Reflections on the Old and the New

Reflections on the Old and the New

Is old better, or is new better? Ask most any American teenager, and they will almost certainly say that newer is better, because they’re thinking about getting a new phone. The old phone was good in its time, but it’s gotten worn out. The screen is cracked. The camera’s lens is scuffed. It’s out of internal storage for apps and pictures. It may or may not have been dropped in the Old phonetoilet. “It’s gotten old.” Similarly, a computer that was state-of-the-art 5 years ago is virtually unusable under the demands of a new generation of games that make use of virtual reality. You can download a tool that will tell you if your computer is ready for these new games. Hint: It’s not!

It’s not just our technology that gets old. We also recognize that our knowledge can get old. In medical school, one instructor told Katie, my wife, that 1/3 of what she was learning would be known to be false in 20 years. Of course the problem is that we don’t know which 1/3! When Katie’s mother was in medical school, for example, the recommendation was that alcohol be given to pregnant women to stop pre-term labor. This, you’ll be shocked to know, was thoroughly debunked some years later. As for Katie’s instruction, it was well known that viruses were smaller than bacteria. This, too, turns out to be false in some cases. The change is constant. The earth isn’t flat, its a sphere. The earth isn’t a sphere, it’s an “ellipsoid.” I could probably go on. (A mentor of mine once noted that any day now he’s expecting the announcement that the earth is flat after all!). Our culture biases us to “the new” because “the old” lets us down so frequently in our day-to-day lives.

It’s inevitable that this outlook transfers over to how we view the world more generally. Because we are trained to doubt what is old, I think that many people don’t realize that it hasn’t always been this way. In the ancient world, the older something was, the more trustworthy it was. It had stood the test of time, so you knew it would be ready for the needs of the present (See here). In scripture, this is part of why the people are so surprised when Jesus shows his authority with a “new teaching” (See Mark 1:27). This is also part of why Luke writes somewhat disparagingly in the book of Acts of the people of Athens, who were always going after the newest thing (Acts 17:19-21).

Of course, this “new teaching” spoken about was nothing less than the gospel– the good news. Some people think that the good news is old in a bad, outdated kind of way. Some put it in the same category as an old cell phone. “Maybe it’s good enough for my grandparents, but my needs are more sophisticated!” Others think that the good news is like deliberately giving alcohol to pregnant women. At best, it’s an outdated view that simply has no relevance for today. At worst, it’s harmful, or even fatal!

It’s easy to forget, because we usually treat “news” as a singular noun in modern English, but “news” is actually the plural noun of the word “new.” ( I confess that I only realized this when I encountered the phrase “buenas nuevas” in the Dominican Republic. It’s in scripture too.) Built into the way we speak as Christians is the reality that an event that happened a long time ago, namely the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, is about something new. It’s not only about something that was new back then, but it’s about the new thing that God is doing now.

So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!2 Corinthians 5:17 (CEB)

The good news of Jesus Christ has become time-tested and trustworthy specifically because God continues to make new creation.  Although Christianity is largely premised on a historical event, namely the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, it is first and foremost about the person, Jesus Christ. The good news, which continues to be good news, is that because of the historical person of Jesus, God and the world are reconciled (2 Corinthians 5:19). And now, because of that, God’s Spirit is transforming people and communities into pieces of new creation. (That is what we hope the church to be!) Even more, as Christians, we look forward to the time when God completes the transformation over all creation, and all things are made new (Revelation 21:5).

As I begin my ministry with Lansdowne United Methodist Church, I must confess something: I have no idea where God might take us! But the good news of Jesus Christ is good news for today, just as it has been good news for all the Christians that have gone before us in Lansdowne, and around the world. That good news is so good that it has to bring about new creation. I’m so excited to see what God is up to at Lansdowne UMC!

In my next post, I will reflect more on the goodness of the “old,” as well as the way the old and the new come together in the person and work of Jesus.