One topic, or maybe subtopic, of a lot of my reading and interests in theology and culture lie in the understanding of man’s depravity both today and throughout history. As I shared earlier this week, traveling this road has even staggered me a bit, causing me to be hyper-aware of my own personal wickedness as I view mankind’s utter distance from the righteousness of God. With that in mind, I came across a quote in Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book Revival which really summed up to me one of the pressing mindsets of our day:
The Church does everything except that which the Lord himself commanded the early church to do. ‘Ah,’ but the Church says, ‘you know, the conditions are different now. This is the twentieth century.’ I would insult you by giving you an answer to that. the twentieth century has nothing to do with the situation at all. Man in sin does not change. But, my friends, we are talking about the power of God. And when we are talking about the power of God, to talk about superficial changes in men is not only an irrelevance, it is non-sensical. The world, I say, has always been the same. [Revival, p.202]
Substituting in the twenty-first century for the twentieth, I believe this statement is still true about the Church today, and this I feel is in basically two distinct and polar opposite ways.
The first way this is true, and what I think will be most obvious to people, is in the liberalizing of orthodoxy being attempted by those in the emergent and mainline protestant wings of the faith. Just go back a month ago to the cover of Newsweek, “The Religious Case for Gay Marriage.” Some journalist set out to show, from the Bible, that gay marriage is not only not sinful, but in fact it was apparently widely practiced. Of course, none of those Bible stories ever appeared in your Sunday School class, but I think mainly that is because you were using a different Bible. No, it’s not biblical authority which is placing this article on the front page of news magazines, it is a desire among the left leaning theologians to incorporate this doctrine because not to is offensive to their modern sensibilities.
Or what about Scot McKnight’s Blue Parakeet where he offers up the “fact” that with the Bible, “He who writes the story controls the glory”? This is his cute motto for saying that Christianity appears sexist only because the Bible was written by men living in a sexist society, and therefore, armed with our clear, unbiased 21st century opinions, we are in a place where the various spots that appear sexist to us can be removed while still (somehow) maintaining the claim that the Bible is inerrant. Of course, if McKnight were to man up about what he really means, it would be something like “Women can vote now and have the right to choose, who are we to say that they can’t be preachers as well?” This is the heart of what Lloyd-Jones is talking about above: we think that we are smarter, more informed, more tolerant than the previous centuries and therefore we can shed the “intolerance” that they were too uncivilized to get rid of before.
The second way in which this is true about the Church today is particularly in what can be said from the statement that, “Man in sin does not change.” For whatever reason, the fundamentalist side of the Church is convinced that these days are the most wicked and morally repugnant ones that the world has ever seen. Apparently sin had some bad PR back in the day, since no one seems to remember it. Look at the 1950′s, the benchmark in most fundies eyes as to what a Christian society looks like. Have any of you read Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs? What about On the Road by Jack Kerouac or Howl by Allen Ginsberg? All three works were written in the 1950′s (’58, ’51, and ’55, respectively) and all three are semi-autobiographical accounts of the lifestyles of the authors. Moreover, all three detail drug use, sexual promiscuity and immorality including homosexuality (both Burroughs and Ginsberg were gay), and language obscene enough to merit one high-profile court case. This is not the 1950′s pictured in your traditional evangelical church, but it is reality.
Depravity in all its forms is no more the fruit of the 1980′s, ’90′s, and 2000′s than it was at any other time since the fall from Eden. Recall, David and Bathsheeba: adultery and murder. Joseph’s 10 brothers: envy and deceit. Judas Iscariot: betrayal, greed, and suicide. Maybe the 1950′s were the high watermark above all this evil, but that’s not saying too much and is certainly not something worth desiring to return to again. Our goal is the end and our final sanctification with Christ: “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13.14). No, it’s not good right now, but it never has been before either. That is why we must “run with endurance the race that is set before us,” because “sin . . . clings so closely” (Hebrews 12.1). Christ is coming again, that should be our focus, not some mythical society from 60 years ago.
It is imperative that we get the picture. Nothing really changes. Ecclesiastes 1.9, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” That’s what this means. Fundamentalism and liberalism are not defensible simply because “the times have changed.” Just do what Christ commanded of us: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7.7); “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16.24). If the Church wants to see revival, if we want to see a change spiritual, morally, and lastingly in the world then we should be spending more time in prayer, more time in seeking God’s Will being done on earth as in heaven, and less time trying to rationalize the solutions we think should work.