Modern day evangelicals have little appetite for sound doctrine, but have a hankering for “cutting edge” stuff. Dr Guy Waters, recently made this observation about the the evangelical church in our day:
Biblical doctrine and the Bible’s teaching on the Christian life is, at one level, quite boring. It is simply, lacking in gadgetry and spectacle, and unchanging. Whether it is the latest theological ‘hand-me-down’ from the academy, or the most recent technique or movement for living the Christian life, the church seems to have an unwholesome longing for what is promoted as ‘new, fresh and relevant.’ Of course, in reality there is nothing new under the sun. ‘Fresh’ and ‘cutting edge’ are terms that often mask our ignorance of church history. If we did enough digging, we would find that the church has long ago weighed, tried and discarded most of what is being presented to us as the ‘latest thing.’ God’s admonition is especially timely in our present age:
Thus says the LORD, “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; and you will find rest for your souls.”
— Dr Guy Waters, Assoc. Professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, MS; quoted on page 102 in Marin Downes’ book RISKING THE TRUTH
I haven’t read this article, but just a couple quick questions in relation (if you don’t mind). Right off the bat, I know that you enjoyed this quotation, but these questions should not be regarded as an attack on you.
Don’t you think it is somewhat of a false antithesis (and frankly dualistic) for this guy (pardon the pun) to set up the use of the creative gifts and resources which God has provided us with, over against faithfulness to the gospel?
It seems as if he has an unwholesome longing for what is old, stale, and irrelevant. Shouldn’t we find it disturbing that he takes that Jeremiah verse totally out of context in order to make people who disagree with his tradition look as if they are departing from the gospel?
I’m not sure whether he is saying that there is something inherently evil about all things “new” or “fresh”, or whether he is assuming that his tradition is a sufficient judge of what is or is not biblical…maybe you could clear this up? I am having difficulty distinguishing the difference between his view on the role of tradition and that of the RCC.
Oddly, it seems as if, in his enthusiasm to show of his vast knowledge of church history, he missed the fact that he is basically recycling the old RC arguments used against Luther in order to safeguard “his” tradition…I guess there really is nothing new under the sun. :)
I’m surprised by your concerns about a simple post like this, but let me try to quickly reply to your questions…
“False antithesis”? Whoa there, partner! I read this as simply saying, ‘today’s evangelicals like novelty (and gadgets) more than thoughtful pondering of doctrine.’ Of course this hunger for ‘new’ is itself not new (see Paul’s observation in Athens, at Acts 17:21). I don’t see the quotation as denigrating creative gifts at all. And as for “dualistic” surely you do not mean philosophical dualism (with its mind/body tension). Of course he draws a contrast between two things (for rhetorical purposes), but then Scripture itself does that everywhere. Let me know what dualism you see here…
Next: “he has an unwholesome longing for what is old, stale, and irrelevant…” I guess I liked his call to do more digging and learn from church history. If someone lives in the past, sure that would be unhealthy. Dr Waters is right about the present day ignorance of the past. I am more troubled by the emergent church extremists who idolize ‘relevancy’ above biblical fidelity.
And, “…he takes that Jeremiah verse totally out of context…” Hmm, no. Double check the context (I did). The Lord is crying out to His wayward people, and then gives them that directive to ‘return’ to the straight and narrow. In fact, in JER 6:10, we read that part of the contention was about their lack of appetite for the Word/doctrine: “…behold, the word of the LORD is to them an object of scorn; they take no pleasure in it.” To me, that sounds a whole lot like the point Guy Waters is making above….
On your final group of questions (about tradition, ‘new’ being evil, recycling RC arguments, etc) — you are over-reacting (and being unfair with the RCC labels). Far from the RCC position (“our way or the highway”), Dr Waters calls us to Sola Scriptura — as if he’d said: ‘Stop taking your theology from twitter or nooma films, and get back to the Word (and all the lessons guys in the past have already dug up from the Word).’ He actually said, seek “…the Bible’s teaching on the Christian life.” Luther and Calvin looked first to the Word (not tradition) and then also to church history (Augustine and the fathers) to support the doctrines of grace and confound the RCC. Dr Waters is following THEM, not the RCC knee-jerk defense of the tradition of men!
Let me summarize what I see in Dr Waters quote to wrap up….
He does *not* say new is evil, rather, he (rightly) says that new is not inherently better! Our culture (and too many culture-driven evangelicals) believe that old is inherently irrelevant.
My goal in posting the quote was to entice the hearts & minds of evangelicals who’ve left the “old paths” (sound doctrine and careful biblical thinking) for what looks new, “better” or more useful. I know we share that cause. I hope the reply helps.
Thanks for taking the time to write such a long and thoughtful response! :)
If what you said was 100% true, than I would not have so much of a problem with it. I’m not quite so positive that I agree with you on the interpretation of his statement though.
I, of course, think that it is good to have a knowledge of church history. I also think that it is important that we understand how God uses the bible to transform our minds and hearts. Who could have a problem with these?
But…I find myself wondering how it is, exactly, that Dr, Waters is able to make such cock-sure statements with regard to the motives and intentions of the hearts and thoughts of people that he probably does not even know?
I know for certain that at least some (but more than likely most!) of the people with whom he takes issue actually have a great love for the scriptures, and are quite knowledgable with regard to history. So what’s the problem?
If all that he was trying to say was, “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly”, and learn about the past, I think it would have been more helpful just to say that. But isn’t it obvious that he is saying much more?
If he truly believed that there was nothing inherantly evil about seeking to be relevant or cutting edge, then why did he bother bringing those things up at all? They are irrelevant to the conversation, and actually a distraction from the important point that he is “supposedly” making.
I think the people that he is basically condemning (he is the one overstating the case) are actually just striving to be faithful to do whatever it takes to make sure that the gospel is communicated clearly. Unless we know their hearts (or believe that their methods are inherently evil), on what basis do we pass judgment?
If traditional methods of church practice are becoming a stumbling block to the culture around us, shouldn’t we, out of love, abandon our traditional preferences for the sake of the kingdom of God? I would argue that if we insist on maintaining traditions which inhibit people from coming to God (even if they are not inherently immoral) then people should be suspicious of our loyalty to tradition, and that they have the right to ask us to explain the difference between our view and that of the RCC.
The only time these things really become an issue is when people insist that we adhere to their traditions and then judge the motivations of those who don’t submit. Of course, why wouldn’t we think that behavior like this would not ellicit a response?
Anyway, I don’t think anyone thinks that tradition is inherently irrelevent, but it is sinful to insist that people adhere to it at the threat of being considered sub-Christian. If there are people out there who desire to abandon tradition all together, I think we can blame people like Dr. Waters for sparking the controversy, and giving opportunity for the devil to gain a foothold.
By the way, I really want you to know that I was in no way questioning your motivation as to why you posted the quote. I know that you have a great love for the scriptures. My protest is against the divisive spirit of the quote which I find to be troubling. Remember, the kingdom of God is not food and drink…
I forgot to mention…
I don’t know if you have encountered and/or read John Frame’s review of Michael Horton’s “Christless Christianity”? It’s long for a review, but is an overall short read, and a good place to see a dismantling of statements like Dr. Waters’.
I wholeheartedly agree with the overall thrust of Dr. Frame’s critique of this sort of theology.
God Bless :)