Understanding the Times
Along side the high work of exegeting the Scriptures is the great task of exegeting the culture. A chief example is “the sons of Issachar who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do” (1 Chron. 12:32). Further, Paul was able to connect with the gatekeepers of Athens on Mars Hill and effectively share Christ by being aware of certain of their poets and philosophers (Acts 17). He was familiar with the prophets of the Cretans and was able to judge certain things about their character as a result (Titus 1:12-13). We should be committed to understanding the times.
Os Guinness observed, “American views today are weak, confused, and divided. On one side, many progressive liberals still think that we humans are essentially good and getting better and better. On the other side, many postmoderns actually think it is worse to judge evil than to do evil. And in the middle, many ordinary folk plaster life with rainbows and smile buttons and wander through life on the basis of sentiment and cliches.” His analysis is not comprehensive, but it’s certainly helpful.
Indeed, progressives think that humans are essentially good and getting better. The Anglican Priest who fought against the atrocities of Apartheid once declared, “The most important thing for me now is reminding people that they are good. We are all essentially good...Being good also explains why we are appalled by evil, by what is wrong...It might not appear to be the case, but the truth is that eventually goodness will prevail.”
Of course, we should ask why we’re appalled by evil. Being created in the image of God comes to mind. At the same time, in a fallen world, the image of God in man is marred, and we don’t all agree on what’s good and what’s evil. In a progressive culture, the definitions are always changing. Progressives think humans are becoming increasingly enlightened. Our culture now not only affirms the normalcy of homosexuality, for example, but it openly celebrates it. We recognize with revelry the first openly homosexual mayor of a city, draftee in the NFL, or candidate for President. It’s progressives who champion pre-pubescent genital mutilation in an effort to mainstream transgendersim. Polyamory is next in the dock. Indeed, our culture is now woke to the racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and a host of other ills inherent in being white. We are more enlightened than old white men who represent a darker time. How dare Michael Bloomberg and his ilk earn the obscene amount of money they do when others deserve it more despite their penchant for waiting on the next welfare check.
A second cultural cluster is the postmoderns who think it’s worse to judge evil than to do evil. In their rejection of objective authority; their placement of perception over what’s real; their assertion that nothing is really knowable; they’re willing to affirm anything as proper for the one who deems it proper. While there might not be any truth at all, there are things to affirm as truth for you and different things to affirm as truth for me. Thus, concepts of good and evil lose their meaning on such a worldview. There is no real basis for law, contracts, or personal property. Moreover, on such a worldview there is no basis for human rights, ethical farming, the fair treatment of animals, or a host of other goods being championed today.
And then we have the ordinary people in the middle who “plaster life with rainbows and smile buttons and wander through life on the basis of sentiment and cliches.” You don’t have to look long to find people willing to say things like all good people go to heaven; I know Mom’s looking down on me; if you can dream it, you can do it; trust the vibes you get, energy doesn’t lie; or any number of other empty platitudes designed to numb us to reality.
Those three positions represent a good swath of our culture: a culture in trouble. But it’s a culture looking for truth, though their spiritual blindness keeps them from finding it. People need a reality check. If we’re good and getting better, how do the progressives explain the fact that humans propagate as much evil today as they did in the past? I wonder what the postmodern would say if someone put a gun to his head. Is morality really relative? And let’s ask the sentimentalist a few simple questions: how do you know Mom is looking down on you? What if she’s not? And what good does it do anyway?
We need to understand the times. When we do, we can take the roof off as Francis Schaeffer used to say. We can deconstruct the faulty worldviews that people cling to like lifelines in an effort to lovingly demonstrate those lifelines are tethered to nothing. We can set forth the true worldview, the biblical worldview, that actually makes sense out of our experience. And then we can proclaim the gospel that they might be delivered from their soul-destroying notions and come to know Christ, whom to know is life eternal.
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