Our obsession with technology and so-called progress has contributed to a faulty view of the course of history. The dominate narrative of our generation seems to be that we, as a race, are making great progress. History is a straight line, always moving forward, always going to exciting new places we have never been before. This view of the world leads the Christian to feel that we are facing unheard of new challenges, that to be a faithful Christian in the 21st century is entirely unlike the challenges faced by the centuries of Christians who have gone before.
Instead of straight line progress, history is cyclical. There’s nothing new under the sun. What’s old is new again. Yes, there are new technologies and medical advances, which both help the common good and bring new moral dilemmas. But the human condition remains the same. The morality of the first century and the twenty first century are not dissimilar.
Sunday’s Grammys drew the usual buzz and chatter. It seems to me that while the Oscars are still a celebration of art in filmmaking, the Grammys are a contest in vulgarity. It’s not about the music anymore. Sintertainment is the word Doug Wilson used, and I think that captures it.
But more than just an overindulgent show, the Grammys (and its cousins), go a step further and set itself up as Judge and Jury over culture. The performers are not Artists, but the arbiters of what is good and honorable and acceptable in western culture. They aren’t evaluating talent but determining new morals. They decide what is acceptable and unacceptable in North American culture. The Grammys are an announcement of the new accepted norms. Everyone fall in line.
Playing Our Part
But this is not a new story. It feels new, but rest assured we’re watching a re-run. This a rather tired plot line, one we’ve seen played out a thousand times before. It’s compelling at the time, but it always ends the same way. The culture-shapers set out the new moral rules to play by and demand everyone fall in line. Pressure is applied to fit in and play the game. The weapons of mockery and derision are wielded fiercely.
We have a part to play in this old story. The heroes of our faith have been playing it well in every re-run. We’re called to play the part of righteous Noah being mocked by his immoral culture. I’m sure Noah’s “tolerant” neighbour had a lot more friends than he did. We’re called to play the part of Joseph in Egypt, running from temptation and getting punished for purity. We’re called to play the part of Peter, when the crowds had scattered and many disciples had abandoned Jesus because of his hard words. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…”
When all around us turns to sintertainment and the worship and celebration of all that God forbids, we are called to a godly defiance. To stand against the current. To be a godly voice of protest. To be uncool. Sometimes culture needs to be embraced, sometimes engaged, and sometimes defied. While there is much in our culture that we can embrace and redeem, at certain points the only appropriate response is stand against it. To be counter-culture.
Those Who Have Gone Before
Like mold growing in the dark, this view of history as progress has grown in part due to our vast ignorance of church history and the heroes of the faith who have gone before. The more a person reads and learns of the struggles and faithfulness of Christians who have gone before, the more hope one has for our own day.
My great heroes of the faith are those who did the unpopular, the different, the dangerous. With much fear and trembling, they displayed a godly defiance in the face of the pressure of their culture.
I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer defying the Nazi’s program of indoctrinating the church with their evil agenda. I think of William Wilberforce devoting his whole life to protesting and fighting against slavery. History stands on his side, but at the time of his birth nobody was saying that slavery was wrong. He was mocked, threatened, and ostracized for his life-long devotion to the most socially unpopular cause of his day. I think of Martin Luther standing before the emperor, refusing to recant his teaching, willing to die on a matter of exegesis. Initially the whole world stood against him. This doesn’t even scratch the surface. In every century, God has called his people to stand against the culture at certain points. Godly men and women embraced Christ and despised popularity. And we remember them and honor them for it.
These men and women were mocked, despised, ridiculed and even killed for standing against the crowd. They would not be bullied by popular opinion. Their views were not shaped by the shapers of pop culture but held firm convictions built on God’s word.
So as our culture celebrates all the creative new ways they have found to engage in old sins, we are called to continue to faithfully be God’s people, which at times calls for a godly defiance of sin.
This post was originally published at Grounded in the Gospel.