Friday, April 27, 2007

Newness is no virtue, and oldness is no vice

John Piper's book, Don't Waste Your Life, has many fine things to say. I especially enjoyed this paragraph in the first chapter, where Piper shows the utterly futility of postmodern and existential thinking. He says of C. S. Lewis:

He has made me wary of chronological snobbery. That is, he
showed me that newness is no virtue and oldness is no vice. Truth
and beauty and goodness are not determined by when they exist.
Nothing is inferior for being old, and nothing is valuable for
being modern. This has freed me from the tyranny of novelty and
opened for me the wisdom of the ages. To this day I get most of
my soul-food from centuries ago. I thank God for Lewis’s compelling
demonstration of the obvious. (19)
So much of the postmodern quest for freedom smacks of this chronological snobbery. The elitists are smug in their self-satisfaction and so ready to see the faults of our restoration leaders who have gone before us; yet they remain blind to their own dilemmas. The very people who hate logic make arguments and reason. The very people who find the Scriptures errant still rely upon it for their arguments. They cite proof-texts against proof-texting. The very certainty on which some have grasped that there are no prohibitions in musical worship is the very certainty they also reject that one must not add or subtract from the instructions of God. With great swelling pride they infer and bind from Scripture that we should not infer and bind from Scripture. They settle for convenient truth. They manufacture it to suit their own agendas.

With Piper, we realize that absolute, objective Truth is outside of us. It is there whether people acknowledge it or not, whether people agree with it or not, and whether people like it or not. We can be sure of truth. Jesus promised that we could know it. The agnostic elitists who feel we must suspend judgment about our worship and our obedience to the gospel, because we cannot know the Truth or know enough of the Truth to have any confidence in the Message we preach are in the end disbelievers. It is easier to claim blindness than to make unpopular stands and so demonstrate faith.

The mature person does not shrink from discerning; the immature person does (Proverbs 22:3; 27:12; Hebrews 5:12-14). Those who hold fast to a cappella music are not the weaker brothers; they are the discerning brothers. And there is a difference. God has not been silent, and we must not fail to listen and heed. There is a virtue to rightly handling the word of Truth and to live pleasingly before God (2 Timothy 2:15; John 8:29). We should not think that God would expect us to handle rightly His Word and then make it so muddy that we must throw up our hands and suspend judgment about what the will of the Lord is (Eph. 5:15-17). It is not that God has failed to give us enough light on whether or not instrumental music is justified; it is just easier for some to claim blindness so they can do what they wish.

Phil Sanders


Scott Taft said...

Amen brother... I like that term "chronological snobbery", it certainly fits. The things we think are new have come before and will come again in some fashion, things that are "old" will come back around (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10), at least as long as God leaves creation in place.

Here is another term for you that you may like too Phil... "simplistic biblicist" meaning: someone who looks at the simple total meaning of a Scripture and adhering to it. Jesus was a simplistic biblicist using scripture to point out flaws in arguments presented to him (Matt. 22:29-33 as just one example).

May we all avoid chronological snobbery and be simplistic biblicists.

Phil Sanders said...

Thanks for your post. So much of the error around us arises from a simplistic viewing of God's Word that concentrates on one aspect to the neglect of every other relevant point or passage.

I have heard more than a few interpreters in recent years give a judgment about how things are or should be based on their overall reading of a book of Scripture or the whole New Testament.

Recently a brother argued that from his reading of the New Testament, that the text is so uncertain about instruments of music in Christian worship, that we should not prohibit them. This is odd to me, since we know that there is no mention of them or command of them in the New Testament (for Christian worship). We also know that changing the instructions of God by adding or subtracting from them is also uniformly condemned in Scripture. This is a form of simplistic biblicism that neglects clear passages in order to find support for some preconceived notion.


Scott Taft said...

It is interesting to see how you use the term... I first heard it used by Brother Cecil May from Faulkner University; he used it in an anecdote he was relating to us about a debate/discussion with one of our more "intellectually" enlightened brehtren. When Brother May confronted him with a sound argument on some aspect of New Testament worship (I forget what it was now), the brother called him a "simplistic biblicist" as an insult. I do suppose that some forms of this can be dangerous as well, like you were referring to with the idea of focusing on one scripture for proof of a position instead of the entire body of scripture about a subject. You are right, you must look at the totality of scriptural writings on the subject in order to clearly see what God intends. For instance this idea of instrumental music being "scriptural" because of that one passage in Revelation that talks about harps would be a good example. That one passage in Revelation, a book filled with language meant to convey apocolyptic imagery, does not negate the simple positive command given by the Apostle Paul to simply "sing" in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. Your point is well taken, although in Brother May's case, he was being called that because he was using scriptuure for support or "proof texting" to make his points in the disucssion, as Christ often did, and was being ridiculed for being simplistic because of that.

You take care Phil, hope your Lord's Day is going well.

In Christ,

Phil Sanders said...


As is so often the case, when a brother has no argument, all he can do is label. I have been called "legalist," "biblicist," and narrow more than a few times by those who had no reply. Brother May, one of my personal heroes, is neither a simpleton nor a person who turns the Bible into "bibliolatry." We treasure the Bible, because it is God's Word and we treasure God.

I understand now the point you were trying to make with the aperture, "simplistic biblicist." Thanks for helping clear that up.

What is simplistic is drawing from supposed notions or feelings drawn from what the "Book" reads (especially when the "Book" gives examples of other things).

I recall a few years ago, a fellow who was arguing for house churches (one right way to do things) saying that from his reading it was the only way churches could meet.

Since the early Christians also met in the Temple, it seems to me that houses were not the only place.

Thanks, Scott,


Scott Taft said...

Glad my clarifications made sense brother. It sounds like you may have been talking F. LaGard Smith, since he was arguing for house churches in his last book (Radical Restoration)... my thoughts are that biblically, since the church of Christ is not a building but is the body of believers in the flesh, it does not matter where they come together (except that it needs to be a morally acceptable place), it just matters that they come together on the Lord's Day and do what the Lord commanded through the apostles for them to do, you know? Acts 2:42 was not an afterthought for the first century church, nor should it be for us.

Phil Sanders said...


I saw F. LaGard last week in Murfreesboro. He attended a gospel meeting at East Main, where I was preaching. He and I have disagreed on several things, but this was actually not directed at him. I recall some internet discussions I took part in in the 90s, where some of the participants were ready to bind house churches as the pattern for the meeting place of the church.

Saul didn't ravage a building in Acs 8:3-4; he ravaged people.

Oddly, some of these same folks who were insistent on the pattern of house churches they inferred from Scripture on other matters were not "rigid patternists." Imagine. :-)