. Also, the tried-and-true preaching of the undiluted Gospel has gone out of favor, replaced by an ongoing rush after religious fads and follies. All this is done out of a professed desire to reach the masses, but with a callous disregard as to whether the teachings and practices that are popular today are of any real lasting value.

Perhaps this love of the novel and distaste for the old ought to be no wonder to us. Consider our attitudes towards youth and old age. In the past, the elderly were seen as worthy of special respect, but now older folks are often put away in special homes, perhaps to help preserve our youth-oriented culture from having to confront the reality of our universal mortality. In fact, some have seen a trend amongst middle-aged adults to hold on to behavior, music, dress, etc., that was once associated exclusively with the young. Some have named such folks "grups." In the not-that-distant past, people's tastes and styles used to evolve with age. Musically, one's tastes once shifted from swing to jazz to classical, but more and more we see folks continuing to listen to the Stones, Springsteen, or the Ramones well into middle age.

Although I'll grant that a nostalgia for one's youthful days isn't necessarily a moral failing in itself, it seems to me that this and other indicators suggests that our society has become so besotten with the new and the youthful that it is no longer paying attention to the voices of older and wiser men and women from the past. No, you don't need to trade your Stones albums for the waltzes of Strauss--there is substantial room for liberty regarding such matters of taste--but yet regarding matters of faith I would argue that we would do well to pay less heed to today's trendy purveyors of religious fads, and pay more attention to the teachings that have stood the test of time: that have stood up against centuries of scrutiny in the light of Holy Scripture. My brother, it is unwise to adjust the course of one's spiritual life based upon the supposed wisdom of the latest best-seller. Instead, let us be patient, and let us be diligent to evaluate the new against the wisdom of the past, especially the God-breathed wisdom of Scripture. The words of Rick Warren and his ilk will pass away, but the Word of God will never pass away!

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