The other day I referred to a post by J.D. Greear called “I don’t want to be new and innovative.” Greear writes, “My goal each week is not to give what the people in front of me will perceive as a ‘new approach’ to the Gospel, but simply to explain the really old Gospel in as clear a way as possible to them.”
It’s a good reminder, but it’s possible to take Greear’s advice too far. Faithfulness to the gospel involves both continuity and change. That’s why I like what Michael Wittmer says in Don’t Stop Believing:
A former teacher reminded me that Christianity is like a living faith, and all living things must grow. Like a child who reaches adolescence and then matures into an adult, so our understanding of God develops across time. As there is both continuity and change as a boy grows into a man, so our present proclamation of the gospel must be rooted in church tradition even as it surpasses what came before.
My teacher warned that if we stop growing – if we merely repeat what we have said in the past – then we will eventually lose the gospel. I did not understand what he meant, for I was young enough to have known only one kind of world. The faith that I had learned from my parents still seemed pretty relevant. Why must I change?
I must be getting older, for I am now experiencing the first widespread cultural change of my life. My students are asking new and interesting questions…In my student’s defense, most are merely applying my mentor’s theological rule: to remain faithful to the gospel we must regularly update our understanding of it. We can’t merely repeat the old, old story in the same old way. To say the same thing we have always said is not being faithful to the gospel; it is to fossilize it.