Is There Anything “New” under the Sun?—Part I

October 2, 2014

[Got sidetracked yesterday, first with Jury Duty and then with the Giants-Pirates wildcard match-up last night. Okay, I am back in focus!]

In my last post, I suggested that just because something is new or experimental, it does not necessarily follow that it is good or orthodox. The catalyst for my comments was an “outside the box” worship service conducted during the last meeting of San Francisco Presbytery.  It makes sense now to explore whether the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and other historic mainline denominations have fallen off the deep end in their efforts to try something new. The motivation, it seems, would be to attract new people to worship, to reach the next generation, or to break through the culture’s din to get its attention.

An oft-quoted Scripture that is bent out of shape to justify all kinds of practices within my tribe, the PC(USA), is this one:

            Do not remember the former things,
                        or consider the things of old.
            I am about to do a new thing;
                        now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:18f)

How is it that Christians are to be open to “a new thing” God might be doing while retaining orthodox, historic doctrine? I realize that I have framed the question such that progressives have an opening to say, “Old doctrine prevents us from doing a new thing. The new thing is more important; we should jettison the old doctrine.” The “Reformed and always reforming” crowd goes so far as to say that chucking the old doctrine is part of our Reformed Heritage! I have contested that view before the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission and on committees I have served, to no avail. Some of my previously written thoughts are found here.

The present generation is restless for the new thing, intellectually and spiritually speaking. I have seen this dynamic among friends who have moved to the left on issues and practices. Their journey begins with a sense of boredom with the old ideas, an attraction to the new and novel, a lure toward creative theology. This restlessness is an almost universal motivator, as described by the writer of Ecclesiastes:

            All things are wearisome (or, perhaps, restless);
                        more than one can express;
            the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
                        or the ear filled with hearing. (Ecclesiastes 1:8-9)

The problem identified here is spiritual dissatisfaction. What exactly about the Christian faith is less than satisfactory, enough to cause a person to let go of the anchor of God’s Word and paddle out to sea spiritually? Does this spiritual dissatisfaction leave us open to the enticing words of the tempter, “Did God really say . . . ?” (Genesis 3:1ff). I think so. I also think some people are just plain explorers by personality. They have made it a habit over a lifetime to keep moving on to new thoughts, new views, new commitments. Sometimes that has meant leaving behind treasures, like the Word of God, as eyes and ears perk up to novel new ideas that tickle in just the right place.

From an adult development standpoint, a person’s worldview naturally expands, as new experiences require new categories of thinking. What used to be a satisfactory answer to a heartfelt question is no longer adequate to cover a new, very real, often very difficult experience in life. As an example, a little girl age four loses her mother in a fatal car accident. An explanation is given that is appropriate for a four-year-old. But at twelve, that same answer simply does not address the new, expanded question in that child’s heart, and someone must tackle it at the twelve-year level. At age thirty-two that same little girl with adult questions is left dissatisfied by an answer given twenty years before. With good guidance, this woman can land in a good place emotionally and spiritually. But for some in a search for answers, paths of “healing” can go in directions that have warning signs along the way. The seeker may miss them in the pain or confusion of the moment. I’ve seen it happen, and it is very sad.

The Scriptures teach that restlessness of this kind can never be satisfied fully by earth-bound things, because nothing actually is “new”:

            What has been is what will be,
                        and what has been done is what will be done;
                        there is nothing new under the sun.
           Is there a thing of which it is said,
                        “See, this is new”?
            It has already been,
                        in the ages before us. (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10)

Meanwhile, in our search for what cannot satisfy (thinking of Isaiah 55:1-2), we find ourselves at a dead-end. The so-called “new” thing soon feels just as stale and ineffective as the “old.” To this dynamic, the Word of Life introduces the incarnational, intrusive, and transformative power of God, who by doing the old thing makes all things new. More on that tomorrow.



6 Responses to “Is There Anything “New” under the Sun?—Part I”

  1. emd5542 Says:

    Right on, revmary. Another progressive favorite is “…you will know the truth and the truth will make you free,” conveniently omitting the convicting front of John 8:31-32, “Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.'” Keep on keepin’ on, preacher, and thank you.

  2. The “here” link does not work for me in your “Some of my previously written thoughts are found here”.

  3. Jodie Says:

    I think, in the grand scheme of things, Isaiah through Jesus, ARE new.

    The Human Race has been human for, I don’t know, half a million years or so, maybe longer. It began its relentless march around the globe about 100 Thousand years ago, practiced all forms of religion starting at least that long ago, who knows, maybe even a million years ago… Then suddenly, starting less than 3000 years ago, something different happened. It is still happening. A hinge point in the history of humanity. We are really right in the middle of it.

    It’s way too soon to say its a thing of the past.

    It’s just that our lives are way too short to see it through. While it takes thousands of years for these kinds of things to work themselves out, we get to live less than a Hundred.

    It can be really frustrating.

    But the Message is, we ARE a part of something New. Wonderfully new and marvelous.

  4. Sarah Says:

    I think your writer’s “block” or “dry spell” has ended for the time being, good to read your thoughts again.

  5. Ron F Says:

    This is not a bad read at all.

    Old Paths [Kindle Edition]
    J. C. Ryle (Author)

    As for the true word of God…this is all that need be said.

    Isa 58:12 And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.

    Jer 6:16 Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.

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