The modern era is characterized by very fast-paced change, the rate of
which increases year after year. I’ve observed three main ways people
respond to the change.
Embrace the new, reject the old
This reaction may be the most common. The assumption is that everything
newer is better and supersedes what came before. The constant advancement
of scientific knowledge lends credence to this idea, so we think that we
know more today than did the people before us, even in areas that have
nothing to do with science.
For the most part, this is the way of the world, and I submit that it is
leading the world to destruction.
Reject the new, cling to the old
There are several reasons why some people are suspicious of modern ideas.
One is that they hold to religious beliefs rooted in antiquity that are
threatened by modern ideas. They may have been raised with these beliefs,
or they may have had religious experiences that led to or confirmed these
beliefs. The other reason, which may go along with the first, is that
they witness the degradation and destruction of families and society
because of the actions and changes made by those who embrace the new.
For whatever reason, people in this group tend to cling to ideas and
thinkers from earlier eras and wholesale reject new ideas simply because
they are different from the old ones. They often say that we would be
better off if we went back to the ways of a previous time.
This reaction appears to be safe, and it does guard one from many of
the errors of the modern world, but it ignores the fact that every age
has its blind spots, and it’s easy to look at the past through rose-colored
glasses. The other problem is that those who completely reject new ideas
are not taken seriously by most people. They seem out of touch and so they
are ignored. Even if they do get a hearing, they may not know how to
communicate these old ideas in a way that is comprehensible to outsiders.
Critically evaluate the new without losing touch with the old
Finally, there are people who maintain contact with their heritage and learn
from it, but they do not wholesale reject new ideas. Instead, they critically
evaluate new ideas drawing from the wisdom of the past. They recognize that
although we can preserve the best from the past, we cannot really go back.
The world has changed and we must deal with it, even if we do not believe
it is all for the better. We must figure out how the old ways that we know
are good interact with the way people think today. Their desire is to inject
ancient wisdom into modern thinking with the hope that we can straighten
out the course of the world.
Not only does this position have a better chance of reaching the world, it
also recognizes that the old ways were not perfect, and the new ways are
not all bad. There is a danger, however, because new ways are untested.
What may appear to be a good new idea may after time has past prove to
be seriously flawed. We should not blame people for trying new ideas that
are later shown to be wrong if they are willing to accept correction.
A specific example: Theology
The first 25 years of my Christian life was lived in a pretty conservative
context. I went to conservative churches that rejected most modern theological
ideas and methods. All I knew about these ideas were how they were wrong.
When I studied theology at University of Dallas, I encountered approaches that
were more nuanced. For example, in my Christology course, taught by Fr. Roch
Kereszty, I saw traditional views of Jesus established using the modern
Historical-Critical (H-C) method that been used by others to introduce radically
different ideas of who Jesus is. For example, Fr. Roch proved that belief
in the resurrection of Christ existed in the Church shortly after the time
that Jesus died by using St. Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians and establishing
a historical timeline for the material in that epistle. In the past, I had
avoided and ignored H-C theology, but I saw that it could be useful and
did not have to be feared. Pope Benedict XVI did some of the same things
in his Jesus of Nazareth trilogy. In fact, Pope Benedict and Pope John
Paul II are great examples of this critical approach that engages with
the new while staying rooted in the old.