The Old Gospel in a New World
As I have casually studied history, particularly the history of the church, two things have presented themselves as obvious rules. (1) Ideas rule the world, and (2) every idea we see today is not new.
(1) Ideas are the driving force of history. I have yet to come across a successful movement where an idea did not drive the movement. I think it is safe to say that every movement, revolution, reformation, inquisition, or exploration carried out by a group of people is always birthed out of an idea.
The reason this is important for us to note is so we understand where our focus should be. We ought not to focus on the flash and brilliance of the movement, the popularity of the movement, nor how the movement makes us feel. Rather, the focus must be on the idea propelling the movement forward, and whether that idea is sound and beneficial for the whole scope of humanity.
(2) Every modern idea is found in the history books. Many of the philosophies of the past, labeled as lunacy in the day they were thought out, find their home in the public discourse of today. Furthermore, many failed ideas of the past have been rewrapped and presented as new, innovative, and successful modern ideas.
For instance, the socialism of the Soviet Union is taking up residence in many young American minds as the last of those who experienced its heyday in Russia die. Or take the 17th Century philosophies of David Hume and Immanuel Kant, who both in their own way claimed that we, as mere mortals, could not know of God because we cannot experience Him. In the 21st Century, these are among the arguments made in the universities and colleges against the existence of God. Even more prominent is the idea promoted in 400 B.C. by Protagoras, who claimed that man is the measurer of all things. Post World War 2, autonomy, or the importance of 'the self' is among the prominent ideas taught throughout childhood and well into adulthood.
Although most of the ideas we see today are repackaged and recycled, they are fresh in our culture. They may not be new in the history of the world, but they are new to us. They also seem to be coming from everywhere. The question we as Christians pose is: Can the gospel compete?
Seeing that the gospel is an age-old story, beginning with our first parents in the garden of Eden, carrying along to the fulfillment in Christ, and proclaimed by Christians in every generation, it is not a new idea. The temptation, then, is to repackage it to make it relevant to the requirements of the modern culture - a route which many Christians have taken. However, as the second rule above stands true, history tells us that this compromise leads to the demise of Christianity.
Instead, Paul gives us a proper example of making the gospel relevant. Speaking to the men of Athens, he presents the old gospel in the face of new ideas (Acts 17:16-34). These men spent their days contemplating ideas; they would build on old ideas, either adding to them or detracting from them, all to present a 'new' idea to the churning cesspool of philosophy. Paul did not waste his time coming up with a new idea to appear “relevant” to them, but rather stuck to the message he had been commissioned to proclaim. These men wanted to hear new ideas, but it was an old idea they needed.
Because the problem and remedy of sin are still the same. The problem may manifest itself in different ways, but the root is the same. Therefore, the remedy is still the same old gospel of Christ which has been proclaimed for 2000 years.
The currents of western culture seem to churn at deathly speeds, liable to suck us under at any moment. Their appearance tempts us, beckoning us to enter for the thrill of a lifetime – popularity, status, friends, money. Yet, their end is destruction. Once the current has squeezed all life from our lungs, it has no use for us anymore and discards us as quickly as it drew us.
However archaic, “old-fashioned,” and traditional we may appear to the culture around us as we carry this gospel, its message remains the remedy of sin. The deepest need of the world is to be freed from sin, a fact we must never forget. Let us never forget that when the gospel sings, the raging current becomes a gentle brook.