My third and final personal reflection before we start dealing with some of the tools at our disposal for having a robust, contemporary reformed witness is this:
We tend towards a lobsided view of history – both in relation to the past and to the present
C.S. Lewis coined a phrase which has become a personal favourite of mine. He wrote:
Barfield never made me an Anthroposophist, but his counterattacks destroyed forever two elements in my own thought. In the first place he made short work of what I have called my “chronological snobbery,” the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also “a period,” and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.
Those two words – “chronological snobbery” – have haunted me ever since.
There is a real sense in which, particularly among the young, there is the danger of not quite appreciating that there was indeed a fully-functional world before the one into which we were born. A failure to appreciate history and to learn from it is arrogance of the highest order and something from which we ought to repent.
That all being said…
In reformed circles, I don’t think that’s our thing to fear. We embrace the reality that the particulars of our theological system were forged in prior generations, most notably the sixteenth through to the eighteenth centuries. Of course – we’re reformed as in the Protestant Reformation.
In itself, that should be no issue – the history of the Church, though not flawless, is the story of two thousand years of Christ’s power manifested through imperfect people who believed in and stood for Him. We still use terms and definitions forged from the past to define critical Christian doctrines, we still cite with great reverence those who went before us, expounding the Scripture and we still ask the question, “How have God’s people always understood this issue or that?”
In and of itself, that is not the problem. The problem is chronological snobbery…but of a different kind. We’ll pick up this train of thought in part 4.