How “Back in My Day…” Harms Our Witness in “…Such a Time as This”

How “Back in My Day…” Harms Our Witness in “…Such a Time as This”

It is the beautiful, searing light of God’s holy law that will bring clarity and conviction, to us and to others. Lovingly, uncompromisingly spoken in language conversant with the times, that light shows the way to the life-giving grace of the Lord Jesus, the only Savior of people, cultures, and nations.

There’s a lot to be upset about in our day and age, and with our culture. And now that political season is ramping up, there are votes to be gained and even more money to be made by generating needless anger and weaponizing legitimate grief. It is an especially crucial time for those who name the name of Christ to live, act, and bear public witness in a manner worthy of his gospel.

Addressing cultural woes in a godly way is as difficult as it is necessary. It’s powerfully tempting to become lazy and self-righteous in the process—refusing to thoroughly study situations we’re upset about, decrying nuance as code for compromise, or fancying ourselves above the fray so as to criticize all the people we think aren’t nuanced enough in their commentaries. Even when we think we’re being humble and compassionate toward people or groups that upset us, our disclaimer “There but for the grace of God go I …” can really mean “Thank you, Lord, that you have not made me like other men…” (Luke 18:11). Especially for us increasingly aged folks who’ve lived a materialistically and socially privileged life, some of our studies, sermons, and certainly our social media posts—composed ostensibly in zeal for holiness – amount to little more than screaming “Get off my lawn!” at those we blame for stealing the moral peace, societal power, and material prosperity we believe we once had.

When we pine for what we consider to be the relatively cut and dry, clear-thinking days in which we grew up, or for certain holiness-minded epochs of church history we read about, we might be revealing that our evaluation of the present is less Scripturally studied than we think, and that our understanding of the past suffers the same lack of Scriptural perspective. Church historian Carl Trueman writes “…it is truly very hard for any competent historian to be nostalgic.”[1]

The Reformed orthodox dogmatician and cultural analyst Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) warned against repristination, the retrospective glamorizing of the past coupled with the effort to recreate those conditions in the present. He considered that effort to be not only unbiblical, but essentially un-Reformed. Surveying dire spiritual conditions in his own day in view of the confessional, Reformed heritage of his people, Bavinck encouraged his contemporaries,

To the alarming fact that unbelief is increasing on all hands, the Reformed do not close their eyes. They do not wish to repristinate, and have no desire for the old conditions to return…As children of their time they do not scorn the good things which God in this age has also given them; forgetting the things that are behind, they stretch forward to the things that are before. They strive to make progress, to escape from the deadly embrace of dead conservatism…[2]

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