Thursday, July 12, 2012

New and Improved?

I've become interested recently in history and have found some excellent podcasts that are teaching me some fascinating history lessons. I've listened to several great ones about Roman history recently. In a podcast I listened to yesterday, the narrator made a point that I thought was excellent in understanding the mindset of Ancient Rome. He said (paraphrasing), “In order to understand Roman thought, you have to understand that they thought everything was deteriorating all the time. To them, what was old was automatically good, and something “new” was automatically inferior.” This is antithetical to modern Western culture, where advertisers are always portraying things as “new and improved”; to a Roman, that would've been nonsensical. In Rome, even when the great consuls and emperors were reinventing the government in new ways, they had to find convoluted ways to justify it as “bringing back” something that had been done before (even if it wasn't).
I'd never thought of this contrast before, so to hear him say it got me thinking. I see this tension in our culture today: there's a segment of the political and cultural world that views everything “new” as automatically worth trying and worth throwing themselves into (even if it doesn't solve a real problem and is just activity for the sake of activity). The contrast is that the other camp views everything old as unquestionably superior, and views anything new with suspicion, or even outright hatred. There are Christians in both camps. I'm inclined to think that neither one is particularly correct. I think God is always doing new things, so “new” isn't necessarily to be despised, but at the same time, there is much value in recognizing the tried-and-tested wisdom of tradition and history.   
In Christianity these days there are people doing many varied projects around the world: some are trying new things, some are continuing the same way that has been done for decades, or even centuries. Sometimes the two camps despise each other; one is "old-fashioned and out-of-touch", while the other is "compromising the Gospel" and "faddish". But labels like that don't help anyone: there's value in both approaches depending on circumstances. Wherever God has us, we need to be satisfied and committed where we are, but not put down those God has led to be involved elsewhere.
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